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Volume 6 no 1

Venerable Shen-Kai Answers

The Bliss Compass

All humanity seeks bliss and happiness. Yet, true bliss and happiness are often elusive. Some times we search high and low for them even though they are right before our eyes. At other times we unwittingly bypass them and look for them in wrong places or take a wrong turn that causes us to be farther and farther from them. Much like a traveller needing a compass, a compass that can guide people to where bliss and happiness can be found would be useful. We call this the Bliss Compass. In the following Q & A, Venerable Shen-Kai personifies the Bliss Compass to a blissful life.

1. As Buddhism practitioners, how do we inspire the compassionate mind?

By demonstrating compassion.

There are many ways to inspire or enliven the compassionate mind. In fact, people who have a good nature already have a compassionate mind. They do not separate their words and actions from their virtuous heart. They do not overlook to help others and relieve them of their hardship. The best way to inspire the compassionate mind in other people is for us to have the compassionate mind ourselves. The person whom you helped may eventually realise your act of compassion and begin to treat others with a compassionate mind. For example, out of your compassionate mind you give food to a starving person, that act of compassion may inspire him to have a compassionate mind. If, as a Buddhism practitioner you do not have the compassionate mind, you did not even cast an eye on him much less help him, then perhaps he will treat others in the same way. You cannot inspire his compassionate mind when you did not demonstrate compassion.

2. How do we develop and sustain our compassionate mind?

By not harming any creature and by protecting them.

We can develop our compassionate mind by not harming any creature, however small they are, and instead protect them. When we practise this conscientiously and do not forget, our compassionate mind will grow.

3. How should we cultivate so that we can unfold our wisdom?

Discard all that are extra and redundant.

When we discard all that are extra and redundant, to the extent that the mind is free of uncontrolled and illusory thoughts, our wisdom will begin to unfold. This method is not only simple, but also very effective. However, if you should choose an academic method by investigating and researching on the theories of Buddhism, the sheer volume makes it difficult to cope. Having studied the entire volumes of Buddhist sutras, you of course become very knowledgeable in Buddhism. However, the knowledge can become an obstacle to you unfolding your wisdom. Although you understand the theories, it does not necessarily make you any wiser. You effectively become a 'bookshelf'. Therefore, we do not necessarily have to adopt this method. Your wisdom will unfold if you constantly free your mind of wild and illusory thoughts.

4. Is sitting meditation a pre-requisite to unfolding wisdom?

It is more important to practise non-self.

Sitting meditation is not the only way to unfolding wisdom. Therefore, neither practise sitting meditation nor don't not practise sitting meditation. More importantly, we must cultivate non-self, that is non-egotism. When people do not attach to things unnecessarily, then it is very easy to unfold their wisdom.

5. As a Buddhism practitioner, how should one see through and let go of the many issues in life and live freely?

Cultivate to unfold wisdom and use it in the daily life.

It can be very difficult, but it can also be very easy. For example, a red-hot piece of charcoal obviously can burn, yet if you choose to grasp it in your hand and refuse to let go, naturally it will burn your hand. If you had known about the consequences of handling a red-hot piece of charcoal, certainly you would not have grasped it. Therefore, if it was not grasped in the first place, then what is there to let go. It all depends on whether or not you have wisdom. People without wisdom indulge in the circumstances when they should not, and when it is better that they let go they would not let go. For example, if a person is of a certain character whom you ought to know well enough and who you ought not to marry, but you do not have the wisdom to judge between good and bad, and you marry that person; after the marriage, life becomes painful and you contemplate divorce. However, divorce is also painful. At this point, you cannot continue with the marriage, yet at the same time you cannot let go.

Therefore, we learn and practise Buddhism to unfold our wisdom. With wisdom, if a person is contemplating marriage, he or she knows the right person to marry. We recognise a 'hot charcoal' when we see one and we do not fall for it. Since it is not in our hands, therefore there is nothing for us to let go. The most important thing is to use our wisdom in our daily life, and we will live freely.

6. How should we deal with problems that are impossible to resolve?

With wisdom we can solve many problems by ourselves.

Since they are impossible to resolve, then it is better to leave them alone. If, because of their inability to resolve these problems, people become superstitious and resort to seeking 'divine guidance' or to depend on drawing lots, then out of many attempts there are bound to be occasions when the outcomes match with their wishes. It is far better to rely on ourselves. When we have wisdom, we can solve many problems by ourselves.

7. How can people let go of their worries and anxieties?

Let go of their attachments.

People who are suffering from worries and anxieties should ask themselves, "Who asked me to grasp and who refuses to let go?" If it was not grasped in the first place, then, what is there to let go of? If one does not know about one's attachments, then that is ignorance. Ignorance produces distresses and sufferings. Therefore, it is important that people know how and when to let go, to abandon, or to give up their attachments. When we ceaselessly let go of and abandon the thoughts that arise from the mind, then the mind calms down and our wisdom and brightness will appear. This is like walking. When we have finished walking one step, we have to abandon this step so as to continue with the next step. Otherwise, how are we going to advance? When we are learning and practising Buddhism, and walking on the Bodhisattva Path, we must know about letting go.

8. How should Buddhism practitioners cultivate in order to maintain a pure and calm mind?

Be pure in action, speech and mind.

They have to be pure in the three karmas: action, speech and mind.

9. How should Buddhists learn and practise the Buddha's teachings with zeal and progress?

Be pure in action, speech and mind.

A simple definition of "zeal and progress" in the Buddhist context means not backsliding.
How can one really be diligent and not backslide? We have to conduct ourselves to the extent that our three karmas, namely actions, speech and mind, are pure. If we overcome, liberate and purify the inner sentient being in us (the inner self or the ego within), then we will not backslide in our cultivation. This is called zeal and progress. If we are ignorant (that is have an unenlightened mind) and we have many illusory thoughts, then it is difficult to cultivate with zeal and progress. Furthermore, if we use our emotions (rather than wisdom) to learn Buddhism and we do not know how to overcome the inner sentient being, then we are prone to backsliding. As long as we understand that the purpose of learning and practising Buddhism is to extinguish the arising and cessation of the mind, be free from birth and death, seek liberation from transmigration in the six realms of existence, and to unfold our wisdom, and we cultivate as such, then we will not backslide.

10. What retributions can we expect of rude speeches or words and actions?

The retributions can range from insignificant to colossal.

Being rude, use of vulgar languages, or despising others will have their negative retributions in the future. A popular saying has it that "people who respect others command respect, while those who insult others will be insulted." This is a concept of cause and effect. It does not take a long time for people to accord the same rudeness to a person who is always rude towards others. It is also a natural consequence of people to scold or speak ill of those who are ill mannered. It is impossible for people to expect courtesy if they are not courteous themselves. Speaking of the magnitude of retribution arising from such actions, it can be insignificant on one hand, yet it can also be colossal. If, because a person had been rude and the words that he used unwittingly caused a loss of lives, then the retribution that he has to bear would be dreadful. It is important; therefore, to note that receiving what we do unto others is a natural consequence. As a further example, there once was a businessman who was very vulgar in his words. Unknown to him his pet parrot had been picking the habit from him. One day as he approached the bird for its morning feed, the parrot swore at him. He flew into a rage, but that was exactly what he had been doing unto others.


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre