Edited by Ven Shan Ci
Translated by Ven Shan Hu
Respectable practitioners, I wish every one of you a good new year. May you all enjoy good health, abundance and peace of mind.
At the turn of a new year, it is a great opportunity to share with you how to apply the Buddhists’ dharma in adversities. The Lotus Sutra says, “There is no peace in the triple realm, Just like in the burning house, Which is full of various suffering.” We, sentient beings in the desire realm have no way to escape afflictions. We feel troubled when in adversities. Difficulties in our personal life, family or society are adversities beyond our control. We may not be able to change the situations we are in but we can change our mind as afflictions come from our mind. Through practice, we can change our mind.
The Yogâcāra (Consciousness-only) school of Buddhism says human have fifty-six kinds of afflictions. Fundamental afflictions are: craving, ill-will, delusion, conceit, doubt, false view, pride, guile, deception, arrogance, jealousy, suspicion, depression, anxiety, anger, grieve and self-blame etc. Besides, there are secondary afflictions and minor afflictions. The word Karma is activities which include actions of individuals, social activities and natural phenomena. In today’s language, we call it energy. Karma is categorized into wholesome, unwholesome and indetermined. As karma is energy, and it is its nature to generate new energy. Eventually a cycle of karmic force is formed.
Our deeds create karmic cause which will invoke shared karma and specific karma. Shared karma are karmic effects shared with others as a result of sharing the same activities. People shared the same karma live in the same country. Natural phenomena such as a pandemic is also an example of shared karma. Specific karma is particular to the individual. The pandemic may strike an area and affect a lot people in many ways. But certain individuals stay healthy if the wholesome karmic energy they have cultivated is strong enough. Our thoughts, speech and deeds produce karmic energy. If you want to deal with your afflictions, you have to pay attention to your thoughts, speech and deeds. Thoughts induce speech and deeds. Repeated speech and deeds form habits. Repeated habits build personality. And personality determines destiny. Thoughts are very important. Change of karmic energy begins with change in thoughts. When one is clueless on how to deal with afflictions, or even cling onto them, negative emotions arise. With the Buddha’s teaching, we can practise how to let go of defilements, live more happily and have a happy family. In this way, we will be more at ease even in calamities.
The Lotus Sutra says, “There is no peace in the triple realm, Just like in the burning house, Which is full of various suffering, And which is extremely terrifying.” The realm we now live in is the desire realm. Sentient beings in the desire realm constantly pursuing sex, fortune, fame, food and sleep. Beings in the form realm and the formless realm are free of afflictions but are still subject to death and rebirth. The Sanskrit word sahā-loka-dhātu means the world of which beings are subject to incessant reincarnation in the three realms and six kinds of existence. There are a lot of sufferings in the sahā world but its dwellers are accustomed to this fact and have become numb to it. Live is full of sufferings: birth, aging, sickness, death, parting with the beloved, meeting with the hated and unfulfillment etc. With no exception, every person has defilements in one way or the other. Do not feel ashamed for feeling troubled. The Buddha’s teachings can get you through hardship to the stars.
The Buddhists’ dharma believes everything is the creation of the mind. Afflictions do not come from situations but from our mind. Through training our thinking pattern, we learn to let go of our afflictive thoughts once they have arisen. The moment you let go of the troubled mind, you are in the right mind. Keep practising to stay in the right mind. Over time, afflictions will diminish and transform. This is what is described as “Transform the eight consciousnesses to wisdom. Transform afflictions to awakening.” Transforming of thoughts starts with the mind. When adversity strikes, do not hate it for that will only add harm. With a little forbearance, you will find calm and peace. We cannot control the spread of the pandemic. But we can control its impact on our mind and stay away from its harm.
Chapter Five – Manjusri’s Call on Vimalakirti of the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra reads, “Manjusri: How should he who wishes to eliminate passions apply himself? Vimalakirti: He should apply himself appropriately.” The Fourfold Introspections is the way to apply oneself appropriately so that our mind would not be led astray by deluded thoughts and afflictions. The Fourfold Introspections is a four-step practice. The first step is the arise of a deluded thought. Step two is the awareness of the deluded thought. Third is observing this thought. And finally letting go of the thought. Arising, Awareness, Observing, Letting go.
Constant practise of the four steps can stop our mind from clinging onto afflictions. Persistence is the key. When feeling troubled, apply these four steps. Observe our body, feelings, mind and things in general. First, observe the physical reactions of our body. Contemplate one’s body as defiled. Second, observe our feelings and contemplate one’s feelings as painful when afflictions arise. Contemplate this is only a thought and that painful feelings are only temporary and ever-changing. This is only a thought. It is not me. Use this line of thoughts to overcome feelings of inferiority, self-blame or depression. The next step is contemplating one’s mind as constantly changing. Our thoughts are inconstant. They are created by innumerous causes and conditions and have no intrinsic nature. Why bother feeling down for them? Finally, contemplating things in general as devoid of inherent existence. The distress or afflictions arose in the face of calamities is not me. They are dependent on causes and conditions and therefore are empty and impermanent. It is not worthwhile to feel troubled for something not truly exist. Observe your emotional reactions. Nip hatred and anger at the bud. Try to accept the situation and then you can let go of it.
Verses on the Faith Mind says, “The Great Way is not difficult. For those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent. Everything becomes clear and undisguised.” Do not hate afflictions. Try to accept them. This practise takes patience and persistence. Forbearance is one of the Six Perfections (the Six Pāramitās) – generosity, morality, forbearance, effort, meditation, wisdom. The Fourfold Introspections is meditation. Meditation is when we apply ourself appropriately and are not led astray by deluded thoughts. And we can gain wisdom through contemplation.
In modern language, meditation is the changing of consciousness. Sound therapy is one way to transform the consciousness. Ample scientific evidence shows that frequency of vibration generates healing energies. Ultra sound is widely used in medical science to help people regain a balanced and healthy body. The power of sound in Buddhism is manifested in chanting sutras, mantras and names of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. As early as over two thousand and six hundred years ago, Buddhism started using sounds to purify the human mind. When we chant sutras or mantras, our body, the neuro system in particular, will generate enormous force. Practise meditation and contemplation along with chanting. Over time, the force of sound will purify your mind so that you will have the power to let go of afflictions.
The key points of sound therapy are Focus, Intention, Repetition and Vocalization. Stay focused when chanting sutras or mantras. Secondly, have a clear intention to let go of your afflictions gradually. Third, be persistent. Make chanting your habit. What you keep repeating forms your habit. And your habits build your personality. Your personality determines your destiny. The fourth key point is vocalization. Vocalization is very important for sound therapy. When we hear our own voice, the energy of our chanting is enhanced. Scientific researches show that the most powerful sound is human sound. Our sound is infectious and can move people. On top of these four key points, Visualization is also very important. But it is not easy for beginners. Solid practice of Focus, Intention, Repetition and Vocalization can bring very effective results already.
Today, I have talked about “How to overcome adversities amid the Pandemic”. Let us go through the key points again. In the face of bad situations, we may not be able to change the situation. But we can change our mind. To change our mind, we have to apply ourself appropriately. Practise to raise the awareness of deluded thoughts and then observe them. Apply the Fourfold Introspections by observing the “body as defiled, feelings as painful, mind as constantly changing and things in general have no inherent nature”. Keep observing. You will notice when afflictions come and go. Over time, their influence on you will subside and you will be able to let go of them. Further, use sound to heal your mind by chanting sutras and mantras. With these methods, we can all turn calamities into harmony.
A piece of advice to you is that persistence is key to deliverance from afflictions. Keep it on, once you have overcome this hardship, you will have a happy future. May all those infected by the pandemic have a speedy recovery. May every one of you have a happy, abundant and peaceful year.