Who am I?
It is common to see 3 or 4 Guan Yin statues in a temple. Each statue has an unique appearance, such as “Thousand Hands Guan Yin”, “Holding baby Guan Yin”, “Pure Water Guan Yin” and so on. They are all Guan Yins, but shouldn’t there be only one Guan Yin?
For example, I wear dress shirt at work, T shirt at a rock concert, and Buddhism gown in a temple. Now, which one is the real me? They are all me, but how can all be me when I look different at various locations? This brings to the most fundamental question in Buddhism: who am I?
Buddha brings up a very good example at Chapter 2 in Shurangama Sutra. Inside of an empty cup, we say that there is a “round” emptiness. If I put this “round” emptiness into a squarish box, now what does this empty box contain? A “round” emptiness or “squarish” emptiness? Emptiness “exists” because we subjectively define it, but the truth is that emptiness doesn’t have any shape. This is the same scenario of my “existence”.
1) Define my existence
Which part of our bodies coordinate, command and analyze our six senses: see, smell, hear, taste, sense and think? Similar to the concept of soul in Catholicism and Christianity, what is the "thing", or the real me, that differentiates between a person from dead to alive?
You may propose that my eyes are the real me because my vision connects me to the world. Then a blind person should contain no life because it lacks the real me. Yet I see blind people riding subway or walking on the street.
How about my heart? You cannot even control your heartbeat! It is similar that you are a passenger in a taxi, but you thought you are the driver of this vechile. The taxi driver will drive you to your destination, but you don’t have full control of that car. If you are the master of this body, you should be able to control every part of this body, including your heart pace. Yet, you don’t. So heart is not the real me.
How about my ability to think? When we are conscious, we think we can control our thoughts. But can we really control our thoughts? When we go to sleep, we dream involutneerly. When I sit in a lecture, I sometimes may lose my focus and drift away with daydreaming. Where do these thoughts come from? Then thinking is not the real me because some thoughts will appear outside of our consciousness.
How about my whole body, in one piece, is the real me? If I touch my right arm with my left hand, my leg should feel the same sensation because my whole body is united in one piece. Yet, my leg doesn’t feel what my right arm does. Also, if the body is united as one, why don’t my ears see? Why doesn’t my tongue smell? Body unity is also not the real me.
These questions lead to the core of Buddhism: Who is “me” that has to suffer death and samsara?
If I use a microscope to maginify my hand, up to a certain point I will no longer see the hand but a group of atoms and molecules. Looking at these molecules, where is my hand now? You would say that all these molecules together form my hand, but shouldn’t there be only one molecule that represents my hand? Similar to the the example of Guan Yin before, all those 3 statues are Guan Yins, but we can be stubborn and deny acceptance that they are not Guan Yins because there should be only 1 Guan Yin. We label all these molecules together as my hand, but the existence of this hand is due to your subjectivetly in labeling. The real Guan Yin, is not 3 Guan Yins or 1 Guan Yin. Where is my real hand? I am still searching for an answer as well.
Buddhism contains knowledge beyond our imagination and there is no superstition in it. Superstition only exists in people who are ignorant and blindly accept what is being told and given.
2) Buddhism Practices
In order to develop our inner wisdom for searching the truth, Buddha provided us different methods before he went into Nivranva.
Sutra – The words in Sutra come from Buddha’s mouth and are written down by Ananda(阿難) and Arhats(阿羅漢). If you want to understand what is Buddhism, please read Sutra. Sutra is Dharma(法) and Dharmakaya(法身), which is one of the three bodies of the Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism. Nothing is more direct than to learn from the creator of Buddhism.
Mantra – It’s not a human language, so please do not waste your valuable time to translate it. You can certainly try to translate a Mars language into an Earth language, but this is only possible unless you come from Mars and you have been to Mars before. Otherwise, that translation is not accountable. Mantra is a bunch of sounds arranged in an unique way, so that by chanting, one can learn how to focus, to achieve inner harmony and to build connection with the Buddha.
Bowing – Bowing is way of repenting on things you have done incorrectly in the past. It is a good method to evaluate oneself and to avoid repeating similar mistakes again. It is also a great exercise for your back, legs and concentration.
Meditation – This is a good way to calm your inner self and to practice concentration. However, when a tourist visits a new country, one should have done some researches before travelling because it can avoid unnecessary dangers. Shurangama Sutra is your tour guide for meditation. Every Buddhist should read this sutra before you practice meditation. Otherwises, you would ride on the wrong train and end up at the wrong destination.
Buddha Name Chanting – The logic is simple. You keep on chanting the Buddha name repetitively until you can achieve calmness consciously and unconsciously. Gradually, the true wisdom will reveal.
I will use a simple example to explain the reason for chanting Buddha's name:
Son,”Mom, mom, MOM, MOM, mom, Mom, mmmmom….”
Son (hasn't heard anything),”Mmmmmom, mom, mommom, mom, MOM…”
Son (still hasn't heard anything),”mommom, mom, MOM moM, mOm…”
Son (wait a second...have I heard something?),"Hey, mom, I am here!!)
I hope this example can strengthen your faith in practising Buddha Name Chanting. Why cannot we hear our mom’s calling? It is because the real me is currently blind and deaf due to our ignorance, low awareness and negative karma.
It’s like a glass of water packed with garbages and dirts inside, and these obstacles prevent us to see the bottom of the cup. Therefore, we need to purify the water by chanting Sutra, chanting Mantra, repenting, Meditating and chanting Buddha's name.
So where do these dirts come from?
The 5 precepts, given by Buddha, help us avoid committing into bad activities that would generate bad karma. These bad karma are similar to the garbages in the water, as they have obstacles in liberation. Tobacco, alcohol, 5 pungent roots and meat consumption also substances that will disrupt your mind from calming down and decrease your chance on achieving enlightment.
3) The Law of Karma, or the Cause and Effect
You may argue karma doesn’t exist because you cannot see or touch it. Can you see Air? Can you show me 21st century? Well, they both exist though. Let me use an experiment to explain Cause and Effect. There are two rooms, with identical water in each room. The only difference is that one room will broadcast angry music, while the other room will broadcast peaceful music.
One week later, scientists used microscope to observe the chemical structure of these water. The water with angry music has a highly unstable chemical structure, while the water with peaceful music forms beautiful crystals! Our body is made up with atoms and molecules (like the example of my hand). We constantly interact and are being influenced by our surroundings. If we do positive things, we have positive karma or positive crystals. However, if we commit negative activities, we will generate bad karma that can pollute the water.
This long introduction ties all the webpages together and I hope this introduction can strengthen your faith and confidence in exploring and practicing Buddhism in a non superstitious way. Buddha always encourages Ananda to keep asking questions because:
If there is a small doubt, there may be a small enlightment.
If there is a big doubt, there may be a big enlightment.
However, if there is no doubt, there will be no enlightment.
Having doubts, Practising constantly and Discovering the truth are what a Buddhist should do. Be a model for the non-believers and help them to know that there are inner wisdom and paths for enlightment. Don’t be the next superstitious Buddhist in the temple. I hope this website can ignite your urge to discover the truth.
Jun 25, 2016