Sunday, February 24, 2013

What is underneath your feet cannot be seen

It is said that when Bodhidharma set out to spread the wisdom of Gautama Buddha, he headed East towards what is today, China. As he approached a large open space on one Full Moon night, he saw nothing except a barren piece of land. There were no bushes, no trees, nothing. It was a place where nothing could be perceived. It looked empty because there was nothing to see, or hear. There were no animals or creatures. It appeared as if it could be the most desolate place on Earth.

Suddenly, in the bright moonlit night, a perimeter guard, a warrior protecting his Emperor shouts from across the barren piece of land, : "Stop, or I will kill you". To this, Bodhidharma replies: "I am here to speak Buddha's Words of Wisdom. I come in peace. I can feel no pain if you kill me. Please kill me if you wish at this spot where I had to stop and could not proceed."

Feeling challenged, the angry warrior proceeds to cross the barren land. His brisk walking is slowed down quickly by his feet sinking in the ground. Every step he took made him sink under the ground by a few centimeters. As he began to sink, he screamed for help. Bodhidharma held out his hands and pulled him out of quicksand. It is said that the warrior was enlightened.

The philosophy behind this is for one to think things through before committing to do something that one wishes to achieve. One must have an extraordinary sense of awareness to perceive our environment.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Removing the grip of Mara from one's Mind

Regardless of the task that one wishes to undertake, it is good to realize that you are at the base of a small mountain and about to trek your way up to the top. When you get to the top, you find nothing is impossible.

It is the persistence and perseverance to reach a desired goal that gives a sense of personal satisfaction. It is a self-experienced understanding that cannot be shared with anyone. Words of expression do not convey our internal feelings of joy and happiness, or the sadness of experiencing mental anguish, in ways that the other can fully understand and experience those feelings the same way. No one can show a clear path in life to another. One must seek this path oneself. The Koan "If you see a Buddha on the way, Kill him" suggests such a rule. It simply means do not merely accept what others suggest that you should do. Do whatever you think is best and follow your own true instincts towards your goals. This would lead to finding the Buddha in oneself. This is the awakening of oneself.

It is said that Gautama Buddha while pointing his finger at the beautiful full Moon said to his five disciples that one must to see where the truth is. What could he be hinting to? - I have wondered.

Early AD painting of Mara's attack on the mental state of Gautama Buddha

Segment of the Bhavachakra shows Gautama Buddha pointing to the Moon, and Mara controlling the five senses that form the aggregates of the human Mind

False color image of the Moon made by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, and what appears to be a Buddha form with a mask that envelops the Mind
I suppose all the pain and suffering we experience is because of our desire to perceive and see things in our life that are pleasurable. What if one thinks that it is in fact a sense of greed to see more and more.

For the cessation of all pain and suffering, the Heart Sutra is clearly a prescription for self-transformation. The Sutra epitomizes a state where nothing can be perceived. In such a state, the Mind itself does not exist. The Sutra states, "Mind is the Void, and Void is the Mind". The Manthra makes the transformation happen. The chant in one's Mind is synchronous with the thought of losing perception of one's own Mind. It does not matter in what language one chants.

The original Sanskrit text "गथे गथे पारगथे पारसम्गथे बोधि स्वाहा "written in English is "Gathe Gathe Para-Gathe, Parasam-Gathe, Bodhi Svaaha". Equivalently in English it is "Going Going, Gone away, Gone Forever, Enter Divine Buddha". The resonant power embodied in this Manthra is of such a nature that it can transport one's state of Mind from its present state in to a state of emptiness. The instantaneous power produced is of such a magnitude so as to enable one to observe one's own Mind and to control it. This is indeed the principle characteristic of all autonomous systems. It is the ability for complete self-control.

To overcome pain and suffering in our life, we must first understand why there is pain and suffering in the first place. The cause and its effect must be identified. We have to know what caused the pain and put an end to it. Suffering is the effect of pain. To counter the pain, it may appear easy at first to ignore the pain. But, ignoring pain leads to ignorance and more suffering. It is easy to perceive that our Mind is playing a game. It is a fierce battle of wits that must be overcome. Finding the way to enter the state of emptiness is analogous to removing oneself from a thick jungle of trees, wild bushes with prickly thorns, and where wild animals exist, and clearing a path through the jungle, chopping down thick bushes and vines that block our path.

How can one achieve such power, I have wondered. We are in a constant battle with our Mind. It is a debate for whether or not we should do something. The good side of one's Mind is constantly opposing the bad side of the Mind. At times it appears as a fight between the two. It is synonymous to the predator and prey characteristics of all biological systems. One cannot allow one's own Mind to be dictated by the unconscionable Mind. It is the evil spirit of Mara attempting to dominate the good nature of the conscious Mind. We see the pros and cons, positive and negative consequences, favorable and unfavorable outcomes, beneficial and non-beneficial results, and yet proceed to do things which go against the grain of commonsense. There is a sense of chaos where no decision seems possible.

Meditation tames the mind. Meditating brings extraordinary awareness to all things happening at this very moment. It enables enhanced perception of images formed in the Mind. It brings clarity in thought. It brings out the truth in oneself. It allows one to concentrate deeply on only one thought such as emptiness, for example, if that is the only thought we wish to focus on. Meditation allows one to become deeply focused on a thought process -- a chain of interlinked thoughts.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Fear is very hard to describe. It is in one's Mind. I suppose it could be described as a feeling of apprehension to do something, and that something bad will happen. It is an unpleasant feeling caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, and that which is likely to cause pain or even death. A dare devil who performs death defying acts is fearless knowing very well that something can go wrong. The fearlessness of the individual indicates that any amount of pain may be tolerated. So how can one overcome fear I wonder.

On a recent visit to Vietnam we stayed for one night inside a floating cottage on the Mekong River. About 150 km from Saigon, we arrived at the transfer port in My Tho to be transported by boat to the cottage. It was past sunset and pitch dark. Although I could not see anything, I could somehow feel the immensity of the river. It was so dark that we had to shine a light near our feet to see where we were walking. 

Going up the river, I could feel the resistance of the motor boat trying to overcome the water flowing towards the boat. Other large and small boats passed by from the opposite direction. Some boats had no visual indicator such as a small light for others to see and to navigate safely. Of course these were thoughts that anyone who is foreign to the land would feel and develop a sense of fear. After just a few minutes in the boat I felt there was nothing I could do other than stare into the dark. Taking any pictures would just cause a bright flash but nothing was captured in terms of an image. I did take a couple of pictures. After that, I just sat back, listened to the roar of the diesel engine, the splashing of water caused by going upstream, and did not think about any possibility for collision. I felt safe in the hands of the boat driver, who seemed to see everything in the dark while I could not see a thing, nothing, in the pitch dark. We arrived at the floating cottage safely.
Sitting at the front of the boat and staring into pitch darkness on the Mekong River
Inside the floating cottage, a feeling of excitement and mystery
A light meal for four prepared elegantly
There was nothing we could see beyond the dimly lit cottage property. I could feel the flow of the River and yet was not sure how to perceive the breadth of the environment. 

I could not wait for the first light in the morning to take a look at the immensity of the river tributary on which we were staying.
A family drifting down the river 

Later in the morning we visited a small commune. Of course, it was a tourist spot. As I wandered around, I saw a cage approximately 4 meters long and a meter wide with a huge python.

I asked a person standing nearby if this is found in the Mekong River region. His answer was that there were many more in the past, but now there are not as many because hunters have killed many. The thought that the python is an inhabitant of the Mekong River brought chills through my entire body, and a deep sense of fear in my Mind. I could not help but think how I could have slept in the floating cottage knowing that such a huge snake could be present in the waters below.
Five floating cottages

Monday, January 21, 2013

Happiness returns

When happiness returns, all the sadness that had enveloped one's Mind suddenly disappears in one split-second. The transition between sadness and happiness is a feeling that something vicious had grabbed your Mind, gripped your Mind so tightly that you felt incapacitated in rational thought, and not knowing a way out. And when its effects such as the feeling of loneliness, built-in anger about oneself, frustration, everything, disappears suddenly, sadness is completely gone. In fact, the feeling is such as that prescribed in the Heart Sutra. 

We must experience the feeling of something which can vanish to conclude that the transformation between sadness and happiness is by a Mantra prescribed as "Gathe, Gathe, Paramgathe, Parasamgathe, Bodhi Svaaha", "Going, Going, Gone, Gone forever, Enter the Divine Buddha".

Instantly we feel transformed. It is as though we have been struck by a ray of Enlightenment in a manner causing an awakening. It is a feeling of having come out of pitch darkness into a bright opening at an instant. One can only imagine if that feeling could stay with you indefinitely. 

I was feeling sad yesterday, but today how can it be so different? How? -- I kept thinking repeatedly. How could it happen so quick, and what did I say, or do, which could have caused my sadness to vanish? -- These questions rang loud in my Mind. 

I felt a deep sense of elation, choked that I could see what I had desired so much to go back to, and feeling so happy that I was able to climb to the top of the mountain. I had no idea standing at the base of a mountain where the top of the mountain could be, and how long I should feel and experience mental anguish, and the pain and suffering caused by our natural Karma. 

This experience makes me conclude therefore, that the Heart Sutra is the prescription for the complete cessation of all cause and effect. If there is no cause, then there is no effect. If there no perception of any kind, there is no cause or effect.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


To appreciate and admire the beauty in happiness we must first experience sadness, understand what the sadness means, and find ways to remove the sadness. To be happy we have to overcome sadness. This gives the feeling of standing at the foothills of a mountain, and asking oneself "how am I going to climb this mountain of sadness and stand on its top to see happiness again?" 

One beautiful morning, a mother talking to someone on the phone, hears the father talking to the daughter. While still on the phone, the mother immediately gestures to her daughter to move her things and to come sit with her. The mother walks away with her daughter.  The father sees everything, forcing himself not to blink, tears begin to form, he feels choked and waits until the mother and daughter are not in sight.

Stories are told so that some day others who read can visualize how society has evolved in to a highly complex society with multitudes of cultural, social, ethical, moral, and ethnically built-in values. The meaning of one's own feelings of sadness varies across cultures and in their social acceptance of certain facts which could be counter to, for example, a western thought. Therefore one person's sadness cannot be compared with another's sadness. We all experience our own sadness which can never be fully shared. There is a cause for sadness, and there is an effect of being in sadness. 

How one can conquer and eliminate sadness is perhaps one's thought. The answer might be for one to just follow their own natural instincts truthfully. If one believes that a Manthra could be the solution, then one has the power to use it. 

The Manthra is a reinforcing agent which is a constant reminder to do things in the manner it must be done. Enlightenment does not happen by magic. Enlightenment is a result of hard work that is aimed towards success. In research and in engineering, enlightenment is the success in  building a prototype  of some device, which proves the need for that technology in the future.

The thought of the Mantra kept ringing in my Mind. I wished so much for my sadness to go away. It is the constant feeling of "going, going, going, going, going, going, going, going, going, going,... it will go, it will go, it will go,...". At times I felt how, and in what form I must cause something for it to have any affect to spin me out of this sad feeling.

The anatomy, of the constant chant in one's Mind, is that if one wants to achieve a certain form, a state of Mind that allows greater perceptive abilities, then one must begin the task with the highest confidence that the desired objective or goal in life is achieved. Naturally at the beginning of the task everything appears impossible, it is as though there are mountains ahead in our path that have to be overcome towards greater knowledge. The feeling is such that one is taken towards an attractor and captured in time and space.

How could one spin out from a strange attractor that has gripped your mind with thoughts that are chaotic, and feels weird -- one wonders. Strange thoughts go through your Mind. The paths are unpredictable, and there are no rational thoughts. How would you get out? One wonders how and when such a transformation can occur. 

I suppose that is indeed the message from the image of the Buddha form on the Moon. 

Old Laotian painting showing Gautama Buddha's battle with Mara the demon King

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Perception is at the root tips of all thought. Thoughts originate from what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. With no sense for vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell, there can be no perception. Such is the state of Mind prescribed by the Heart Sutra. I have seriously wondered why and how such a state of Mind could be the source for awakening. What is the atmosphere inside oneself at the moment when all of our senses cease to exist? -- I have wondered. How does one perceive such a state of Emptiness? I suppose one could think of it as a shockingly pleasant  atmosphere. It is shocking because of the unexpected and surreal nature of the environment that is present when all senses have completely and totally vanished. It has to be an  atmosphere  that one would never want to leave because it is so unique.  I may never actually find an answer as to how one could block all senses from the conscious Mind, except by spontaneously and unexpectedly experiencing such a state of Mind myself. 

We perceive of many things for which a meaning and its purpose may not be known at the instant of perception. The more we think, the better the perception gets. Prior to my visit to Vietnam I had been researching the potential for hydropower harvesting from the abundance of natural, renewable hydropower resources in Vietnam. I wanted to see a map of all the rivers of Vietnam so I could get inspired by the abundance of water in Vietnam. This would have given me the feeling for why I had the urge to do what I had hoped for. I was seeking a map of just the rivers in Vietnam, their origins from neighboring China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, names so I could be familiar with the large and small rivers in Vietnam, and their flow paths. Knowing the geography and landscape of Vietnam, it was clear in my Mind that all major rivers, with origins in China, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand flowed across Vietnam and drained into the South Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. However, I could not fully grasp this picture in my Mind. This led to a feeling of anguish and uncertainty of my perception of Vietnam's rich hydro power potential.  

Then suddenly, until one day, when I was searching for maps of present day Vietnam and Vietnam in the past, I came across a 19th century water color and brush painting made in approximately 1890 AD and archived at the U.S. Library of Congress.

Frankly, I was awestruck by the beauty of the painting. At first glance, my eyes focused on the shape of the coastline which resembled a bird. With the perceived head and beak pointing eastward, the perception of a bird was unavoidable. I asked my then 6-year old daughter what she saw in the picture. It was a Bird. Even more exciting, were the complex network of rivers that symbolically portrayed the rich nourishment for the perceived bird. The complex structure of intertwining rivers in the North resembled the circulatory system for the brain. All down the backbone, the rivers seemed to provide the nourishment for the bird. The Mekong River Delta with its vast resources feeding the tail end of the bird added even more meaning to the beauty in the painting. In all, I was stunned by the beauty and wanted to know more.

As I looked deeply at the painting, thoughts of the mythical bird of Vietnam popped up in my Mind. I had come to know earlier that the Phoenix, a large magnificent bird, was a symbol of Vietnam's past. But I had no clue or the knowledge as to how it had come into existence. Why would a nation adopt such a bird as a national symbol? In India, it is the Peacock. In America, it is the Bald Eagle. I could only guess that the Phoenix was a creation based on the perception of some prehistoric bird somewhere that no one in our lifetime has ever seen. I began to wonder if this could have been the perception of some ancient civilization based on the coastline. It was just a hunch. But, with not much to go by, the origin of the Phoenix remained a mystery. 

As I found out during my 6-month stay in Vietnam, it is common to see the Phoenix Bird displayed on dinnerware, on the walls of hotel lobbies, ballrooms, sports centers, and elsewhere all across Vietnam. I had seen the Phoenix displayed several times in wedding reception ballrooms and hotel lobbies. I felt lucky one night when I could not resist searching persistently, and suddenly found a picture of a hand carved Cambodian bead tray. I needed something which could give meaning to the shape of Vietnam's coastline. I had just found it. It was an eloquent and upright sitting bird, majestic, fearsome looking yet friendly, with a charming grin. It felt like a miracle. 

The finding of a hand carved object resembling the Phoenix, gave me the uncontrollable urge to deeply understand how and why such a remarkable looking bird had come into existence. Who had the perception to conceive such an awesome looking bird? -- I thought.

Thoughts about the Phoenix lingered in my Mind. Each time I saw the Phoenix displayed on the walls of some hotel, I was reminded to look for information that could lead me to the origins of the mysterious bird. I had even asked some of my colleagues if they knew of any source that could shed light on the mythical bird of Vietnam. But to no avail. They did however, mention the name of the bird as Phuong Hoang.

It was in the beginning of April 2012, when my wife, daughter and I decided to visit Vung Tau, a beautiful beach city about 120 kilometers from Saigon. It was a windy day, just hours before Typhoon Pakhar was expected to make landfall. I could see people flying kites, others reinforcing their beach property against high winds that was expected from Typhoon Pakhar, and kids playing on the beach and having fun. Then as if by miracle I saw a few kids walk up about 25 meters from where we were sitting, unfurl their kite which had the Phoenix bird printed on it, and began making preparations to fly their kite. For a moment, I could not believe what I was seeing. I was just fascinated. As much as I was tempted to meet the kids and have a chat, I refrained from doing that and just decided to sit and watch. The urge to find out more about the Phoenix had grown even more stronger. 

A couple of weeks later, as I walked across the campus of Ho Chi Minh University of Technology, I saw a monument which attracted my attention. I had passed by this monument everyday, but did not take the time to stop and look. This day must have been a special day. As I came close to the 4 meter tall structure, I could see the image of the Phoenix all around the outer periphery of what appeared to be a wheel or disc of some kind.

For the first time, I had found the replica of some significant object with the Phoenix, along with other images of animals and human shapes. It made me think there must be a way for me to search the Internet. It looked like a wheel at first. How could I search? -- I wondered. Keywords like "Ancient wheel of Vietnam", did not produce any useful result. Then in the midst of bursting thoughts, I recalled my colleague mentioning Phượng hoàng, the name of Vietnam's mythical bird. After a few late nights of searching and reading I had understood that the  Đông Sơn culture, later called Lac Viet, who lived during the Bronze Age had adopted the Phoenix as one of their symbols for prosperity. Bronze drums, with the Phoenix along the outer periphery, were cast throughout the period of  Đông Sơn culture. The culture flourished from approximately 1000 BC to 1 BC in all of Southeast Asia. Here is the face of the Ngoc Lu drum. Note the Phoenix along the outer periphery and its direction of flight in the counterclockwise direction. Why is it in that direction and what is the significance? -- I have wondered.

Despite this finding, a question that was nagging in my Mind was: Why did the Đông Sơn culture adopt this bird? What characteristics did the Đông Sơn culture see in their environment that inspired them of such a bird? 

The answers came when I found out that the Đông Sơn culture was quite advanced in agriculture and in raising farm animals like cows, pigs, chicken, ducks and other animals. They were experts at navigating the seas. As such, they built strong dugout canoes and traveled along the entire coastline, mapped all the outlets from rivers along the coast, and most likely connected the dots !! Perceiving distances is not easy. Therefore, their perceptions of coastal distances may have been distorted, while they could still maintain the anatomy of the rivers of Vietnam draining into the Sea.

The night prior to our departure from Saigon, Tam, a brilliant graduate student with whom I had engaged in some research at the Ho Chi Minh University of Technology came to say goodbye. As I saw him carry a small package to the hotel lobby I wondered if it would be something I could bring back with me. We had limited baggage space and we had already left behind some gifts that were too heavy and bulky to bring back. I knew we would be back the following year and we could bring back whatever we had left behind. I could not have guessed by any means what was in his hands that he was about to give me. He presented me with a surprise parting gift. What I saw inside the box baffled me. It was a beautiful replica of a Đông Sơn Frog Drum.

My excitement and joy at that moment could never be expressed in any amount of words no matter how hard I try. It was another miracle in my path towards better understanding the perception of the Phoenix. There was a great sense of elation and a sense of enlightenment. It was the closure to a long perceived thought, the outcome of which which I could have never guessed. I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel when all perception is lost.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Enlightenment -- How it could happen, and in what form

It was our last night of stay in Vietnam before returning to the U.S. We were on our way to a get together in Saigon District 3, when we drove past a memorial built in memory of The Most Venerable Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist Monk who set fire to himself on June 11, 1963 in the center of Saigon. The self-immolation was a gesture to protest against religious oppression in Vietnam. You may see the video of that event here

One quick glance at the statue is all that it took to make me want to stop and look closely. I still cannot forget my excitement in seeing the statue. It was as though there was a connection waiting to be made. I had seen the video several years ago, and the moment I saw the statue, it had a transforming effect on the state of my Mind.

Scene of a car in the background and a fireball enveloping Thich Quang Duc

As I looked at the memorial I felt as though all the events were unfolding in my Mind. I instantly recalled my trip to Hue a few weeks earlier when I had seen the car used to transport Thich Quang Duc to the location in Saigon, displayed at a historic monument.

I felt frustrated being unable to find proper expression to describe what all this meant. I had wondered how I could possibly write my feelings about seeing the relic in Hue and then seeing a memorial in Saigon. I felt incapable of expressing my feelings.

Then one day, nearly 6 weeks after we arrived in the U.S., my son found a book aptly entitled "Afterimages: Zen Poems" written by Shinkichi Takahashi. I had been seeking to find the meaning of the afterimages following my coincidental encounters with the relic and the memorial from the event of June 11 1963. A close friend of mine had given me this book many years ago and it had been tucked away in some box. It even had a dated inscription of 12-21-72. I was struck by the coincidence of the date with the much anticipated date of 12-21-2012. At the very least, I thought it would be 40 years since the time I received the precious gift.

As I browsed through the Zen poems, I was awestruck when I found a poem entitled:  "Burning Oneself to Death". As I read the poem, all my thoughts appeared to crystallize and I could feel a great sense of elation and excitement. I had found how to express my experienced understanding through the Mind of a highly skilled and highly venerated Zen Master. I had been thinking about this ever so frequently that what I had hoped to express landed right in to my hands. I said to myself, WOW! I had found the expression that transcribed my thoughts. The poem said it all. I truly felt enlightened. The poem is as follows:

"That was the best moment of the monk's life.
Firm on a pile of firewood
With nothing more to say, hear, or see,
Smoke wrapped him, his folded hands blazed.

There was nothing more to do, the end
Of everything. He remembered, as a cool breeze
Streamed through him, that one is always
In the same place, and that there is no time.

Suddenly a whirling mushroom cloud rose
Before his singed eyes, and he was a mass
Of flame. Globes, one after another, rolled out,
The delighted sparrows flew round like fire balls."
                         --- Shinkichi Takahashi

The poem epitomizes the extreme sacrifice any human can make so that others who follow might see a better and clearer path. 

The feeling of enlightenment strikes when there is confluence of thoughts in one's Mind. It is the meeting place of two or more streams of thought which have come together for a reason. It is the merging of thoughts which offer a better sense for understanding the meaning and purpose of all the things we perceive. These are thoughts that are referred to as nen-thoughts, or nian-thoughts, about something unique that we have seen, heard, felt, touched and tasted. I recall asking a colleague of mine not too long ago for the Chinese term describing nian-thought. I was told that the script describes  nian-thoughts  as "thoughts from the Mind and Heart".
The script captures the imagination in one's Mind to show the multidimensional nature of the Human Mind, and the source of power produced by the Human Heart. The rainbow colors illustrate the breadth and depth of the conscious Mind. Breadth is from the perspective of being mindful to everything we encounter. The richness of the three Primary Colors (Red-Green-Blue), and all other secondary colors which they can produce are symbolic of the depth of mindful thought. The Heart, in shades of Crimson Red, epitomize the singular color of Hemoglobin, blood plasma, the source of energy for the Human Mind. The White color, piercing the script from top to bottom, epitomizes purity in Mind and Heart. 

It is obvious that one must be mindful of what to say, or write, so that things are communicated in ways that are meaningful and mindful. I had been wondering how to write about what has been persistently nagging my Mind. The inability to express current thoughts accumulates and grows more each day. It gives the feeling of exponentiation of thoughts. So, how could one retain such thoughts? It is as though we wish to put this unique quality of our perception in a special compartment of our Mind, and then wait, and wait, and wait, until there is better understanding some day that gives both the meaning and the purpose of the perceived thought. 

We can perceive whatever we wish to perceive. However, whatever we perceive must have some unique attribute to makes it worthy of deeper thought, and consequently attain a better perception. Our perceptions become stronger through deep thinking. Naturally, these lead to greater knowledge and a higher state of the conscious Mind. If our perceptions are worthy of further thought, then they must be useful in someway, shape or form. One can feel enlightened suddenly at anytime and anyplace. 

I have been intrigued by the word "Enlightenment" only because of my desire to know what it means to feel enlightened. I suppose no one could possibly describe that feeling because it is a feeling that must be experienced singularly, an experience of oneself from within oneself. The Sanskrit word for enlightenment is "Bodhi", or "awakened". In Sanskrit script it is बो (Bo) धि (dhi). Budddha means the "awakened one". Therefore, if one feels awakened by the thought process, then it must be the heightened state of the Mind, a state of Mind that makes one extraordinarily aware of one's own environment. 

Enlightenment cannot be shared. It is a self-experienced understanding of something that we have been thinking about, something that we have been questioning about, asking ourselves Why?, Why?, Why?, ... for a period of time, and then suddenly, instantly, we have an answer! That is the beauty in feeling the sense of enlightenment. It is an experience of our own innate ability to feel and sense our own Mind. It is an experienced understanding in one's own Mind, as that prescribed by the Heart Sutra. The Manthra "Ga-The' Ga-The' Paara Ga-The' Paarasam Ga-The' Bodhi Svaaha" epitomizes the final approach and the entry into the unique state of Mind.

More and more of this elated feeling leads to enlightenment. It is the enlightenment within one's own mental state, a Bodhi state. This is analogous to finding the Buddha in oneself. "If you see a Buddha on the road, kill him", says one Koan. It is truly this phrase which indicates that one must seek one's own path towards enlightenment. Finding the Buddha in oneself is indeed the enlightenment. I now believe this to be the absolute truth.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Achieving clarity in our conscious Mind

Ignorance arises from one's disregard for knowing the truth in whatever we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. We see what we see, and do what we do, while ignoring the fact about what it means. Failure to recognize what things mean will lead to ignorance -- a root cause for pain and suffering. We must, therefore, eliminate ignorance from our Minds. What gives us the power to achieve this state of Mind?

We must be extremely aware that the power of the five sensory systems is strong enough to lead one down a path towards adopting a life filled with mindful actions. Cultivating the strength to overcome this highly invasive and destructive force of the Mind is indeed the strength of one's Ordinary Mind. The evils of ignorance, contempt and disrespect, so viciously portrayed by the Mara King, were all overcome by the Mind of Gautama Buddha. 
The power to overcome such an evil Mind is epitomized by the Buddha Form on the Moon. Figuratively speaking, the beastly nature of Mara depicted in the Bhavachakra shows how the evil Mind could forcibly occupy one's Mind with thoughts of viciousness and guile.
Mara as he appears in a segment of the Bhavachakra 

As it appears on the Moon 

It is not uncommon to ask ourselves why we sometimes have a foggy Mind. We cannot see things clearly. We cannot think as clearly as we could because of a sense of "foggy vision". It feels as though the fog has the power to detract one's Mind and force one to withdraw from a virtuous path. How does one obtain the power of the Mind to repel such a force? -- I have wondered. Can it be self-learned?  

Clarity is what we can all see in our conscious Mind. There can be no clarity whatsoever in a dream. As vivid as a dream can be, there is no means to clarify the details in that dream in order to bring clarity. How can one perceive then, what clarity means? 
The power to eliminate the fog, and to experience with greater clarity what lies ahead in our path, strikes at the heart of the Heart Sutra. 

There is so much on the Internet in the form of text, video and pictures, that it does not need much of one's own writing to express what is on one's Mind. References can be made to others who share a similar thought and have eloquently described your thought. I found one such reference to Sogyal Rinpoche giving a talk about the Essence of Buddhism.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Eliminating pain and suffering from oneself -- Enter the Ordinary Mind

Among all the flowers I have ever seen, the Lotus is the most beautiful. No matter how hard we try, the beauty of the Lotus cannot be fully described. We can admire its beauty, but cannot tell why. This gives meaning to the phrase "Beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder". What purpose does this serve to know why the Lotus is unique in its shape and form?

Nature has unique ways to stimulate one's perceptions of the environment we live in, and for us to think, understand, gain more knowledge and reach a higher state of the conscious Mind. In Buddhist philosophy the giver of knowledge, Avalokiteshvara, holds a Lotus flower in a gesture which symbolically epitomizes the transfer of knowledge between the giver and receiver. In fact, the living environment around us is Avalokitheshvara. It is Avalokiteshvara who generates the thought in our Minds. The Lotus is a symbol for attracting the attention of the curious and inquisitive, by its enchanting beauty. Avalokiteshvara is referred to as Padmapaani, which means Holder of the Lotus, or Lokeshvara which means Lord of the World.

The Lotus is a symbol of purity in Mind and Body in many cultures, and is admired throughout the World. It is used in worship by several Eastern cultures, most notably in Hinduism and Buddhism.

In Hindu and Buddhist cultures, the Lotus is the seat for godly figures. It has a heavenly aroma which no synthetic perfume can mimic. The layers of petals, their shapes, and the geometrical arrangement, exhibit extraordinary symmetry. The Lotus is soft to touch and is extremely beautiful in its "form". It has medicinal values that match the requirements for basic life-support. Its ability to flourish with radiance in a harsh, beastly underwater environment of mud, algae, tadpoles and frogs, fish, and biodegradable decaying matter, is truly remarkable. It gives meaning to the term "co-existence" and analogously draws a parallel with the "Beauty and the Beast".

Color, shape, geometry and size integrate towards its beauty. There can be no other flower species as resilient, as highly tolerant, and one that can liven-up the harsh underwater environment by its extraordinary radiance. The leaf of a lotus plant is equally admirable. Its surface is 100 percent water repellent. Drops of water roll over the surface carrying dust and dirt with it. The flower and its supporting habitat serve as a Model to define the characteristics of sustainable environments. All these characteristics of the Lotus plant serve as a source for several bio-inspired concepts that are required for building self-sustainable environments. What makes the underwater World so extraordinary and biologically diverse for the Lotus to show such beauty? -- I have wondered. 

If a Lotus had a Mind of its own, and there were no other lotuses nearby,  wouldn't the Lotus feel extremely lonely? Is this the beginning for pain and suffering? If there a desire to have other lotuses nearby, can the desire be removed from the Mind of the Lotus? 

The harshness we see in the underwater World of a Lotus, is indeed its strength and soul-mate. With the strength of its root structure and the nourishment provided by natural underwater environment, the Lotus radiates its full beauty. It does not feel the need for other lotuses nearby. This means the elimination of pain and suffering.

Our life is filled with anxiety of one form, or another. This anxiety causes one to feel stressed until the expected outcome, or desired results are obtained. We therefore experience many ups and downs in our mental state, which almost feels like a roller-coaster ride. In a family relationship, the anxiety is due to two or more  independent expectations that could all be in conflict, thereby making it impossible to take decisions. This is the beginning of at least one form of human pain and suffering.

I have wondered how one can block pain and suffering in our Minds, if at all possible. Can we just block the mental pain? Can we block the effects of suffering from penetrating in to our Minds? How do we block pain and suffering from all the things we experience? What gives us the power to block any perceptions of pain and suffering? These and many more questions arouse our curiosity and inquisitiveness to understand why there is pain and suffering in one's life.

The answer of course is simple. The Heart Sutra is a prescription for the type of mental transformation that one must experience to understand why pain and suffering exists, in the first place. The significance of this, is that it allows clear examination of one's own Self, an inner Self. We can see our innate imperfections that caused such anxiety, and put an end to it. We can understand others' imperfections as well, given that there are uncertainties in everything we try to understand. We have a path towards bringing joy and happiness to replace the pain and suffering. It is a self-experienced understanding for a path towards enlightenment.

A well known 7th century Koan affirms such a thought process and reads as follows: "If you see a Buddha on the road, kill him". It simply means, do not take the words of others as "final". Explore and experience the path on your own. It is this Koan, which draws parallels with any task we undertake, and has the effect of creating a self-driven force towards success. 

"Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha" "Going, Going, Gone forever, Gone forever fully, Enter Divine Buddha".

Whether one utters this Manthra in Sanskrit or in English, or for that matter in anyone's native language, the outcome is the same. Anyone can enter the state of emptiness if they are willing to cut-off sensory perceptions of pain and suffering of any kind. In the process of seeking the empty state of Mind, we begin to see all those instances which one needs to eliminate -- all instances that can cause, or have caused pain and suffering.

I said in my previous writing that I have understood a bit more of the significance of the Buddha Form on the Moon. What did I mean by that? I have come to understand that the Form on the Moon shows how one's own consciousness of the Ordinary Mind can be overwhelmed by the illogical and unconscionable Mind . This is synonymous to Mara attacking the Buddha Mind. The power to overcome pain and suffering, and the suffocating feeling of a "mask" trying to distort our perceptions by squeezing one's Mind, are indeed the messages from the Buddha Form on the Moon. 

Early AD Tibetan artist's perception of what Gautama Buddha was pointing to on the Moon

What is on the Moon
seen from many hundred thousand nautical kilometers away

And then from a few thousand kilometers away

And finally from a few 100 kilometers from the Moon
The Mara King appears to grip the Buddha Mind epitomizing Pain and Suffering in the human Mind 
Painting from a Laotian Monastery depicts Mara King attempting to distract Gautama Buddha in his meditative state.
(Reproduced under Wikimedia Commons Licensing)

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Heart Sutra -- A prescription for self-transformation

"Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha" when translated in to English states "Going, Going, Gone forever, Gone forever fully, Enter Divine Buddha". The accented letter e' is pronounced as the letter  "ain the English alphabet. This is the Manthra to achieve a crystal clear state of Mind. It is so pure and so divine as that described in the Heart Sutra.
One must ask what is that which is going away, or that which is gone, or that which is gone forever. Gone are the five senses.  With vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch all gone, there can be no perception of any kind. This is a void, a state of emptiness in which nothing can be perceived. It is a state in which the concept of the Mind itself does not exist. The commonly understood notion of Form, which in Sanskrit is called Roopa, does not exist. There is nothing ugly or beautiful. There is no notion of shape or size, and no concept of color including black or white. There is nothing. It is a state of absolute emptiness within the conscious Mind. In fact, the conscious Mind itself is the void, and void is the conscious Mind. Such is the state of Mind described in the Heart Sutra. A state of Nothingness.

Anyone familiar with systems science knows about a unique phenomenon in nonlinear systems called limit cycles. All trajectories converge to a stable oscillatory state. Any change or perturbation may be easily observed. Visualizing the states which converge towards the state of emptiness is analogous to the convergence of trajectories from within, and from outside a limit cycle towards a state of dynamic equilibrium.

As I began to write about my experiences in Vietnam, there was one thought after another in succession, like hundreds of firecrackers bursting at random. It was difficult to concentrate on any one thought even for a moment. I could not seem to find the beginning to what I wished to write about. I felt my mind overcrowded with thoughts. Thoughts emerged at random, totally disorganized and chaotic. The feeling was just overwhelming. I wished I could perceive, think, understand the meaning and purpose from all the rich experiences, and write about everything I had learned during the past 6 months, all at the same time. It felt as though I was in the midst of a massive confluence of buses, taxis, motorcycles and pedestrians crossing in all directions and not knowing which way to turn. I could not help thinking that this feeling is somewhat similar to what we all experience in using our laptop computers. Whenever there is no space available on the hard disk, we delete old files or backup the disk to create space for new files. If the disk is full we install a new disk with larger capacity. We increase the capacity from megabytes to gigabytes, and from gigabytes to terabytes, and so on. But such deletion or upgrading capability does not exist in the human mind. We cannot forget anything. We cannot erase our memory. We cannot hide from memories of the past. We need the power to expand our mind at will, so there is space for new thoughts -- a space of absolute emptiness and space that can allow new visions to emerge. So, how can we make room in our mind that can emulate such an empty space? 

In the empty state there is no perception possible. There is no sense for vision, hearing, taste, smell or touchThere is no concept of noise. Like a bubble floating in the pitch dark vacuum of space where there is nothing to see, hear or feel, the state evolves, expands, and provides a crystal clear environment for new visions to emerge. All of this, of course, is easier said than done. It is not easy to cut-off all sensory perceptions. How anyone could do all these at the same instant, I have pondered.

I had seen the famous Zen art made with one stroke of a paint brush showing the circular region of empty space. What does it mean, I thought. 

As I thought about all the obstacles in reaching such a state, in one flashing moment I had experienced that state of mind. I felt  a sense of elation and excitement. Almost instantly, my thoughts about the Heart Sutra struck me. It was as though I had instantly understood what I had been searching for all along.  Suddenly there was an answer. I had spontaneously experienced that feeling and had the urge to write about this. I truly felt enlightened. I quickly realized that there are no words that can describe such an experienced understanding. Words merely convey the meaning and purpose, but not the experience. Yet, there was an urge to write. No matter how difficult it felt, it was a burning desire to express the feeling I had experienced.

I felt enlightened to discover that emptiness is a state of mind which enhances one's own abilities towards a better understanding of who we are. The phenomenon is unique. The phenomenon must be approached systematically by eliminating thoughts which are obvious, irrelevant and ambiguous, and by eliminating thoughts which have no consequence. It is a state where no thought can exist other than the thought of an empty state itself. It is a transforming experience that cannot be adequately described. The capacity to remain in this state for any length of time shows the energy to sustain a state of emptiness. I have yet to experience such a prolonged state of mind. It is a state of mind that can bring peace and tranquility within oneself.

Researching whenever time permits, I have learned the five principal aggregates of the human mind originate from the Heart Sutra, the shortest and most popular Sutra in Buddhism. When I first came across this Sutra, I was just awestruck. This was soon after the discovery of the Buddha form on the Moon. The key concepts of the Heart Sutra are from a teaching by Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara the Buddha of Compassion. It is said, when Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara practised the deep Prajnaparamita, he saw that the five skandhas occupy a space that was empty. He thus overcame all ills and suffering.

The Heart Sutra is a discourse between Lord Avalokiteshvara the Buddha of Compassion, and the monk Shariputra in which Avalokiteshwara states to Shariputra: 

O Sariputra! Form does not differ from the void, and the void does not differ from the form. Form is void, and the void is form. The same is true for feelings, conceptions, impulses and consciousness.
O Sariputra, the characteristics of the void is not created, not annihilated, not impure, not pure, not increasing, not decreasing. 
Therefore, in the void there are no forms and no feelings, conceptions, impulses and no consciousness: there is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; there is no form, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea; no eye elements, until we come to no elements of consciousness; no ignorance and no ending of ignorance, until we come to no ending of old age and death.
Also, there is no truth of suffering, of the cause of suffering, of the cessation of suffering or of the path to end suffering. There is no wisdom, and there is no attainment whatsoever. Because there is nothing to be attained, a Bodhisattva relying on Prajnaparamita has no obstruction in his heart. Because there is no obstruction he has no fear, and he passes far beyond all confused imagination and reaches Ultimate Nirvana.
All Buddhas in the past, present and future have attained Supreme Enlightenment by relying on the Prajnaparamita. Therefore, we know that the Prajnaparamita is the foremost magic Manthra, the great Manthra of illumination, it is the supreme Manthra, the unequaled Manthra which can truly wipe out all suffering without fail."
Therefore, he uttered the Prajnaparamita Manthra, by saying:
Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha 

The Manthra must be uttered incessantly for the Sutra to take effect. While a Sutra is a statement of facts, the associated Manthra makes facts realizable. The Manthra epitomizes the last few moments prior to the entry into the state of emptiness. Repetitious saying of "Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha" reinforces the momentum of the Mind to jump into and stay in the empty state. It is only when the Mind is in the empty state that it becomes possible to introduce, either sequentially or simultaneously, the sense for vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch, Our awareness is heightened towards the meaning and purpose of any new event occurrence. This naturally leads one towards a heightened state of mental awareness. I had never used a Manthra before. So naturally I did not have any perceptive feelings of what manthras can do or what one could expect. I was familiar with their use in Hindu rituals but never experienced the power which manthras are claimed to have.

I now understand the Manthra as a giver of power. The power is built into our Mind through repetitious utterances. It is a self-reinforcing chant. It is similar to repeating in one's own Mind that "I can do it, I can do it, I can do it, ..." as many times as one wishes to repeat until what one can do is in fact achieved, and we say in our Mind "I did it!!" It is one's own abilities to overcome and block the obstacles which prevent the wanted outcome from happening. It is a test of self-endurance. It is a fight in one's own Mind. It is like a tug-of-war between the two-parts of the Mind. It is a fight between the evil minded Mara King and Gautama Buddha -- a mental battle.

Moon-faced Buddha with Mara enveloping the mental state of the Buddha

I am now beginning to understand, a bit more clearly, what the significance of the discovery on the Moon has, in relation to the Heart Sutra. The state of emptiness allows one to see each vision clearly and continuously. This is indeed  the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha. 

Perception of Avalokiteshwara on the Moon by Thich Le Thien

In our life, nothing happens without trying.  One just needs to try, try, try again, indefinitely. It is only when the outcome is realized that there is a great sense of satisfaction. This satisfaction naturally builds the urge to do it again and again. It is this endurance, which gives the power to expand the Mind at will, whenever and wherever one is, and at any moment. With perfection, one can be in the state of emptiness anytime and anywhere one wishes.

Saying the Manthra repeatedly enhances the momentum towards reaching the state of emptiness. This is a self-induced force acting on our thought process. It is a force caused by the rapid increase in mental momentum. The concept of emptiness is realized when all perceptive thought is blocked.

The Diamond Sutra summarizes the 600 volumes of the Maha Prajna Sutra in about 5000 words. In turn, the Heart Sutra summarizes the Diamond Sutra in 250 words. It has the power of suggesting the manner of attaining the purest form of the human mind and is considered the summation of the wisdom of Gautama Buddha. Although The Heart Sutra is remarkably brief it contains key concepts of Buddhist Philosophy. These include the Skandhas, the four noble truths, the cycle of interdependence and the central concept of Mahayana Buddhism, the concept of Emptiness. Here is the original in Sanskrit script and a transliterated English scriptThis is one among many translations.

There are countless number of references that provide interpretations of the Sanskrit scripture Prajna-Paramita Hridaya Sutra, The Perfect-Wisdom Heart Sutra. Through this sutra one is able to achieve a state of Emptiness in which there is complete cessation of all desires. There is total detachment. There are no perceptions of any kind. Without cause there are no effects. In this state one is able to see with great clarity the depth of visions in the mind. 

How do we find the way to the state of emptiness?

The Prajnaparamita mantra, the Manthra for the Heart Sutra:
"Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha" is understood to have extraordinary powers to transform the state of Mind. Ever since I first read about this in late August 2011, I had become intrigued by what it can do. I had read the English version of the Heart Sutra and wondered how the Mantra could empower the human mind with powerful transformational skills. What does one need to do? How does one practice the Manthra, I wondered. It naturally generates a desire to ask someone to show the way. 

A Koan from the Zen classic  Mumonkan, Case 19, is a dialog between Joshu (778-897AD) and Nansen (748-834 AD). It reads as follows: Joshu asked Nansen “Show me the Way”, to which Nansen replied “Ordinary mind is the Way”. “If so, can I seek the ordinary mind?” asked Joshu, for which Nansen replied “If you do, you will be separated from it”. “Then how will I know when I have reached the ordinary mind” asked Joshu. “Knowing how to reach the ordinary mind is a delusion and not knowing what is the ordinary mind is confusion” replied Nansen. With this, Joshu attained enlightenment.

There is nothing that can be attained without practice. There is an old phrase which simply states that "Practice makes one perfect". Therefore if one desires to feel the experience of what is stated in the Heart Sutra, one must practice in any way one thinks it is possible to attain it. There is no prescribed manner of reaching that state. It is a self-determination to experience what it is, and what it feels like. It is a deep sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness which motivates and inspires one to see the way. It is indeed the ordinary mind that will allow one to find one's own path towards the state of emptiness.

Regardless of which society we live in, there is no reason for anyone to suspect, predict, or even presume the intent of another individual's actions.  Our own actions must be mindful, respectful, considerate and compassionate to others.We watch our own business while appreciating and admiring the beauty in what we see. Everyone knows exactly what they are doing at any given moment, and why they are doing it. However, in the non-ideal World that we all live in, such a notion of synchronicity does not quite exist to the extent we all wish. We have to be aware of our own safety and well-being through an extraordinary sense of situational awareness. We have to watch our backs, so to say. The threat could be from adversaries, people who don't share the same mindset as ours, who threaten our physical and spiritual well-being.

It is natural to shield oneself from the evils in society. Not too long ago, I was pick pocketed on a crowded bus in Saigon. An awful feeling that overwhelmed me and consumed my thoughts for a week. I had just experienced an invasion of privacy combined with the effect of material detachment. Although it lasted for a week, I kept thinking that if only I had eyes all around me I could become more aware of my immediate environment. No one can disagree that such self-protection created by a state-of-mind can in fact bring peace of mind. 

Every morning around 6:00 am, I stood outside the hotel in Saigon watching what people did. I saw an old Vietnamese lady burning paper in front of her store. She waved the burning paper around in a ritualistic manner and let the flames reach out to every corner of her work space. It was as if the flames were meant to consume evil spirits all around and in front of the store and protect her from any bad happenings throughout the day. It could have meant many things. It could mean that she followed a tradition of her ancestors to bring good luck and well-being to her store and family. I would not be surprised if these were indeed the anticipated outcomes of that ritual. 

In many cultures, ritualistic beliefs prompt individuals to cast spells on others for fear of being harmed, or to ward-off evil spirits. These spells are called Manthras. It is said that a Manthra has magical powers -- powers to transform oneself from one form to another, or to instantly transport oneself from one place to another, and so on. Mythology has it that the demon Maareecha, in the Ramayana, transformed himself in to a beautiful Gold lustered spotted deer to lure Rama away from Seetha so that Ravana could abduct Seetha. People do things which only they know why, and what useful purpose it may serve them. An observer can only infer from their actions. From the observer's point-of-view, whether or not a person is performing a ritual  is immaterial. What matters is the other persons knowledge and beliefs about their ritualistic actions, which as an observer we know little or nothing about.

Our perceptions are of many different kind. We have visions that appear spontaneously like snapshots. They are discontinuous. They are intermittent and mixed with visions from the past. We seek an environment that can transport our minds to an extraordinary realm of peacefulness and calm, so that we can be relieved from anxiety, and be able to perceive beyond what we can normally perceive. Our depth of perception must be increased. As contradictory as it may appear, the Heart Sutra prescribes the means to eliminate all perceptions. The peacefulness and calm is said to be in a void where there are no perceptions of any kind. How do we find the path towards such a state of Mind? It is a Zen state of Mind, which is attained through a Manthra.

Buddha form on the Moon

Marble statue of Gautama Buddha in Da Nang