Time : Saturday 2pm-4pm
Platform : ZOOM Cloud Meeting
Topic of Discussion : Transform Suffering into Happiness
On 30 May 2020, Guan Yin Citta, Singapore held yet another online Buddhism in Plain Terms (BIPT) Group Study (in English). Covering the first half of episode three, the session centred around transforming suffering into happiness.
To kick start the session, participants were asked to contemplate what kind of happiness does Bodhisattva wants us to have. Deep reflection will tell us that everything is characterised by suffering, emptiness and impermanence. In that case, the aim of spiritual cultivation in Guan Yin Citta is to gain wisdom in order to be liberated from suffering and achieve true happiness from within. As a participant shared, Master Lu’s parable of the four horses illustrates that suffering can be a powerful tool that spurs Buddhist practitioners from inaction to action in our spiritual journey. The many such inspiring inputs from fellow Buddhist friends rouses everyone to always remember why we began Buddhist cultivation even in good times — to break free from life’s ever present slew of suffering.
In line with the ideal of studying Buddhism in Plain Terms, Master Lu often employs the use of lighthearted Zen koans which are simple stories that are often deliberately enigmatic so as to encourage critical thinking and impart moral lessons. In the episode, the story of the monk and the bandits taught us about the reality of suffering: the eight sufferings are inescapable. However, the first step of our liberation lies in understanding the eight sufferings and the true nature of things. Hence, in learning about why we suffer, participants took a baby step towards happiness during the session. As Master Lu said, a person who is attached tends to regret their every action while a person who is free from attachment will find bliss in all they do. Indeed, the many participants that let go of their attachments during the group study not only immersed themselves fully in the discussion, but also in dharma bliss.
The group study also discussed why suffering may even be good for us, stating that without the test of tribulations, our mind cannot achieve a cultivated state. A Buddhist friend also shared her story about fighting breast cancer. Her enlightening testimony highlighted how suffering teaches one the importance of letting go, eliminates karmic obstacles and even increases one’s virtues. Although it was a mentally and physically arduous process, she learnt to embrace suffering. All Buddhist friends were touched by her genuine and personal story.
Finally, the group study came to a close with some food for thought: are we focusing on the wrong things in life? Through studying how our various levels of consciousness are influenced by our innate Buddha nature, Buddhist friends discussed how embracing impermanence is the means for our liberation from suffering as that is how a person learns to cherish. As a new month arrives, the restful yet thought-provoking session provided a respite for the participants amidst our stressful climate of present as we look forward to another session next week.
*Let us now look at some comments from participants:*
“I would really recommend these sessions to everyone. The group study helps me get my mind away from things and I’ll always leave feeling more motivated to do well in my cultivation. I think I should also cherish the opportunities to learn Buddhism together as sometimes we would not understand as much if we were to merely read the text ourselves. It is through sharing of experiences, tapping on Master Lu’s discourses that we can further grasp Buddhism teachings. Learning together and taking down notes helps us to remember the things more easily so that we can really reflect on our actions and find ways to improve ourselves for the better. These sessions also teach us methods, practical steps by relating to every example which I feel that everyone can relate with and we would not know what to do when faced with such daily problems or obstacles.”
? Next Buddhism in Plain Terms English Group Study:
⏰ Date and time:
Saturday 6 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 1)
Transform Suffering into Happiness
Topic 1 “What kind of Happiness Bodhisattva wants for us?”
All the sufferings in this world are empty and impermanent. There is a story of a Brahmin family in India. Brahmins belong to the highest-ranking of the social classes. One day, a boy was born into this family. He looked very handsome and dignified. His parents doted on him very much. From a young age, he was very clever and was completely different from his peers. His life was filled with happiness, and he had no worries. His teen years were blessed. In short, he led a very good life. Sadly, people are often deluded by desires and pleasure. During happy times nobody wants to think about the possibility of suffering in the future. Just like many people nowadays, when times are good, they won’t think that they might suffer one day. All of you have enjoyed good health before. But have you ever thought about your body failing you when you age? No. It is the same with this Brahmin.
Topic 2 “Reality of Suffering: Why are Buddhists Happy People?”
The child in this Brahmin family was exceptionally wise and very intelligent. As he was raised in a wealthy and peaceful environment, you wouldn’t imagine that this child could understand the sufferings of life and the many bad things that people would do. He was just a child. But he already knew what to do and what not to do. When he reached adulthood, he left home to become a monk. See, what does ‘leaving home’ mean? It means bidding farewell to one’s family members and leaving home to become a monk.
Once, on his way back from teaching dharma in a very dark and dense forest, he encountered a merchants’ caravan. They are businessmen from other towns and were passing through the woods. When they reached a mountain, the sky had turned dark, and the businessmen had no other choice but to camp there for a night. They set up the tents and flocked together. The monk saw these merchants with their big carts filled with goods, but he was not concerned, it was as if he didn’t see anything. The monk was not far away from them, wandering around walking back and forth alone.
At that moment, a group of bandits appeared from the other side of the forest. They are robbers from the mountain and have come to steal and rob. They heard that a group of merchants will travel this route, so they planned to take action at night to steal all their wealth and possessions. As the bandits sneaked up on the merchants’ camp, they saw a person strolling around outside the camp. “Gosh! There’s someone on watch duty! Or is he just walking around?” They feared that the merchants were geared up, so they decided to wait until everyone went deeper into their sleep. The bandits hid at the edge of the mountain. The person walking outside the camp was actually the monk, who had stayed up throughout the night without sleeping a wink. He just paced up and down, walking back and forth. Of course, unlike all of you, I believe he must be reciting some Buddhist scriptures while pacing.
As the day dawned, the bandits came off their horses, walked up to this side of the mountain and waited for a chance to strike, but to no avail. The bandits couldn’t find the right time to strike, so they retreated with anger and frustration. The merchants who were sleeping in the camp went out to check and saw the large group of bandits rushing up the mountain with wooden and metal batons in their hands, leaving in anger, cursing aloud and galloping. Only the monk was standing outside the camp.
The merchants went over to ask the monk in horror:
“Venerable master, did you see the bandits?”;
“Yes, of course. I saw them much earlier. They have been here since last night”. The monk calmly explained the situation to them.
“Venerable master, with so many bandits, why weren’t you frightened? You were alone. How did you defeat so many bandits without showing any sign of nervousness?”;
The monk calmly replied:
“Sir, only the rich are afraid of the bandits. I am just a monk without even a penny in my pocket. Hence, I have nothing to be afraid of. The bandits are after money and treasures and I have none of that. So it doesn’t matter if I live high on the mountain or deep in the forest, I have no fear.”
This story tells us how foolish and ignorant many people are.
Topic 3 “Are we focusing on the wrong things in life?”
People today desire illusionary things such as wealth and fame, things that may come to them today but are gone tomorrow, something that can disappear in an instant or fall into the hands of others and yet, they refuse to part with them. Instead, they risk their lives in mad pursuance, while turning a blind eye towards their kind nature, a peaceful life, a mental state that is calm and at ease, all of these we choose to neglect.
This is why we say, “to be safe and well is a blessing”. For you to be able to safely and peacefully sit here today is a blessing. Imagine how many people out there are suffering, imagine how many people become disabled after a car accident, imagine how many others who have died of cancer. Hence, for a true Buddhist practitioner, you should be like the monks who appreciate the meaning of suffering, emptiness and impermanence in this world. You were born with nothing, and you shall leave this world the same way. When you hold on to the wealth, which is impermanent in reality, it’s just a burden.
Therefore, we must correctly recognise that everything in the world is suffering and empty by nature. Nothing lasts forever, and everything is illusory. So that you can let go of your ego and diligently cultivate yourself. That’s why no matter what we do, we must learn to be virtuous and resolve all moral issues that we face. The intentions and thoughts that we have every day will bring us a lot of karmic obstacles. We don’t need any of that. We must not allow our defiled thoughts to destroy our inherent nature and purity.
It’s just like the natural beauty of your mind. Many people are intoxicated with greed, hatred, delusions, arrogance and doubts. They want to get their hands on everything, and they madly pursue fame and fortune. Their actions only bring them natural disasters deep within themselves. Hence, for every episode of natural disaster, we have our share of contribution in the karma collectively. It’s collective karma.
Master Jun Hong Lu’s related discourses (cross references):
Buddhism in Plain Terms Episode 15 (an excerpt)
Let’s talk about this phrase today: “To frown and wear a troubled look” (愁眉苦脸). In ancient times, the word “frown” (愁眉) is a make-up technique while the word “troubled look” (苦脸) has its root in the Buddhist teachings. According to the Buddhist teachings, life is a sea of suffering. In this sea of bitterness the disposition of a human’s face resembles the word “suffering” (“苦”字). The two eyebrows resemble the top section of the word; followed by a nose and a mouth. This goes to show that a human’s face is a natural depiction of suffering, hence, the bitter face. This is to tell us that we didn’t come to this world to enjoy ourselves. In fact, the phrase “To frown and wear a troubled look” (愁眉苦脸) is a term in Buddhism (佛教的用语).
<What Kind of Happiness Bodhisattva wants for us?>
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 11 Chapter 45 (an excerpt)
Knowing that there is no eternal happiness in this world, you must begin to learn to truly understand the attributes of happiness based on the Buddha’s teachings. In Buddhism, it is said that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas want us to be happy. What should be our understanding of happiness? Where can happiness be? E.g. We find happiness after we have a good shower and probably a good sleep. The same goes with having a good meal. But after we wake up, we feel tired again; after the shower we are dirty again; when someone offers to buy you dinner, you make it a point not to eat all day, so that you can have a big meal for dinner – you are also very happy. So, what’s next? All is gone tomorrow!
Hence, give this some thought. Just what kind of happiness does Bodhisattva want us to have? It is the happiness that we feel from our heart. The Bodhisattva says: “When you help others, you will be very happy.” Well, when you do just that, you continue to feel the happiness. Then, when others are grateful and hold respect towards you for helping them, won’t you be even happier? And where does this happiness come from? It is from your innate nature (内心本性). It is not something that goes away after one or two days. As those who have helped others, they will be remembered by others for a long time. Conversely, if the only thing you care about is how to help yourself, the happiness that you gain tends to disappear very quickly. What are the characteristics of happiness? It lies in the quality of happiness. What are the traits of a happy person?
He is not greedy, he is free from hatred and stupidity.
- A person with no greed is disciplined;
- Those who have no hatred are calm;
- The ones who are free from ignorance have wisdom and they don’t do stupid things.
- And, when they don’t do stupid things, THEY ARE HAPPY.
< Reality of Suffering: Why are Buddhists Happy People? >
Buddhism in Plain Terms Vol. 11 Chapter 45 (an excerpt)
Birth, old age, sickness and death (生老病死) are inevitable. Suffering starts at birth and it goes on to old age. The suffering from ill health is unspeakable; and death is agonizing. Nobody can escape these four types of suffering, regardless if you are a millionaire, or however great or lowly you are. So, as Buddhists, how can we escape from these four sufferings and to be truly happy? Please remember, spiritual cultivation is to transform you to be a happy person (修心就是让你变得快乐) where the radiant light of the Buddha flows right from your self-nature.
< Reality of Suffering: The Eight Sufferings >
20170925 Public Talk, Milan, Italy – THE EIGHT SUFFERINGS
- Birth (生)
Isn’t it painful when a child is born? The suffering already begins before birth as one is already able to feel sensations in the womb. When a mother drinks hot soup, the foetus will find it unbearably warm. When a mother eats ice cream, the foetus will find it similarly uncomfortable. Isn’t being born painful? This is the truth of birth.
- Ageing (老)
Isn’t ageing uncomfortable? You might wish to head out, but your legs fail you. You might wish to eat something, but your teeth fail you. Isn’t growing older a form of suffering? You are unable to do anything you want to do.
- Sickness (病)
It is needless to say that sickness is a form of pain and suffering.
- Death (死)
Death is something that everyone is afraid of and involves even more suffering. Regardless of how much wealth and fame you posses, no one can escape birth, ageing, sickness and death. It is very fair and that is why they are known as the four sufferings.
- Having to leave the one you love (爱别离苦)
When you love someone deeply, but you are forced to leave the person, isn’t that painful? Train stations and airports are prime examples, as these are the places of farewell.
- Unattainable wish (求不得苦)
The sixth suffering is being unable to get what you wish for. If you pray very hard for something in vain, isn’t that painful? This is the most painful of them all. If your prayers are always unanswered, won’t you be suffering?
- Being with the ones you detest（怨憎会苦）
The next suffering is hatred and resentment. If you are forced to interact daily with someone you dislike at work, wouldn’t you be upset? Resentment is a form of karmic grievance while hatred can be understood in context as having to see a person you dislike everyday. There is a traditional Chinese idiom that says, “The road of enemies is narrow (冤家路窄)”.
- Ills of the Five Yin (五阴炽盛)
Finally, there is the suffering of The Five Yin. There are five things that are Yin in nature. It is an invisible working of the mind involving form, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness (色受想行识). What goes on in the mind is unknown to others, including your desires, love and hate towards others. When these accumulate, they will burn just like a fire, causing you much suffering.
< Reality of Suffering: Why do We Suffer? >
Buddhism In Plain Terms (Episode 11) – An Excerpt
WE SUFFER ONLY BECAUSE WE HAVE DESIRES
Life is not bitter; it is only bitter because of our stream of desires and myriad of wants (欲望太多). The heart is not burdened; it is only burdened because we fail to let go of the innumerable things in life (放不下). Life is not about suffering; we suffer only because of our heart that pursues the many worldly things (对人间物欲的追求). Life is an unceasing process of increase and decrease of one’s desires and demands. The more worldly desires you have, the more worries and sufferings you will experience; As you gradually let go of such desires, you will slowly realize the truth of life and that is, ‘Impermanence’ (悟到生命的真谛 —— 苦空无常). We went through so much in life and when it’s finally time to go, all we find is emptiness (一切都是空). There’s nothing we can take with us when we die. Our life gets summed up just like that with the reality of impermanence. Nothing in this world is long-lasting, not words, thoughts, nor behaviour. In essence, we can own neither material nor spiritual things. The truth of life is for us to understand the reality of suffering, emptiness and impermanence (生命深层次的意义，就是让我们懂得苦空无常的真谛).
Master Jun Hong Lu’s Discourse to Disciples Worldwide (2nd part)
WISDOM IS THE KEY TO LIBERATION FROM SUFFERING – An Excerpt
A person who is able to eradicate suffering, is one who does not put himself in the midst of the suffering.
This is when Prajna (菩提) or wisdom is gained. Should someone scold you today, and you don’t even feel that that they did. In that case, will you still get angry? Isn’t this what wisdom is all about? The key here is to eliminate the notion of “self”. Without a “self” you are liberated from sufferings. Instead, if you feel, “Why didn’t I get a share of this?” , “Why didn’t I get a raise? , “Why wasn’t I informed about this?” etc.. The notion of self is the source of all your sufferings!
< Why Suffering is Good for Us? >
Buddhism In Plain Terms Vol. 4 Chap. 38 (An excerpt)
LIBERATION FROM SUFFERINGS IS THE OBJECTIVE OF BUDDHISM PRACTICE
Tell me, is there anyone here who is free from attachment? Either you are attached to your child, yourself, money or fame. Everyone one of us will have our own set of attachments. For all things that you fail to let go, it is referred to as an attachment and it is demonizing. (执着就是魔) When you continue to be attached for a long time, demons will invade and occupy your mind. You will start to lose a lot of things in life. You will grow very frustrated. A person who is attached, will tend to regret their every action; while a person who is free from attachment will find bliss in all they do.
This is because for a person who attaches to nothing, he will not be influenced by any negative external factors in the things he does. For e.g. you are someone who loves cake. You know that your diabetic condition does not allow you to indulge in sweet stuff. But you insist on eating. And, your diabetic condition worsens. As for someone who is detached, they will think “I’m diabetic, I can’t eat cakes. I’d settle for some bread.” Then you will not suffer from the repercussion of food craving.
Master Jun Hong Lu – Words of Wisdom Vol. 1 & 8
An interpretation of suffering is to let go. Having understood the pain in life, you will know that pain is the gift of success. We should regard hardships as contributing factors to our betterment. Without the test of tribulations, our mind cannot achieve a cultivated state. Consequently, the more adversities we encounter, the more merits and virtues we attain in fulfilling our Buddhist practice.
ENDURING HARDSHIP is a means to eliminating karmic obstacles. (吃苦是消业) Those who can accept reality understand how to change reality. For a Buddhist practitioner, suffering is only temporary. For a non-practitioner, suffering will be long-lasting.
< The Right Mentality in face of Suffering >
WHAT MENTALITY SHOULD WE ADOPT TOWARDS THE EIGHT SUFFERINGS IN LIFE
Caller: At times, we may develop a sudden realisation that our parents or those that have been with us for many years will depart eventually. Perhaps they will be in a better place and it is for good. However, those that are left behind will still be very sad. What sort of mentality should we adopt towards birth, aging, sickness, death (生老病死) and the rest of The Eight Sufferings (八苦)？
Master Jun Hong Lu: The Eight Sufferings in life are things that everyone must go through as long as they are in the human realm, isn‘t that right? We must be sincere and have a sense of guilt (要用一种诚心，要用一种负罪感). Therefore, many religions including Christianity preach that all men are sinners. Many people couldn’t accept this. They say, “Why am I guilty? How do I know I’m guilty?” In fact, as long as we have come to this world, we are basically guilty, and we must have done wrong in previous lives. This world is an imperfect place. Hence, it is impossible for one to expect perfection in things. Instead, we must learn to accept this environment as a training ground for us. We can’t escape from birth, age, sickness and death in this world. These are realities. Even if we refuse them, we can’t evade them, can we?
Caller: Well, perhaps we just have to endure these pains.
Master Jun Hong Lu: Yes, but endurance is one way. As Buddhist practitioners, we can resolve these pains and rely on Bodhisattva to help us see it through. We must understand that these are the sufferings that we must endure. However, we may pray to Bodhisattva to relieve our suffering by blessing us so that we don’t feel so much agony in our hearts. Although we can’t forget, we have to learn to let go. Let go NOW, or you will never be able to!
< Are We Focusing on the Wrong Things in Life? >
In this episode Master Lu says, “People today are so foolish that they risk their lives in mad pursuance of illusionary things (追求虚幻的东西) such as wealth and fame, things that may come to them today but are gone tomorrow, while turning a blind eye to the importance of a peaceful life and a mental state that is calm and at ease. (对平安的生活、平静自由的心理却视若无睹).
Wenda20190310B 19:35 Impermanence in Plain Terms
Caller: Master Lu, how does impermanence (Non-permanent) come about?
Master Jun Hong Lu: ‘Non’ (无) means ‘nothingness’; ‘Permanent’ (常) means long-lasting. Hence, putting them together, ‘impermanence’ means it appeared that there is something and then there is nothing – now you have it, now you don’t. (似有似无) Is this simple enough for your understanding?
Caller: Yes, I guess I think too much.
Master Jun Hong Lu: Yes, When you think too much that’s called mental disorder. That’s what happens when you overthink. But, if you don’t think about anything at all, that’s called stupid. Therefore, you have to be in the middle, that’s called ‘normal’ (“正常”)
Caller: Alright, thank you Master Lu.
< Why do We Need to Embrace Impermanence? >
1. EMBRACE IMPERMANENCE – It makes sufferings bearable
Buddhism in Plain Terms (Episode 8) – An Excerpt
The Buddha says, “If you take your sufferings too seriously, you will not gain liberation.(不得解脱)”
Deliverance from suffering is only possible when you understand that all your sufferings now are subject to change because of its impermanent nature (所有的痛苦都是暂时的). No one is spared from sufferings and troubles. Why are some able to pull through, but not others? It’s because they see the future and that everything will change. This is the way to one’s liberation from suffering (解脱的方法). To them, they don’t feel that they are undergoing any suffering as the ‘self’ is unreal.
2. EMBRACE IMPERMANENCE – Liberate from Suffering
Buddhism in Plain Terms (Episode 39) – An Excerpt
What is liberation from suffering? (解脱)
It is when you draw on the Buddha-nature in your Ninth Consciousness (九识田中的佛性) to generate a kind of wisdom and prajna (智慧和般若) that is empty in nature (空性) to influence your Alaya consciousness (阿赖耶识) and your Mana Consciousness (末那识) and gradually, making its way to your Sixth Consciousness and your sense consciousness (感官意识). With that, you will slowly realise the reality of impermanence and all phenomena are empty and illusory. Your understanding of this will render you great achievements in your practice of Buddhism. This is because you have attained the spiritual state of the Buddha (入了佛的境界). When a person reaches this state, they are the Buddha of the human realm.
Therefore, Buddhism is not merely showing veneration to the Buddha (拜拜佛) or having superstitious belief (迷信) or praying for protection and worldly blessing for the family. It is about liberation from suffering. It is the wise approach towards attaining liberation (智慧地解脱). Where one is able to be freed from all worries (放下自己的烦恼).
3. EMBRACE IMPERMANENCE – Learn to Cherish
Buddhism in Plain Terms (Episode 4) – An Excerpt
If a person discerns the truth of impermanence in any situation, they will understand the truth of birth, and death. Day after day, you may treat others with either kindness or meanness. And, with each of these encounters, you have one less chance of seeing that person (见一次少一次). In this case, why should you still hate him? Even if you couldn’t stand the sight of him, you will be seeing less of him each time you see him. With this mentality, even if you hate your husband really badly, you know you don’t have to tell him that. Just tell yourself, “How many more times, will I see him?” Roughly put a number to it. E.g. 500 times, or 1000 times, or 3000 times. And, as he comes back from work, you tick the day off. Do you think you will still hate him? Of course not. This is how a person learns to cherish (懂得珍惜).
Master Jun Hong Lu,
“When I see you extending your hands,
I think of the many more people who are still suffering……
Take my word for it, OUR DHARMA CONVENTION WILL NEVER END!”
< Buddhism in Plain Terms < 白话佛法共修分享