Friday, April 10, 2009

Ghost Stories

Life as a mindfulness practitioner is fun.   Now and then your friends who happen to run into an unusual situation would seek your advice.   One day, the author received a phone call from KL where a friend, let us call him Romeo, was visiting on a business trip.

"Umm, I need a little favour," Romeo started.

"I've got a colleague here.   She is a Chinese Malaysian and also a Buddhist.   Recently, she feels that there is a ghost in her house.   She feels someone is watching her all the time, especially at night.   She also said that sometimes things got knocked over around her house," Romeo explained.

"To solve the problem, she invited some Chinese specialists to pray on the compound. It did not work. This spooky experience disturbs her a lot and she is losing sleep over it. Can you help?" Romeo asked.

To tell you the truth, dear readers, of all the requests the author has received so far, this is most extraordinary.   If you were the author, what would you do?

As it turned out, Romeo did not give enough time for the author to decide what to do.   He quickly concluded, "Her name is KC. Now, you talk to her."   With that, he handed his mobile phone to his colleague.
Right.   The things we do to help our friends.   But that is exactly what friends are for, isn't it? You offer a free ghost-busting service for your friend's colleague!

Having no time to properly form a thorough answer, the first suggestion the author gave to KC was a spontaneous one.  Assuming there actually are sentient beings in her house, the author told KC to first give them Loving-Kindness.

Loving-Kindness meditation

Loving-Kindness or Metta meditation is probably the easiest type of meditation for everyone.   All we have to cultivate is our sincere compassion for other beings.   Many meditation teachers would let the yogi meditation practitioners, start with giving loving kindness to themselves.

To do so, one need not recite any actual Pali (for Theravada) or Sanskrit (for Mahayana) chant.   Simply repeat in your mother tongue, "May I be happy, peaceful and free from suffering," over and over again.   Some yogi believe that it helps if you do this Loving-Kindness exercise while sitting in a meditation posture, with your eyes closed. Some yogi found it helpful to also watch their breathing while repeating the Loving-Kindness phrase.

We can of course do Loving Kindness meditation in any posture, even when we walk.   What is important is to put sincere, utmost effort in giving yourself that Loving Kindness.

Once your mind starts to calm down, move on to give the same Loving-Kindness to those that we respect and love.   For Thais, the author would like to humbly suggest that we start with HM the King.   This is a fail-proof method for us Thai practitioners.   For when HM the King is the meditation focus point, you would notice that your mind and your body are easily overwhelmed with piti or joy.

Next, use that feel-good, joyous experience to continue to give Loving-Kindness to your parents, teachers, friends, etc.   At the end, your mind would be ready to give Loving-Kindness to each and every being in the universe, let alone those residing in your house.

Because you can give

Knowing that Loving-Kindness would only work if the person feels at peace with himself/herself, the author went on to give encouragement to KC by explaining that, in Buddhist teaching, those beings would only visit the person who has enough boon (merit) to share.   And precisely because of that, the author congratulated her for being a wholesome person, most likely blessed with a kind heart that loves to give, dhana, and live a virtuous life according to the five precepts, sila.

KC was pleasantly surprised.   She never thought of herself that way before.   Realising that she indeed is a kind person who has done a lot of good deeds, her mind was at peace.

Yet, the author knew that KC might still harbour some fears regarding those beings in her home, assuming there actually are some.   We humans tend to have fear of the unknown, you see.   Therefore, the author thought it would help to point out to KC that, more often than not, beings from other planes usually come to ask for merit and blessings from their blood relatives.   Therefore, they could be someone you have known, someone in your family.   It could be her beloved grandmother or great-great grandfather.

And this is the beauty of a Chinese family.   On top of the Chinese wholesome livelihood is the loving bond among the family and the respect for the elders.   The author then told KC to send her Loving-Kindness to those beings as if she would to a beloved family member.   In addition to giving Loving-Kindness, the author told her that she can also go make merit or do charity work and dedicate the boon to them. KC was delighted.

A Zen ghost story

KC's story reminds the author of a famous Zen "ghost story."   It is about a man who once had a beautiful and loving wife who one day became sick and died young.   Before she passed away, she made him promise that he would no longer seek a new love of his life, otherwise she would come to haunt him.

After she died, the man dutifully kept his promise.   Several months passed by and, as karma would have it, he fell in love again and got engaged to a new lady.   The night of the engagement, the ghost of his wife did really come to haunt him.   The ghost lamented that he is a bad husband, not keeping his promise, etc.   Naturally, the man was really scared.

Being haunted by the ghost every night, the man finally went to see a Zen master.   "Indeed the ghost is very intelligent," the master said, "She knew everything that happened between you and the new girl.   What you can do now is to praise her intelligence when she comes again.   But give her a deal.   Tell her that you have one question to ask.  If she indeed knows everything about you, then she would be able to answer.   If she could not, she has to let you go so that you can begin a new life."

That night, without fail, the ghost re-appeared.   After hearing the challenge, the ghost took the bait.   She insisted that she knows everything that happens to him.   The man then scooped up beans from a bag and demanded to know the number of beans in his hand.   At that very moment, the ghost disappeared and never came to bother the man again.

What we learn from this Zen ghost story is that, sometimes, the "ghost" in our life could be just an illusion of our own mind, our own conscience or our own imagination.   The reason that it is so real is because we are already very scared.   Being scared by our own thoughts is a sign of mindlessness.   In this Zen story, the master simply gave the man an appropriate tool to trigger his own mindfulness to work for him at the time that he needed it most.

At the moment of this writing, KC does not have a visit from invisible beings in her home anymore.   In fact, she even had a very good sleep the night we had that phone conversation.   So, even we cannot conclusively decide at this moment yet whether in fact there were invisible beings in KC's home or not, one thing is clear: fear starts first in one's own mind.   When we give a strong immunity to our mind by mindfulness practice, we will be less likely to get haunted by our own illusions or imagination.

With mindfulness/Zen, you will be able to see things as they really are.   With mindfulness/Zen, you will be at peace with yourself and you will have enough merit to dedicate to other beings, ghosts or otherwise.   Our lesson for this week is, therefore, do not wait until you actually run into a ghost in your house before you think about being generous (dhana), living a wholesome life (sila), and learning meditation (bhavana).

See you in two weeks' time.   Until then, let us always have that Loving-Kindness feeling to all beings in our heart.   It may come in handy, you know. Just ask KC.

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