Sunday, February 28, 2010

The monkey mind.

Question:(Unedited) I am a buddhist in the Theravada tradition aswel and i have started and stopped meditation numerous time but just can't seem to keep it up. Do have any suggestions on how i can start meditation up and stay intersted with it. It would also be great if you could recomend a online book i should read from the list on buddhanet about buddhist meditation.

Thanks from b.

My comment:
Hi B,

Thank you for asking me.

If we need to be interested in order to meditate, then we got a problem. The reason for meditation (Buddhist Meditation) is not to satisfy our interest. The purpose of meditation is to tame the wandering mind and then to train it to listen to us. If we have this mission in mind, then we will make extra effort to sit and still the mind. It takes discipline and determination. That's why we can say that the very act of sitting and meditating is an achievement in itself. Ordinary people without any knowledge of meditation cannot even sit still for 5 minutes. Their minds are continuously wandering seeking sensual gratification. The moment their minds are not being gratified they feel bored. This is what we call the monkey mind.

The answer to your question is to view meditation in the right perspective and you will persevere in your effort whether you are "interested" in it or not. Treat it like cultivating good habits. Bad habits are easy to follow but difficult to bear. Good habits are difficult to follow but easy to bear.

May I strongly recommend this book by Ajahn Sumedho "Mindfulness: The Path to the Deathless" @

Ajahn Sumedho is the most senior American monk from the Ajahn Chah's lineage. He is now based in England. Ajahn Chah was one of the most respected "forest" monk in Thailand.

There is this site in Western Australia where Ajahn Brahmawamso resides. He is an English monk and is a very popular speaker. He is also the disciple of Ajahn Chah. You can listen to his talk through this site:
Buddhist Society of Western Australia @
Web site:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Material possession.

I was wondering if you believe one of the goals of Buddhism is to rid yourself of the desires of material possessions, including your body. Basically to not let any of it affect your happiness, or really have any possessions to worry about. I was also wondering if you in fact practice that, or is that reserved for monks?

My comment:
Hi D,

Thank you for asking me.

We can say that the teachings of the Buddha are of 2 levels. One is for the lay people. The other is for those who pursue the ultimate release or salvation, generally refers to monks and nuns. The teachings are no different, but the intensity of practice and realization is different. If we really want to seek ultimate release or salvation it is very difficult to live as worldly persons because being worldly we are subject to worldly problems, worldly needs, and worldly temptations.

Your comment is theoretically correct. But as worldly persons you would agree with me that it is impossible to live without the necessities of human comfort (and a little bit of sensual gratification). The Buddha's contention is not so much of ridding material possessions, but not to be over crazy with our desires. We practise a lifestyle of CONTENTMENT with what we already have. This does not prevent us from further improving our material well being. The skill in right-living is to be contented here and now. Otherwise, we will be like crazy fools chasing after more and more material gains without ends.

Hope this clears your doubt.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gong Xi Fa Cai

May I wish all my Chinese visitors a healthy and happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

Xin Nian Kuai Le, Wan Shi Ru Yi!

(New year happy, Ten thousand things run smoothly!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Life support.

Question : (Unedited)

My father has recently expressed to me the wish that in the event that he ends up in a coma or suffers from an incurable terminal illness, I (as his health care proxy) order the doctors take him off life support. I am terribly conflicted about this. Would following his wishes be violating the First Precept? What would the Buddhist thing to do be if such a situation were to arise?

Many thanks, L

My comment:
Hi L,

Thank you for asking me.

The first precept requires us to refrain from killing, to the best of our abilities. It is not a commandment. The reason for keeping this precept is just common sense and fairplay. We do not want others to harm us, let alone kill us. We are very fearful of others inflicting harm on us. On this premise alone we should also refrain from harming others. This is the world of Dukkha; which is always difficult to bear because of constant difficult choices that we have to make. Let us not forget that sometimes we are forced to take drastic actions for our own protection as well as for others. It may be for the better good of a higher order that sacrifices have to be made. Take for instance, the bird flu. How many millions of chickens and other birds have to be killed! This does not take into account of the millions of lives that are killed for our foods everyday. This reflects the First Noble Truth of Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness).

It takes clear understanding of the Buddha's teachings to gain a certain degree of wisdom to decide on difficult choices. In the final analysis, you yourself have to choose, and to choose wisely. Usually I use the 3 criteria to decide. One, is the decision harmful to oneself? Two, is it harmful to others? Three, is it beneficial? In your case, it is still very difficult to compute. But I will not have any difficulty to decide. However it is not for me to "advise" you. You, yourself have to make the final decision. I would suggest that you take into considerations of the following points:

1)It is your father's wish.
2)Continued life support is futile.
3)Is there any hope for recovery?
4)Legal considerations.
5)Opinions/objections/consensus of other relatives.

A bit of digression before I end. To be fully responsible for the act of killing, the following 5 conditions are to be fulfilled:
1)There must be a living being.
2)Knowledge of the living being.
3)Intention to kill the living being.
4)The act of killing the living being.
5)The living being died as a result of the act.

Have peace, from justinchoo.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Nothing is permanent.

Question : (Unedited)
I am a student studying buddhism and would like to know what benefits and difficulties might lay buddhists experience in attempting to understand anicca

Hi N,

Anicca is the first of the 3 characteristics of existence which the Buddha revealed. Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta, which are translated as impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and insubstantiality.

Anicca is a very common trait in life. The most glaring aspect of impermanence in life is death. No being can live forever. Everyone knows it, but many choose to ignore this fact. When we look around us we witness this aspect of impermanence confronting us. The Buddha expounded that all component things are impermanent. Whatever that is impermanent, will cease or expire in no time. Everything in this world is subject to "the arising", "existing for a period" and then "expiring". There is no permanent substance in everything in this world. Everything is in a flux, it comes and ceases.

Knowing this natural phenomenon, we view life as a transient existence. Life becomes more realistic and one is able to flow with the tides of life. One does not become crazy over things, one becomes more willing to let go of one's crazy desires and to reduce one's aversion to the things we hate. We come to realize that we are just insignificant creatures existing just for a very short period of time. There is not much time to waste in hatred and revenge, but to make use of whatever available time we still have, to wise up and lead a harmless, contented, and useful life.

There are deeper aspects of realization of anicca, especially Buddhist meditation, but I think the above comment should be sufficient.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Buddhists are fearless!

Questions: (Unedited)
Is believing in Karma and believing in an active God, incompatible?

Thank you for your response to the above question. It was clear and concise and very helpful. I would like some clarification.
Is there a God, or a "prime mover" beginning the acts of karma in the first place?
I noticed Buddhism does have a list of "gods" what is there purpose if they cannot interfere with karma? Do you, for example, pray for guidance?
I have also read that when the Buddha was asked about God, he merely laughed, or said, no one really knows. This to me implies Buddhism is not an atheist belief, but agnostic, would this be accurate?
Thank you again so much for the clarity of your response.

I read that karma is based on conditionality, cause and effect, and therefore there is no autonomous creator in the form of God. Or to put it differently, if we create our own karma, a God cannot intervene. The Buddha said, "Because this was produced, that followed." So, is believing in karma and in an active God, incompatible?

My comments
Hi Mc,

Thank you for asking me.

The Buddhist concept of kamma is volitional action. Action that is done on purpose. This natural law is the law of cause and effect, or the law of retribution. It is neither moral nor immoral, but amoral. Irrespective of who you are or what you believe, this Law holds supreme. It is just like electricity or fire. If you misuse or being careless, you will be electrocuted or burnt. This is the universal truth which transcends race, nationality, culture, belief, time and space. The idea of a creator god who is all powerful and having full control over us is not in the domain of the teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, believing in kamma and in an active God is incompatible.

We are what we were, and we will be what we are. In other words, we are the results of our past kamma; and our future will depend on our present actions. We are in control of our lives here and now. In this respect, Buddhists are fearless and enjoy complete freedom in the conduct of their lives.

Before signing off, below is a very pertinent quotation:

"If you want to know what you did in the past,
Look at where you are at present.
If you want to know where you will be in the future,
Look at what you are doing at the present."


Your qn: "Is there a God, or a "prime mover" beginning the acts of karma in the first place?"

My comment: Our limited mental capacity coupled with our ignorance always lead us to want to know the beginning and the end of everything. There cannot be a beginning and an end in the order of existence. The Buddha warned that the beginning and the end are illusive ideas. If you do some studies on astronomy, you would know that the universe is endless. At a moment in time some stars expire, while others are being formed. The end of a phenomenon is actually the beginning of another. It is just like sunset and sunrise.

Having established that, the idea of a beginning will lose its mystery.

Your qn: "I notice Buddhism does have a list of "gods". What is their purpose if they cannot interfere with karma? Do you, for example, pray for guidance?"

My comment: There are two main "schools" of Buddhism. The Theravada school (which I follow) is more "orthodox". The emphasis is on the teachings of the historical Buddha. Whereas the Mahayana school has introduced several Bodhisattas (Buddhas-to-be) and Amitabha Buddha. The Chinese have a pantheon of "Buddhas, Bodhisattas and deities". Each has certain "specialties" and "powers". As for the Theravadians, we emphasize on the practice of the Buddha's teachings instead of "praying" for salvation.

The Buddha revealed that there were other planes of existence. There are the hell planes and the heavenly planes. There are the "neighbourhood heavenly planes" where beings have some power to aid humans. We refer to them as Devas or heavenly angels (for lack of a better term in the Engliah language). These Devas may help us if we radiate our good thoughts to them. However this is mainly on worldly problems. As for ultimate salvation we still have to cultivate by ourselves.

Your last question: "I have also read that when the Buddha was asked about God, he merely laughed, or said, no one really knows. This to me implies Buddhism is not an atheist belief, but agnostic, would this be accurate?"

My comment: Merriam-Webster's definition of "atheist" is "one who believes that there is no deity" and
"agnostic" as "one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god"

Base on the above definitions, Buddhism is neither. The Buddha had confirmed that there were beings in other planes. Those existing in the heavenly planes are referred to as deities or gods. They are not all-powerful but merely have greater "worldly" powers than us. They are as mortal as us. They have a very long life span but in the end will succumb to death. As such, existing in the heavenly planes is no great deal. Buddhists have a higher goal, that is not to exist in those planes which are impermanent and still imperfect, but to gain entry into a totally new more rebirth into the imperfect and impermanent planes.

Hope you are happy with the comments.

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