Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dark Mind is the Root Cause of Suffering

                 Pure Land Buddhism clearly teaches that the root cause of suffering is dark mind.

                 But what is dark mind?

                Dark mind refers to a mind that is unclear or has uncertainty about the afterlife.

                Death casts a shadow over our entire life. Because we can't see through the darkness beyond our own death, doubt toward the unknown future keeps us suffering from deep within.

Original Photo by Darco TT available on
  Let's understand the concept of dark mind by first looking at the idea of death...   

Death will definitely occur in our future.

             Birth -------------------------------> Death

               The longer we live, the closer we get to death. This fact makes death the most common and most important reality that all people have to face. And this issue will never change for us. Even if all the clocks in the world suddenly stop, time will keep counting down our life up until our very last moment.

               Though our death is 100% guaranteed, not so many people think about it for too long. It's really something nobody ever wants to even think about at all. We're just overly obsessed with daily life such as studying, working, or having fun.

Original Photo by kimberlykv available at

               We are firmly assuming that death is an event too far away in the future and nothing really to worry about right now.

               But even if we try to imagine what the experience of death will be, we cannot grasp at what it truly is. While we're alive, death is impossible for our minds to visualize. It would only be our imagination at work.

               This is because our perception of death and the reality of death are totally different.

               Imagine a deadly predator from the animal kingdom like a tiger or a shark...

   Our Perception of Death

The death we can imagine... is just like coming upon a tiger caged in a zoo...

Original Photo by Harlequeen available on

...or seeing a shark from behind the glass of an aquarium.

Original Photo by brainware3000 available on

Death in Actuality

The real experience of death is more like... meeting the hungry tiger's gaze in a jungle face-to-face...

Original Photo by Rennett Stowe available on

...or encountering the shark's sharp teeth while swimming in the ocean.

Original Photo by travelbagltd available on
We do know that the moment of our own death will come...
...but what exactly will happen to us after death?

               This is the most serious question everyone must face one day, and yet nearly all of us remain clouded and unclear on this issue.

               There are those who claim that we just become nothing when we die. However, when a friend or family member passes away, they quickly pay respect and pray for the person's soul. Their actions don't really support their beliefs, and there's still no way they can prove for sure that nothing becomes of us when we die.

               Then there are some who believe they will go to heaven after death. That being the case, wouldn't it be better to die sooner since our life can be so full of suffering at times? If heaven is a state to be granted to us after death, we cannot savor peace of mind until we're in the grave.

Original Photo by Damek available on

                Have you ever thought that to believe indicates that you have doubt?

                A person who was been burned does not say they believe fire is hot. They know it from experience. If one day you believe you are going to heaven but the next day you are not so sure, this demonstrates a belief. In Buddhism, true faith comes from knowing.

                So does life after death exist or not? Can it be known with certainty? And if it does exist, is it a happy world or a sad world? What kind of world could it be?

               Most of us have no clear answers to these questions. We remain in total darkness about what's in store for us after this life, and that's why this troubling, unsettled state is known as dark mind.

               Sakyamuni Buddha taught that the root cause of our suffering is having to leave behind everything in this world at death and still not knowing for sure where we go in the afterlife.

Let's say you have an exam in three days, 
and it will determine your entire career's future.

How would you feel about it?

Original Photo by Jeff Pioquinto available at

Your present state of mind would be in the dark because of anxiety 
or worry about the outcome of the test.

What if you had to undergo a major surgery in five days?
What would go through your mind?

Original Photo by Army Medicine available on

Your present state would be shrouded in darkness because of either doubt
or uncertainty toward the outcome of your procedure.

               Can you still have fun or be carefree knowing that big exam or that life-or-death surgery is just around the corner?

                When the future is dark, the present moment becomes dark as well.

               Many philosophers have compared this life to a journey. And the most important part of any journey is arriving to the destination safely and successfully.

               Let's say you're flying over a vast, seemingly-endless mountainous range. You enjoy zipping around through clouds, carefree of all the rocky terrain below. However, you begin to see that your fuel supply is dwindling and there appears to be nothing but perilous conditions below. Your flight becomes uneasy when you realize there is nowhere safe to land your plane.

Original Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives available on

                      This metaphor reflects our own present uneasiness and uncertainty while living toward an afterlife that's covered in darkness.

               The purpose of life is to have our dark mind eliminated. It is impossible to truly enjoy the present moment without having first solved the nagging, great question of our afterlife.

               Pure Land Buddhism boldly declares that the root cause of suffering is this mind in darkness about its future. Eliminating darkness of mind and gaining everlasting happiness is the true purpose of human life. Future posts will show you the way it can be solved. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Four & Eight Sufferings

                   Life is like a tree… that blooms with flowers of suffering. During our lifetime, we must overcome all kinds of obstacles and troubles.

               We are never at ease as our many anxieties and worries enter our mind daily one after another.

               Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famous German writer and thinker from the 19th century said, “I can affirm that during the whole of my 75 years, I have not had four weeks of genuine well-being.”

                Sakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha who appeared on Earth, said these famous words after attaining enlightenment, “Life is suffering.”

The Four Sufferings

1.) Suffering of Birth & Living

2.) Suffering of Aging

3.) Suffering of Sickness

4.) Suffering of Death

The Eight Sufferings

Include the first four:

     1.) Suffering of Birth & Living

     2.) Suffering of Aging

     3.) Suffering of Sickness

     4.) Suffering of Death

Then add these other four:

     5. Parting from the Loved
     6. Meeting What We Dislike
     7. Not Getting What We Want
     8. Our Own Existence

1.) Suffering of Birth and Living

              Newborn babies cry because they suffer from leaving the warmth and comfort of their mother’s womb. So we are suffering from the moment of our births, and we continue to suffer in our adult lives.
  • Getting up early in the morning
  • Fighting heavy traffic
  • Working all day at our jobs
  • Struggling with our finances

2.) Suffering of Aging

  • Declining physical strength, energy
  • Growing gray hair
  • Wrinkling skin
  • Getting tired easily
  • Worsening memory
  • Weakening eyesight
  • Losing hearing
  • Being separated from the days of your youth

3.) Suffering of Sickness

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • AIDS
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Torn muscles
  • Pinched nerves
  • Broken bones
  • Flus and colds
  • Back problems

4.) Suffering of Death

               Nothing brings us as much suffering in life as dying. Of all the events that will happen to us in our future, this is the one that is so dreadful, we avoid the very thought of it.
  • Death from old age
  • Death from a car accident
  • Death from illness
  • Death from murder
  • Death from falling
  • Death from suicide

               Even our fears or phobias of sharks, doctors’ offices, snakes, or spiders relate directly to our fear of death.

5.) Suffering of Parting from the Loved
  • Mothers, Fathers, Sons, Daughters, Aunts, Uncles, Friends
  • Sisters, Brothers, Husbands, Wives, Lovers, Pets, Celebrities
  • Home, Warm Bed, Job, Life Itself, Possessions, Reputation, Places

6.) Suffering from Meeting What We Dislike
  • People who are annoying
  • People who make us mad
  • People who cause trouble
  • Our boss or supervisor
  • Taking tests
  • Our mother-in-law
  • The dentist
  • Filing taxes
  • Hearing gas blowers
  • Political candidates
  • Media pundits
  • Solicitors
  • Telemarketers 

7.) Suffering of Not Getting What We Want
  • Overlooked for the higher position at work with more pay
  • Rejected before the first round of American Idol
  • Not enough money in your savings account
  • Losing the bid on your dream house
  • Not being as slim or as fit as you wanted
  • Lonely from lack of a boyfriend or girlfriend
               We have so many unlimited desires in this limited life...

8.) Suffering of Our Own Existence

              This suffering encompasses all the other seven sufferings. It also includes that we have to suffer because of the existence of our physical body.

               We have to go through these eight sufferings regardless of what time or place we live in and no matter our gender, status, or wealth. They all affect us whether we’re the President of the United States or homeless. In other words, the Four and Eight Sufferings are both global and universal.

               Now, everybody tries hard to cut off all the flowers of suffering. But since nutrients get to the tree through the roots, another flower of suffering quickly blossoms in its place. For this reason, our suffering does not cease, all the way up until our very last moment.

               This harsh reality requires a definitive answer to the ever-pressing question of why we live. Because of all the various painful kinds of suffering, can there really be a point at all to living?

               Though life is suffering, we are not living in order to suffer.

                Buddhism clearly teaches that the root cause of suffering is the dark mind. Once the dark mind is solved, we can attain true happiness. Please find out more about this crucial life-or-death matter in the next post!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mirror of Dharma

               Long ago, a group of drunken noblemen were having a party in the forest. When they fell asleep, a woman from their entourage made off with all their valuables. Sakyamuni Buddha was in the area at the time, and the noblemen asked if he knew in which direction she went or how they could find her.

               Sakyamuni Buddha replied, "I understand the situation, but which is more important? Finding that woman, or finding yourself?"

Screenshot from the Buddhist film The Osha Castle Tragedy


               We tend to think that we are fully aware of our self, but it's actually the most difficult thing to know. This is why since ancient Greece it has been said to "Know Thyself." (Reason, p. 103)

               We are all seeking for happiness, but if we don't know our true self we will not be able to attain it.

               Thus, the key to happiness is to know our true self.

               These days we know all about the vast distant galaxies in the universe and even about the tiny specialized cells within the human body. But do we really know any more about ourselves?

               There is a very simple reason behind why we can't know our self. It's because we're just too close to it.

               The human eye can see outwardly many things at great distances, but it cannot see inwardly the things that are very close.

Original Photo by benjgibbs available on

               For example, can you see your eyebrows with your own eyes? ... Didn't think so. Our eyes cannot see our own eyes, just like a knife can't cut itself.

              In order to see something that is very close to us, we use a mirror. (Reason, p.107) There are three kinds of mirrors to see ourselves: rectangular, oval-shaped and round. 

The Three Mirrors

   Mirror of Others      Mirror of Self       Mirror of Dharma

               A mirror should reflect exactly how our appearance really is. When we buy a mirror at the store, we need to be especially careful that it reflects how things really are. Cheap mirrors may be warped or bent. Let's examine each mirror to see if it reflects our true self accurately.

Mirror of Others

   "Do people think I am a good person or a bad person?"

               This is the reflected image we see from the minds of others.We're all concerned about the way others see us. We worry about it, sometimes even from morning to night.

               So we put on makeup or wear fancy clothes to appear cool in the Mirror of Others everyday. But if we lived on a deserted island, no one would need these kinds of items because no one would be around to care.

               We want to be praised by others and to be seen as kind and caring. Sometimes we even do things we don't want to do just to win approval.

               Why? It's because we think our true self is reflected in this mirror.

Original Photo by dearoot available on

               That's why we get upset when others are talking badly about us. But suddenly when something good is said about us, we get happy and our feelings can suddenly jump way up.

               According to what other people say our feelings go up or down.

               Does this mirror reflect our true self? ... Not really.

               It reflects a distorted image that relies on others and their convenience. (Reason p.108)

               Let's assume a policeman is coming toward you, when you have just been threatened by a robber. The officer must look like an angel to you!

               Later you make a left turn a little too late at a red signal... and see the same policeman.

               He must look intimidating when he is holding that ominous yellow ticket in his hand. He looked like an angel before, but now he looks like a real devil. So which one is he?

Original Photo by woodleywonderworks available on
               Depends on your convenience, right? This is because it is all according to your own biased evaluation.

               Others are doing the same thing. They judge us according to how beneficial we are to them. With this mirror, we seem like a bad person and a good person on the same day. Which one are we truly?

 A Japanese priest named Ikkyu once said:

The human tongue
gives praise today, tomorrow
it finds fault --
laugh away or weep away,
it is all a tissue of lies.
  (Reason, p. 108) 

               Even though I may receive 100 compliments today, I still cannot feel at ease, because tomorrow I might be criticized 10,000 times. 

              That's why at the end of the day some of us often feel that, "Talk is cheap."

               So it's kind of silly to get depressed or rejoice over what people say and how they rank you. You're relying on another's rating of you that is solely opportunistic in nature.

               The Mirror of Others does not reflect our true image. It is obviously distorted. So what about the next mirror?

Mirror of Self (or Mirror of Conscience)

               We may think deeply about ourselves from time to time with many introspective questions in search of the truth.

  "Who is the real me? Am I a good or bad person? What am I truly?"

Original photo by diejule available on

                 But what kind of real answer can we give to these questions? Let's reflect on an old folktale for insight.

               One day a princess in the legendary Dragon Palace under the sea held up a jewel and told all the fish, "I will give a prize to anyone who can tell me what color this is."

               Each of them named a different color: the black porgy said it was black, the bluefish said it was blue, and the whitefish said it was silver.

               Then they asked the princess, "Which one is right?"

               She replied, "The jewel has no color of its own. It is transparent and simply reflects each of your colors." (Reason, p.109)

               Similarly, we see everything including ourselves through the prism of our thoughts and emotions. (Reason, p.109) When it comes to examining ourselves in particular, it is impossible to take off the tinted glasses of our partiality.

               We always want to see ourselves in a good light. That's why all our good qualities are easily identified, but it's so much harder to spot our own faults.

               It's not a problem for us to point out the shortcomings of others or blame them, but it's difficult once we look for those weaknesses within ourselves.

               We just can't get rid of our own biased vision.

Original Photo by Leshaines123 available on

               And if we don't like something about our self, we just look at someone else who is in worse shape. Compared to them, we can feel better. Examining this mindset, we can clearly see the conceit in it. Let's now break it down into detail.

Seven Types of Conceit
  1.  Pride of looking down on others who are below you
  2. Pride among equals
  3. Pride over superiors
  4. Pride even though I know I'm wrong
  5. False pride in the belief of having attained enlightenment
  6. Pride in humility
  7. Pride of wrong action
               How many times have we looked down on others regardless of their position, defended ourselves when we knew we were wrong, or concealed our pride by acting really humble? Too many to count!

               It's all because we're wearing those tinted glasses of partiality. In plain terms, we are conceited.

               If we could see our true self as it really is, then this mirror would be true. Since it isn't, we must look to the last of the three mirrors to see if it is true.

Mirror of Dharma

              The Mirror of Dharma, also known as the Mirror of Truth, is our image reflected in the eyes of Buddha.

              This mirror is not like the other two. It's a mirror of sheer truth. It never distorts anything and always shows us everything exactly as it is.

              One can become aware of one's true self only by approaching the Mirror of Dharma.

              But why is this so?

              It's because it's completely impossible to see our true self by using the Mirror of Others or the Mirror of Self. Using either of these two mirrors, it is too difficult for us to see clearly what is true all the time.

              Imagine, if one can see only the good in one's own child, how much more so is that bias directed at one's self?

              Look at your hand with your naked eye, and it looks clean. This level of sight is compared to the laws we use to protect society. Next look at your hand with a magnifying glass. You might begin to see traces of dirt here and there. This level of sight is compared to ethics and morality.

              The Mirror of Dharma is like a microscope. The teachings of Buddhism see deeply and clearly all the germs and bacteria contained within our true nature.

              In the same way when X-rays are taken, all people, whether pretty or ugly, rich or poor, male or female, old or young, are reduced to nothing but bones. (Reason, p. 137) Once our true self is revealed in the Mirror of Dharma, we realize for the first time all the flaws we've had hidden deep within ourselves.

              This is because Buddhism goes beneath our physical exteriors. It places all our actions into three distinct categories. They are Deeds of the Mind, Deeds of the Mouth and Deeds of the Body. (Reason, p.110)

Three Types of Deeds

||                                   ||
Mouth                           Body

              Buddhism places the greatest emphasis on the actions of the mind because it is the source.

              If we think of all the countless thoughts within our minds, we see how hard it is to get a glimpse of our true self accurately without the Mirror of Dharma.

             "In the deep of the night, a candle burned in a mountain cabin, convinced it was the brightest of all. Then came an oil lamp with similar delusions of grandeur. Next came the electric light, arrogant and full of self-conceit, so bright the candle and the lamp could barely hang their heads. Then when morning came, the Sun rose in the eastern sky. Thoroughly eclipsed, all three went dark." (Reason, p.137)

              Likewise, our conceit is the hardest obstacle while seeking for the truth. We must strive with all our might to see it as it is. Only then can we become happy from our core.

              So in order to know that true self deeply, you must listen to the Mirror of Dharma as well as practice its teachings.

Source Material: You Were Born for a Reason: p. 103-112, 135-138 // Know Thyself p. 103, Eye/Knife/Use a Mirror p. 107,
 Convenience p. 108, Ikkyu p. 108, Dragon Palace p. 109, X-Ray p. 137,  Mind/Mouth/Body p. 110, 
Candle Story p. 137

Friday, September 28, 2012

Six Paramitas

                The Six Paramitas are taught by Sakyamuni Buddha. They are also known as the Six Perfections. The Sanskrit word paramitas means "perfections."

                 There are so many countless good things that we can do in life. If we're told to do as many good deeds as we can, we might get overwhelmed and not even try to do any.

                  Each paramita can be thought of as a way to perfect virtue. Sakyamuni Buddha condensed all good deeds into these six categories. We select just one of the paramitas and practice doing various good deeds that embody that virtue.

                  Sakyamuni Buddha did this so that we could easily pick the one we like best and then make it our sole focus.

                   By doing so often, we can steadily promote more harmony with others and also bring ourselves more relative happiness. The more good deeds we perform = the more good we can enjoy. Accumulating this virtue also helps us as we progress toward our true purpose in life.

                   To understand the concept of the Six Paramitas within metaphor, imagine for a moment being a dazed customer, lost inside a giant shopping center.

Original Photo by coolinsights available on

               You wander inside a spacious department store, but you still find more countless choices to try on and compare prices. A friendly salesperson comes up to you with a smile and asks, "How can I help you?"

                Then you take a moment and reply, "Well, I need a new shirt for work. The color should be kind of basic. Oh, and the price needs to be around $20 or so."

Original Photo by Robert Sheie available on

                The salesperson picks six different styles from the many choices available. In this way, you can find the best choice for you with ease...

Original Photo by Robert Sheie available on

                This is the same reason why Sakyamuni Buddha summarized all the various good deeds for us into the following six virtues. We just have to pick the one paramita that fits us the best.

1st Paramita - KINDNESS 

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on
  • Giving to people in need
  • Offering donations
  • Sharing your belongings
  • Smiling to everyone
  • Looking at others affectionately
  • Thanking those that help you
  • Having an Aloha spirit
  • Welcoming people to your home to eat or spend the night

2nd Paramita - KEEPING YOUR WORD

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Remembering your promises
  • Not breaking your agreements
  • Arriving on time
  • Being consistent with what you say and do
  • Having accountability for your actions
  • Acting responsibly in difficult situations
  • Answering honestly
  • Coming through for others when they need it

3rd Paramita - PATIENCE

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Putting up with life's little nuisances
  • Thinking steadily through those tough times
  • Enduring hardships with positive intentions
  • Keeping your cool even when someone else is wrong
  • Waiting in line respectfully
  • Remaining calm after acknowledging mistakes

 4th Paramita - EFFORT

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Doing your best under pressure
  • Keep making the right choices, even if they take longer 
  • Helping a friend move
  • Attending to little details with vigor
  • Pouring your heart into your work
  • Using some elbow grease on a volunteer project
  • Focusing all your energy constructively to do good

5th Paramita - SELF-REFLECTION

Original Photo by Celestine Chua available at

  • Being careful with your own thoughts
  • Examining your mindset
  • Concentrating on how you affect others
  • Look at yourself first before blaming others
  • Reflect on your actions daily
  • Think about the effect others have on you and why

6th Paramita - WISDOM

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Being kind
  • Keeping your word
  • Having patience
  • Making a valiant effort
  • Reflecting on yourself

Wisdom is the practice of the first five paramitas simultaneously.  

But if you practice any one of the Six Paramitas...
fully and to the best of your ability
you end up practicing all of them!!!

                For example, the 2nd paramita of Keeping Your Word also requires Patience which may take a long time to complete.

                You also need to make a sustained Effort or you will not follow through.

                 Without Self-Reflection, you may not be able to know whether or not you can fulfill the promise.  

                 Wisdom helps integrate the steps you need to make to fulfill the agreement.

                  Keeping a promise is received by others as a great Kindness

 Buddhism encourages us to choose one paramita 
and practice it by doing good deeds.

Pick one virtue that fits you the best, 
and the rest will follow.

That way we can be happy as we move forward 
toward achieving our purpose of life!

So what's your Paramita?