Friday, December 26, 2008

Disasters Within

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami disaster, a catastrophe that was billed as the deadliest in history, claiming more than 200,00 lives across many countries in the Asian continent.

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

Most of us can likely remember the magnitude of the impact the disaster had on our lives or people close to us. In the wake of the tragedy, many people who were directly affected asked a well-known scholar-monk, the Rev W. Vajiramedhi, for advice.

His various dhamma talks on the topic given on different occasions were later compiled into a book, titled Kluen Nok, Kluen Nai (The Waves Without, The Waves Within). Many editions have been printed to give away as a dhamma dana (gift of dhamma) by various compassionate individuals and organisations.

Today, as the fateful date returns, many families and friends of the victims could not help but be reminded of the heartache when they learned that they just lost their loved ones.

In Buddhism, every crisis is a learning opportunity. Under proper guidance, one can develop the technique to turn every crisis into a lasting wisdom that eventually leads to enlightenment itself.

Since the book by the Rev W. Vajiramedhi was in Thai and is now out of print, the author would like to dedicate the space of today's column to summarise the gems of that wisdom as a befitting memorial to that tragic event.

The sound advice that the Rev W. Vajiramedhi gave to the friends and families of the victims of the 2004 tsunami is as follows:

Accept the truth. The faster, the better

Whenever crisis strikes, be it from natural disasters or man-made ones, find your inner strength through mindfulness so that you would be able to accept the truth as it is.

According to the Rev W. Vajiramedhi, by accepting the truth, the mind would be able to restore its balance. The faster one can accept the truth, the faster one can move on with life.

On the other hand, the longer one lingers in suffering over the event that has passed, the more difficult it would be to regain a proper frame of mind. The bottom line is, those who are courageous enough to accept the truth up front would be able to think properly and know what needs to be done.

In order to have the proper frame of mind to gain wisdom from a disaster, the Rev W. Vajiramedhi suggested that we should be open-minded. Merely observe without being judgmental. Do not criticise and try to find a scapegoat. The blame game, one must realise, does not get one out of suffering.

Familiarize Oneself with Life's Ultimate Truth

This second step to gain wisdom from a disaster has a two-fold benefit. Not only one would gain wisdom from the disaster that just occurred, but one would also be prepared for future, unavoidable disasters as well.

Life's ultimate truth is in fact very straightforward. And when one learns it when disaster has not struck yet, it would be easier for the mind to accept. Therefore, the Rev W. Vajiramedhi said it is important that we familiarise ourselves with them as soon as possible in life, so that the next time disaster strikes, we would be ready. Life's ultimate truth includes:

1) No one escapes ageing. In fact, the deteriorating process toward death starts at birth; 2) No one escapes illness and pain; 3) No one escapes death; 4) Losing loved ones and treasured possessions cannot be avoided; and 5) To each his/her own karma. No one escapes the Law of Karma.

By realising this final truth alone, one would be able to refrain from the blame game that is nothing more than creating a new negative karmic cycle for oneself.

Learn to Live Fully in the Present

Suffering only occurs when one's mind falls into the past or ventures in speculation into the future. Therefore, the ability to live fully in the present is a valuable life skill. The Rev W. Vajiramedhi suggested some practical methods as follows:

1) Keep oneself busy; 2) Build up one's concentration through prayer; 3) Learn meditation techniques; and 4) Learn how to face one's own death by practicing mindfulness of death, Maranassati.

Mindfulness of Death

In it simplest meaning, the practice of mindfulness of death is to be constantly aware that death can happen to us any second. In Lord Buddha's words, the mindful ones are those who realise that they might not survive even into the next breath. When practiced properly, mindfulness of death would: 1) sharpen one's mindfulness; 2) enable us to understand the true value of life; and 3) enable us to perform our duty without carelessness. Mindfulness of death can be practiced in every waking moment, the Rev W. Vajiramedhi said, even when stuck in traffic.

There is one word of caution, though. As with any other mindfulness practice, it is best to be done under supervision of a veteran teacher.

If mindfulness of death is practiced without proper understanding, it could yield: 1) fear of one's death; 2) depression, and/or 3) careless/mindless living (for mistakenly believing that death simply means one would no longer be able to do indulge).

At this point, the author would like to add that, beside monks, there was one social class in history that successfully practiced mindfulness of death. They were the Japanese feudal samurai. After turning to Zen during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), the samurai actively practiced mindfulness of death to help enable them to see life in perspective and, in effect, help them deal with suffering. The list in Japanese history is long for the samurai who were able to face their death calmly, mindfully, either at the hand of the enemy or on their deathbed. This is doubtlessly due to their lifetime of practice of mindfulness of death.

Build One's Radar System for 'the Waves Within'

The Rev W. Vajiramedhi observed in his book that, while countries spend millions setting up centres to detect possible disasters from tsunamis - or "the waves without" - no one seems to put equal efforts to detect "the waves within."

By "the waves within," the Rev W. Vajiramedhi meant the waves of anger, fear, disappointment, greed/lust, and ignorance. The ultimate advice for Buddhists is, therefore, to start building one's personal radar to watch out for the disasters within ourselves.

At the end of the day, the ability to detect a disaster within from the minute it starts to ripple would be the key to ultimately shield us from any further suffering from the disasters without. Because such ability, arisen from continuous mindfulness practice, would eventually lead us to Enlightenment. Ultimately, we were affected by the tsunami because we were born. If there is no "us", there would be no suffering.

The enlightenment, quite frankly, is the final answer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Year-Round Resolution

New Year is coming and so is the time to reflect on 2008 and plan for 2009. Yes, it is the time we make yet another set of New Year's resolutions.

Photo courtesy of the Bangkok Post

Making resolutions does not sound that complicated. But how about the success rate? If a 2007 UK-based survey is to be any indication, it is only 12%. This says a lot about us humans. As it is less than two weeks now before New Year arrives, how about some reflection on the tradition of the New Year's resolution itself? Is there a way to make it stick?

First of all, let us take a brief look at history. When was this tradition started, and by whom? S urely it could not be a recent tradition that came together with the invention of the refillable, leather-covered yearly diary?

When it comes to calendars, our top-of-mind recollection is likely to be about the Romans. And in fact some historians believe that the ancient Romans also invented New Year's resolutions in 153 BC. Many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year. (Source: )

Yet there are others who contend that New Year's resolutions date back even further, to the early Babylonians who started celebrating New Year 4,000 years ago. Their popular resolution? To return borrowed farm equipment. Sort of makes us wonder what the Babylonians and the Romans would think of our modern-day resolutions. According to a recent survey by the US government, the top resolution for contemporary Americans is to lose weight. (Sources:; holidays/newyear.htm )

Unlike other noisy, exhausting and group-oriented activities to ring in New Year, resolution-making requires us to give quality time solely to ourselves, quietly examining our own life - what we have achieved so far and what our goals in the upcoming year should be.

In other words, a time to make our New Year's resolution is a time when we stop our usual hustle-and-bustle and see life in perspective. Suddenly, it may occur to us that we still could not really grasp what the ultimate goal of our life is, or should be. Indeed, this is a crucial question that every responsible adult should make a point to ponder, whether during New Year's holidays or otherwise.

What is it that we are living for?

The path to the answer to that question is another story altogether, and subject to one's spiritual affiliation. For practicing Buddhists, we are in this world to strive diligently, with full effort, in every waking moment, to achieve the Ultimate Enlightenment.

In the scriptures, there are many ways to describe this effort. One of them is to refer to the whole ordeal as the effort to create or make complete one's Parami (Baramee in Thai), or perfection. The Theravada tradition has 10 Parami in total, while the Mahayana's, known in Sanskrit as Paramita, has six.

Simply put, to create one's Parami is to cultivate certain virtues. Among the 10 Parami in the Theravada version, there is one that is related to the idea of New Year's resolution. It is Adhitthana Parami or the Perfection in Resolution.

What are the Buddhist resolutions?

But what is it that Buddhists should make resolutions about? The answer can be found in Adhitthana Dhamma, or the virtues that should be established in the mind. Here is the list of those Virtuous Resolutions that could help you refine your New Year's resolutions. They are 1) wisdom; 2) truthfulness; 3) renunciation; and 4) tranquility.

To be specific, the scriptures suggest that one should make a resolution 1) not to neglect wisdom; 2) to safeguard truthfulness; 3) to foster generosity (by renouncing first one's worldly possessions and, later, one's mental defilements); and 4) to train oneself in tranquility.

In this regard, the Romans' tradition to ask for forgiveness and to exchange gifts would fit nicely under the third category, while the Babylonians' vow to return farm equipment could be under the second. As for weight loss, well, the author is not sure. Can it fit under truthfulness?

To be successful in one's Adhitthana Parami, the Perfection in Resolution, Buddhist teaching provides practical guidelines in the form of accompanying perfections.

First and foremost, we must strive to attain Sacca Parami, the Perfection in Truth. This means we must have truthfulness in our thoughts, words and deeds.

The second perfection that would help we keep our resolutions is Viriya Parami, the Perfection in Effort. This is straightforward enough.

Third, Upekkha Parami, the Perfection in Equanimity. By equanimity, Lord Buddha means we should strive to achieve unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner poise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honour and dishonour, praise and blame, pleasure and pain.

And last, but by no means least, Panna Parami, the Perfection of Wisdom. The wisdom here refers to the wisdom that is based on the direct realization of the essence of Buddhism such as the Four Noble Truths, or the Law of Impermanence. It can also refer to skilfulness in staying true to one's resolution.

For many of us, to strive for "perfection" does not seem to be a viable goal. Don't be discouraged yet. For there are many levels of Parami. This means if we make a point to strive to achieve at least the first level of any Parami, it is not beyond a human capacity to continue to make it to the top. Truthfulness, for example, is an everyday virtue that many people could perfect. And there are noble people all over the world who have proven that that could achieve just that.

Moreover, it is recognized that, for anyone who does not aim to become a full-fledged Buddha (self-enlightened with the ability to teach), the perfection of just a few Parami is enough to deliver us from suffering. In fact, Lord Buddha himself once said that "just the sheer merit of effort [Viriya Parami] alone, beings can transcend suffering".

There you go. If keeping New Year's resolutions is a struggle, try self-empowerment through the various Parami. A resolution is not just a casual, wishful thinking about some loose goals, but a culmination of wisdom, truthfulness and renunciation in an unshakeable mind.

You can also adapt a monastic approach of repeating one's vows everyday, at both the beginning of the day and at day's end, to remind yourself of your life's ultimate purpose. After all, Adhitthana Parami is not just for New Year, but is here to stay until we get enlightened, whether within this lifetime or otherwise.

Have fun making this year's resolutions - and, more importantly, keeping them!

Weight loss, anyone?

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Unaware Society

"Why don't you write about nibbana (the Buddhist Enlightenment)?," a friend who is an English literature professor in a local university asked.

Photo coutesy of the Bangkok Post

"It seems most Thais are not interested in the Enlightenment nowadays," she observed, before concluding: "They seem to think that it is not relevant to them."

The author's friend has a point. Come to think about it, even the English-speaking world has chosen to adopt the Sanskrit spelling of the word for Buddhist Enlightenment rather than the Pali one. That is, we would likely see the reference to nirvana rather than nibbana in English-language publications.

This by itself signals that our Mahayana friends, especially the Zen sect, whose scriptures were written in Sanskrit, have been quite successful in making it clear to the world that nirvana is their top priority.

What We Could Learn from our Zen Friends

The proof was clear in the teaching of Zen's earlier patriarchs, from Daruma, the Indian monk who made Zen popular in China, down to Huineng and Huairang. They talked repeatedly about the importance of training one's mind until one discovers the true "Buddha Nature" inside.

The Zen Patriachs also addressed the mass without discrimination, meaning it does not matter if one is a monk or a layperson. For, in a Zen teacher's mind, it is everyone's duty to strive hard to attain Enlightenment in this lifetime.

After Zen made its way to Japan, the ever-productive and disciplined Japanese made sure that they found an effective way to infuse mindfulness, the practice through which one achieves Enlightenment, into everything they think, say and do. Many of the ancient arts and culture that survive until today are the testament to that admirable effort.

In 1967, roughly eight centuries after Zen has been introduced to Japan, a world-famous Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima, came to Thailand to carry out research for one of his books, "The Temple of Dawn." Mishima did not find what he was looking for, a Theravada interpretation of consciousness and rebirth as taught to the general public. In fact, Mishima even remarked through the novel's fictional character, Mr Honda, that all he found in Thailand was the emphasis on dana (giving) and the stories of Lord Buddha's last 10 lives, Jataka.

A little embarrassing, one must admit. Today, 41 years after Mishima's casual but truthful remark in that novel, little has changed in Thailand. If there is change of any sort, it does not become for the better. For the society seems to be more preoccupied in examining, with a magnifying glass, the various editions of the Hindu-inspired Jatukham amulets rather than being absorbed in learning how Lord Buddha attained his Enlightenment.

Even if there are more books on mindfulness practice now than there were 41 years ago, it still does not mean that the Thais have been actively practising it. At least not to the level the Japanese have. Perhaps we have to thank the late Mr Mishima for pointing out our weakness for us.

Why Most Thais are Not Interested in Enlightenment

Let us try to answer Mr Mishima, and ourselves, why most Thais are not interested in the most important aspect, the raison d'etre, of Buddhism. One obvious argument is the fact that the Thai society has, for centuries, been blessed with agricultural abundance and relative peace. Compared to the centuries of civil wars and harsh natural disasters that Japan has had to endure, Thailand has not seen that much suffering. In addition, the Japanese's knack of keenly observing the changes in their four seasons also helps them to understand Buddhist Law of Impermanence better than us Thais who are surrounded by year-round evergreen trees.

The Chinese sages got it right when they say, "When one has not yet seen one's coffin, one does not shed tears." It is the complacency, a false sense of security, that made us Thai people feel that suffering is too far-flung a concept to think about in our everyday living. The ability to see suffering, or changes that lead to suffering, is the first trigger for one's quest for the Enlightenment.

Therefore, one could argue that the severe sufferings the ancient Japanese had to endure was a "blessing in disguise."

For those who have not practised mindfulness and experienced the "trailer" of what Enlightenment could be, the attempt to understand nibbana is literal at best. And it is this literal approach that further alienates Buddhist Enlightenment from a layperson's everyday life.

The Problem with our Literal Approach to Nibbana

First, it is a linguistic problem. We Thais, since our primary school years, were taught that Lord Buddha entered Maha Parinibbana (The Great Enlightenment) upon his death. Therefore, consciously or not, the word nibbana to the Thai ear usually rings in the image of death. Therefore, for those who did not have enough exposure to the essence of Buddhism, nibbana seems to be the stage that one can only enter after dying.

Needless to say, this misconception made nibbana something that no one wants to rush into. In fact, subconsciously, we may not even want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Isn't it startling that the key message that Lord Buddha wanted to convey suddenly has become a taboo subject in Thailand? Perhaps regrettable is a more appropriate word.

The late Ven Buddhadasa had done his best to correct this by educating us Thais that in fact nibbana is something that is attainable while we are still alive, and should be every Buddhist's goal. Even if we could not reach the Ultimate Enlightenment yet, the late Ven Buddhadasa kindly suggested, at least we should try to frequently experience the "mini-Enlightenment" in our everyday life. The way to achieve it, he pointed out, is through Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation. Very Zen-like teaching, if one may add.

Professor Saeng Jan-ngam, a respectable Buddhist scholar from Chiang Mai, gave us another reason why we Thais tend not to be enthusiastic about nibbana. In his book, Buddhasasanavidhya, Prof Saeng pointed out that ordinary people only understand ordinary pleasure, not knowing that there could be a far more profound state of happiness than the worldly ones.

As a result, when they learn, through books, that nibbana does not have that kind of pleasure but offers a sustainable peace and happiness, they can not grasp the magnitude of its benefits and therefore do not see any appeal in trying to "reach somewhere" where none of the pleasure they know is available.

More important, Prof Saeng pointed out, is our false attachment to the concept of "self." For the untrained mind, the idea of total riddance of the "self" does not seem to be the ideal stage to aim for. "How can I feel happiness," they would argue, "when myself does not exist?"

Regrettably, it is this very misunderstanding of nibbana that gives a loophole for imposters to jump in and distort Lord Buddha's teaching by claiming that the "self" still exists in "the place called nibbana." This teaching is by far the most dangerous teaching around town these days, usually accompanying a request for a huge donation to "guarantee one's place in different levels of heavens."

Why we Thais should Attempt to Understand Nibbana

Therefore, at the very least, the attempt to properly understand Buddhist Enlightenment would give us immunity from falling into the danger of false teaching. It would not only help prevent us from becoming financially bankrupt as some unfortunate victims were led into, but also from being morally corrupted as a result of following the wrong path. The path is only downward for those with a wrong understanding, Lord Buddha himself gravely warned. This means that even if we are not Enlightened in this life yet, at least we should try to prevent ourselves from falling into the wrong path, because what it entails is endless suffering.

Simply put, the society that does not put Enlightenment as one of its top priorities is an "unaware" society. We are unaware that we are living mindlessly. There is the sad story of a chicken that continues to run around even after its head has been cut off. Did the body know where it was going? Did the body even realize that it is already dead? Regrettably, it would be only a matter of moments before the body finally drops to the ground, contracting in a final spasm, eventually becoming still, completely dead.

A painful analogue, we agree, but it could not be more apt to describe a Buddhist society that does not actively promote the practice of mindfulness so that its people can at least experience the "mini-Enlightenment", achieving the peace within, so that together they could generate the peace without. Blessed with the privilege of being in a Buddhist country, let us make the most out of it. Let each and every one of us shows the world that we know a thing or two about Buddhist Enlightenment.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Day Buddha Died

It was a full-moon night in the 6th month of the lunar calendar. At 400 metres above sea level, the small town in the Gangetic plain was scorching during the day with temperature reaching the high 30s. There was no rain, despite the fact that it was in the middle of a monsoon season.

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

At nightfall, there was a calm hush where 500 Enlightened men gathered just outside Kusinara. Summer night's wind breezed past sadly as if to say its final farewell. Around the men, sala trees wept their young, white petals on to the sandy soil that was moisturized by night dew.

It was the day Lord Buddha would die.

Last words: Life's summary chapter

Fast forward to the 21st century. In bookstores and on websites all over the world, we see countless volumes of famous - and not-so-famous - people's last words. From the words uttered by someone about to be beheaded on a guillotine to whispers of dying leaders in the comfort of their deathbed. Chinese sages, Japanese feudal warriors, European philosophers, American writers; a startling number of people in history seemed to have wanted to say something before they departed.

For most quotes that made it to print, they seem to share one thing in common. It is a summary of life's learning. It does not have to be dramatic, or poetic, for that matter. For real wisdom of life tends to present itself in its simplest form. When someone's time is running out, and they know it, it is more likely to be something that comes out in the spur of the moment, almost as an afterthought. Few, we may assume, would bother to edit the rhymes in those words.

Why are we drawn to read such words with great enthusiasm, then? Answers could vary. Many probably read out of curiosity, some might do just for the sheer entertainment factor. Yet, there are presumably others who are determined to learn something out of the people who passed, recognising the undeniable wisdom of life at the most crucial moment. For it goes without saying that, when facing our own death, we would be able to see life in its practical perspective.

The importance of Lord Buddha's last words

Yet, while we take pleasure from reading the last words of people from all walks of life, trying to visualise what the person was like when they were living and theorising about their state of mind when they were about to go, has it ever occurred to us that we should pay special attention to the last words of the Enlightened One?

Two thousand, five hundred and fifty-one years after that fateful day, with the advent of modern science, researchers interested in Lord Buddha's death seem to be more preoccupied with what exactly Lord Buddha ate in his last meal (was it pork or mushroom?), what exactly the illness that took his life was, or what materials were used in the cloth used to wrap his body. Less and less emphasis is put on the attempt to understand what Lord Buddha intentionally left behind as his last words. Even less is the attempt to live the life according to those last words.

Lord Buddha, after all, was a Great Teacher. Until today, he is our Spiritual Father, someone who decided to preach and help the rest of us out of suffering despite the realisation that it was not going to be easy on him. With a heart full of loving kindness, Lord Buddha sacrificed his whole life, spending every day and night teaching, sleeping only two hours a day.

Why so little rest? Maybe because he knew that he wouldn't be returning ever again in another rebirth. Yet there are so many suffered beings desperately seeking liberation. Therefore, it became his habit to turn every deed into a teaching opportunity. When he was in a forest, he used a handful of leaves to teach dhamma to the monks that were following him. When he was sitting by a river, he used floating logs as a metaphor.

Naturally, lying on his deathbed, Lord Buddha made sure he used the occasion to leave a lasting lesson. Once a teacher always a teacher, goes one saying. In fact, one can even argue that Lord Buddha's last words seem to sum up his entire teaching.

What are they?

Understanding Lord Buddha's last words

"...Vaya dhamma sankara,

Appama dena sampadetha..."

Literally, those Pali words mean "...All components are subject to decay, do accomplish all your duties with mindfulness..."

In its literal sense, the words may not mean much to those unfamiliar with Buddhism or those who have yet to experience mindfulness practice. That is why most of us could not grasp its high value. But if you have practiced mindfulness, you would be truly moved by the last words deliberately uttered by a dying man who was lying modestly on Earth. He was talking to us, for our own benefits. For he knew that if anyone pays enough attention to the words uttered in the context of his death and act accordingly, they, too, would be able to bring themselves out of suffering.

Basically, Lord Buddha wanted to use his own deteriorating body as an educational medium, using the first half of his last words to reinforce his teaching on the Law of Impermanence. The latter half provides us with how we could get out of suffering - by practicing mindfulness in everything we do and also to give it a full effort so that one day we, too, will be fully liberated.

In the context of the present situation in Thailand

Lord Buddha's last words are applicable to all types of suffering, not just for the ultimate big picture of getting ourselves out of this samsara. At the very basic level, if we diligently apply mindfulness in everything we think, say and do, we will be able to understand and conquer our everyday suffering.

But if we still do not take heed of Lord Buddha's last words and neglect to make an attempt to at least understand what he meant by "mindfulness", then, his last words uttered out of loving kindness to us all would have been in vain. It would not be only the death of the historical Buddha, but also of the Buddha-nature inside each and everyone of us as well.

When we fail to pay attention to our Spiritual Father's last words and act accordingly, do we still have the nerve to call ourselves Buddhists? Likewise, if we fail to listen to HM the King's constant reminder to us to be mindful and have loving kindness towards one another, do we still have the nerve to call ourselves Thai? Instead of paying attention to what colour HM the King is wearing today, isn't it better to try to understand what he repeatedly tries to say to us and act accordingly?

Kusinara is now without Lord Buddha. The place where he died has become a gloomy archaeological site. It looks rundown and empty, except for occasional groups of tourists. There, the sala trees stood sadly under a scorching sun, quietly weeping, mourning the past that can never return. What should we do in response to our Spiritual Father's final reminder, then? By accomplishing our duties with mindfulness, of course.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Noble Secret

Summer Garden by Pam from Tokyo

For eight days and seven nights last week, the author had the blissful opportunity to attend a mindfulness meditation retreat in the northern part of Thailand. May the readers have all the boon, merit, that the author did. May you all be happy, peaceful, and free from suffering.

Happiness, peace and freedom from suffering was indeed what was on our minds the minute we city dwellers stepped out of the calm, cool and serene retreat and back into the hustle and bustles of this world. Turning on our mobile phone for the first time in a week, we were greeted with news that made our hearts sink.

It is true that mindfulness training is supposed to give us extra immunity to live in this increasingly hostile world. But, being unenlightened as we are, our spontaneous reaction was to turn back to the forest to continue our simple, blissful living among the embrace of nature.

When Lord Buddha Chose Solitude

This reminds the author of the time when Lord Buddha himself became weary of undisciplined monks while he was in residence at Kositaram temple in the city of Kosambi. The time was the 10th vassa (year) since Lord Buddha started his teaching.

Wanting to give the monk a lesson, Lord Buddha simply went into the forest to spend the three-month Buddhist Lent in solitude. This event of Lord Buddha's life is usually depicted by a painting or sculpture of him sitting with an elephant and a monkey at his feet. It was said that those animals were taking care of him throughout the Lent, with the elephant bringing a bamboo pipe filled with water and the monkey bringing honeycomb.

The story has it that, when Lord Buddha saw the kind consideration that the animals had shown to him, he decided to stay there in the forest with them, graciously accepting their alms. Indeed, who would not want to be among friendly creatures?

Alternatively speaking, even Lord Buddha himself did not want to keep company with the unruly kind. On that day that we stepped out of our retreat and heard our national news, we thought we understood what Lord Buddha must have felt. The big difference, of course, is that we were not yet Enlightened and even if we chose to stay in the forest, it is unlikely that it would bring any awareness to the unruly people.

Lord Buddha's preference for solitude over undisciplined company is perhaps best summarised in the following Dhammapada the Path to Dhamma or versified Buddhist scripture:

"If, as he fares, he finds no companion

Who is better or equal,

Let him firmly pursue his solitary career;

There is no fellowship with the fool"


This teaching also goes hand in hand with another teaching in the 38 Mangala or the 38 Blissful Things, the first two of which are 1) not to associate with fools, 2) to associate with the wise.

Therefore, if any of our dear readers in Thailand feel weary at this point, may be it helps to keep these teachings in mind. Come to think of it, who would you rather be with? Someone who can remain calm amidst chaos, who are mindful and can provide you with sensible advice, or someone who wears you down with flames after flames or their hatred, blind greed, and/or anger?

An 8th-Century Buddhist Poet on Hatred and Enemies

In the 8th century, there was an Indian Buddhist scholar with the name of Shantideva. He was credited with penning Bodhicaryavatara, or "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life."

Basically, it is a long poem describing the process of Enlightenment from the first thought to full Buddhahood. As a result, sometimes it is referred to as "Entering the Path of Enlightenment." The book is still studied by Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists today.

Unfortunately, an average Theravada Buddhist in Thailand may not have heard of Shantideva's beautiful, wise prose before. Shantideva covered many topics that a classical period poet usually did. In light of the current situation in Thailand, the author finds it most suitable to both introduce Shantideva's insightful verses on anger and destruction of one's enemies.

"With the vast number of enemies, as boundless as the sky,

what chance is there that all should be subdued?

Yet when the thought of hatred is abolished,

all enemies are destroyed"

(Source: )

Admittedly, the abolishment of the thought of hatred is not an easy task. But Shantideva also provided us with a starting point. When someone hurts you, instead of hitting back, how about doing the following:

"All those who slight me to my face,

Or do me any other evil,

Even if they blame or slander me,

May they attain the fortune of enlightenment!"


Personally, the author finds it very classy. Indeed, there is nothing else that people who are burned by their own flames of hatred and anger need more than the fortune of getting Enlightened!

But how could we translate this wise advice into action without further hurting the hateful, angry people? Shantideva also had an answer:

"Whoever wishes to quickly afford protection

to both himself and others

Should practise that most noble secret:

the exchanging of oneself for others"


There you go, the noble secret according to Shantideva is the practice of losing yourself totally so that you can become one with the other party! Only by walking in their shoes, sustaining their suffering, that one's genuine compassion would arise. It is only through compassion and mutual understanding of each other's suffering that confronting parties would realize that we are all but fellow human beings struggling in the same suffering together. With that understanding, we would start to help each other out of suffering.

Although the result of such immediate transformation in the heat of turmoil is guaranteed to be extraordinary, actual practice can be demanding, especially if one is nowhere near the Bodhisattva level yet. If the thought of "we-becoming-them" as the path towards solution still sounds too horrifying for you, there is always a less strenuous approach.

How about spending seven days in a peaceful retreat to cultivate our mindfulness first? After all, it is the starting point of such transformation plus a suffering-immunity vaccine blended into one. Who should go, then? Why, both parties in the conflict, of course! And, quite naturally, we the weary public.