Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What is Metta

Metta is a Pali word which means loving-kindness, or good will. Its Sanskrit equivalent is maitre. Metta is one of the Four Divine Abodes which Buddhists are expected to practice. The other three are karuna (compassion), mudita (appreciative joy) and upekkha (equanimity).

Buddhist meditation masters have conceived of a method to cultivate loving-kindness. It is called Metta Meditation or Loving-kindness Meditation. In practicing Loving-kindness Meditation, we repeatedly recite, in the mind, these verses:

May [someone] be free from enmity and danger

May you be free from mental sufferings

May you be free from physical sufferings

May you be well and happy

(Note: there are many variations of these formulae.)

A teacher told us to add an additional step at the beginning of meditation:

If we have done something that has upset another person, mentally say, “Please forgive me.”

But I can’t help but wonder: Wouldn’t it be better to actually apologize to that person, rather than doing it silently?

I notice that many Buddhist meditators have come to equate metta to Loving-kindness Meditation. This misconception is more evident following the anti-junta demonstration led by monks in Burma recently.

Some Buddhist teachers in Malaysia believe that the monks should not confront the junta, but should, instead, send metta to the generals. They also advised us to send metta to the demonstrators. In other words, we should recite the four loving-kindness formulae and do nothing else.

It looks like metta is all about right thoughts. But do we need right actions?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who Inspired Me

[This post is a response to PeterAtLarge’s question: Who inspired you? I only touch on spiritual side here, even though Peter allows a broader scope.]

Who inspired me? That's a tough question to answer.

I am a Malaysian of Chinese origin. Chinese traditionally practiced a religion which combined Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. I knew a little bit about Buddhism when I was young. When I was studying in the university, I learned that the Buddhist Society organized a meditation retreat, and I grabbed the opportunity. The rest was history.

One teacher whom I respect very much is Rev Sujiva – a Malaysian monk who was trained in Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, and founded the Santisukharama Hermitage. He told us not to fear the pain when we sat. “If you cannot bear the pain in meditation, how can you bear the pain when you are dying?”

Then, I had a chance to work as a contract engineer in California. I went to Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Metta Forest Monastery a couple of times. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, more commonly known as Ajahn Geoff, was a Theravada monk whose works can be found in Access To Insight. While he taught meditation, he also regularly stressed the importance of discipline and letting go. One influence he had on me was that I started to think beyond Vipassana.

Now I am back to my home country.

Since my university days I mostly associate with Theravada groups, or, more specifically, Vipassana groups. One shortcoming I feel is that we are not so close to the teachers. To the average practitioners, interview in a retreat is about the only time we can have dialogue with them, and the topic is strictly on meditation only. I can’t tell them my career is at a cross-road. I can’t tell them I had relationship problems… I know some of the advanced meditators will dismissed these issues as trivial, but I am a slow learner.

Sometimes I do wish that we have the kind of teacher-student relation so common in Tibetan Buddhism...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Dongzen Temple

Dongzen is a branch temple of the Taiwan-based Buddha Light International Association (BLIA). It is located in the state of Selangor, Malaysia.

Entrance to the temple...

The Hall of Mahavira. Mahavira was actually the founder of Jainism. For some unknown reasons, Chinese Buddhists mistook him for the Buddha, and the name stuck...

Inside the Hall of Mahavira is a statue of the Buddha...

University students attending a Dharma class guided by a nun...

Some interesting statues...

A picturesque garden...

The Chinese character reads Chan (Zen). The signature reads Hsing Yun, i.e. founder of BLIA.