Saturday, December 4, 2010

Meaningful Quote from a Friend of Dhamma

"I expect to pass through life but once.
If therefore, there can be any kindness I can show,
or any good thing I can do to any human being, let me do it for now,
for I shall not pass the same way again"

by Karuna Tan Hock Lin, 
PJK, Malacca, Malaysia

We do not step into the same river twice. We do not live the same way anymore even from this moment to the next moment. Human life is as precious as we can imagine it could be. Live to the fullest, be the heir of Dhamma, spread the fragrance of kindness to every corner of the world...

Tiger's Dhammic Movie Review II - Okuribito (おくりびと): Understanding Life Through Death

Summary of the movie plot:

Daigo Kobayashi is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and now finds himself without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled "Departures" thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a "Nokanshi" or "encoffineer," a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of "Nokanshi," acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living. Written by Regent Releasing

The meaning of the Japanese word “Okuribito” is “the person that sees / sends (somebody) off”. Well, who is this person that sees somebody off? You might be tempted to think that, hmmm…. “sending somebody off / away”… that must be the person who are dear or very much related to the departed one. Nevertheless, this is not the case as seen in the movie we’ve seen justnow, Departure (Okuribito). Sending off (the departed ones) with dignity becomes the “profession” of Daigo, the “encoffiner”, the main character in the movie.

Even though this movie deals with death and the vocation of "encoffining", it delivers something even more than that. It is about the celebration of the dignity and value of human life. As a matter of fact, we all will come to the door-step of death at a certain point of our lifetime but how do you help grieving family members to pay their last respects to their loved one with dignity and respect?

This man, Daigo brings out the dignity and value of human life reflected via how he handles his encoffining job. Despite of being despised by the people in the movie, and despising the job himself in the beginning, he eventually sees that the whole goal is to help grieving families to say goodbye to their loved one with dignity and respect. Being as an art as well as science, encoffining seems to resemble the beautiful musics played from his cello. Daigo is now nothing less than skillful in pacifying the grieving families who witness the bodies of their loved ones treated with tender affection and displayed in such a beautiful way.

The beautiful and graceful encoffining ritual provides space for reconciliation and acceptance among the family members. It helps them to accept the deceased in a new light, which is often blinded when the the person is still alive. Once in the movie, the deceased husband said this to Daigo’s mentor, Mr Sasaki: “That was… the most beautiful she’s ever been.” The “final product” of the beautiful ritual simply reveals the most intimate elements of the deceased, which galvanises new reconciliation, though it was a bit too late to realise.

What kind of job that you might consider as “dirty” job? The Japanese or rather Asian community has the negative stereotype of the vocation of encoffining as "dirty". Well, in principle, from Buddhist point of view, dirty or not a job is, or, superior or inferior a person’s status is, it has nothing to do with physical measure. As seen in the movie, when the family members finally realise how important encoffining is to help them pay their last respects to their loved ones, and witness the beauty and grace of the ceremony, their stereotypes are broken down. The barrier has been broken down to allow then to see the nobility of this profession. Once, while travelling to the nearby village, the Buddha comes in contact with a Sudda who collects and disposes human defecaments as profession, and upon seeing him immediately jumping into the drain due to being inferior of his own “dirty” and lowly status, the Buddha admonishes him by saying that purity lies in the heart, not your apparent status and profession.

Asians are generally not accustomed to express their love verbally to their loved ones, if you agree with me on this. But, sometimes non-verbal expression could prove to be more powerful than verbal action. Somewhere in the movie, Daigo told this touching story about “Stone Letter” to his wife, Mika: “In the ancient times, before humans invented writing... they searched for the stone that resembled their feelings, and gave it to another person. The person who received the stone, read the other person's feelings by the weight and texture. For example, smooth texture symbolizing a peaceful mind, and rough texture symbolizing a concern for others.” The sensation of “touch” sometimes can become a very powerful medium of communication, and “Okuribito” manages to portray that fairly effectively. After dealing with death on a daily basis, Daigo comes to realise how important his loved ones are in real life, being truly alive right in front of his eyes. This has made him to treasure life and the lives of his loved ones. Be it verbal or non-verbal, so long as there is no regret for not expressing how we feel towards our loved ones while they are still alive.

The real message of the movie, as for me, is this: “Treasure those who are still living and dear to you here and now. Tell them how much you love them while they are still alive. There’s no use at all for you to cry over their funeral, or spend thousands of money for a grand ceremony, just to satisfy one’s ego of being labelled as ‘filial’. Don’t let the encoffiner, if there’s such an encoffiner like Daigo at all, becomes the reconciliator of the gap between you and the deceased, as the tearful regrets are too late to be of any use now.”
So, love those people who are dear to you right now, for being able to love in the present while they are still alive is the most precious gift to them…

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Tiger’s Dhammic Movie Review" - Inception: Shaping your own reality in the layers of consciousness

Official Inception synopsis by Warner Bros.:
Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan directs an international cast in an original sci-fi actioner that travels around the globe and into the intimate and infinite world of dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible—inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming. This summer, your mind is the scene of the crime. 


Christopher Nolan’s Inception presents the greatest art of theft - stealing ideas from the deeply hidden layers in one’s subconscious. That is not all, “inception” is made possible by attempting the planting of a pre-destined idea into one’s mind. 

Painful feeling, is what it is in the mind
Somewhere in the opening scene of the movie, someone had uttered this: “Pain is in the mind, and by judging by the décor we’re in your mind right, Arthur?” And there goes Arthur was then shot at his leg by Mal, Cobb’s ex-wife, resulting in mental painful feeling even though he does not suffer it physically in the real world. Based on this, it seems that we don’t have to suffer physically in order to feel the pain. In the Buddha’s teachings, there are bodily feelings as well as mental feelings. Hence we can see that feeling, be it pleasant or painful, it involves body and mind, both. It can thus be seen as intermediary between body and mind, with both conditioning each other. This leads to me thinking that dukkha can often be mind-made. We construct our own “pain” inside our mind, and in turn affecting our own very life here and now. Salla-sutta expounds that in addition to the painful feelings that may arise due to bodily affliction, the second dart of affliction manifests in response to the mental reaction to the bodily pain. The remedy to this is that in meditation, we see the true nature of pain and not reacting to it, but simply bears it with composure. In this way, aversion towards pain will not arise, which creates the condition for insight and the bondage to feelings falls apart.

You can plant your own seed in your mind
“The seed that we plant in this man’s mind will grow into an idea. This idea may define him.” That is how Inception works in this movie. According to one of the early Mahāyāna philosophical schools, Yogācāra, it is said that the results of our actions and behaviours are impregnated in the metaphorical form of “seeds” into the store consciousness, Ālayavijñāna. The difference here between the “seeds” concepts in this movie with the Yogacara tenet is that the seeds according to the Yogācārins do not define us as per say. It is planted into the deepest layer of our consciousness, the Ālayavijñāna, and will then generate visible phenomena when the right set of conditions arises – they have the power to condition the formation of the subsequent self. And what actually defines you as the “I”, “Mine” and “Myself” is the 7th layer of our consciousness, the manas, which is the mind of ego-attachment, taking the Ālayavijñāna as its object, misconstrues it to be the essence of self, and strongly clinging to it. This is what we need to work on in order to be freed from the samsaric cycle.
Be careful of the seeds you are planting, because it can “grow” and influence the large part of you. This is well exhibited in the movie where we see that Mal continues to come to haunt Cobb in his dreams in the form of the projection of his own guilt. Keeping his guilt of thinking that he is responsible for the death of his wife, Mal, the “seed” is planted so strong in his deepest layer of his mind. Consider it as the karmic tendencies perfumed by the seeds you’ve planted yourself, it is likewise that Cobb has no choice but to live behind the shadow of his own guilt. The only way out is to confront your own defilement. Cobb manages to find that key of his way out, judging from a scene towards the end of the movie where he finally utters these words to Mal, his projected reality: “You’re just a shade. You’re just a shade of my real wife.”

Length of time is only perceived in the different planes of reality
Time is just a relative thing. In Inception, the deeper the dream is, the time spent is exponentially longer compared to the upper layers. This has corresponding reality to the 31 planes of existence in the Buddhist cosmology.  Depending on which plane of existence we are at, the time spent varies from the lifespan as a human being to 84 000 aeons at the highest realm. In fact, we don’t have to go that far, here in the very human existence itself, at times we feel that the time passes too slow in the time of suffering, while the happy times simply feel too short to satisfy the thirst for pleasurable experiences. The underlying cause for the difference in the perspective of time concept is the attachment to a particular existence, or sensual experience. Whichever state of experience we are at, if the true nature of it is seen in full awareness – impermanence and unsatisfactory, the “jail” of time does not really bother us anymore.

How the world presents to us depends on how we perceive it
In different level of realities, we perceive the same thing differently. In the movie, rain drops falling on the faces of the actors manifests as storm at the lower layer of their dream experience. Similarly, the Yogācārins teach that same physical entity will be perceived differently in different realms: the same flowing water is perceived as river in the human mind-frame, but as filthy blood in the realm of hungry ghosts. The innate nature of our mind projects the world according to the “filter” set in the deep consciousness, what is termed as “manas” by the Yogācārins. So, in the realms of samsara, we can never perceive the world as it is, unless this layer of subjective transformation is removed via the practice of meditation.
“We create and perceive our world simultaneously. And our mind does it so well that we don’t even know it’s happening”, says Cobb in the movie. As a comparison, the Yogācārins say that when the seeds are created from the manifest activities and planted into the Ālayavijñāna, in less than an instant, manifest activities produced from the seeds and perfuming of those manifest activities on the seeds already contained in the Ālayavijñāna. All of this happens simultaneously. We create our own action – we plant the seed – we perceive the world from the karmic tendencies of the seed – and we plant new seeds from the resulting action. We fail to realise that these are what is happening at the background of our manifest activities, hence often being taken granted of. This is the inseparability of cause and effect in our daily activities, so as to explain the central philosophy of Buddhist teachings.

Constructing your own “reality” to develop insights for deliverance
The other important element of this movie is the possibility of self-constructing of dreams. I think this is really possible in terms of constructing / positioning our own mind in full awareness so as to direct ourselves to the insights, insights that open the door to the realisation of impermanent nature of all things. Meditation is in fact a work of building the necessary conditions for developing insights in finding the true nature or our inner world. So, put on your gear, start to swim in the bottomless world of consciousness, there is so much to discover down there…

From Craving to Liberation: Excursion into the Thought-world of the Pāli Discourses by Anālayo
Living Yogācāra: An Introduction to Consciousness-Only Buddhism by Tagawa Shun’ei

Monday, September 6, 2010

Celebrating the New Chinese Year by “Going Against the Stream”

So, do you still remember how did you spend your 2010 Chinese New Year festive holidays? The typical Chinese-cultured society would anticipate a long-awaited holiday season for either a head back to one’s own hometown or simply a reunion with family and friends. Well, this was really not the case for me though… It was a “going against the stream” Chinese New Year holiday to me.

This year, I did not go back to my family in northen Malaysia. I made a prior arrangement to spend the long weekend holidays (about 5 days) at a place totally unknown to me. Equipped with unshakable determination, I managed to locate this very special place in Kota Tinggi, Johor. It’s called Santisukhārāma Meditation Centre (Hermitage of Peaceful Bliss).

The main building at the Santisukharama Meditation Centre
I indeed had hesitation in the beginning and I did miss my family a little. But since the decision had been made, I should not be carrying any regrets. Santisukharama is a Vipassana meditation centre within a 7.5 acres land of cultivated forest, surrounded by palm-oil trees and rubber estates. Founded by Ven Sujiva in 1982, it is truly a peaceful abode, a conducive environment for the serious yogis.

The Sima Hall
The blissful greeting at the entrance
On the day of my arrival, I met Sis Sam, the Chairperson of the centre. I was then brought by a volunteer (bro How) to my room, in which to my amusement, it was a huge room right below the Sīmā Hall! It is supposed to be the monk’s resident. Later I found out that my accomodation was arranged in such a way because the resident monk had planned to leave for Johor Bahru soon and there would be a special Burmese Vipassana meditation retreat starting on the next day and hence most rooms would be occupied.

Sister Sam is a retired teacher. As a person of utmost responsibility and commitment to the place, she seems to run the place nearly from head to toe. Somehow she was very supportive to my presence there “to practise meditation”. She got me listening to talks and Vipassana meditation instructions from the Ven Sujiva which were played from a CD. It was indeed an outright effort of hers to set things right from the beginning.

I had a chance to bump into the resident monk at Santisukharama. It was at a later period when I went back to Singapore that I got to know his name. His name is Bhante Mahacara. I had never met him before, but it seemed that there was an unknown reason of him being so enthusiastic in guiding me some basic Vipassana meditation techniques.

Basically, Santisukhārāma follows Ven Mahasi Sayadaw’s tradition which focuses on the rising and falling movement of abdomen as the meditation object. I told him that I was more familiar with Samatha and Ānāpānasati method. According to him, practising Samatha ultimately results in pure tranquility or total calmness, but Vipassana makes you “see” the interaction between body and mind, and ultimately the 3 Universal Characteristics of the whole thing which give rise to insight. Mindfulness of “in-out breath” at the nose tip could also be used, but at the end of the day, it is the sensation of the area around nostrils that matter.

"Mindfully observing the rise and fall of the abdomen..."
In my understanding from the conversation with him, it seemed to me that Mahasi’s tradition pays much attention on the body and its sensations. The technique is still very much faithful to what the Buddha had taught in Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (The Foundation of Mindfulness). He explains to me in details the four foundations expounded in the sutta and their application in the meditation technique. My job, is to note everything that comes through: “sitting/touching sensations, pain, thinking… and so on”. Just note them mindfully, refrain from making any analysis or any further judgement.

He further elaborated on how walking meditation should be rightfully done: simply just label all movements of the feet as “raising”, “lifting”, “pushing”, “dropping”, “treading” and “pressing”. Just label them first. I was also instructed to note the “intention” to stop and change the course of my walking. “Just note the intention, and see what happens next. Everything that happens must come from an intention behind, just like the law of cause and effect. There’s no ‘I’ or ‘Me’ in your walking, it’s just the interaction between mind and matter”, those were what he told me in which I could recall.

He was so keen to guide me further, to the extent that he reconsidered his plan to leave this place. He wished to stay back to monitor my progress. I was truly overwhelmed by his noble intention, for I was doubting my own ability to follow closely his personal guidance. But when I told him that my stay was not for long, he then reverted back to his original plan of leaving for Johor Bharu.

One way or another, I always believe that when you are persisting in doing something wholesome, all the the wholesome people and things will come to support you.

My first night was a bit of a torture. I was aware that there will be no dinner served at the centre, only breakfast (at 7am) and lunch (at 11am) will be served due to the observance the 8 precepts. But I was not really prepared for that, my tummy cried the whole night and I could hardly sleep. It was indeed a regret of not sneaking in some snacks to the hermitage earlier to survive throughout the night!

“Hissing” in the midst of gentle breeze, dropping leaves like a curtain of endless length, with birds chirping “mindfully” in between the branches: thanks to the life-giving trees in the centre compound. There are so many trees, so many species, perhaps over 200 of them. Ven Sujiva quoted a cleric in his recent book: “The man who plants trees goes to Heaven.”

The Mahasi’s technique is relatively new to me. I faithfully applied the technique for my Vipassana practice there. Generally, the main distinguishing features of the approach compared to Samatha are the large extent use of body contemplation with the main object used is the “rising-faling” of the abdomen; mindful noting of each process; and walking meditation alternated with sitting, one hour at a time. I found the techniques were so refreshing, galvanising a new venture into the inner discovery for a beginner like myself.

The mindful awareness was largely paid on the rising-falling motion of the abdomen. As it is the grosser bodily activity, I found it easier to place my awareness on the object compared to the in-out breath at nostrils (the Ānāpānasati method). According the Ven Sujiva’s book, “The Tree of Wisdom, The River of No Return: The practice and development on insight meditation”, the priority of object can be changed: when the rising-falling of abdomen becomes unclear, one can switch the attention to sitting/touching sensations, or pain, or thinking processes, and the abdominal movement becomes the secondary object. The main purpose here is to keep the continuity flow of mindfullness. The instruction went on stating that one should not only keep the mind concentrated, but mindful observation on the nature of bodily sensations should also be attempted, and picked up with clear perception of the qualities of the material elements.

Usually I could sit for a full hour, unless sleepiness sneaked in, I would switch the “posture mode” to walking meditation. I discovered that sloth and torpor was the main culprit for my wandering attention, but Ven Sujiva regarded this as one of the mental energy, and should be noted mindfully. I took up the technique and found that the more I sit, the faster it was for me to pick up the “first sign” of sleepy feeling. It’s interesting to notice how it manifested and faded away with mindful attention.

Bodily painful sensation was one of my main meditation object too. When there was only minor pain, I tried to disregard it. It was so interesting to observe the changes in the degree of pain (at the knees and the ankles especially), just like watching the colours of skin when it whirls and wriggles. Impermenance… that was the first hand experience I had. However, when the pain became unbearable, I would change my sitting position, and the “intention” of doing this would be mindfully noted as well.

Walking meditation was relatively easier to be practised, especially being enveloped in such a peaceful forestry environment. Usually I started with brisk walking before slowing down the pace to deep mindful walking. Occasionally, I just engaged the feeling of being “so present” in walking. Different types of pathways were chosen, from the tiled floor to mold-covered walkways. I liked doing it in the outdoor, just loved the feelings of being entertained by the orchestra of swaying leaves and singing birds. But the main thing here was direct experience on the sensations/material qualities of the feet through mind door.

A Zen-like pathway
There were few interesting instances when I practised walking meditation. There were so many ants, big ants, outside the Sīmā Hall. Sometimes I had to change the course of my walking direction in order to avoid stepping on them or rather being bitten by them. Doing this in the middle of the mindful attention on the feet was indeed a challenge, so as not to lose my flow of mindfullness. Again, noting the “intention” was a practise to witness the work of cause and effect in mind-body interaction.

Having meals at the retreat was another interesting experience. I was arranged to be seated with the Burmese retreat participants for breakfast and lunch. There were about 100 of them, including 3 Sayadaws and 10 volunteers, all from Singapore. Watching the participants walking with an extremely mindful manner into the dining hall made me feel rather “eerie”, it was just like a scientist who had just released a new batch of “human robots”! Mainly Burmese dishes were served. As lunch was the the last meal of the day and served at the early hour of 11am, I was caught in a mind-game: “…the portion of the rice/noodle appeared too little as compared to the others”, “Hey, I like this dish, but I can’t be too selfish to gobble them all…” I just had to remind myself that this meal was only meant to conserve this body for continuity of practice. When you stop distinguishing and discriminating the food served in front of you, they somehow taste differently!
Mindful meal time with the Burmese monks and yogis

I met a few interesting people in the retreat. Apart from my presence, there was another German yogi who had been meditating on his own there about a month ago. But we rarely talked. He had a very unusual way of doing his sitting meditation: he usually did it on an armrest chair, head slanted to one side; the whole posture indeed resembled a “sleeping meditation” instead. Further, I met a friendly Burmese man, known as Zaw Tun. He seemed to be the retreat organiser. He had some useful points to share with me regarding his experience on Mahasi’s Vipassana technique. He said that Samatha helps one to develop deep concentration and traquility, and can only suppress kileṣa, while Vipassana eradicates it completely. In order to keep me up with the practice, he requested for my contact for future updates of the activities in Satipaṭṭhāna Meditation Centre in Singapore. Well, I felt there’s no harm knowing a new friend and a new “abode” for me to pursue futher practice in Singapore.

The Noble Sign
An outdoor shrine in the morning shine
The last few hours of my precious moments in the hermitage were spent with intuitive experience. In that morning, my meditation was disturbed with restless feelings, perhaps a subtle lamentation for being separated soon from this blissful abode (a kind of dukkha too). But that was later replaced with a unique absorption of a sort of “peak” experience during my sitting meditation. It felt like a blissful feeling enveloping my heart, the sensations concentrated on the base of my sitting, but the object was spread to a broader field of sensations, just like what Ven Sujiva coins as “Collected Open Awareness”, in which the awareness was kept at a fairly wide range of sensations, ensuring one practising insight on change. It was my first ever experience on the changes of material qualities of my body, a doorway to deeper insight, indeed…

An elegant Buddha-rupa

Inside Sima Hal
I concluded my trip to Kota Tinggi without a single regret. No computer, no emails, no Facebook, no TV, no Chinese New Year cookies… It is so crystal clear to me now that I was not trying to run away from my family in this festive season, or putting up an act of “anti-social animal” whatsoever. I just want to be “in the present”, a noble course for a higher goal. Though rather unconventional, I believe I was doing this for the benefit of myself and others: “Help oneself to help others; Help others to help oneself”!

"...there's no other path more serene than the path less traveled..."

Thus have I experienced…

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Symbolical Representation of Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) at Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun (or also known as White Temple) in Chiang Mai Province is a gateway to the new exploration of contemporary Thai artistry. Built by a reknown artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, it is an extraordinary temple in which he wishes to dedicate to His Majesty the King.

 The whole temple is mainly in white According to Chalermchai, the temple complex will comprise of nine buildings, each of his own distinct architectural style, but all symbolising Buddhist philosophy and Dharma. He intends to portrait this temple as to symbolise Buddhist philosophy and teachings via his own brilliant imagination and passion in contemporary Thai art. It is mainly designed in white colour with some use of white glass. The white color stands for Buddha’s purity, while the white glass stands for Buddha’s wisdom that "shines brightly all over the Earth and the Universe."

The bridge leading to the temple represents the crossing over from the cycle of rebirth to the Abode of Buddha:

wheareas the small semicircle before the bridge stands for the human world. The big circle with fangs is the mouth of Rahu, meaning impurities in the mind, a representation of hell or suffering:

Many other figurines and carvings at the mouth of the bridge and around the temple:
Figures representing man and woman in the sensual realm.

The two guardians of the temple.
The Buddha image is positioned in such a way that it is as if floating in the fire of samsara, being so serene and untouched by the impurities.

On the roof, there are four kinds of animals representing earth, water, wind and fire. The elephant stands for the earth; the naga stands for water; the swan's wings represent wind; and the lion’s mane represents fire:

The most interesting part of the temple, however, lies inside the assembly hall (ubosot). The four walls, ceiling and floor contain paintings showing an escape from the defilements of temptation to reach a supramundane state. It's the area that represents human mind, Chalermchai explained. The Buddha statue seems to be floating in the timelessness of space, giving you the surreal feeling of the abode of god.

Nowadays, Wat Rong Khun is still being constructed. When completed, the construction project of Wat Rong Khun will consist of nine buildings as mentioned: the ubosot, the hall containing Buddha’s relics, the hall containing Buddha images, the preaching hall, the contemplation hall, the monk’s cell, the door façade of the Buddhavasa, the art gallery, and the toilets.

Sources of information:; and

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Discourse to the Kesaputtiyas (Kesaputtiya Sutta: The Instruction to the Kālāmas): The Buddhist Science of Doubt

We might be more familiar with this sutta name called “Kālāma Sutta”, but not the Kesaputtiya Sutta (Chinese: 伽藍經), found in AN 3.65. Both names refer to the same sutta, with the former being more popularly known. Kālāmas refer to the group of people who reside in a town called Kesaputta, hence come the name of the sutta. Be it Kālāma Sutta or Kesaputtiya Sutta, what matters most is the remarkable spirit behind it.

Why the “Doubt”?
Here in this sutta, the Buddha talks about 'doubt', an affirmative acknowledment of doubt which have arisen in the Kālāmas by saying thus: “It is fitting that you are uncertain, that you doubt, Kālāmas. Doubt has arisen in you over what is doubtful.” This is unlike what have been expounded in the Revata Sutta; U 5.7/60 (a discourse on how the monk Revata who sits in meditation, “reviewing his own purification by overcoming doubt”), and Rathavinīta Sutta; M24, where the nature of doubts become a hindrance to the path of liberation. The Buddha finds that the uncertainty and doubt which has taken hold on the Kālāmas could serve as a wonderful science of the mind that cultivate spiritual investigation and wisdom leading to rational faith. (ākāravati saddhā).

Ten Grounds based on Moral Context
The famous Ten Grounds of doubts as enumerated by the Buddha to the Kālāmas:
i) Do not go by oral tradition;
ii) Do not go by lineage (of teaching);
iii) Do not go by hearsay;
iv) Do not go by scriptural authority;
v) Do not go by logical reasoning;
vi) Do not go by inferential reasoning;
vii) Do not go by reflection on reasoning;
viii) Do not go by acceptance of a view after pondering on it;
ix) Do not go by another’s seeming competence;
x) Do not go by your own thinking, “This recluse is our teacher”.
if you notice it closely enough in the sutta, they are always based on whether they could lead to wholesome or unwholesome states, not blamable or blamable, praised or not by the wise, and when undertaken and practised, bring good and happiness. In other words, if these Ten Grounds, being investigated, tested and eventually practised, do not lead to moral virtue, we should not accept them. But the Buddha does not end up ‘injecting’ the ideology of mere acceptance based on the doctrinal moral virtue. He brings in the three established fundamental roots of human suffering, namely GREED, HATRED and DELUSION, and presents it as a ‘controlled subject’ in verifying the moral virtue that he is talking about. Interestingly, there we find the Five Precepts in each of the Three Roots, further validating their moral grounds. Acting as a 'controlled subject', these three roots, if avoided, will lead to the same moral consequences as in the Ten Grounds! This is indeed a wonderful skillful way of the Buddha in presenting his doctrine cultivating ākāravati saddhā (rational faith) by not blindly subscribing to the way of amulika saddhā (blind faith).

“Do not believe in anything!”: Is it true?
Many, as I could see so, think that Kālāma Sutta tells us “not to believe in anything at all”! Is that so? Well, I don’t think that this is what the Buddha intends to deliver in this sermon. If we revisit the Ten Grounds again, we can see that it is dealing with the question of epistemology (theory of knowledge, asking the question of “How do we know what we know?”). But the Buddha is not interested in validation of knowledge via knowledge-based investigation, but rather on the ethical-based knowledge. Hence, if we do not believe in any moral faculty in things that we should and should not do, then it is better off for not believing in anything at all… However, this is not the Buddha’s intention in delivering this sermon. There should be an ethical system which could be validated via direct experiences, that serves as the torch for deciding what is true and what is doubtful.

You Can Doubt Over “Karma & Rebirth”, Not a Problem!
Towards the last portion of the sutta, the Buddha exhibits how one could cultivate positive emotions by the way of the divine abodes (Brāhma Vihāras). So to speak, for one who continues to purify his mind by voiding it of enmity, ill will and free from corruption through the practice of the four divine abodes, he or she is guaranteed the benefits of Four Self-Assurances, irregardless of whether one believes in karma and rebirth:

The idea of the whole context here is that you don’t have to subscribe to the two most difficult-to-grasp doctrines of of the Buddha, karma and rebirth in order to be a good person, or a proper Buddhist specifically. Looking at it from another angle, even if you don’t believe in Buddhism or the Buddha himself, so long as your mind purified thus, you will still receive positive rewards here and now, or at the most, nothing bad will befall you at all. This is often termed as the “Buddha’s wager”, which does not take the underlying agenda of speculating “karma and rebirth” in the first place in examining the Ten Grounds. It is simply based on the very fact of human’s mutual respect and cultivation of goodness towards self and others, that we should accept or reject the mushrooming ideologies and doctrines out there…

Article inspired by the Dhamma sharing by bro Piya Tan at The Minding Centre, Singapore.

The Handful of Leaves

“On one occasion when he was sitting under a Siṃsapā tree, the Buddha took some of the leaves in his hand and asked his disciples thus, “What do you think, bhikkhus, which is more numerous, these few Siṃsapā leaves that I have taken up in my hand or those in the Siṃsapā grove overhead?” When the disciples answered that there are more leaves in the Siṃsapā grove overhead, Buddha then said, “Similarly, it is definite that there is much more than whatever I have told you.” Further, the Buddha has said that he has not told these things because they are unbeneficial, irrelevent to the fundamentals of the holy life, and do not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna."
[The Siṃsapā Grove (SN 56:31)]

What the Buddha is interested in teaching us is the knowledge and understanding of suffering and the cessation of suffering. That is all!

There are many stories and similies found in the life of the Buddha and in the Jataka tales that are designed to deliver certain messages. What is illustrated in the story above is trying to tell us this: seek only what is necessary for your own deliverance (realisation).

The Buddha is not putting down other knowledges in the world. He is not prohibiting us to seek them tirelessly too. What he actually means is that there are so many knowledges in the world, and his doctrine is merely meant to help us getting out of samsara! If you are interested in this, then his teachings are for you.

This story is in fact used to handle some metaphysical questions put forward to the Buddha. For example: “Is the whole universe eternal or not eternal?” “Is there an origin and an end to the universe?” “What happened to the Buddha after death?” “Is the body and self the same?”

So to speak, some people became too attached in seeking for the things lying so far away, but in the matter of fact, they have not even learnt how to become a good person in the first place! It is just like trying so hard to find out how many leaves there are in forest, but couldn’t even bother to look at what is there in the leaves of the Buddha’s hand!

My thought: Some people think that the Buddha teaches deep and philosophically profound doctrine, some deep psychological concepts or whatsoever. Some even think that the dependent origination doctrine can lead us to discover the origin of the universe. Some think that the Buddha is a physicist, his doctrine can expose the mystery of quantum physics.

To me, all these are extremely unnecessary and irrelevant. The teachings are expounded so clearly enough, and indeed pointing right to the “moon”: to know the mind, to develop the mind and to free the mind (via mindfulness). That is the most important of all, and I would sincerely think so…