Saturday, August 21, 2004

What is spirituality?

When I asked my friend (refer to Aug 18 post) why he thought my practice lacked spirituality, he said that I was trying to generate spirituality from being intellectual. What I should have been doing was "putting the spiritual at the center and holding the intellect in my hand" in my practice.

"So what then is the spiritual?" I asked because his sense of the spiritual was beyond my comprehension.

I thought he had an entirely different understanding of the subject. Either he was nuts or he knew something I didn't, but it didn't matter because I really felt I was not experiencing "the spritual" in my decades of practice. I mean I can perhaps experience spirituality under controlled conditions (meditations, prayers, etc.) but not in every moment of my life. Most of the times, I have to see things from two perspectives: the physical and the spiritual - if I become aware and have the opportunity to switch my mindset anyway. Naturally, I'd find out that often times the two do not agree with each other. There is no automatic synchronization with the aspects. I hope it will change.

Going back to my friend...

So what then is the spiritual?

He asked me in return: How do you know you're alive? How do you know you're dead?

That discussion happened sometime ago.

I found the answer in the mango growing on the tree (refer to Aug 18 post). I don't know if it's the answer to his questions, but I no longer wonder about spirituality in my practice.

I remember the sutras say "in perceiving the pratityasamutpada (dependent arising) one sees the Dharma, in seeing the Dharma one sees [connects with] the Buddha." (Maitreya and the Venerable Sariputra in the Salistamba Sutra and other relevant sutras)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sunyata: from analysis of a car to synthesis of a mango

Whenever I explain void (in the Buddhist sense, or sunyata) to other people, I always use a car to elucidate. I would dismantle the car piece by piece and ask the person what he calls the "thing." The person would call it a "car" until it comes to a point when he can no longer distinguish the "car" from a heap of components.

"So where is the car?" I would ask. "Your 'car,'effectively an idea of a function, therefore exists in your mind only. It began as an idea (seed) and comes into 'existence' (fruit) only because of various favorable conditions (raw materials, manufacturing process, environmental conditions, people, needs, etc.)."

I would tell him that the same analytical process can be used on a house, a tree, an event, or even a person to understand the emptiness or void or "lack of self-existence" of the particular entity. Sometimes, I'd also include the pratityasamutpada (dependent existence) in our discussion because it is closely related to the topic on sunyata.

That is an intellectual experience.

A long-time friend once pointed out the lack of spirituality in my personal practice. The first time I heard it I was surprised, but on second thought, I agreed with him, especially if the spirituality he meant is a kind of penetrating experience that changes one's behavior or patterns of one's everyday life.

I have tried for decades to embrace Buddhism. I discover that most of my "enlightening experiences" are mere intellectual breakthroughs and insights. Ironical for a Buddhist "practitioner," I feel I can understand the relevant subjects but am unable to really experience or practice them. Furthermore, I learn that my intellectual-based "spiritual achievements" can often times become obstacles to true spiritual practice. For instance, they make me feel elitist over the "dumb minions" of certain religious groups. I believe I am not the only one suffering from such spiritual vacuum and ignorance.


I came across a story this morning. The king was asking the monk about where karma resides. The former was probably referring to the karmic force that influences rebirth. The monk replied that it cannot be said that a mango resides in any part of the tree, but the mango grows on the tree when its season comes (when the right condition arises).

At that moment, I felt I perceived sunyata of the self.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Reinventing the wheel?

For years, my vow has been "to become enlightened and help other people to attain enlightenment."

I had this isn't-it-obvious and why-reinvent-the-wheel flash thought when I opened my eyes in bed this morning. Didn't Gautama Buddha, the Enlightened One, saw Absolute Truth and laid out the method (the Buddha Dharma) plainly for every Buddhist practitioner to follow? Suddenly I am pondering on these questions: Have I, in effect, only been trying to find my own way to a so-called enlightenment while using the Buddha Dharma as reference? If so, why reinvent the wheel?

Indeed, time and has changed since the Buddha taught his lessons thousands of years ago, but the basics (for instance, human nature, essential virtues for a practitioner) should still be applicable.