Monthly Archives: June 2007

Meditation path

People talked about their meditation experience today. Why they started meditation, and the experience before and after meditation. For me, it is a little hard to remember exactly how and why I started practice.

When I was 6 years old, I first heard of the concept of death, and witnessed closely the death of a little girl one year older than me. I was very scared at that thought. I wanted to know if other people feel the same way. So I told my younger brother who is 2 years younger than me about death. He cried. Later my parents found out and scolded me. I know I shouldn’t have done that. But in another sense, to be exposed to the scary thought of death made us sensitive to life. I think that is a very good thing.

When I was a kid, I thought the death is somehow inevitable. I don’t quite believe in incarnation. I think when a person die, most likely s/he just dies. So the answer I came up with at that time is that I am going to try as hard as I can to fully live this precious life, to expand my life as much as I can, to learn as much as I can, to experience as much as I can, to enjoy as much as I can, to learn all the wisdom of human history. Because of the awareness of death, I always tried to work very hard.

Then on my 14th birthday, my elder brother, who was in college at the time, sent me a birthday gift. It is a cartoon book called Sixth Patriarch Platform Sutra. It is teaching of Sixth Patriarch of Chan/Zen and many Chan/Zen masters’ enlightenment stories. I was fascinated by that book. There is something in that book that resonate with me, that made me feel what it said is truth, and I wanted to know why it said so. I had some fundamental believes since I was a kid that everyone has a precious life, everyone should have the right to fully develop himself/herself, and that whatever a person or two persons want to do, if they don’t bother other people, it is their own business. These believes came from the very playful childhood that I enjoyed (You can read my other blog about this), and the awareness of death. Life is precious to me. I want me and anyone else to be able to fully make themselves. Thus I believe in true equality. But growing up in a Confucius society, I rebel against the pretense and hypocrisy of it and the social hierarchy it tries to maintain. But in that cartoon book, the students and the teachers are totally equal. The students can even hit the teachers. This appeal to me a lot. 🙂 Furthermore, all the things that book talks about is just totally new and fresh in contrast to what people normally think. And Zen masters live in such a happy and carefree life. I was fascinated and wanted to know why those masters spoke so. But as a kid, I couldn’t understand it. I later found another cartoon book titled Zen Stories by the same author. That book is much easier to understand, but still to truly understand it is still beyond me.

So in my life after that, whenever I experience something significant in my life, I always go back to that book, read it again to see if I can gain more understanding.

I wanted to find a good master in China. If I knew one, I probably would have gone to study under him/her. But in China, I wasn’t able to know that. There were even not many books (almost no books) in the bookstore on the subject of Zen or Buddhism. I tried to practice myself in meditation to understand the Zen masters’ words.

I am afraid that reading that cartoon book at a young age had a big impact on my life. As I was making many very important life decisions in my life, that book implicitly played a role in the decisions I made. Not being able to find a good teacher for a long time, I was used to fighting hard in real life and accumulate experiences in real world. Many years later when I went to a monastery, I immediately recognize that everything there is in accordance with how I live my life. Thus I often encourage people to just work hard in their real lives. And to me a better so called Buddha Land in the real world is a world that everyone can freely pursue the art of his/her life, thus the majority of the population will live according to their true nature even they are not exposed to Buddhism teaching. (Throughout the history, even in the greatest era, how much percentage of the population had the chance to be exposed to Buddhism teaching, and how much percentage of them can actually grasp it?)

It was not until two years after I came to the states I was able to find people who I can practice with. Later in my practice, I realized that Buddhism actually can answer my question of life and death. Trying as hard as I can to learn various things, to improve my abilities and to expand my experiences, I didn’t feel ready to tackle the issue of life and death myself. I felt it was beyond my knowledge and I suspended the question until a later time when I have more knowledge and life experience. But Buddhism made me realize I can resolve this issue with teaching of Buddhism, and its method is very simple, just put it all down (even just for a period of time as short as 20 mins) and see the truth. For this I am very grateful for Buddhism’s teaching and feel that I am very lucky to have a chance in my life to be exposed to such teaching.

I am not going to lay down my whole path of meditation experience here. I will just list a few of them.

When I first started practicing formally with a very good friend of mine, I was stunned when hearing that Buddha finally just sit down and put everything down, saying if he couldn’t resolve the issue he would never stand up. Putting it down strike me at that moment. My life had been very actively pursuing things. There is nothing wrong with that. You can say it is actually a good thing. But I need to be able to put it down. Most people are not able to put it down, even just for a short time. They are always grasping. Without a moment of putting it down, we will never see the truth. Whatever great teaching of Buddha, essentially it boils down to: can you put it down, even just for 20 mins?

During a 7 day retreat, I just realized that I had a strong self. It was not necessary bad thing. It is what brought me to practice. But my practice there is to put it down. It is ridiculous that after several days of sitting and doing nothing my mind is still very much focused on myself. (When I say doing nothing, I mean no activity of mind. Of course, we are still doing some other activities. For example, we are still breathing. Without the mind trying to control breathing, we can breath very naturally. Also we are sitting on the earth, and together with the earth, we are surrounding the sun, and together with the solar system, we are expanding with the universe. We did all these activities perfectly without failing. It is activity of mind, which we may say is a higher level of activity, gives us troubles. Since any concept is dualistic, we tend to attach ourselves to one side of the view, thus we cannot follow the natural flow of the plus and minus activities of the physical world. Everyone of us has a lot of attachment. The biggest and most common one is probably the attachment to this I am self. Americans tend to acknowledge unconditionally the activity of mind and thus this thinking I am self (quote). Meditation practice, is to keep silent, to drop thinking, drop talking in our heads. Then we will be more aware when thought arise. Then we will notice what we are attached to. That is to see with our Buddha nature. When you are not attached to one side of the view, you won’t give rise to the self-generated activity. Then your Buddha nature will function perfectly, seeing everything. This Buddha nature is emptiness. It is the world before the world of language. You have to experience it. Actually we all have experience in it. But we tend to forget, because of our attachment to many things. So you’ve read this, how are you going to put this into your practice? As for Koan practice, I guess it is still some kind of activity of mind, although it is definitely not logic thinking. It is kind of using Koan to experience the emptiness of one or the other side of any view. After it expands to very large, it has to disappear. Then the other side of the view will be active.) Do you realize this? A lot of times, we really don’t need to put so much emphasis on ourselves. It is really not necessary. It is actually not helping ourselves that way. The mind needs to go to the group that we are in. That is disappearance of self, which is our true self and where our happiness lies.

(To be continued)


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How do you disappear

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Reflection on My Schooling

Note: this is a paragraph I just added to my article: the Art of My Life. ( I think it might be good to separate it out as a single article as well.

As I reflect on my schooling experience, I did well at school. Except for some short periods of time, generally I kept to be always No. 1 in school, and did well at almost all subjects. My parents was willing to save on food in order to send us to the best school available. There was no reason I shouldn’t study hard. Although my parents’ personalities are quite different, they are both very honest and hardworking. I guess these are the most important things that we three brothers inherited from our parents. Although we three are very different in personality, we share the same integrity and hardworking with our parents. Also my big brother set up a very good example in school for us. Although very young, I also knew intuitively that I had to do well at school otherwise my whole life would be unimaginable, so there was always that kind of force that could endure the pain and hardworking at school. My parents also knew the importance to make us cultivate good habits. So at the beginning of our schooling, my parents emphasized some scheduling for us and watched closely. After we got on the track, they almost didn’t bother with our school work at all. Since my parents work in a small scientific institution and we went to the school in that institution, we had the fortune to be taught by teachers who were generally competent and caring. (Some teachers, however, really suck. They humiliated students. One teacher almost destroyed my interest completely in an important subject due to his 5 years’ boring teaching of the subject. Some teachers taught very stupid methods. Sorry I have no respect for those kinds of teachers at all no matter what Confucius say about how we should respect teachers. I pay a lot of respect to teachers who had really taught me!) Since everyone knows each other in that institution, the school doesn’t lose the sense of being in a community and serving the community. Growing up in an institution located in a beautiful scenery, with diverse talented people coming from all over the country, we just had the chance to learn a lot outside of school and got exposed to various kinds of things. Not until the middle school, we always had quite a lot of time to play after finishing our coursework. I guess all these just made me fortunate enough to survive schooling. Nevertheless I suffered a lot from schools and those mandatory exams. Although I always did pretty well at exams, those exams still created anxiety in me and to a degree some mental problems because the school was so unreal and especially after middle school, the coursework became a lot more intensive. Even so, I always tried very hard to make sense of all the education in school and tried to really learn something from it. For example, in one summer during my primary school, I went through my biology and geography textbooks already taught and found that I almost forgot everything, and there were so many things that were just fun and I should have remembered. Realizing that, when starting a subject each semester, I asked myself what I wanted to learn in this subject then I only learned to that degree of details. I wasn’t going to memorize things that I was not going to remember anyway. So in the beginning of each semester, I usually go through the whole book to see what the subject is about and what I should learn. I realized that there were a lot of things that I learned in school could not be applied to my real life, especially mathematics. I knew that was not real knowledge and always wanted to have a real chance to really integrate those knowledge little by little into my real life.

But it was not until my college that I really had a chance to devote a large amount of time to just learn what I feel I need to learn at the time and really start my learning. After my college entrance exam, I was determined to strive hard for my whole life. I was also determined that I wanted to learn all the wisdoms collected in the previous human generations. Furthermore I started to have a strong interest in doing business  and participating in China’s Reform and Open era. This gave me a very strong drive to learn about society, which I knew nothing about coming out of high school. It also made me realize the importance of learning liberal arts and other arts. I was crazy in college trying to learn a lot of things every day. I tried a lot of ways, scheduled my life in many different ways. It was a very long process. (For more details of my learning in college, you can read There were a lot of struggles in that process. A lot of times very confused about many things. A lot of emotions. In Chinese universities, to a large degree you can ignore those exams. Thus I had quite a lot of time to engage in my own learning. It was after all those different kinds of learning I was able to wrap it up and finally felt myself different. As Mr. Gatto said, people have to spend a lot of time engaging in various kinds of activities. By learning many different things, what is developed is a flexible mind that is very skillful in grasping the truth in each moment under various conditions. For a human being living in this world, in each moment, the truth for me is to grow, to play and to create. I enjoyed learning very different things: arts, business and tech, and was able to put them together and interact with the culture and society in a very creative way. The mind was finally flying. It is great fun. After experiencing that kind of fun, I am very willing to work very hard, and in each moment of hardworking there is actually that great fun rising simultaneously.

Many people tend to think that kids have to learn discipline in school and discipline is important for learning. No matter how important discipline might be, my own learning in college proved to me that learning under strong drive of interest is a lot more efficient than mere discipline. Some of my friends had no discipline at all in school. But when they got out of school, went into society and started doing something that they were really interested in, they had all the discipline to persevere. Trying to learn discipline in school is like trying to learn discipline and hardship in military. One of my friend joined the army to learn discipline and hardship, which is a ridiculous idea to me. There is enough hardship in real life. If you aim high and work hard, you will surely encounter a lot of hardship along the way. I don’t want to look for hardship in an artificial environment.

I also had the fortune to be a very bad student for a short period of time. Thus I know how hard it is to be at the bottom of the school system. It is really depressing and can be hopeless. It is inhumane for this school system to dump most kids into that situation for that long period of time in school and most likely for all of their future lives in society after they get out of school.

I guess only a very small percentage of people can be lucky like me to survive schooling. Even I was still confined in some way that had to take a lot of efforts to undo them to return to the original free form of human being. This is the base of mass production, according to the theory of scientific management. The work of unschooling is of course to make self-learning in real life and society much easier and thus a much larger percentage of people are able to make themselves. I strongly believe our current time demands more creative and independent people, that our time has a way to accommodate many free and independent individuals, and that more importantly, living in this more and more interdependent world and more scientifically advanced world, we cannot afford to continue to have a large portion of the population being dumbed down. Our existence on this planet will certainly soon be in immediate danger if we don’t address this in a timely way. The way that the corporations run the states is unsustainable and the planet cannot afford another US to live this way. There has to be a solution. The solution is to finally return the true face of learning to people and empower each individual to pursue the art of his/her life and thus find out what s/he is.

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Rice Bucket (Fan4 Tong3 éĄ­ćˇ¶)

It cracked me up when I saw a girl wearing a T-Shirt bearing Chinese and Korean on the back. The Chinese says Fan4 Tong3 (Rice Bucket). I guess the Korean is the same word. And there is a nice cartoon of a guy with a rice bucket on the T-Shirt. Rice Bucket in Chinese is referred to people who are stupid, have no talent, cannot achieve anything, and at the same time consume a lot of food.

You learned the word. But I think everyone has talent. It is just whether you work hard enough or not.

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Lies and Truth in the movie Life is Beautiful

Today’s discussion of lie and truth reminded me of the movie Life is Beautiful. I watched that movie many years ago. I liked that movie a lot. I talked with a friend about it. She is a Christian. (I have many Christian friends. Some are very good friends of mine.) She liked that movie too. But it bothered her that the father in the movie lied to the kid about what was actually happening and shielded the kid from the reality of war. Thus she felt sorry for the kid. To me, actually this was what I liked about that movie. Seeing the truth, how can you explain the war to the kid? Even as an adult, I still have a hard time understanding the war and why people kill each other. The war is just insane. How can you explain that to a kid? The father did his best to protect his son from this insanity, and kept his son’s childhood intact with play and imagination. To me, that is truth. That was what I would do if I were the father. I am just not sure if I could do as well as the father. It took a lot of imagination.

Life is indeed beautiful.

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Doing things, learning and playing

Doing things is our primary activity. Learning is only something that arises naturally in order to do things better. If you keep doing things, you will keep learning many things as doing things in real life requires multiple fields of knowledge, and the learning becomes deeper and broader as your activity goes to another level. Only in doing things can you learn. Cut off from doing things and locked in just learning for many years is not learning. It is imprisoning.

Doing things in our young age is pure playing. So it is important for kids to play with various things. As we grow older and our ability grow, we assume some responsibility naturally and play on a higher level. However, most adults forgot that playing is the essential thing.

Each kind of activity has its own emphasis. Because we human being are limited, it is important for us to understand each activity’s emphasis so that we can better focus our attention to do that activity better. Thus we need to figure out the rules of each kind of activity. For example, my brother told me that the key of doing business is to be able to think about the next step while in conversation  (think on your feet). So each activity is rich of a certain kind of skill requirement. At the same time, each activity requires all kinds of skills. To learn a certain skill, it is best to learn in the activity that is the most rich of it. That is learning. Then we combine our different skills together to do the thing we need to do (I would call it the art of life, which everyone should try to find and work hard on) better.

With no-thinking, your body and mind can adapt to the activity in a natural way. It will be very smooth for you to shift from one type of activity to another type of activity. It is thinking or attachment to one side of view that stands in the way and slows down the natural process.

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