Time : Saturday 2pm-4pm
Platform : ZOOM Cloud Meeting
Topic of Discussion : The Power of Contemplation
On 6 June 2020, Guan Yin Citta, Singapore held yet another online Buddhism in Plain Terms (BIPT) Group Study (in English). Covering the second half of episode three, the session centred around the importance and power of contemplation.
To contemplate is to reflect, observe, examine and inspect. Hence, it is fitting that the session began with a discussion on why contemplation is important for a Buddhist practitioner. As Master Lu said, we must recognise how impure our soul is before we can aspire to be a Buddha. If to contemplate is to illuminate our innate wisdom, the participants of the group study must be shining brightly from their deep contemplation of Buddhist teachings during the session and beyond. Buddhist friends first learnt about a method of meaningful contemplation, the Four Pillars of Mindfulness: Contemplate our Body as Impure, Our Thoughts as Impermanent, the Dharma as Devoid of Self, and Our Feelings as Suffering. In battling your inner demons, which is your weapon of choice?
If you think you are clean, you will not think of taking a shower. Indeed, as covered in the session, the first pillar of mindfulness is to Contemplate our Body as Impure. This serves to motivate us in our cultivation as this mode of meditative thinking can help Buddhist friends curb any sexual desires that may arise as we see the body for what it really is, a stinky bag of flesh and bones.
In the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world of today, it is hardly uncommon to feel sad and overwhelmed. Hence, the second pillar of mindfulness is to Contemplate our Thoughts as Impermanent. Did you know that our brain fires well over 100 trillion synapses every second? As a Buddhist friend shared during the discussion, our thoughts and emotions are fluid with ever fluctuating desires. Thus, Buddhist practitioners must learn to set aside perturbation to achieve clarity of understanding and focus on helping sentient beings.
Thirdly, one should Contemplate the Dharma as Devoid of Self, to adopt the view that ‘I’ do not exist in any phenomena in this dharma realm. In practising the mentality of non-self and understanding the nature of emptiness, one will be able to liberate themselves from the human realm to be elevated in their level of spirituality. A Buddhist friend whose child had decreased her pocket money shared how this pillar of mindfulness amongst other methods had helped her to find peace and take things easily.
Finally, one should Contemplate our Feelings as Suffering. Just like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, pleasurable sensations are ultimately a disguise for suffering. As shared by a participant who was faced with the issue of wasting too much time online, after the temporary amusement from the internet, the pressure and guilt from undone work lurked in wait.
In our journey of spiritual cultivation, theory and practice should go hand-in-hand. As such, participants were tasked to contemplate contemplation and share how they would apply the theory of mindfulness to solving everyday problems. As Master Lu said, the true understanding of spiritual cultivation is to comprehend the teachings in one’s heart and be able to apply the dharma in one’s life. By actively participating in the group study, sharing rich personal experiences and asking questions to enable the learning of others, many Buddhist friends took a step towards fulfilling this ideal of spiritual cultivation this week.
Let us now look at some comments from participants:
“I recommend the Buddhism in Plain Terms group study to all Buddhist friends as it is very well conducted. I understand and feel that I take away a lot of good stuff each time I attend. The participants are so real without a trace of arrogance among those who share or conduct the class. I feel extreme comfortability whenever I attend and I believe whoever attends the group study will benefit too.”
“I would recommend the study session to others as the session is filled with positive energy and the presence of Guan Yin Bodhisattva can be felt when learning. It also helps individuals gain knowledge of Buddhist teachings and infinite wisdom. Hearing the perspective of others on topics discussed is also very refreshing.”
? Next Buddhism in Plain Terms English Group Study:
⏰ Date and time:
Saturday 13 June 2020 @ 2-4 pm
(If you are interested in joining this group study, please contact Loh shixiong)
Please click here to download the Summary Slides shared during the Group Study:
Buddhism in Plain Terms – Episode 3 (Part 2)
The Power of Contemplation
We must recognise how impure our soul is before we can aspire to be a Buddha. We have to eliminate the defilements. Be diligent in learning and understanding the Buddhist teachings. Do not put the blame on others casually. Neither should you be arrogant. That’s because the minute you point the finger at others, you have set the karma in motion. You are fully responsible for this karma. At times, the ramifications can be so massive that you may end up in hell.
To be accomplished on this spiritual path you should first return to The Path. By that I mean, to get back on the path. Just like when you want to drive to a highway, before you arrive on the highway, you have to drive on the small roads first and gradually make your way onto the highway. This is what it means for one to “return” to the path. This path is the path of enlightenment. It’s a kind of wisdom. When someone says, “You have “Attained The Way.” What does that mean? It means you understand all the principles. You’d say, “I get it” as you know exactly, as a person, what you should do in your practice of Buddhism and in your everyday life, and how you should live in this world.
So, within your perception, you should be able to see this world with utmost clarity of understanding. Do you know your own mind? Many people don’t really know themselves. Hence, I want you to know that you should set aside all your cluttered thoughts and focus on propagating the Dharma and help sentient beings. What is the meaning of “Attain the Way”? It’s about distancing yourself from all selfish and distracting thoughts.
You shouldn’t be swayed by whatever happens in the dharma realm, referring to the ten dharma realms, or this human realm. Hence, it’s called the dharma realm. Sometimes, your pursuit of material gains, fame or fortune might turn you into a stranger to even yourself.
That’s why many people, let me use a simple example, look at those TV show addicts, bread and jam become their staple food. They binge-watch episode after episode, become couch potatoes and even give up their jobs. They are resolute to get to the finale of the show and end up watching too much. As a result, their eyes and lower back become sore, and they also put on weight. This is what happens when a person sits for long hours every day – weight gain is inevitable.
We should aim to be a person of morality, learn to be selfless. And keep thinking about sentient beings, with that, the world you own shall be boundless. Thus, we have to be diligent in our practice of Buddhism and be sincere when praying to the Buddha. We have to learn to see through the reality of things and let go.
Master Jun Hong Lu’s related discourses (cross references):
< The Importance of Contemplation >
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 11 Chapter 40 (an excerpt)
TO CONTEMPLATE IS TO ILLUMINATE THE WISDOM WITHIN
Master Jun Hong Lu: To ‘contemplate’ is to reflect and illuminate the wisdom that we inherently possess (“观”是观照，观照本身具有智慧). When you observe the consciousness of your spiritual being, wisdom arises in you. A person, who is capable of being accomplished in his spiritual cultivation, will unceasingly reflect on the things he does to see if they are right or wrong. This is the essence of: “To contemplate and illuminate”.
Wisdom gives rise to “purity” (智慧产生“净”). A person with wisdom has a mind that is pure. In addition, wisdom brings forth one’s calmness from within (智慧还会产生“定”). With calmness, your mind will not succumb to unruly thoughts (心就会停止去乱想); such thoughts are halted. Hence the term: “purity, calmness and halt” (“净定止”).
Sharing by Ven. Shih Xin Ding (An Excerpt) – 15 December 2019
Grasping is the cause of rebirth (执著是轮回的因). Because of our grasping to what we perceive to be right – we say, “I feel that…”, “I believe that..” or “You have to do this MY way” etc.- all these grasping (执著) will cause us to be deluded and our heart to lose its bearing. In the Heart Sutra 《心经》 it says, “When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practising the profound Prajna Paramita…(“观自在菩萨，行深般若波罗蜜多时”)” – The Buddha tells us that even if we have embarked on this path of wisdom towards liberation (智慧解脱的道路上), we still need to constantly examine and contemplate (自省内观) that our body as impure, our feelings as sufferings, our thoughts as impermanent and the dharma as devoid of self. This is how we keep ourselves away from the four derangements (远离四颠倒).
< Contemplate the Body as Impure >
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 6 Chapter 43 (An Excerpt)
Bodhisattva urges us to contemplate our thoughts as impermanent. Many of our shortcomings are centered in our bodies. Hence, Bodhisattva wants us to know that our bodies are impure and our minds, are always in a state of flux, that is, they never stay the same. These are the reasons why you need to cultivate yourself spiritually (这样你才会修). Otherwise, you won’t even think that cultivation is necessary. Just like if you think you are so clean, you won’t think of getting a shower, will you? Hence, you should always contemplate your body as impure and your thoughts as impermanent. (要看透身是不干净的，心是无常的)
Master Lu’s Discourse at Guan Yin Hall (An Excerpt) – 22 October 2011
LEARN TO VISUALIZE AND TAKE CONTROL OF OUR THOUGHTS
In fact, visualisation (观想) is a way to train your thoughts (锻炼意念) – where you contemplate if your thoughts are righteous or not. If you make it a habit to do so, your thoughts will not go wrong. You have to pay attention to the fact that you have a lot of negative karma from your past life which you need to clean up gradually (要把这些孽缘慢慢地擦干净) and to train your thoughts. For e.g. some negative thoughts arise in your mind today. In that instant, you should ask yourself “Should I do it?” The next time such negative thoughts arise, you are aware that you should not do it that way. Through this, the right mental attitude (正思维) will arise naturally. You should always train your thoughts. When a negative thought arises, you should immediately restrain it (克制), and then cover it with another thought (用另外一个意念把它盖住) to block it. (遮住)
DISCOURSE ON METHODS OF MEDITATION
Caller: Master Lu, please enlighten us on the various methods of meditation that can help us to effectively calm our mind. Thank you.
Master Jun Hong Lu: Meditation methods include counting of breaths. The other method is “Contemplation of the Body as Impure” (不净观). The world that we live in is impure and so are we. This method of contemplation is especially effective for those who are battling lustful thoughts in their mind – where you contemplate the filthiness of the skin, flesh, and all those dirtiest parts of the human body, do you understand?
Master Jun Hong Lu: No matter how beautiful a girl may look, think about her nostrils, how filthy is that?! Think about the earwax, discharge from the eyes, and stinky breath … No matter how handsome a guy may appear, think about how dirty the nostrils and mouth are! This is what “Contemplation of the Body as Impure” (不净观) works. This contemplation is to deter you from giving in to your sexual desires. (不会去好色) In fact, the only difference between humans and animals is that animals don’t wear clothes, while humans do. But if your behaviour is like the animals, doesn’t that make you an animal too?
< Contemplate the Thoughts as Impermanent >
Wenda20180916B 42:38 (An Excerpt)
How to eliminate worries and distracting thoughts through practising The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
Caller: Master, you talked about “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” (“四念处”). I felt very troubled and felt that I had a lot of things that weigh heavily on my mind. If I practise contemplation, what type of contemplation should I do? Should I perform the Contemplation of Thoughts as Impermanent?
Master Jun Hong Lu: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness is a ‘mind’ thing. It may be a challenge for a person like you who has so many distracting thoughts.
Caller: Then, how should I cultivate?
Master Jun Hong Lu: Firstly, you should learn to calm yourself down – sitting in silence (禅坐), not meditation (打坐). It is to stop yourself from thinking. Perhaps you should practise one of the methods under The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (四念处).
Caller: Will that be to Contemplate the Thought as Impermanent (“观心无常”)?
Master Jun Hong Lu: You should practise two of the methods, to Contemplate Feelings as Suffering (观受是苦)，and to Contemplate Thoughts as Impermanent (观心无常).
Caller: Alright. Master, can you briefly explain the latter?
Master Jun Hong Lu: To Contemplate Thoughts as Impermanent (观心无常) means you are aware that the world is ever changing – one day like this, another day like that. Why should you worry then? Even if you feel down today, a few days after, you may be feeling happy again; if you are feeling happy today, who knows, two day later, you may be unhappy.
Caller: I understand now. So I should often do such contemplation, am I right?
Master Jun Hong Lu: When you feel sad, you should often think that everything will be alright after a few days.
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 6, Chap. 43 (An excerpt)
KNOW THE WORLD THROUGH UNDERSTANDING ONE’S INHERENT NATURE
We need to understand the reality of impermanence (要懂无常) and recognise that our desires are ever fluctuating. Think about it – did you stick to what you set forth to accomplish? You opt for this today and that the next day; you think this way today and another way the next. You change your mind, feelings and emotions every day. Hence, you have to contemplate your thoughts as impermanent. (观心无常)
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 8 Chap. 12 (An Excerpt)
All these bickering in this human realm has only to do with one thing, and that is your mind. You feel unhappy today, sad tomorrow, and broken-hearted the day after tomorrow and emotionally moved the day after. You are made busy because of this mind of yours; this ever-changing mind which can be positive one day and negative the next – the very same mind. What’s the big deal with this world you live in? When you think about your past, step by step recalling those memories, everything seems important to you back then. None are insignificant. But now, when you think about them, which one of those are important now? When you were a child, you had a fall and you broke your teeth and your head, you bled, it was devastating, but aren’t you alive and kicking now? You have forgotten all of those memories, haven’ you? “Argh, I married the wrong man”, “Argh, I took the wrong woman to be my wife”; “Something serious happened in my family, it’s disastrous!” Think about it now, what was the big deal? You are still who you are. It was only your perturbed mind (不就是你这颗心在动).
< Contemplate the Dharma as Devoid of Self >
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 6, Chap. 45 观受是苦，观法无我
Contemplate feelings as sufferings; Contemplate the dharma is devoid of self
Let me tell you about:
“To Contemplate the dharma as devoid of Self” (“观法无我”). The word ‘dharma’ (“法”) in this context refers to the dharma realm (法界). To “Contemplate the dharma is devoid of Self” (“观法无我”) means we should view “I do not exist in any of the phenomena in this dharma realm”. For example, do you see yourself being in this room now? or when you see delicious food, do you think of yourself? Spiritual cultivation is about learning to forget about the notion of ‘self’ in the midst of our many desires. The principle here is, it is through forgetting the “self” that one find one’s true self (要忘却自我，才能找到真正的自我).
Let me quote you a simple example. A fight broke out among some children. The parents arrived. If the parents believed that their child has always been good and would never fight with others, they would not be looking for their child among the group of fighting children. The same for us, in this dharma realm, if we do not see ourselves as victims of this realm (法界的牺牲者), we can then liberate ourselves from this dharma realm (脱离法界).
Going back to the example above, if we don’t see ourselves as someone who will fight and argue with others, we will always be apart from this “fighting crowd”. Instead, we think of ourselves as good people, hence, we don’t belong to the evil group of people. Conversely, if you think of yourself as a bad person, you will never be able to find yourself among the good people.
In this dharma realm, people have so much greed, hatred and ignorance. Everyone lives in their world of desires. Do you wish to find yourself among the many bad people in this realm? Therefore, we have to contemplate there is no “I” in this dharma realm (法界当中无我). Do you understand? When you Contemplate that the Dharma is Devoid of Self,(观法无我) you have liberated yourself from the human realm (脱离了人道). When you can’t see yourself in the dharma realm, don’t you think this is an elevation in your level of spirituality (境界提升)? You have attained the state-of-mind of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (到了佛菩萨的境界).
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 11 Chap. 25 (An Excerpt)
THE THREE DHARMA SEALS – UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF EMPTINESS
“All dharma is devoid of self” (“诸法无我”) means you do not own any of your undertakings in the human realm. You have no idea where you would go ultimately. If not for the name that was given to you at birth, you wouldn’t even know who you are. Or, who you would be after you die. Just take a look at those names on the tombstones. Let me ask you, do you remember the name of your grandparents? Do you understand now? You have to understand that the self is not an independent entity (无有我的实体). Hence, the term non-self (没有我). You have borrowed a name and a physical body to come to live in this world. And, in the end, you will have to return your “loaned” body and name to the universe. You shall leave this world taking nothing with you, except your soul (灵魂). This is what it means by “all dharma is devoid of self” (“诸法无我”).
< Contemplate Feelings as Suffering >
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 6, Chap. 45 观受是苦，观心无常
Contemplate feelings as sufferings; Contemplate the dharma is devoid of self
“To Contemplate our Feelings as Suffering” (“观受是苦”). We have to constantly contemplate and recognise that what you feel is suffering. For example, you had a lot to eat today. It was all bliss when you were eating. You just wouldn’t want to stop. What’s next? Suffering. Because your digestive system is not able to take it. What about when you go for a holiday? You need to go on a long-haul bus that gives you swollen legs at the end of the journey. Isn’t that suffering?
Bodhisattva wants us to contemplate that all our feelings lead to suffering. It may look pleasurable on the surface. Just like medicine. It may be sugar-coated. But there is no medicine in the world that is not bitter. I wish to tell you that for a person who is enlightened of The Way, a person of wisdom, like what I said earlier, they need to:
Firstly, contemplate our body as impure (观身不净), it is only when you see yourself as far from ‘clean’ only then you cultivate well.
Secondly, contemplate our feelings as suffering. We need to understand that all our bodily feelings lead us only to suffering (观受是苦).
< Apply Buddhism in Daily Life >
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 11 Chap. 19 (An Excerpt)
TRANSFORM BAD HABITS TO ACCOMPLISH THE BUDDHA’S PATH
What is “dharma” (法)? It is about making use of Bodhisattva’s wisdom and energy to reflect upon ourselves in our daily lives (用菩萨的思维和菩萨的能量来观照) and to apply the pure Buddhist teachings to our daily life (把佛法的清净观念运用到日常生活当中). It is about constant application of what you know of ‘The Path’ i.e. The Buddha’s path. This concept is unknown to many.
When your entire life is immersed in the “The Path of the Buddha” (活在佛道当中), this is when you are enlightened to the path of Buddhism and your life in this human realm is working 100% in accordance with the teachings of humanity Buddhism (人间佛法).
To put this in simpler terms, it is when you use the heart of the Bodhisattvas to benefit sentient beings in this world. (利益众生)
Buddhism in Plain Terms Episode 56 (An Excerpt)
In the Buddhist scriptures, it is said that, “though it is crucial for one “to interpret” the teachings, what’s more important is the cultivation of one’s behaviour” (“解”道紧要但是我们修的行为更重要). Dharma is hard to come by and the chance to be born a human is rare. Even though we have such a good opportunity to be a human, it is only for a limited time (佛法难闻，人身难得，既得人身，又有几载). Those who fail to let go will definitely suffer. Therefore, Buddhist practitioners should seize the opportunity to study the teachings and cultivate their minds.
There are many Buddhist practitioners who are good in reciting the scriptures and their understanding of the Buddha’s teachings are superb. However, their behaviour is not close to that of a human; All that they learned, they failed to put into practice. In the end all their efforts in cultivation comes to nothing. Therefore, the Dharma teaches the unity of knowledge and action (知行合一) (i.e., the congruence of one’s knowledge and actions). To truly understand the Dharma is to comprehend the teachings in one’s heart (真正理解佛法是在内心之中) and be able to apply the Dharma in one’s life – THIS IS THE TRUE UNDERSTANDING OF SPIRITUAL CULTIVATION (修行之解).
< Buddhism in Plain Terms < 白话佛法共修分享