Page 5 of 5
Footprints on the Journey: Seeking Entertainment-Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Mon Dec 26, 2016 1:43 pm
These days, human morality is sinking low and materialism is gaining the upper hand. People with any available time and money would go to popular places to see a film or a show, and term it refining one’s cultural taste. Totally mesmerized by the entertainment, it never occurs to them that they ought to reflect inwardly or to think twice about what they are doing. As to the issue of death, it’s something far too remote to think about.
In one of his previous lives, the Buddha was reborn as the Prince of Iron Chamber. On the occasion of the Water Lotus Festival, his subjects prepared extravagant shows of dancing and singing to please him. On seeing the jubilant crowds all around him, the Prince instead was saddened and lamented deeply: “Alas! For beings rife with negative emotions, there is not a scrap of stability or happiness. At the Water Lotus Festival, they feel their joy is everlasting. Not having any worry or fear, such ignorance of theirs is indeed startling. The Lord of Death blocks the path of life. Just as one recklessly enjoys happiness, the nemeses—sickness, old age, and death—wait always around the corner. How could a wise person be joyful when facing the rounds of rebirth?”
Liu Bei, the founding father of the Shu Han Dynasty, established his kingdom through innumerable hardships. To make sure his family lineage would last and not fail him, he earnestly left his son Liu Chan these last words: “Never commit any evil deed however minor it may be; never miss doing any good deed however tiny it may seem.” Liu Chan sadly did not heed the advice in the least. After his father’s death, he cared only to enjoy his ancestor’s fruits of labor, indulging himself in sensual pleasures day and night and eventually, he lost the once-mighty kingdom to enemies. Worse, as he was detained in other states, he still took delight in watching the chambermaids’ dancing and gloated shamelessly: “I’m too delighted to be homesick!” In him there was not the slightest remorse or anguish that his Shu Kingdom had been conquered. What a wretch, it’s utterly lamentable!
Many so-called practitioners, regaling themselves in pleasure all the time, are also entirely oblivious to the imminent arrival of the Lord of Death. They do not fare any better than Liu Chan.
While watching a show, we consider ourselves spectators. But do we recognize that on the larger stage of life, we all are actors performing our own dramas? How to make our own show richer and better to the best of our abilities—isn’t it a big issue worthy of deep pondering!
21st of March, Year of RenWu
May 2, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Project Completed-Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Dec 28, 2016 3:00 pm
To me personally, today is a day worthy of every commemoration. A major project of my life—the translation of the Great Biography of Buddha Shakyamuni, the White Lotus—has just been completed. This project was commenced on Christmas Day 2001 when the people of Xiamen celebrated it in various ways. On that day, I took the liberty of assuming the festive mood in the city as cheers for my foundation-laying ceremony of the translation.
Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, performed innumerable activities of the Six Transcendent Perfections from his initial aspiration to final enlightenment. His deeds are incredibly moving stories, which touched me deeply every time I read them. I have been aspiring to translate the biography so that others could appreciate it too; today I am happy to see my wish is finally fulfilled.
The launching of my translation project coincided with the building of a high-rise across from my residence. Its groundbreaking ceremony was attended by throngs of cheering crowds and decorated with colorful banners. The building started with a blueprint that reportedly cost hundreds of thousands of yuan and its construction has been carried out by hundreds of workers equipped with modern engineering tools. Compared with their grandiose style, our translation project seems extremely shabby. We have neither a huge amount of manpower nor hefty funds as support, only a proofreader of the typescript. Nonetheless, we do have unshakable deep faith in the Buddha, something so special that outshines mundane construction. This and this alone, is enough to lift us in spirit to the rank of the indomitable nobles.
With more than 100 days of work behind it, this building is in the stage of water supply and will soon be completed; my project, likewise, has reached the finishing line. While the developers must feel good about their significant accomplishment, my project, I believe, could be more meaningful. A few hundred years from now, buildings made from cement, brick, and tile will be gone with no trace left; on the contrary, the spiritual wealth of the Buddha’s life story will still continue to benefit hundreds and thousands of future generations. Unaffected by the confines of time and space, it will arouse faith in its readers all over and lead them steadily onto the path of liberation.
The best inheritance to leave for future generations is not the high-rise building, or gold, silver, or jewels; rather, it is the towering spiritual mansion that will provide protection from the thunderstorms of delusion.
22nd of March, Year of RenWu
May 3, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: May 4th-Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2017 6:15 pm
Today is Youth Day; it was more than a hundred years ago when the May 4th Movement shook the nation in 1919. As time goes by, however, young people these days no longer emphasize fighting feudalism or oppression as their earlier peers did. Instead, they choose to celebrate their day in various ways.
I found myself in the company of young people to carry out large-scale life liberation. Three ships loaded with many sea creatures whose lives were once at grave stake sailed off the coast in an impressive formation. The 200 or so participants included local Buddhists from Xiamen, monks and nuns from nearby monasteries and Buddhist Academies, as well as lay practitioners from Fuzhou, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Against the blue sea, the maroon and yellow monastic robes and laities’ attire of various colors stood out vividly and brightly. It was quite a beautiful sight to behold.
During my four-month stay in this coastal city, at lunch or dinner time the stench of seafood being prepared often wafted through the open window, polluting the fresh air of the shore, and making my friend, also from Tibet, and me lose our appetites. We have long wished to save the poor fish, shrimp, and so forth from meeting their ends at the knife, it is only today that we have come to fulfill it. Even though the number of lives we are saving is incomparable with that of being killed in the whole city, we are still grateful for the opportunity.
There was once a county magistrate name Poon Gong who forbade his subjects from catching any live fish by instigating severe punishments for perpetrators. Years later when he was about to leave his official post, a wailing sound as grief-stricken as if one’s parents had been lost was heard from the waters, filling people’s hearts with sadness and amazement. I often wonder when such a benevolent county magistrate will appear again in Xiamen such that many beings will be saved from going under the knife. Nonetheless, the practice of lifesaving has been well accepted here, due largely to, I was told, the free distribution of 10,000 booklets of The Merit of Releasing Live Beings by an aspiring layperson. The tradition thus has gradually flourished and come down to this day.
Today’s lifesaving activity reportedly is the largest one in recent years in the area. Regardless of whether the magnitude is large or small, at least we have made a revolt against oppression on behalf of these sea creatures. The value of good deeds depends not so much on their scale but more on their consistency. When virtues are practiced daily and enhanced monthly, we hope that one hundred years from now, the tragedy of taking other beings’ lives will no longer exist.
23rd of March, Year of RenWu
May 4, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Self-Cultivation -Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 4:46 pm
Before walking into a crowd to bring forth benefit, any spiritual practitioner must first tame his or her own afflictive emotions and gain a realization unshakable by circumstance. Such is the inexorable order in Buddhism.
When negative emotion is still rampant, one is like “a clay statue of Buddha attempting to cross the river.” When one can hardly save oneself, what is there to say of liberating others? Furthermore, selfish greed for fame and money can hide under the guise of benefiting others; such superficial activity is totally meaningless. In fact, without pure motivation, teaching the Dharma is not allowed.
The Omniscient Longchenpa says in The Precious Treasury of Pith Instructions:
If one is ensnared by selfish desires while trying to benefit beings,
One is liable to turn into a charlatan, beware of this pitfall!
Without having attained clairvoyance in the first place, performing the task of benefiting beings is tough.
Master Dro Gompa comments: “Spiritual practitioners must wear patched-up garments and constantly hold a mala in hand. The fronts of their retreat huts are covered with distinct footprints of birds (meaning they do not go out). While one is still at the stage of learning and practicing, it is utterly useless to teach the Dharma to indolent students. I doubt our Geshe will be pleased; likewise I’ll regard this person as frenzied.”
Tsangpa Gayre also left this advice: “Hoping to harvest crops in the fall without having sowed in springtime is nothing but the wishful thinking of hungry ghosts. Trying to tame beings without the coming together of ripening conditions is nothing but a senseless endeavor.”
Geshe Potowa also urges us: “When one starts spiritual practice, the most important task is to direct effort toward training one’s own mind. Other activities centered on helping others are not permitted. One needs only to generate in the heart the aspiration of benefiting others; other than this, it is not absolutely necessary to take actions in body or speech.”
The great master Buton Rinpoche has also taught earnestly and tirelessly the following: “Multitudes of Buddhas of the past have not saved many confused beings of this world, nor have the compassionate great Bodhisattvas tamed them. They harbor resentment of criticism and become conceited when praised, are jealous of superiors and competitive with equals, despicable of inferiors and ruthless in bearing. They do not give up covetousness and hatred even though they have received Dharma teachings. Having no skillful means to tame such beings yet, we should train ourselves first. The ultimate essence of the Dharma is to benefit beings. However, it should be applied according to the need of each individual. Become aware of their afflictive emotions, their past and future tendencies, then teach only when you are capable and have no more self-interest. If you still chase after fame, wealth, pleasure, and praise, if you possess no clairvoyance but want to help others, it will be like wishing to fly freely in the blue sky with no wings. Not only will you fail helping others but also you’ll ruin yourself. Although teaching and learning the Dharma are extremely important, the teacher must have kept pure precepts and genuinely renounced earthly strife. And the students must be earnest, intelligent, have unbiased views and yearn for the Dharma. To teach the supreme Dharma only to worthy ones is the secret. Having a large retinue who chase fame and wealth of this life, having delivered wonderful teachings but lacking faith and aspiration, neglecting actual practices and having a mind full of avarice and hatred, these kinds of teachers and students will be tightly bound by the ropes of samsara.”
Of course, if a person is free from self-interest and feels compassion for miserable beings, he or she is permitted to convey the Dharma even before having tamed the mind. This kind of teaching is meritorious, and will not be harmful.
24th of March
May 5, 2002
At Wu Lau Mountain, Xiamen
Footprints on the Journey: At Ease -Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Jan 08, 2017 8:20 pm
People living in the world—be they nobles or commoners, rich or poor, powerful or lowly—are all subject to mood swings of happiness and sadness unless they have attained the ultimate realization. All kinds of mental afflictions—remorse, fatigue, pain, hatred and apathy—can pop up for no reason at all. Suddenly, the whole world seems to be arrayed against oneself. At other times, a person’s whole being is filled with bliss; one feels upbeat, energetic, joyful, and carefree, as if even the sun exists solely at one’s service. In this way, anyone incapable of taking the helm of the mind is at the mercy of the roller-coaster torture of bitterness and sweetness.
As spiritual practitioners, we should recognize that all these are nothing but confused, phantom displays of the mind, as it is said: “Calm and peace are the nature of things, busyness and disorder are the fabrications of humans.” When confronted with the ups and downs of this world, we should maintain an imperturbable mind and save ourselves from extreme mood swings.
Khenpo Losang Chophel at the Larung Gar is an excellent example in this respect. The furnishings at his place have remained almost the same for over 10 years. His prayer wheels, scriptures, statues, portable furnace, and few articles of everyday use are all arranged neatly and nicely, pleasing to the eye and inspiring to the mind. He often sits up properly on the bed, either reading or practicing. However the world is changing turbulently around him, he is ready to deal with it with equanimity.
What about people like me? Soon after my arrival at the academy, I rented a place first, and then I built a straw house, a sawmill slab house and all the way to a two-room home of solid wood. I spent a lot of energy on these frivolous activities. Burdened by my sack of flesh and bone, and for providing a temporary lodging for it, I kept on remodeling. Quite often, I asked myself: When will I learn to be content with a little plank hut, where I can just sit on the bed to immerse myself in Dharma bliss?
People busy themselves constantly—today it is singing songs with someone in white, tomorrow, dancing with someone in black, and the day after, hitting the bar with someone in red. Or today, doing a seven-day Zen meditation; tomorrow, chanting Buddha Amitabha’s holy name; and the day after, requesting an empowerment on Great Perfection…. Although an impressive label can be given to this kind of approach, for instance, “combining the three practices of Zen, Pure Land, and the Secret Mantra all together,” yet in the end, nothing can be accomplished.
A genuinely spiritual person sees the vanities of the world as transient as fleeting clouds. It says aptly in Tending the Roots of Wisdom:
Unmoved either by gain or loss,
Leisurely he watches the flowers in the garden bloom and fade.
Uncaring about either coming or going,
Freely the clouds in the sky roll out or fold in.
Thus abided, even if one lives in a hustling and bustling marketplace, one can still maintain a tranquil mind as if no one is around.
25th of March, Year of RenWu
May 6, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Lotus Root-Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Jan 11, 2017 4:16 pm
My friend bought several lotus roots and left them on the table. These whitish roots looked tender and appetizing. To satisfy my curiosity, my friend told me about the growth conditions and usage of lotus root. I learned only after listening to him that the root has remarkable medicinal value. Eaten raw, it clears heat and nourishes the lung, cools the blood and promotes circulation; eaten cooked, it tones the spleen and stimulates appetite, it is antidiarrheal as well as blood-enriching, mood-calming, and brain-invigorating; finally, it can promote a long, healthy life. I am happy to be in the company of such a knowledgeable friend. Confucius says: “We can learn something from anyone.” I did learn a lot from him.
The lotus root grows in the mud but is unsullied; it is hollow and straight and has no lateral branches or tendrils. The hollow center signifies its virtue of humility; its straightness symbolizes its upright and firm personality; its lack of lateral branches and tendrils illustrates it has no discursive thoughts or outward clinging. The lotus root has been well appreciated since ancient times and it is very popular among famous personages. Poet Hanyu praised it in this way: “Cool as frost and sweet as honey, imbibe one piece and all ailments are gone.” Sima Xiangru of the Han Dynasty had this description in his the Ode to Imperial Garden (Shanglin): “Flocks of water birds alight on the surface of the river and drift gently with the tide, some other birds perch on the sandy islets thick with weeds. They twitter and chirp while pecking at algae and water grass, or enjoy chewing water chestnuts and lotus roots.”
In addition, the lotus root was the food that had sustained many ancient practitioners through their ascetic discipline.
The Great Biography of the Buddha tells that when the Buddha was a Brahmin ascetic practicing in the mountains, his main source of sustenance was the lotus root.
Indeed the lotus root is an amazing thing endowed with magical potency. Eaten as a food, it is a healthy diet; emulating its spirit, we are uplifted. What other food is superior to it, conferring two benefits in one? From now on I’ll eat more lotus root, as it is a food blessed by the Buddha.
26th of March, Year of RenWu
May 7, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Keep Going-Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 4:18 pm
In my memory from early youth to adulthood, the person I respected most is Lama Yulo.
He was a man of strong build. His hand perpetually moved the mala beads and his mouth constantly recited mantras. On his face there was a scar left by robbers he encountered when as a young man he was making a trip on foot to Lhasa. This facial mark, instead of being a blemish, in a way made him even more likable.
I took room and board at his house when I was attending elementary school. Every day before dawn, he would get up and start to do prostrations and at the same time recite prayers. After breakfast, he would read books and go over his daily Dharma practices. He sat in meditation in the afternoon and recited scriptures in the evening. For over 10 years he kept the same schedule over and over again without interruption.
At that time I took it for granted that all practitioners should behave as he did, and felt nothing special about him. But now I see myself and others only doing spiritual practices in fits and starts. We get serious only when we are in good spirits but as soon as our mood falls, we become distracted and lag behind in practice. The glaring contrast makes his perseverance all the more admirable.
At the time of his passing at age 87, he had accumulated 500 million mantras, an astonishing number that could remain unrecognized without adding it all up. Comparing my meager diligence with his, I really feel ashamed.
In Mahayana Abhidharma Sangiti Shastra it says: “Practitioners on the path of accumulation should endeavor in studying, contemplating, and meditating on the Dharma; to tame the six senses, eat appropriately, and avoid sleeping in the early or late part of the night (that is, to sleep only in the middle section of the night).”
Without adding up many little steps, a journey of a thousand miles cannot be accomplished.
Without the pouring together of many tiny streams, there will be no big oceans.
An on-and-off diligence amounts to nothing; only the diligence over a lifetime is what counts.
26th of March, Year of RenWu
May 8, 2002
Written on a lovely spring morning