Monday, August 17, 2015

Fearless Buddha Form (Abhaya Mudra) on the Moon

Fearless Buddha Form (Abhaya Mudra) overlooking Da Nang Bay, Vietnam, May 2012
On the first Full Moon night following enlightenment, in a gesture of pointing his finger at the Moon, Gautama Buddha told his five disciples that truth is not an illusion. One must find where truth exists. An early 1st Century Tibetan wall painting is a depiction of this gesture. The historical picture appears to be part of the Bhava Chakra.
(Licensed Copyright from http://www.istockphoto.com/)

The top part of the Wheel of Life (Bhava Chakra) is a depiction of Gautama Buddha pointing to the Moon. In some paintings, one can see a standing Buddha, and in some others, one can see a sitting Buddha pointing to the Moon. What could Gautama Buddha have implied with such a gesture? 

The most common meaning given to the gesture is to not look at the finger, but, to look where the finger is pointing. What do you see if a person points a finger at something and says "Look there and you will find your answer"? That is our question. One must wonder about it at all levels of scientific and philosophical inquiry to seek a message from the gesture and decode it for all humanity to feel and experience a sense of global awakening.

From all aspects of human and biological evolution on Earth, the Moon and the Sun have for long been the center of study, by ancient theologians, philosophers, explorers and scientists . How do the Moon and Sun affect life on Earth? From a philosophical perspective, Gautama Buddha said, "There are Three things that cannot remain hidden, the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth". We know that the Moon appears and disappears with a period of 29.5 days. We know that there are ebbs and tides in the oceans on Earth. While we know many things about the Sun and the Moon, what is the Truth that remains hidden? Where? One cannot ignore what exactly the Grand Master was indeed pointing at and continue to philosophize about the gesture as it has been done until now. Philosophy is good because it teaches the moral values. Either through receiving explicit instruction or as a practitioner of education, we learn to practice what we preach. That which exists must be seen. The question is naturally is, in what form? One may not believe in a story about a fact, but, the fact still exists that Gautama Buddha pointed his finger at the Moon. What did He see that inspires us to recognize the power of the Mind?

Truth exists in all forms. Anything we wish to know about the Universal truth exists. Where does one find it? If there is a message in this gesture, then the message must be perceived as such. But, what is the message? What did Gautama Buddha intend for all of humanity to see, understand and experience in our travel through time and space? Why now? If there is anything seen and known to be true, then one must reveal the truth. 


From the Zen classic Hekigonroku, Case 3: When Master Baso was gravely ill, the chief priest paid a visit and asked “I heard you have been very ill, how are you feeling these days? Baso replied “Sun-face Buddha Moon-face Buddha.”

What does Sun-face Buddha or Moon-face Buddha mean? Philosophically, of course, there are an endless number of ways to interpret Master Baso's reply. Was it just a matter of saying that he felt angry at times and pleasant at other occasions? Or, is it likely he had seen and understood what was on the Sun and what was on the Moon to describe the feeling of his illness? What could he have meant? What was the message of his reply? Of course, only Master Baso would know that. It forces one to think things through to understand what the message indeed is.

"Seeing is believing" is a common phrase that gives one the perception that nothing is believable until it is seen by the eyes. If this is true, then it is not enough just to hear about it. We must see to believe what we hear to be true. Is it true, therefore, that seeing is believing? "Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others," wrote Johnathan Swift (1667-1745 AD). "What is the art in vision?", we could ask.  To answer this, perhaps yet another phrase used to describe one's blindness brings greater understanding.

The phrase "Blind as a Bat" is used to describe someone that does not have enough visibility in the eyes, poor vision and cannot see. It could also be used to say that someone is ignorant. But the question is; is it true that a  Bat is blind? 
Buddha, in Sanskrit "भुद्ध ", means "the Awakened One". Gautama Buddha means "Gautama The Awakened One".  Anyone can, therefore, feel awakened and experience an awakening. Hence the phrase "There is a Buddha in everyone", meaning "There is an awakening in everyone". We must make the effort to seek it. Our quest is Where is the Buddha? Not Who?! Not When?! Not Why?! Not What?! Just Where! Where is the Buddha? It must be inside yourself, the Inner-Self, the Inner-Mind, the Inner-Consciousness.
Communication theory describes how messages are coded at the sending end, sent over a transmission medium, and decoded at the receiving end by considering propagation delays in node-to-node message passing, channel noise, and transmission bandwidth limitations. It is understandable that looking at the finger of a person pointing at something gives little or no information, i.e., low entropy, low uncertainty, mostly everything is known, and not much is unknown. However, if one were to look beyond in the direction being pointed, one is overwhelmed and deluged by too much information and not know what to see or select, i.e., high entropy, great uncertainty, no prior information, too many unknowns. "The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities." wrote Claude Shannon in Mathematical Theory of Communication.

There is absolute truth in Claude Shannon's statement. Every message has a meaning. Words have to mean something. Pictures have to mean something. Images viewed in different wavelengths and orientation showing different features, which otherwise are indistinguishable, must mean something. In other words, everything has a meaning and a purpose for its existence. The important conclusion from Claude Shannon's principles of uncertainty is that "of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point". The word "approximately" is important because it signifies the first impact of a finding. It is only through a systematic evaluation and understanding that one can fully decode a message. The "approximate" nature of the form of message is indeed always the beginning of a longer message that points towards greater understanding of Life. Exactness can never be achieved. Exact truth means absolute truth. Precise, with no room for tolerance. Precisely what something means could never be understood in one's lifetime.

Earth and the Moon, as they rotate around their axes around the Sun cause different view angles of the face of the Moon in the Northern and Southern hemispheres of Earth.


So, what was Gautama Buddha pointing to and what is the message? 

The Moon is the nearest celestial object to Earth. It has its axis of rotation with respect to Earth. The relative spin of Earth and the Moon is such that the same face of the Moon always faces Earth. Various myths and beliefs exist. But, our beliefs must transcend in the truth rather than in the myths surrounding the fact. Myths drive us towards false beliefs. Blind faith is to accept without reasoning. Our perceptions must be held firmly by reasoning and understanding.

In "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching", Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh describes a Zen story about a man riding a horse. While at first, it is just a man on a horse, a person watching the horse galloping quickly shouts at the man "Where are you going? You must be in a hurry!" The man, feeling utterly confused shouts back "I don't know! Ask the horse!".

Our life's path is like riding a horse. Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh's has said "We are riding a horse, we don't know where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others." The message on the Moon appears to show this more vividly in that our journey through life is a story of being driven by desire and attachment.

Besides the typical patterns seen on the Moon, such as the "Rabbit on the Moon", patterns never perceived before seem to emerge and shine vividly. Here is one which gives the perception of a family unit on a horse that appears to add meaning to "Samsara" a cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

A spectacular sight that mystified me was the twin rays from the Crater pair, Messier A and Messier seen here in the NASA Apollo 15 Lunar mission taken from the window of the Apollo Command Module. I was intrigued by the beams of light and the power of the radiating source. If one were planning a trip to the Moon, it could serve as a homing beacon for navigation on the Moon. It was highly intriguing, to say the least.
Thay Thien created several watercolor renditions of Avalokhiteshwara portrayed as a provider of all human needs throughout the cycle of human evolution. His artistic rendition covered the areas of Mare Serenitatis, Mare Tranquilitatis, and Mare Fecunditatis. These three Marias in English are, the Sea of Serenity, the Sea of Tranquility, and the Sea of Fertility, respectively, all three which aptly describe the significance of Avalokitheshwara as the Giver of Compassion and provider of knowledge and wisdom to all humankind. Serenity, tranquility and fertility describe the pure and true nature for Peace of Mind throughout the life cycle of birth and death in a state of absolute calmness.



Then, like a sudden spark, a picture of the third-quarter waxing Moon baffled my imagination. The twin rays from the Messier Crater pair appeared to terminate at the center of the palm of a distinct Buddha form. The box highlights the location of a 3D holographic image that has the form referred to in Sanskrit as Abhaya Mudrā, or Fearless Form. It is a form that "represents protection, peace, benevolence and the dispelling of fear."


Like a bolt from the blue, I had stumbled upon something that stunned me. Could this be what Gautama Buddha was pointing his finger at the Moon? Could this be a message for the beginning of deeper understanding of the Bhava Chakra?

Images in the visible and invisible region of electromagnetic spectrum appear to show a hideous mask over a human face symbolizing the grip of Mara over the Mind of Gautama Buddha depicted in paintings.




Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple. Chiang Mai, Thailand, April 16, 2012

Finally, I am reminded of a Koan "No Water, No Moon" which sheds light on Nun Chiyono's enlightenment




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

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

Sadness


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.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Atractor_Poisson_Saturne.jpg
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

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.