31 July 2012

29 June 2012

Teacher in the Pursuit of Happiness

The talk in town recently involved the suspicion of corrupted practises by a group of religious leaders from the City Harvest Church (CHC). Reading various reports and argument from both camps who defended and condemned him respectively, I tweeted the following:

“The corruption of religious leaders is worse than secular. Not just betrayal of material trust but distortion in the pursuit of happiness.”

At the time of writing, these leaders from CHC are being investigated. The verdict is yet to be announced. But that is not of my main concern with this blog entry. If they are innocent, I congratulate them. But if they are guilty, I am of the mind that their crime is worse than mere commercial fraud.

There was this famous quote attributed to John Lennon which reads, “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” 

In this adventure we know as life, there is no pursuit more important than the pursuit of happiness. Not the pursuit of health, wealth, honour or glory. Happiness!

And we have teachers for many things. For example, we have teachers in our pursuit of knowledge, proper behaviour and professionalism. But teachers in our pursuit of happiness have to be accord the highest seat of respect. And the ones playing the roles of teachers in the pursuit of happiness are often the religious leaders. Rationally, we know that there are both good and bad teachers in all fields. And we are well-advised to learn from teachers with open yet discerning minds. However, that does not diminish the responsibility of the teachers to live up to their teachings. As such, the responsibility of a religious leader is massive.

Corruption in any field is bad. But to me, the corruption in the business of providing spiritual guidance has to be the ultimate evil for it actually contributes to the confusion and distortions to followers’ pursuit of happiness. It cannot be forgiven. This is why I felt that spiritual leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Daisaku Ikeda, who held themselves to high standards of morality, are the true shining gems of humanity.

Wisdom to discern good from evil. That is what all involved needs to cultivate.

21 June 2012

爱让你看到 - cover

This was the theme song for Chingay 2012.

This song was also recently used to encourage my fellow trainers for NDP 2012. Recording it here to further encourage them electronically.

"Winter will always turn to Spring" - Nichiren Daishonin

= = = = =

爱让你看到 -- original by 杨海涛 & 蔡淳佳

Verse 1:
黑夜的黑 让那烛火变得更明亮
(The dark of dark nights makes the candle light brighter)
大雨的大 让雨伞更坚强
(The stormy of stormy rain makes the umbrella stronger)
忙碌地为谁撑着伞 心就会更晴朗
(The heart becomes cheerful when holding the umbrella for others)
(Weakness can also be a light)

Verse 2:
冷风的冷 让那拥抱可以更温暖
(The cold of cold winds makes embraces warmer)
难过的难 让陪伴可以是港湾
(The hard of hard times makes companionship a harbor)
忙碌地为谁化成桨 心就会更勇敢
(The heart becomes brave when rowing the oars for others)
(We overcome layers of waves)

(Love lets you see the lonely island among sea of men)
爱让你听到谁心里雪融了 你知道
(Love lets you hear the thawing of hearts)
(When others cries that Winter is harsh)
伸出手 让春天对他笑
(Let us reach out and Spring will smile upon them)

27 March 2012

Never give up, never surrender!

In his latest peace proposal, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda shared the following episode which touches me. There was a concern citizen who attempted to engage in a dialogue with a general who was leading his army in many inhumane brutalities against the common people. He wanted the general to see the folly of his ways. The dialogue ended in failure. The general did not heed his advice and went on to become a cruel tormentor.

After the dialogue, the citizen fell into a lengthy silence. Finally, he turned to his friend who was with him and proclaimed:

“You must never give up. As long as a person is alive, somewhere beneath the ashes there is a little bit of remaining fire, and all our task is. . . You must blow. . . carefully, very carefully blow. . . and blow. . . you'll see if it lights up. You mustn't worry whether it takes fire again or not. All you have to do is blow. “

This was the citizen’s way of restoring his own determination. At the same time, he recognized the importance of encouragement those who stand at the precipice of despair.

Reflecting on my own personal ways of contributing to the education of youths who will bear the burden of the future, the situation is equally tough. It is not uncommon to hear of once passionate educators losing faith and losing hope. Let me in my own way, cry:

“I must not give up. As long as there capable youths, the future of humanity is hopeful. Somewhere beneath the ashes, there is fire waiting to be ignited. All our task is... to encourage… carefully, very carefully encourage… and encourage… and the potential will be realized. I must not worry whether the youths are soaring high or not. All I have to do is encourage.”

26 March 2012

Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 3

About one or two hundred years after the emergence of Buddhism, a Greek ambassador of the King of Syria visited India and was astonished at what he observed there. "A surprising thing about India," he exclaimed, "is that there are women philosophers who debate openly with men, pro-pounding the most difficult arguments!" The status of women in ancient India was said to be nearly as low as that of slaves. Shakyamuni's inclusion of women in the religious order he founded was a revolutionary act. 

In this installment, we examine the universality of the Lotus Sutra. Specifically, we asked: To whom are these teachings of the Lotus Sutra as a whole directed?

The teachings of Buddhism were expounded for the happiness of all people; there is no discrimination based on sex, priestly or lay status, race, academic achievement, social position, power or wealth. In fact, Buddhism was expounded precisely so as to enable the discriminated and oppressed, those who have experienced the bitterest sufferings, to attain supreme happiness. This is the true power of Buddhism, and the true wisdom of the Lotus Sutra.

To demonstrate this point, it is noted that the Lotus Sutra explicitly stressed the enlightenment of women. This is unheard of in religious and philosophical ideas of that era. Across the globe, women were then given a lower status in every aspects of life. Lotus Sutra refuted that and offer women the same status as men in the pursuit of enlightenment.

The next point is that the Lotus Sutra was designed for the future (then), in what Buddhism described as the Latter Day of the Law. In this Latter Day, mankind is plagued with greed, anger and foolishness which permeated every aspect of society. This phenomenon applies perfectly to our contemporary world. This is why Lotus Sutra is really applicable to us, more than the direct disciples of Shakyamuni.

Nichiren Daishonin says that both the essential and theoretical teachings were taught for the sake of all people living after Shakyamuni's passing; the sutra, he concludes, was taught particularly for people of the Latter Day of the Law.

01 March 2012

Life and Death

Scissor Paper Stone

Just having some fun with Math using the classic game of Scissor-Paper-Stone (aka Rock-Paper-Scissor).

17 February 2012

Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 2

The second instalment of the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra seeks to define and understand what life is.

We use the word self [to refer to ourselves], but this word actually refers to the universe. When we ask how the life of the universe is different from the life of each one of you, the only differences we find are those of your bodies and minds. Your life and that of the universe are the same.

In the discussion on the philosophy of life, there are two common analogies used. 

The first described life as tree. With the source of life beginning from the roots or the stem, and each individual lives as the leaves or the flowers and fruits. In a sense, life begins from a foundational primal force and everything else is created from there. Such thinking is common in many mythologies and the Abrahamic religions. It tends to define the lives of each individual as having separate independent souls while being denominated to a common creator.

The Lotus Sutra, however, finds the above understanding of life lacking and aligned itself with the second analogy with views lives as waves on the ocean. Perceiving each individual life as even more closely related than merely sharing a creator, it views that each life actually common with the comic life itself.

For example, each of our lives is like waves on the ocean. We interact with those close to us constantly. And the winds (representing karma) influence us heavily. When we are born, it is like the wave riding high. And when we die, it is like the wave returning to the embrace of the ocean. But when we examine the nature of the waves, we find the same water that is the ocean. When we fully accept this interpretation of life, then true compassion can be developed. Because if every lives share the same entity, hurting another person would be like the cancer cells destroying their host body, they are hurting themselves ultimately.

What is life?
It is an entity which is simultaneously the infinite macrocosm and each of the microcosms that represent countless individual living beings. It is an enormous life-entity, always undergoing dynamic change and, at the same time, eternal and everlasting. The Buddha and the Mystic Law are names that we give to this undeniable entity--cosmic life. We are all embodiment of this sublime entity.

06 February 2012

Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 1

This year's YMD study focus is on the Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra. So here I am beginning to study this wonderful set of dialogues again. I should begin with the sharing of two segments from the opening instalment which provide the setting for my study.

First up, why do we study the Lotus Sutra?

Some people say that the prevailing mood in the world today is one of powerlessness. Whatever the case may be, we are all aware that things cannot continue as they are. Yet decisions about political, economic and environmental issues all seem to be made somewhere beyond our reach. What can the individual accomplish in the face of the huge institutions that run our world? This feeling of powerlessness fuels a vicious cycle that only worsens the situation and people's sense of futility.
At the opposite extreme of this sense of powerlessness lie the Lotus Sutra's philosophy of a single life-moment encompassing three thousand realms (ichinen sanzen) and the application of this teaching to our daily lives. The principle of one life-moment containing three thousand realms teaches us that the inner determination (ichinen) of one individual can transform everything. It is a teaching that gives ultimate expression to the infinite potential and dignity inherent in the life of each human being.

Basically, the core message in the Lotus Sutra is the empowerment of the individual. And we do need it more than ever this our contemporary world.

Another point to note is that the Lotus Sutra is described as the "King of Sutras". We have to understand here that "King" does not overwrite the other teachings. "King" here means to enhance the potential of all teachings. That means that the universality of the Lotus Sutra allows even non-Buddhists to benefit.

So how do we attempt to tap the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra?

German author and poet Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) write in his poem "Bucher" (Books):

All the books in the world 
Will not bring you happiness, 
But they will quietly lead you 
Back inside yourself.
There you will find all you need, 
Sun, stars and moon,
 For the light for which you search 
Dwells within you.
The wisdom you so long sought 
In books, 
Will then shine forth from every page-- 
For now that wisdom has become your own.

Books containing knowledge is only useful as far as we examine our lives against the teachings. With this, I turn the page.

11 January 2012

Thoughts on Angkor

Year 2012 is upon us. Actually, it had already been a good ten-day since the start of the New Year. And it is also a traditional busy time with the evaluation of the previous year, preparing work plans and settling into a new rhythm.

Finally I had a small window of time to write about my vacation in the zenith of year 2011. I visited Cambodia with the fiancée in December 2011. Specially, Siem Reap. The main objective was to visit Angkor and Angkor Wat in particular. As an enthusiast in religious history, I was hyped to explore this largest singular religious monument.

In brief, Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindi Temple. Centuries after Hinduism lost its influence in Cambodia, it is still maintained by Buddhists. A religious building is one of the greatest acts of cultural expression. And I believed that despite the differences between Buddhism and Hinduism, I believe that it is this respect for each other’s religious culture that allows Angkor Wat to survive today.

In contrast, the destruction of Sho-Hondo by Nikken due to his jealousy of the growth of Soka Gakkai seems utterly petty and immature.

But if you think that it is because Buddhism and Hinduism have common roots in ancient Indian philosophy that they can coexist, I beg to differ. Theologically, Buddhism was founded to confront the errors in the teachings of Brahmanism which is the predecessor of Hinduism. Hinduism is the evolution of Brahmanism to adapt to modern society.

But evidence of the conflict between the two faiths can be found a short distance northwest of Angkor Wat – Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was the political centre of medieval Cambodia (Khmer). Khmer was mainly a Hindu civilization with a window in its history where Buddhism thrived. In the centre of Angkor Thom was the temple known as Bayon. There was a time when Bayon was an important Buddhist temple for the royal family. But when Buddhism lost its influence among the Khmers, Hindu fanatics attacked the Bayon and much of the grand structure was vandalized.

It is interesting to note that Angkor Wat predates Angkor Thom. Why was Angkor Thom badly vandalized but not Angkor Wat?

It is my belief that this is due to the fact that Angkor Wat was a religious centre while Angkor Thom was a political centre. In medieval society, it is not possible to divorce religions from politics. But there are fundamental differences. Both religions and politics are tools. Wield by the right people, they can be a force for either great good or evil. But political tools are focused on the creation of structures and environments for the people. It has great value. But it pales in comparison to religious tools which focused on values and culture.

In a revolution, structures and environments are reset and rebuilt from the ground up. But values and cultures are eternal.

Politics has become a common point of discussion in my country since the previous election. While I respect the good that good policies can have on people’s lives, it is more meaningful for me to impart positive values and humanistic cultures to the people around me. Schooled in Nichiren Buddhism of the Soka Gakkai tradition, I am convinced that I am equipped with the tools to influence others towards a more humanistic society. It is how I wield it that I must ponder deeply and with care that I will never be corrupted.

On a side note, the GCE O Level results were released 2 days ago. Technically, my students did not perform all that bad. But as any decent teacher would feel, I had hoped they would do even better. Best wishes to them for the next phase of their education!

10 October 2011

Tribute to my godmother

On the morning of 8 October 2011, my godmother passed away. She was actually an aunt of mine. My father was hardly there when we were growing up. My mother had to work to support us. Hence, we were left in the care of this aunt when we were children. She was one of the primary caregivers of my childhood. Hence, it was natural that we acknowledge her as our godmother. I broke down in tears uncontrollably while performing my morning prayer that day after receiving the news as the magnitude of my debt of gratitude towards her overwhelm me.

She is a speaker of the Teochew dialect. And I belonged to the generation of Singaporeans which was discouraged from dialects. I can converse decently in Hokkein and Teochew dialects, but advance dialogue is beyond me. But she never needed to speak much with us. Her smile and shine in her eyes whenever we visited spoke clearly of her delight and pride at our growth into fine adults. Her love as she fussed over us is plain to see.

While coming to terms with her departure, the Buddhist concept of nine consciousnesses occupied my mind. The nine consciousnesses can be summed up as such:

  1. The first five consciousnesses correspond to the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. This is the level that we generally relate to our environment and people around us.
  2. The sixth consciousness integrates the perceptions of the five senses into coherent images and makes judgments about the external world. In other words, it is our attempt to makes sense of the information provided by the first five consciousnesses.
  3. The seventh consciousnesses can be described as our awareness and attachment to the self. It is where we form our identity as an individual.
  4. The eighth consciousnesses can be understood as our karmic storehouse. This is where the accounts of our thoughts, deeds, and actions are stored as karmic potential.
  5. And the ninth consciousnesses represent our shared Buddha nature.

There are 2 lessons we can derive from the nine consciousnesses:

Firstly, every individual possesses their own nine consciousnesses. When we sleep, our first six consciousnesses actually enter a dormant state to “recharge”. And when we die, our seventh consciousnesses also enter the dormant state to “recharge”. But the eighth and ninth consciousnesses will continue to exist and will be carried forward to the next life.

Secondly, many people can understand that good causes beget good effect and negative causes beget negative effects. This account, as explained in Buddhism, resides in the eighth consciousnesses which transcend death. While alive, karma can be affected by our good deeds or evil deeds performed via the first seven consciousnesses. But in death, the only way to generate positive karma is through prayers and the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo via the ninth consciousnesses.

The funeral rites will be performed tomorrow (11 October 2011) at Block 2 Hougang Avenue 3. It is rites of the provisional Buddhism which is not the school of Buddhism I subscribed to in this latter day of the law. But there is no reason not to participate in it out of respect. And in my heart, I will be furiously chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with all my might to communicate to her via the ninth consciousnesses so as to quickly expiate her negative karma and for her to have the good fortune to acquire the Buddha’s body and attain enlightenment.

I love you, ma.

And my thanks to all well-wishers.

17 September 2011


A sing-a-long music video I made for the song I mentioned in my earlier post.

And the minus one version...

12 September 2011

Singing Gakkai Songs

Dearest frontline comrades,

We are all aware that there are many activities that the Soka Gakkai conducted. We have a variety so that we can keep things fresh and interesting. But those of us who practiced all enough would realized that all our activities are based around our three pillars of faith, practice and study in various degrees. For example, a prayer meeting is based on faith – encouraging faith and demonstrating faith. And our study meetings are based on study – to deepen our understanding of Buddhism. What about our discussion meetings?

Sensei had often reminded us that our discussion meetings are to be the bastions of happiness. Therefore, our discussion meetings have to be a place where we share happiness. And the sharing of happiness is our practice of Buddhism.

1.       活动报告
2.       动人体验
3.       文化
4.       御书
Our discussion meetings often have the following elements:
1.       Activity reports
2.       Motivating testimonials
3.       Culture
4.       Gosho sharing

Activity reports are the sharing of the happiness of attending them. Which is why it should not just be telling of upcoming event, but to share the joy we had from attending them.

Motivating testimonials are the sharing of the happiness of showing actual proofs. Or even to tell a story of the triumph of the human spirit.

More on Culture later.

Gosho sharing at the discussion meetings are different from Gosho studies at our study meetings. In the study meetings, we are going for depth and understanding. But Gosho sharing is the sharing of the happiness of applying what we learnt into our lives.

So here we can see that every aspect of the discussion meetings is directed to our attempt to share happiness!

As for Culture, we often heard the emcees telling us that a song is used to warm us up. This is only applicable to new friends. We don’t really need to warm up. And sometimes we use pop songs and have the youths to present. This is an excellent way to develop a sense of participation for the newer youngsters and should be done occasionally but it is not the true spirit of Culture.

Our Culture at discussion meetings is neither a performances nor an entertainment. It is the sharing of the happiness of rousing our hearts. A good Gakkai song is almost always written through great agony and spiritual struggle. That is why they are evergreen. And since it is not for entertainment, we should not just passively listen to them. As leaders, we ought to be able; be willing; be enthusiastic about singing Gakkai songs. And to sing together.

今天,就和大家分享其中一首常青歌 威风堂堂之歌。歌词解说如下:
Today, I would like to share one such evergreen song – The song of indomitable spirit. The lyrics (translated) are explained as follows:

Stanza One
We want to save the drowning men with unwavering determination
Even with difficulties aplenty, we fear neither hardship nor obstacles
Must stand firm and strong un-begrudgingly
With unity and indomitable trust

Right from the start this song announced our vow as Bodhisattva of the Earth save the drowning men and confirms that Nichiren Buddhism is a mission-based practice and not merely benefit-based practice. And a mission-based practice means to be “un-begrudging”. Only then can true unity (Itai-doshin) be achieved.

Stanza Two
You need strength to travel the difficult winding journey of life
Rouse our spirits and courageously overcome them
Must stand firm and strong and live to our full potential
Light up our sacred torch with indomitable justice

这里继续问道为什么要异体同心。就为了奋起精神鼓起勇气 与发挥生命的潜力好让我们点燃内心的正义火炬。
Here we continue to ask why we need Itai-doshin. It is rouse one another’s courage to overcome the obstacles before us. And we rouse to our lives’ potential in order to light up the flame of justice.

Stanza Three
Let spread our compassion for the continuity of life
May every district in the world be filled with joy and harmony
With faith, courageously advance into the difficult path
Rising high the banner of justice and advance indomitably

Toda Sensei was enlightened to the fact that Buddha’s nature is life itself. Here, the continuity of life also means the pure flow of ultimate heritage of the law. Without this pure flow, there can be no joy and harmony in the districts. That is why with the flame of justice from Stanza Two, we manifest the banner of justice to ensure the purity of the ultimate heritage of the law. 

To protect the Law. This is the meaning of indomitable spirit!

庄顺贤                                 Raymond Chng
实龙岗南支部                  Serangoon South Chapter
男青干事                            Young Men Division Leader
2011 9                       September 2011