Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary Kathina 2008

Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS) Kathina 2008
This is my second time to SBS Kathina. SBS is located on top of a hill at Taiping, Perak.

For people who have not been to this trip, I strongly recommend you go at least once in a life time. For only S$250, you can visit SBS, participate in Kathina, most of the food is included, 2-way coach provided and one night stay at Federal Hotel, Bukit Bintang, KL.

We left Singapore in 2 coaches on 24 Oct 08, Fri, at around 9pm. Our first night was spent in the coach. We arrived at Taiping the next day in the morning just in time for breakfast.

After our breakfast, we were brought the foot of SBS where some of us walk up the hill while the rest went up by 4X4 jeep/pick-up/SUV. Certain part of the slope up is very steep, that is why they us 4X4 vehicles to ferry people up.

[Small waiting area at SBSbelow the hall where we sleep one night.]
At SBS, we were allocated a hall for our overnight stay there. The buildings at SBS were blend into nature.

KATHINA on 26 OCT 08

On 26 Oct 08, as early as 5pm, we got up and get ourselves change to our Firefly Mission t-shirt. Breakfast was available very early.

[Firefly Mission's President (centre), his mother and son.]

At this time, a lot of people from all over started to arrive at SBS. Each year, we see more and more people come to the SBS Kathina.

[Ven Aggacitta giving talk.]

One of the event at the Kathina is dhamma talk by Abbot Ven Aggacitta. Below is the transcript of Bhante Aggacitta talk :

Dhamma Practice

For this Kathina we have produced another beautiful and meaningful T-shirt designed by Ven Kumara's brother, Liew Chin Wui. It is available in three striking colours of maroon, brown and dark green. It is a sort of sequel to last year’s T-shirt, which some of you are wearing now. Let me briefly recap the message of last year’s T-shirt.

The words on the front of the T-shirt are paraphrased from a record of what the Buddha said, now found in the Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Ones.

What I find most significant about this profound statement is that it gives us hope. “Luminous is the mind. It is only defiled by visiting defilements.” This means that the defilements don't belong to us. It is important to understand this intellectually and experientially. The Buddha declared that there is no development of the mind for the uninformed worldling who does not understand this as it really is, and vice versa for the informed disciple.

So the words on the T-shirt remind you that your mind is actually pure and therefore luminous, that mental defilements don't belong to you, that you don't have to be judgemental of yourself or of others. Understanding this intellectually helps you detach from or dis-identify with your thoughts and emotions, look at things more objectively and make wiser decisions in life.

Whenever you are able to detach yourself from defilements and observe them as impersonal phenomena you are getting closer to an experiential understanding of anatta or not-self.

You will also realise that the mind that is watching the defiled thoughts or emotions, such as those caused by anger or impatience, is not defiled, but calm and neutral. Its luminosity may not yet be apparent to you, especially when you are still busily engaged in worldly affairs. However, when you have some quiet time for yourself in seclusion and you are being present­, being aware of your mental response to whatever is apparent at your six sense doors, you may awaken to this Truth. That is what is printed on the back of the T-shirt: BE PRESENT and AWAKEN to this Truth ­that the mind is intrinsically luminous.

Our thoughts are mostly about the past or future and they are mostly accompanied by defilements. Thoughts are produced by the mind, which is an amazing phenomenon. Unlike our five sense faculties, which can only sense PRESENT objects, the mind can take objects of the past, future, present and beyond.

So, in order to know more about its nature in an experiential way, we have to look at it and observe how it works. And that is what this year’s theme for the Kathina T-shirt is all about: Discover the True Nature of Your Mind NOW. First we have to know what the mind is. Then only can we keep track of its movement to understand its true nature, right?

OK, so what is the mind? This is where Western scientists and Eastern contemplatives differ. Western scientists say that the mind is found in the brain, while Eastern yogis say that the heart is the seat of the mind. Now I’m going to play tai chi and avoid the controversy. Let’s not bother about where the mind is located. Let’s instead talk about its most basic quality, which is the ability to know, feel, think and imagine.

That’s why on the T-shirt, after the catch words Discover the True Nature of Your Mind NOW, three questions follow. The first one says: What are your thoughts and feelings now? This question gives a very practical hint. If you want to discover the true nature of your mind, you’ve got to start looking at your thoughts and feelings right NOW; not what you thought or felt last year or an hour ago. If you just think about what you thought or felt last year or an hour ago, you’re not actually experiencing or discovering the true nature of your mind; you’re just creating ideas and concepts about the mind based on reasoning.

But if you’re really attentive to the thoughts and feelings happening right now, you’ll notice how fleeting they are. This is especially obvious of thoughts, but perhaps not so for feelings. For example, you may notice that your angry thoughts have ceased, but you’re still feeling unpleasant sensations in the body. Why? Because our bodily functions are intricately linked to our mind. Any mental response to any stimulus at any of the six sense doors immediately triggers off the production of various hormones, such as neuropeptides. These bio-chemicals create pleasant or unpleasant bodily sensations that persist even after that particular mental response has ceased. If that particular mental response is not reactivated, then the associated bodily sensation will eventually abate and cease.

Of bodily sensations caused by the mind, pleasant sensations are produced by both wholesome and unwholesome mental states, but unpleasant sensations are produced only by unwholesome mental states. So, if you are aware of an emotion in you but are not sure if it’s due to a wholesome or unwholesome thought, check your bodily sensations­if they are unpleasant, you’ll know what sort of thought it was, right?

The next question is all about what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. It says: Are they wholesome or not? In a nutshell whatever thoughts and feelings motivated by lobha, dosa and moha are unwholesome and vice versa. Lobha covers a wide range of mental states associated with wanting, grasping, clinging, attachment. Dosa covers another spectrum of mental states associated with dislike, rejection, aversion. It’s very easy to spot dosa because it is characterised by displeasure. But it’s not so easy to identify lobha because it can be accompanied by pleasure or indifference. Moha is delusion, the not knowing of things as they really are, or perceiving them other than what they really are. And it always accompanies lobha and dosa.

Wholesome mental states, on the other hand, are motivated by alobha, adosa or amoha. Alobha covers all mental states associated with letting go, non-attachment, detachment, liberality and generosity. Adosa includes positive mental states like patience, composure, compassion, loving-kindness and benevolence. Amoha is experiential comprehension of things as they truly are.

If you are able to identify what is wholesome and what is not, then you can abandon the unwholesome and develop the wholesome. You will therefore be able to make truly wise and beneficial decisions.

When you probe deeper into the nature of the mind, you will further realise that all mental states­ whether wholesome or not­ share the same fate. They are all impermanent, for they arise and pass away. But do they happen just out of the blue, just by chance?

That brings us to the next question: How do they come and go? By investigating even closer you’ll begin to see, through present-moment awareness, that they are not just random thoughts and emotions. They come and go due to causes and conditions that you can identify immediately. As you experience this again and again, more and more often, your understanding of anatta or not-self deepens, leading to less occurrences of unwholesome thoughts and emotions and more frequent occurrences of wholesome thoughts and emotions. This will in turn result in a more contented life with less stress, less suffering and therefore more happiness.

However, we tend to get lost in thoughts about the past and future so very often that it’s more of a rule than an exception. So a very simple principle to break the habit is to come back to the 5 senses, which can only take present objects. Use the 5 senses, particularly sensing bodily sensations, seeing and hearing as an anchor so that you can keep track of the movements of the mind and understand its true nature. And this ultimate reminder is displayed at the back of the T-shirt: Lost in thought? Come back to your senses NOW!

Actually the principles of observing the mind in order to understand its true nature are very simple. It is far more difficult to remember to put them into practice. That’s why we produce T-shirts to remind us to do so.

Final Sadhu

Last but not least, I must acknowledge my profound thanks to the KCOC headed by our very visionary and hands-on Chairman, Ng Kian Chong, and to SBS site-staff for their dedicated and sustained efforts in making this year's Kathina Ceremony uniquely better than previously. Sadhu also to the many volunteers, both local and from Myanmar, who have been coming whenever available to help prepare the site, and to others for the dana at the food stalls.

Special mention goes to this year's Kathina sponsor, Friends of SBS, for their concerted efforts to raise funds, which have gone beyond our expectations. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu! Baba & Nyonya and the Seck Kia Eenh Chanting group from Melaka also deserve acknowledgement for the entertaining and educational Dhamma sketch.

I would also like to commend all others who have helped to make this occasion a memorable and successful one, particularly our guests of honour YB Yee Seu Kai and our VIPs for gracing the occasion. Thank you also Datuk Dr Victor Wee for giving us a live rendition of your very own divinely inspired composition, “Guardian of the Sasana”.

And to everyone: I rejoice in your presence here and in your valued participation in many ways. I hope everyone here will have matured through the trials and tribulations of working together for this occasion and therefore make even further progress on the spiritual path.

In closing, all of us should dedicate the merits accrued here towards our ultimate liberation from the cycle of samsara. And remember: Discover the True Nature of Your Mind NOW, by watching how your thoughts and emotions arise and disappear. And if you are lost in thought, you can simply break the spell by coming back to your senses NOW, i.e. be aware of the 5 senses, particularly bodily sensations, seeing and hearing. Continual present-moment experience of the true nature of your mind can be very liberating. It brings about detachment, contentment and subsequently less suffering and more happiness. Maybe everyone should get a T-shirt each so that you can remind one another!

-----end of transcript-----
After the Kathina on 26 Oct 08, at around 3pm, we make our way to our hotel at KL. When we arrived at the hotel, it was already 9pm. We all checked-in and went out for dinner around Bukit Bintang.
The next day, 27 Oct 08, we had a sumptous breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast, committee members gathered for a meeting.

[Firefly committee members.]

Then at 12pm, we gathered at the lobby before we board our coach to Klang for lunch, before we returned to Singapore. At Klang, we had the famous Bah Kut Teh for lunch. Courtesy to our President, Brother Yee Kong, who has kindly arranged for this delicious lunch and even paid for all of us, "Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu Anumodana for your generosity in coordinating and underwrite the cost of this lunch". Look at the expression of the diners, you will know how it taste.

[centre - Bro Yee Kong, Bro Rene on his right.]

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