By Hong Yew Chye
Venerable Wei Wu informed that there is an important festival of the Theravada tradition, known as the Maghapuja. This festival day is a public holiday in Thailand and usually falls on the first day of February or at the end of January. This year, it coincided with the Lunar New Year as we have a leap month in last year's lunar calendar. This festival is celebrated in memory of the Sangha community and is also known as Sangha Day.
According to legend, out of the 1250 Buddha's disciples, 1000 disciples gained arhatship immediately after hearing the Buddha's discourse. The remaining 250 disciples were initially Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana's followers before their conversion to Buddhism. Both Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana were originally the disciples of the skeptic philosopher, Sanjaya Belatthiputta. After realizing the truth of Buddha's teaching, they left Sanjaya taking all the other 250 followers with them to join the Buddha. The Sangha thus swelled to 1250 and all of them attained arhatship subsequently.
Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana became two leading disciples of the Buddha. Consequently, in many Theravadian, Tibetan and Chinese temples we can see their statutes on both sides of the Buddha. Sariputra was known as foremost in wisdom while Mahamaudgalyayana was known for his mastery of supernatural powers.
You may be puzzled when you notice that in the Main Shrine Hall of Than Hsiang Temple, the two statutes standing by the sides of the Buddha are the bearded Mahakasyapa and the young handsome Ananda instead. This is because according to the Dhyana or Chan Buddhist tradition, the Buddha passed the Dharma directly to Mahakasyapa at the Vulture Peak, and he in turn passed it down to Ananda. When finally Bodhidharma became the patriarch, he arrived in China to propagate the Chan/Zen tradition. This is how Mahakasyapa and Ananda came to appear by the sides of the Buddha in Buddhist temples which inherit the Chan/Zen tradition.
One day all the 1250 bhikshus went to pay homage to the Buddha and the Buddha preached the Ovaada-paatimokkha Gaathaa to them. Gaathaa are verses consisting of four lines of stanza. For example:
1. For all the past unwholesome karma;
2. Originating from Greed, Hatred and Ignorance;
3. Through Body, Speech and Mind;
4. We now seek repentance from the Buddha”.
During the time of the Buddha, discourses in the form of Gaathaas were expounded to his disciples who would subsequently proceed to propagate his teachings in different parts of India. The ultimate of teaching of the Buddha in his dispensation to 1250 Monks comprised of three stanzas of: “ Avoid evil ”, “ do good ” and finally “ purify your mind ”.
The O vaada-paatimokkha Gaathaa in Pali is as follows:
Khantii parama.m tapo tiitikkhaa
Nibbaana.m parama.m vadanti buddhaa,
Na hi pabbajito paruupaghaatii
Sama.no hoti para.m vihe.thayanto
Paa.timokkhe ca sa.mvaro
Matta??utaa ca bhattasmi.m
Adhicitte ca aayogo:
The English translation is as follows:
Patient forbearance is the foremost austerity.
Liberation is foremost: that's what the Buddhas say.
He is no monk who injures another;
nor a contemplative, he who mistreats another.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.
Not disparaging, not injuring,
Restraint in line with the monastic code,
Moderation in food,
Dwelling in seclusion,
Commitment to the heightened mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.
This was the Gaattha that was taught to the 1250 monks.
You may have heard many tales regarding an ancient famous Chinese philosopher by the name of Bai Ju Yi ( 白居易 ). He was very knowledgeable and displayed a keen interest in the Dharma. One day he met a Chan Master and not wishing to miss the opportunity to clear his doubt on points of the Dharma, he asked the Chan Master “what the ultimate teaching of the Buddha was?” The Chan Master replied: “Avoid evil, do good.” He had intentionally left out the next two stanzas as he deemed the first two were sufficient for the purpose. Being a man of the world, Bai Ju Yi felt that he was being ridiculed by such a simple answer. He retorted, “You mean this is the supreme Dharma preached by the Buddha? Well, even a three year old knows them, so don't take me for a three- year old.” The wise master was anticipating such a reply and he responded, “Absolutely right! A three year old may know them but an eighty old may not be able to put them into practice.”
Last week, Venerable Wei Wu talked on “Mo ming ji miau” and mentioned his four expectations of everyone for the New Year. The four expectations are:
1. Raise the level of Religious Faith.
In this regard, Venerable Wei Wu admonished that we should not stagnate at the level of prayers or paying homage. He said he remembered the elderly people would always remind us that one must pray to ensure one's well-being. Daily, Venerable Wei Wu noticed many devotees paid homage to the Guan Yin Bodhisattva in the Hall of Great Compassion with all sorts of request. Some prayed for good examination results for their children while others would pray for prosperity for their husband's business. While it is good to have faith in our religion and the belief in karmic retribution (deterrence from doing unwholesome deed), Venerable Wei Wu said we must make every endeavor to enhance our religious faith.
In future, he advised that when we pray to the Bodhisattva, we must not think only of our own welfare, but consider the aspiration and wishes of others as well based on the fundamental equality or sameness of all living beings. In this way, we learn to cultivate loving kindness, compassion and contentment. For example, when a couple, facing matrimonial problem, approaches the Guan Yin Bodhisattva for help, there is no discrimination of one from the other and the Bodhisattva would compassionately help to resolve their problem.
Venerable Wei Wu urged everyone therefore in future not make requests for one's own welfare but try to emulate the Bodhisattva in wishing all living beings to be happy and free from suffering and cultivating the Bodhicitta of liberating all living beings from samsara. In so doing, we will inevitably establish close affinity with the Bodhisattva.
2. Practice the Panca Sila (Five Precepts) and 10 Moral Precepts.
The Five Precepts are:
To abstain from harming beings
To abstain from taking the not given
To abstain from sexual misconduct
To abstain from false speech
To abstain from intoxicants which lead to heedlessness
Venerable Wei Wu said that abstention from committing unwholesome deeds is not enough. We must also actively partake in doing good deeds. Just as the Buddha said in the above Gaatha, we must not only avoid evil, we must also performed wholesome deeds.
The Ten Moral Precepts are:
1. Abstention from harming beings
2. Abstention from taking the not given
3. Abstention from sexual misconduct
4. Abstention from false speech
5. Abstention from divisive speech
6. Abstention from offensive speech
7. Abstention from senseless speech
8. Abstention from covertousness
9. Abstention from malice
10. Abstention from wrong views
Chinese Buddhism defines the last three as total abstinence from craving, hatred and foolishness. However, Venerable Wei Wu said the laity are only expected to control their greediness to within reason, not harbour any ill-feelings or intentions when in a difficult situation and lastly avoid holding wrong view. He said he had Venerable Zheng Ru shi and Bro. Boon Chye to prepare schedules for the recording of wholesome and unwholesome deeds resembling the schedule used for the “Four Lessons of Liau Fang”.
Venerable Wei Wu said that the Ten Moral Precepts are pro-active in nature, complementing the somewhat passive abstinent nature of the Five Precepts. For instance, one should not merely abstain from taking life but should actively protect all living beings.
3. Improve interpersonal relationship by developing appreciation of other's positive qualities and develope mutual gratitude
4. Improve on Service Oriented attitude and Work Efficiency by developing empathy
Venerable Wei Wu would say more on the third and fourth expectations in later talks.