This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Moral Diet
By Supawan P. Panawong Green
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Supawan P. Panawong Green
Copyright 2007 by Supawan P. Panawong Green All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, in whole or part, in any form, without the prior written permission of Supawan P. Panawong Green
First Edition : March 2007 2,000 Copies Cover Design : Arpavadee Rak Distributed by Amarin Book Center Co., Ltd. 65/60-62 Chaiyaphruk Road, Taling Chan, Bangkok Tel. 0-2882-2000 Fax. 0-2434-1382, 0-2434-1384 Homepage: http://www.naiin.com Price 250 Baht Printed by Q Print Management Co.,Ltd. Tel.0-2800-2292, 08-4913-8600 Fax. 0-2800-3649
“My humblest gratitude and respect to the greatest teacher in the world, the Buddha.”
When Sue first asked me to write this foreword, I felt firstly honoured, then nervous. What could I write about her book? After all I am just an ordinary housewife with two children, two dogs and an overworked husband to look after, then it occurred to me that this was the precise reason why Sue wanted my point of view. If somebody like me (certainly not clever, scholastic or religious) could be reached by her teaching, so could every other person whatever his or her position or status in life. I first met Sue at her Tai Chi class held locally. I didn’t really know what I was looking for at that time, something vaguely about relaxation and something that might help me cope with the stresses of everyday life. I had no fixed idea on what to expect. Within the first half-hour of being in her class, I knew I had found something special and someone unique. I can always remember her words. She said she could deliver mental peace, inner calm there and then, not next week or after years of practice, but actually at that moment. True to her word as the class progressed, by slowing down my Tai chi movements, observing my sensations and watching the thoughts and feelings passing through my mind, I achieved a state of peace that I had not previously known. From that first class I
was hooked! If this could happen in the first hour, what yet could be achieved?! Now nearly three years later, I realize that Sue is in fact teaching Buddhism, but in a very unique way. She brings this ancient wisdom to us in words that we all can understand and by methods, which can be used by anybody sitting at a desk or doing the ironing. In The User Guide to Life she is very clear and honest with us, and tells us of her own experience and insight. She states what is required of us and offers herself as a guide to those who choose to walk this path, with the ultimate destination being inner peace and happiness. ‘Life’ is a big subject, full of twists, turns and endless complexities. Sue comments on these issues of life with frankness and compassionate understanding, everything from the age-old problems, sex and relationships, euthanasia, to modern day dilemmas posed by the advance of science such as the Human Genome Project and so on. The challenges of life are common to all people regardless of what beliefs we have. This is when Sue’s teaching skill becomes very helpful to us. Sue’s language, even when explaining the intricacies of Karma and the even more mind-boggling Buddhist time scales, is always simple and direct. The User Guide to Life will prove invaluable reading to someone hoping to find meaning and purpose to their life.
The greatest recommendation I can give is that Sue’s teaching has done this for me, and for that I am eternally grateful. Juliet Banyard Rednal Birmingham, UK 9 February 2001
Foreword by Juliet Banyard Introduction
Chapter 1 My Eureka experience! 4
17 21 21 22 22 24 25 27 29
Chapter 2 Words of agreement - Two types of guides - Depending on holy map - A new ball game - Mental journey - Different words but same meaning - Mental tourist! Chapter 3 Why we must stick to our moral diet!
Chapter 4 Don’t kill, don’t steal 37 - Thou shall not kill 37 - You have only one choice 38 - Who is going to kill animals for food then!? 38 - The butcher and the little pig 39 - Do you have to be a vegetarian? 41 - Just to survive 42
- Never boast about your humility and compassion - How should a vegetarian act? - Hui Neng - Split view - It is about how you eat and not what you eat - The noble lady and the ailing Bhikkhu - Don’t steal - Take the meat with you! - Pao Boon Jin Chapter 5 Love, Sex and Relationship - Don’t commit adultery - Don’t do it again - Do the right thing and be very patient - Being single and hoping to have a stable relationship - The strategy for procreation - Reward - The ingredients of Love - Sex without love - Midlife crisis - Craving for sweets - The degrading human - What makes human excel above animals
42 43 44 45 45 47 48 50 51 55 55 55 56 57 57 58 59 60 60 61 62 63
Cultivate love Responsibility and commitment The amazing network of pregnancy Maternal instinct Equal share Traditional family Nature’s will Ladder to peace and harmony Tampering with nature Bypass sex Self respect Compatibility The karmic factor Nothing is perfect The quicker you know, the better Overture Sirima
64 65 65 66 67 67 69 69 71 73 74 74 75 76 77 78 78 87 87 88 90 91 91 97 97
Chapter 6 Lies and Intoxication - Don’t lie - Truth hurts - White lies & talking nonsense - Virtuous lies - Ar Peng - The crucial precept - intoxication - The preparation
- Soberness is a must - Social protocol - Summary Chapter 7 Giving - Selfishness hurts - Mental journey belongs to mental self - A size zero ego - Pushing camel through needle’s eye - Kindness counteracts selfishness - Giving can be trained - Breaking the spoon - This following guideline will help you to loosen your selfishness. - Two fingers up - Never say one penny is less and ten thousand is more - The mean master Chapter 8 The Simple Diet - Checking the goal again - You cannot have it all - Misconception - How to practice simplicity? - Moral and simple dieting - The danger of wealth and fame
99 100 101 103 103 105 105 106 107 108 108 109 113 115 122 131 131 132 133 135 135 136
Invisibility and denial Everyone wants to feel special Bruised ego and havoc Doing a big job An overflowing cup of tea Kwai Shane Cane
137 138 139 140 144 147 151 151 152 154 156 158 159 160 160 162 164 165 166 169 169 171 171 172 174
Chapter 9 Dealing with death - Fear of the pain - Tragic death - The tsunami ghosts - Are you prepared to be a lost soul? - Arranging a good death - Fear of the uncertainty - God believers - Big zero believer - Make room for wisdom - Death is a natural event - Wish you all die accordingly!? - The three old ladies and my parents - Relevent to age and status - Titanic - Do you know what is around the corner? - When death is inevitable - Euthanasia - Hypocritical attitude
ICU culture Enlightening culture Misconception Facing death Death drill Getting ready Following the guideline
175 176 176 177 178 179 181 183 183 185 188 192 192
Chapter 10 Dealing with death, continued - Visakha - The Venerable Katjayana - Kisa Gotami - Simple teaching - The weaver’s daughter
The original edition of The User Guide To Life was written some thirteen months before the second millennium, which was just over a year after my Eureka experience in 1997. I was inspired to come up with something that my Tai Chi students could follow after they have left my class at the University of Birmingham. It has been nearly seven years since the first publication of this book, which the first 3,000 copies were sold out for quite sometime. During the editing process before this second publication, I have realised that my skill in writing and expressing English has moved on along with my spiritual knowledge. I then made quite a significant change in the contents of this book, one of which is to separate the old version into two books instead. This book you are holding is the first part and will be followed with its sequence: The User Guide to Life...The Law of Karma. I have also replaced the first two chapters with the new ones. My Chinese spiritual teacher, Tang Mor Sieng, told a very good story of which I would like to recount. It was a story about a Buddhist poet. Every poem he wrote, he would take it to a market place and ask either a market vendor or a housewife
to read his poem. If these people nodded their heads as a gesture of understanding, he would keep that poem. If they shook their heads and said they did not understand, he would rip the paper apart and throw that Buddhist poem away. To me, this story says that the essence of Buddhism is about simplicity and how to achieve it. This story also corresponds to the scientific precept attributed by Occam Razor, which says if all things are equal, the simplest explanation is the right one. I have always known that the difficult Buddhist jargon is the barrier preventing people from understanding Buddhism. I hope this book is simple enough for you to follow. The above story also gave me the idea of giving the honour to one of my students, Juliet, a housewife and a mother of two children, to write the foreword for this book. I think it makes a nice change from listening to an intellectual point of view. This book is very much like a ‘life map’ which is aimed at giving you a step by step guideline so that you have clear ideas of how to walk this spiritual path with the end result in finding the truth about your true self. May I take this opportunity to thank all my readers, Thai and non-Thai alike who have given me support and strength. My gratitude also goes to Jess Koffman, my co-editor for this book and all my Thai supporters who have been working for
me as well as organising retreats. All their hard work is very much appreciated. I couldn’t have got this far without them. I wish you all the best of luck in life journey. Supawan Pipatpanawong Green 14 February 2007 Birmingham, UK
My Eureka Experience
It happened in a spur of a moment and most unexpected, on one Tuesday afternoon of October 1997 while I was in the Dojo teaching my Tai chi students at the University of Birmingham. I had been teaching my students meditation skills for quite some time without telling them that it was, in fact, based on the Buddha’s knowledge. Since that class was my dedicated advanced students, I thought it would be in their advantage to know the proper Buddhist terminology, just in case they come across it in books or passing conversations. At least, they would know that they had actually engaged in this Buddhist practice from my Tai chi class. I decided to write ‘the four foundations of mindfulness’ and ‘vipassana’ in the bracket on the white board and also put down the short descriptions as what to the focus on regarding each foundation. As I was writing the description of the 4th foundation of mindfulness, unlike the first 3 foundations which I had confidence in the knowledge, I told myself that I would have to come clean with my students by telling them the truth that I didn’t have a clue what it meant by ‘dhamma-nu-passana’ and
they had to compromise with the original descriptions without any extra help from me. I usually am able to simplify the difficult concepts to plain words but not this one since I didn’t quite understand myself. Finished with the writing, I then walked away from the white board to standing in front of my students. As I was opening my mouth, I also glanced back to the white board some 5 or 6 small steps away to my right; that was the moment when all heavens broke lose. It was the most magical moment when I had to whisper softly to myself in front of the students: “Oh…my god, I know it!”. Suddenly, it was as if a tidal wave of acute wisdom rushing through my mind which allowed me to KNOW the answers to a few really significant questions I had been searching for many years earlier. One of the pieces of knowledge was, of course, the pending meaning of the 4 th foundation of mindfulness that just moments ago I was totally in the dark. The knowledge, flowing through my mind at that moment, gave me the most powerful and insightful illumination that I had never experienced before in my entire life. The combined brightness of 10 suns still cannot be compared to the light of such wisdom I was stumbling upon at that moment.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
The scattered pieces of jigsaw-puzzles about life and death and beyond suddenly clicked into places. That significant knowledge came along with the enormous sense of great relief. I strongly felt that I had every right to say to myself: “I am free at last!” – freeing from the bondage of ‘not knowing’. Overwhelmed by this most astonishing encounter and trying to take in the knowledge that suddenly presented itself to me, I began to realise that 7 pairs of eyes were staring at me expectantly and that I still had a tai chi class to run. I resolved to tell my students I was going to confront them with the truth about not knowing the focus point of the 4th foundation of mindfulness but something had just happened to me and I had now got the answer for them. I then conducted the class as normal but with more confidence in the knowledge I delivered. From that moment on, my knowledge has grown steadily. All my literary works are the direct result of that eureka experience happening on that autumn afternoon. The overall message I wish to put across to you is: there is a nature called ‘the ultimate truth’. Finding this ultimate entity is the same thing as finding our ‘true self ’. This is the sole reason we are here and where eternal happiness exists. The direct path to it is the four foundations of mindfulness, which I coined ‘bringing our mental self back home’.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 19
I hope this chapter can help you to have better understanding of this book, which prepares you to embark on a journey in search of your real self.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Words of agreement
Two types of guides
If you want to get to a new destination you often have to rely on a guide to lead you. It is also possible that your guide might not have been to that place either. However, he can still be guide because he has a map in his hand while you do not. This guide will have to rigidly follow the map. There might be a shortcut that is not shown on the map, but such a guide will not know. Should the map be misleading, the guide and his followers will get lost and waste time. There is, however, another type of guide who has been to the place of destination before. If he has been there several times and had many chances to explore the area, he will know much more than what is shown on the map. It is very likely that he will know the shortcuts too. The benefit in having this type of guide is that you will save time and it is a guarantee that you won’t get lost.
Depending on holy map
All spiritual teachers can only teach according to what they know. They can teach less than what they know if they want to but they certainly cannot teach more than what they know. Right now, I cannot say what else there is ahead of me because I do not know. However, I can tell you what I know up to this point. I know that my first book, ‘Dear Colin...what is the meaning of life?’ which was written between 1991 - 1994, showed the phase of me being a guide and not knowing the place of destination. My guidance was very much based on the strong faith I had towards the Buddha. I, therefore, had to rely on the map or the holy book quite rigidly. My teaching was fragmented; I could not connect all the different issues together as clearly as I do now.
A new ball game
Then came my Eureka experience in 1997 when a total new ball game had just begun. This was the year when I wrote ‘Can a Caterpillar be perfect?’ in which I introduced newly invented terminologies such as ‘Tom and Jerry’, mental hologram and ‘the innocent perception’. These coinages were
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
aimed to boost readers’ comprehension towards this eastern concept of life. Although I thought my experience was very clear and definite at the time, it was merely the stepping-stone towards my present knowledge. Comparatively speaking, for the first time this guide had just arrived and realised with a high degree of certainty the place of destination and that the exploration of the different routes was about to begin. Two years from then, I had more time to explore the routes to the ultimate destination. I finally realised that the Buddha had thought about it all so thoroughly. The four foundations of awareness (vipassana) are indeed the shortcut to the ultimate destination of life.1 I could do nothing more than he had already done but humbly surrender to his most ingenious and matchless wisdom. What else could I do but to propagate and confirm his knowledge to humankind; the only thing I could add was probably trying to make the language and approach a bit more accessible to people of this time and age. ‘A Handful of Leaves’ was the result of this stage of my practice in which I could depict a clearer picture of the
Please know that the four foundations of mindfulness (awareness),
vipassana and ‘bringing our mental self back home’ have exactly the same meaning. I will, however, use the term vipassana for short writing
in this book.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 23
structure of life. The content of this book, apart from confirming the ultimate purpose of life, also confirms the shortest means leading to the goal – the four foundations of mindfulness. In this book, I found that I had more freedom in expressing myself. I felt that I didn’t have to cling too much to the holy book like I did before. Having seen the place of destination with my own (mental) eyes has created a totally new ball game for me when I talk to people. It means that I can explore the route myself with my own language and my own approach as well as knowing I won’t get lost again. No matter what route I take, I can always come back home. This is the ability I did not have when I wrote the first two books.
This book, The User Guide to Life…The Moral Diet, is yet another attempt to help you to get, at least, half way to the place of destination. A mental journey is based on the same principle as a physical journey in the sense that you must initially know where you are going first. Once you know the goal, you will then engage in the actual travelling – moving from A to B. Knowing the place of destination (the ultimate purpose of life) is of the utmost importance. You cannot set off on a journey without knowing where you want
24 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
to go, can you? If you did, you would be seen as someone ‘not quite right in the head!’ A mind journey is much trickier than a mere physical trip. Unfortunately, people are doing exactly that: walking around not knowing if they are coming or going! This is the main reason why people’s minds are so confused, messed up and in pain. Should you know exactly what you are doing and where you are going, it will certainly make life easier for you and you will feel a whole lot better. My duty as your guide is to create shortcut as well as a clear path to your mental destination.
Different words but same meaning
Following my Eureka experience, I now know where we must head for. I shall give you a list of terminology in both religious and scientific terms. Please remember this simple logic: if there is an ultimate truth at all, there has to be just ONE very final state and no more. So please bear in mind that whenever you see any of these words or phrases in this book and my other written works, they all refer to the same meaning, more precisely the same experience. This ultimate encounter is the final destination of life where every single human being must go and do their very best to achieve.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 25
Here are the words and phrases referring to that ONE truth. They are as followed: 1. The ultimate enlightenment 2. Nirvana 3. The Kingdom of God 4. The Tree of Life 5. Godhood 6. Tao 7. Eternity 8. Immortality 9. The ultimate (absolute) truth 10. The ultimate reality 11. The grand ultimate (the meaning of Tai chi) 12. The absolute ruling point in nature (Einstein’s concept, the run-up to the Theory of Relativity) 13. The absolute simplicity 14. The absolute ordinariness 15. The absolute normality 16. The true self 17. The real self 18. The eternal peace, harmony 19. The ultimate freedom 20. The end of suffering 21. The true (real) happiness 22. Here and Now
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
23. The final frontier 24. The innocent perception (my coinage) This wide range of terminologies can diminish your confusion and help you to have better perspective concerning the ultimate destination of life. You can now clearly see that humankind, God believers and non-believers, share the common goal in life. Our religious differences, which often lead to political conflicts and violence, in my view, are merely the result of misinterpretation of the different jargons due to the lack of true ultimate experience (mainly among religious leaders). We can easily live in great harmony should we be led by wise leaders who are well equipped with the right knowledge.
The significant point is that if the guide (life coach, religious officers) doesn’t know the actual place of destination, how can they know what the kingdom of God or Nirvana looks like? Comparatively speaking, many tourists visiting London are standing right in the middle of Covent Garden but they didn’t have a clue that they are actually there already, so they still looked into the map, trying to find the way to Covent Garden. This problem can easily be solved by asking local people where Covent Garden is.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 27
Likewise, as far as mental journey is concerned, you need a local guide who knows exactly the actual experience of those words. Only then will he/she be able to lead you to the final destination without getting lost in your mental jungle. Without my Eureka experience, I won’t be qualified to be your local guide as I would be like you – a mental tourist!
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Why we must stick to our moral diet!
Our massive misdirection in life causes us to create a world society that is badly infested with social diseases: conflicts, wars, global terrorism, vast economy migration, deforestation, animal extinction to global warming. Consequently, every human along with the animals and plants on this planet has their equal share of suffering. All the tragedies either brought upon by Mother Nature or by men and the advance of science are few of the main reasons that weaken people’s faith and make God become less important. Star celebrities, pop and sport idols are more popular than the almighty God and are widely worshipped. Churches and temples have been replaced by shopping malls or pubs. This causes the subsequence moral crisis. In every society, there is a set of moral value, which helps to keep society in good order. When moral standard has become low in society, laws have to be imposed. While moral is a self-restraint, law is an enforcement. Society that has more laws, in fact, has failed to keep up its moral standard and this is
just the beginning of social problems leading to more turmoil and suffering. Let’s spend a bit of time investigate into the cause of our moral decline. I have no doubt that the main reason that causes our moral dilemma is because most people don’t know why they have to be morally good. To think good, speak good and act good are not easy task. It is extremely difficult. Responding to our desire brought upon by our thoughts and feelings is a much easier thing to do. We also have the examples of people who can make their way to worldly success by immoral means. In reality, there are people who get away with murder. There are plenty of people who become extremely wealthy by selling drugs, weapons, and even humans. We also live in the world that fuelled by media frenzy, young people nowadays can hardly distinguish reality from their dream world. The messages given out through entertainment industry, especially computer games are quite shocking. They mainly aim to teach our youngster that violence and killing are the right thing to do. Why not come along and learn how to kill! These are the reasons that brought moral down to our knees. We shouldn’t be too surprised. Not until people know the reason behind moral values and why we must have moral discipline, will we be able to
30 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
retrieve morality back to mankind and see glimpse of hope in humanity. Our religious and education establishment have failed to deliver this important message to our children. Judging from the shameful front page scandals caused by clerics and teachers, it is very likely that they don’t have the answers themselves. If our ideal applicants failed to give us answer, who can be our role model then? It looks like we have a classic Catch 22 situation here, haven’t we? And who is going to break this tedious cycle? I will try. Bluntly speaking, due to my Eureka experience, I have found out that there is an entity in nature called ‘the ultimate truth’, which is the same state as our ‘true self ’. Once you find one, you will always find the other because ultimately everything blends into one. Should you succeed to find that ultimate entity, you will also find the subsequent eternal harmony and be able to live happily ever after. This ideal ending is very much possible in real life if only you know how to find your real self. The image of the triangle below will give you a clear perspective as why we need to observe our moral precepts. I shall place the words: the ultimate truth, true self and eternal peace on the top end of the triangle. The bottom left hand corner will be written moral ladder whereas the right hand corner will be meditation ladder. Now, can you see the reason
Supawan P. Panawong Green 31
why we need to observe our moral values? Ultimately, it is for our own mental stability and harmony, not for others.
What has really gone wrong in our society is that we have no real wisdom that can guide us to a real purpose of life – finding our real self and the real peace. Without such crucial knowledge, we compromise with secondary happiness revolved around gaining more wealth, higher status and power. We think that as long as we have money and power, we can buy happiness. As the poor and the unprivileged struggle up the social ladder, trying to earn their piece of joy, the rich and the powerful already know that there is no such thing called ‘happiness’ at the other end of the ladder. If there is, it is only temporary, not long lasting anyway. No one can take credit cards
32 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
to their graves. But everyone has to find out for themselves, haven’t they? So we are back to square one again because the struggle for happiness and peace has become the very reason for our turmoil, restlessness and the endless complexities of life. The real wisdom will tell us an entirely different story. According to the diagram above, morals are the straight ladder to happiness. Should we want harmony, we must stand firmly on our moral ground and not waver despite temptations. Never mind what other people say. It just so happened that Mother Nature bestowed on us a precious gift called a conscience. This crucial tool naturally prevents us from stepping over our moral threshold because it hammers our thinking onto ethical grounds. It is good that when we do something immoral, we feel really awful about it and cannot respect ourselves. Not until we mend our wrongdoings by admitting our guilt will we feel better. Then a lesson is learnt. We also learn not to repeat our mistake twice. As we grow older, we should have enough experience to know that moral brings stability and immoral brings turmoil. This is a brilliant process that has united communities in the past. It works because of this gifted ingredient. Whatever action we are about to take, if we can sense any shame and guilt, it must have something to do with our
Supawan P. Panawong Green 33
conscience. When temptation strikes, we must stop right away and think hard about it first before taking any further step as we can’t reverse the clock back. Actually, not to mention killing people; butchering big and even smaller size animals like cows, pigs and chickens is not an easy task to do at all unless we train ourselves to do it. How many people can slit the throat of a chicken for their Sunday roast? I don’t think there are many. This is the reason we have Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrison so that they can do the job for us. Unfortunately, conscience has been wiped out from a great number of people’s mind. Merchants make huge sum of money out of immoral businesses and cause immense human suffering, yet they feel neither shame nor guilt. Killing humans has become a much easier task to do as if pulling a carrot out of the ground. Killers don’t even feel remorse anymore. We only have ourselves to blame because we teach our children to kill in the first place. Complex world politics are also a main factor for all of these killing sprees going on in the world right now. Once conscience is taken out of the equation, it is extremely difficult to bring back and anarchy is imminent. Without the sense of right and wrong in humankind, global
34 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
conflicts will spiral out of control at some point. Unless real wisdom can make its way into worldwide education, we might see glimpse of hope in humanity. We must steer our civilization towards the right direction in life. Initially, we must tell people the distinctive purpose of life. We are here for one sole reason only – to find our true self. Only then will we attain our long lasting peace. We, then, tell our children with plain words that moral is the step ladder to achieve that goal so that we can reach real harmony. Teach them the five basic moral principles and show them how to climb that moral ladder by being their role models. Theoretically, it means parents, priest, teachers, Government ministers along with all the respectable career people have to behave themselves to make the moral mechanism works. Oops…catch 22 again! You must think I am living in a dream world to suggest all those. I am not really. That’s why my work actually focuses only on you who are reading this very sentence. I don’t want to change the world because I know I cannot do it. But I certainly hope that I can change you. Should you want your mental stability and tranquillity, do your very best to stick with your moral diet. This moral regime, despite its difficulty, can take you, at least, half way towards your ultimate enlightenment. I hope this book, you are holding, might be able to guide you
Supawan P. Panawong Green 35
along should you face any moral dilemma. You must also pay attention to the other ladder on the right hand side of the above diagram, meditation, I coined ‘bringing our mental self back home’. I strongly believe that our individual inner peace can be the centre point where humanity of all believers can meet, religious and impious alike. Inner peace is universal. So are tears and laughter. Should we put black, brown, white and yellow babies in the same room and shut the door, would we know which crying and gurgling belongs to which baby? No, we wouldn’t. Should we want humanity to survive an eventual apocalypse, we must ditch all the different religious and racial labels and share the same aim: achieving long lasting harmony. World peace is nothing more than a huge pot of casserole with the ingredients of individual inner peace thrown in together. Only then can this unique pot of casserole be relished by humanity alike.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Don’t kill, don’t steal
Now that you know the reason behind moral, we are going to tackle each precept in greater details.
Thou shall not kill
Although this precept tells you not to kill, in fact it includes any bodily harm inflicted upon people and animals too. Killing is, however, the worst harm that one can do to them. I will, therefore, talk about killing first. At this stage, it means all the direct and straightforward killing from people to animals, big and small – ants, flies, etc. are included. Straightforward killing begins from having the intention to kill and ends at completing the killing activity. Without the intention, the action will not happen. Let’s put all the indirect, unintentional and necessary killing aside for the moment, such as: killing germs, diseases, parasites, pests, killing animals for testing, putting animals down due to either being sick or dangerous, killing enemies in wars and capital punishment. The moral in those killing can be clarified and understood when you engage in your vipassana practice but not now since
they are not straightforward and there is no black and white answer.
You have only one choice
Please understand that I am now talking to you who wants to walk the path to eternity. All these words are not for anyone else but especially for you who wants the best thing in life. So should you make a living from either killing animals or other form of ‘necessary’ killing and you also want to go to the Kingdom of God, I will strongly advise you to change your occupation. You must stop killing right now. You cannot have it both ways. You have to choose one way or the other. If you want to go to hell, carry on with your killing but if you want to go to heaven and to be with God, you must stop killing now. It is as simple as that.
Who is going to kill animals for food then!?
How will people get fed if no one kills animals for food? Don’t worry; there are always people who will do this job, plenty of them, in fact. My words won’t make an iota of difference in our present killing industry, trust me. Even the Buddha couldn’t stop his family from killing one another. So if you are worried that no one is going to do the necessary killing business, please don’t. There will always be people
38 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
doing such a job; let them do it and you should move on to do something else which takes no part in killing because you have a rendez-vous with God.
The butcher and the little pig
I often used to tell this story to my children when they were little. I heard it from my late Chinese spiritual teacher Tang Mor Sieng. I have been listening to his dhamma collection for nearly thirty years. He claimed that it was a true story which happened somewhere in China. There was a butcher who lived in one of this long row of shop-houses. Every morning he had to walk past a house where the owner had a little pig roaming around the household. Every time the butcher walked past this house, for some unknown reason, the little pig would run out in a flash and bite the man’s leg. The butcher would then kick the pig away and swear at it. This was an everyday event between the little pig and the butcher. He noticed that the pig had never bothered to attack anyone else but him. After he had a good kick and swore at the pig, he would stare into the little pig’s eyes and grunt angrily, “One day, I will buy you off your owner and I’ll make sure you will be on my meat stall in no time at all. Now, get away from me, you stupid pig!”
Supawan P. Panawong Green 39
The butcher did buy the little pig off the owner in the end. After handling the money over, he brought the pig home, held him tightly by his neck, stared into his eyes and told him to be ready to die the next day. The butcher was woken up in the middle of the night by a terrible nightmare, which had something to do with the pig. He sat up in his bed sweating heavily, his heart was pounding with fright. He nodded his head slowly and groaned: “That’s why this pig doesn’t like me and insists on biting me all this time. I have killed so many pigs in my life. They’re bound to come back for me sometime.” He then got up and walked to see the pig he had tied up. The pig looked at him with sad eyes. The butcher, by now, became mellow and said, “If I kill you today, this kamma will have to be paid off and when is it going to end? I have decided not to kill you today, but what should I do with you then?” Later on that day, the butcher went to the nearby temple and had a long talk with one of the elder monks to whom he confided his dream. He then came home to fetch the pig. Everyone in the neighbourhood thought that he was going to take the pig to the slaughter house. To everyone’s surprise, the butcher said, “No, I am going to leave him in the temple instead.” He also changed his occupation and became a handyman in the nearby village. Every now and again, he
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
would visit the pig in the temple. The pig, hadn’t been well fed and remained skinny, ran to him but this time it didn’t attack the man like before. Instead, the pig would sniff and stroke his head against the man’s leg and wanted to play with him. One day, the man bent down, stroked the pig on his head and whispered softly to him: “Thank you for telling me before it was too late. You gave me the chance to have a new life.”
Do you have to be a vegetarian?
If you are already a vegetarian and very happy to be one, fine, keep it up. However, if you aren’t one and you are not ready to be one yet, it is also fine; you don’t have to be a vegetarian in order to find your true self. If you are a meat eater, please follow these guidelines: Always buy meat, poultry and fish. Never catch and kill them by yourself, even fish. Don’t praise about how delicious or how tender the meat, poultry or fish tastes, as do most. Always remember that if the roles were reversed and you were on the plate instead, how would you feel? After all, it is a life we are talking about. Don’t eat meat, poultry and fish with pleasure but with humble feeling, just to survive.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 41
Just to survive
My teacher at Suan Mokkh in Southern Thailand often told this story: A man, a woman and a young baby walked across a desert. The baby didn’t survive. When their food ran out, the man and wife were forced to eat the meat of their own baby so that they could live. They didn’t eat the meat with joy and pleasure but with a repentant feeling for the sole purpose of survival. There was indeed a real life drama which was similar to this story: When a plane carrying a group of Argentinean cricketers crashed in the Andes, they were stranded in the mountains for 72 days before being found. When the food ran out, the living were forced to eat the flesh of their deceased friends just to survive. They too had to eat the meat with apologetic feelings.
Never boast about your humility and compassion
The above story should be the way you eat meat. Having said that, there is no need to be dramatic about it. It should be done very quietly in your mind so that no one else knows about your intention. Otherwise, it could be a mocking issue among people with whom you live. There is no need to create an unnecessary atmosphere. Apart from that, in keeping it quiet
42 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
you can also avoid white sin catching up on you. Boasting about your humility and compassion is white sin and can be very difficult to detect. This is one of the many pitfalls on this path to the ultimate truth. It would make you think that you are a better person than the rest because you have compassion and other people don’t. So be very careful! You still eat your burger in the same manner as your friends do when you go out for a meal but when everyone begins to praise the meat on their plates, you have to be tactful enough not to join in. Silence is a good way out, better still, leading the party to change the subject of conversation.
How should a vegetarian act?
If you have been a vegetarian because you don’t believe in killing animals for food, that is a very noble and compassionate thought. Good for you and well done. Nevertheless, there is something that you have to be careful about. The vegetarian, however, should not patronise meat eaters or feel disgusted by them. Eating meat has likely been with humanity since day one. You have to admit that this is part of the food chain and survival. This fact of life will be very unlikely to change. So you must adjust yourself to fit in with
Supawan P. Panawong Green 43
others and cause as little fuss as possible. Never make people feel uncomfortable in your company; respect their acts. Eating meat does not make one become a worse person in the same way that eating vegetables doesn’t make one become a better person. Both vegetarians and meat eaters have equal chance to enter Nirvana.
When Hui Neng, the sixth Buddhist supreme patriarch in China was on the run because people were after his life, he spent a period of time in hiding with a group of hunters in the forest. Hui Neng was already an Arahant, a fully enlightened one, and was also a vegetarian. To the huntmen, Hui Neng was just another man. There was no chance for the holy man to practice vegetarianism while living with a bunch of hunters. However, the wise man made no fuss, he chose to eat just the vegetables cooked together with the meat. The bush men never took any notice what Hui Neng ate. Hui Neng story had coined a phrase neg pee chai, (Tia Chew dialect) which means, ‘vegetable by meat’. My mother first told me this true story and taught me to practise neg pee chai when I had to. Although people nowadays are quite open to vegetarianism and there is no reason why a vegetarian
44 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
should have to do that, this practice can, nevertheless, make life easier for vegetarians under some eventual circumstances.
There are split views about whether Buddhist monks should be vegetarians. One side says that monks should propagate loving kindness and compassion and should be role models for others; they should not eat flesh. The other side argues that monks should lead a simple life and not create too much fuss for people on whom they rely; they should eat whatever they are given. This has been a debatable issue for a long time. It is also a question whether the Buddha and his followers ate meat or not. Most Thai monks are not vegetarians.
It is about how you eat and not what you eat
Whether you eat meat or vegetables, you must contemplate that you are merely eating the four elements of earth, water, air and fire so that you can survive and live to fulfil your duty as a human being, that is, to enter Nirvana. The Buddha set this discipline up so that you don’t eat your food with greed. Indeed, both meat eaters and vegetarians can eat their food with greed if they are not aware of themselves. Vegetarian food can be elaborately prepared and taste absolutely delicious so that one can easily forget meat.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 45
As a lay person and having to taking care of my family, cooking delicious meals is my duty as a mother and a wife. Like many others, delicious foods make my heart melts easily. In the past, I often ate with greed when I put food in my mouth too quickly. A few years ago, I found myself a way to eat food with less greed by observing my taste buds. Before eating, I would look at the food in front of me and watch my taste buds. If the saliva came out, I would wait and keep on staring at the food until my taste buds stopped producing saliva. Then, I ate. It worked splendidly! I could overcome temptation. After a few years of practice, I now have better control of my taste buds every time I eat and I don’t have to stare at the food as long as before. I want to pass on this practice to you. You might think this concept is aimed to kill all joy in eating, which obviously defies human nature. Please don’t forget that we are on our mental journey to eternal peace. Overcoming temptation is one of the uphill tasks you must do. This has something to do with changing your bad mental habit where temptation is placed. To change your mental habit is to change your way of eating and not what you eat. You can, therefore, either contemplate the four elements before you eat your meal – the method of which Buddhist monks must do – or you watch your taste buds instead. Please stick with whichever way that may suit you as long as it prevents you from eating food with greed. This noble way of eating will, in
46 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
return, increase your level of self-awareness, which is a very good mental habit. This favourable mental routine will speed up your journey to the Kingdom of God. You will be surprised that it isn’t as bad as you think once you put it into practice. You will have a totally new experience in eating. Try it!
The noble lady and the ailing Bhikkhu2
The following story can cover the two issues above about eating food with contemplation and the historical fact that the Buddha and his disciples might have been meat eaters too. There was a noble lady during the Buddha’s time who regularly made offerings to the Bhikkhus. One day, she knew that an ailing Bhikkhu wished to eat meat soup. Unfortunately, it was a lent day and there was no meat to buy in the market. The lady decided to cut the flesh off her thigh and let the servant make soup to be offered to the sick monk. The Buddha came to the noble lady’s household on the next day and didn’t see the lady. He knew that the lady had been in bed with a high fever due to the wound. The Buddha performed a miracle and the lady’s wound was healed. When the Buddha came back
Bhikkhu means Buddhist monk. This is the term that the Buddha used to address his disciples.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 47
to the monastery, he visited the sick monk and asked him whether he had contemplated the four elements before he ate the soup. The monk answered that he hadn’t done it. The Buddha condemned the monk’s wrongdoing and told him to contemplate the four elements every time he ate food. This factual story might indicate that the monks during the Buddha’s time were not vegetarians. This fact might be confirmed by yet another truthful event. Devadhat, the Buddha’s cousin and disciple, once had conflict with the monks and left the order to establish his own school of teaching. One of the disciplines in his new establishment was calling for his followers to be vegetarian so that he could distinguish his new practice from the traditional doctrine led by the Buddha.3
This moral precept means that you don’t take what does not belong to you. The principle is the same as with the first precept. Just follow your instincts and avoid anything that you know for certain is wrong.
Devadhatt was the equivalent to Judas in Christianity. He was jealous of the Buddha and made a few attempts to kill the worthy one but to no avail.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
The world has become very complex. Stealing on a wider scale through economic manipulation and the banking system is indeed happening. You can easily be part of this immoral system without your knowing. Don’t worry about that because you need to earn a living to feed yourself and probably your family too. If you can choose a job (career) that you know is totally stealing proved, it’s great! If not, it doesn’t matter. We cannot do much about it because it means we have to change the whole concept of how to run the world economy. This might have to wait until you became the president of the United States of America! By then, should your mind not be corrupted by the invincible power of a state man, you could then create a moral friendly world for us all. And may God bless you all the way, protecting you from assassination! As for now, let’s be realistic and stick to our controlled action of not stealing…eh? You may want to ask about ‘moral’ stealing, like Robin Hood did while he was living in Sherwood of Nottingham. I am not sure if we have many people liken Robin Hood these days. However, if you are engaging in any form of moral stealing, you should follow the rules in Thai wisdom: 1) Never rob from a poor family. 2) Never hurt or kill the people from whom you rob. 3) Take only what you really need.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 49
I honestly cannot imagine any robbers these days who would follow such noble guidelines, but I am quite sure that it did happen in Thai society when the enlightening culture was flourishing. Both robber and the host had respect for each other. The following story also depicts the generosity and the spirit of giving of the Thai ancestors.
Take the meat with you!
It is a well known fact that old people sleep less. Being in a warm country, old Thai people often got up before the crack of dawn and sat quietly in a dark corner of the house, chewing their betel nuts away. This also happened to an old lady in this particular household. She had been up for some time and sat in her usual corner by her betel basket preparing her betel leaves and nuts. This early morning hour, before the first light had been cast over the world, was the best time for a thief to do his job. A thief quietly went up the few steps by the kitchen and stole something. The old lady could hear the sounds but she didn’t say or do anything to scare the thief away until she was quite sure that the thief had finished his business and was about to go down the steps. She called out towards the kitchen which was only a few metres away from where she sat. The old lady spoke gently in her usual kind voice as if the intruder was one of her family’s members:
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
“ There is a piece of meat on the shelf. I cooked it yesterday. Take it with you as well!” The thief accepted the offer and disappeared into the darkness.
Pao Boon Jin
This following Chinese story happened during the time when China was rich with ethical and moral teaching influenced by Confucius. It also involved stealing which needed a very wise judge to trial the case. There was a father who had two sons. The eldest son was well off and the other was poor. Although the father was living with the elder son, he was not very happy because the son was very careful and tight with his money. The father had a very small allowance from his wealthy son each month, and the poor brother received nothing. The father had to limit his own spending so that he could give some of his monthly allowance to his other son who had to struggle to get by. Out of self-respect, the father would not ask for more money no matter how short he was at times. There was a time when the younger son urgently needed more money. He came to his father as usual and told
Supawan P. Panawong Green 51
him about the problem, to which the father replied, “I am sorry son, I really cannot help you this time because I have given you all my monthly allowance and I have nothing left with me at the moment.” The son begged, “But father, you must talk to big brother for me. If you talk to him, I am sure, he would help me out.” The father found that it was too humiliating for him to ask his own son for money and didn’t know what to do. In helping his young son, the father decided that he would steal from his elder son instead. He knew that his son kept his money in a drawer by his bed. The father waited until the middle of the night when his son was fast asleep. He crept into the dark bedroom, pulled out the drawer and searched for money. The son was woken up by the noise and thinking that it was a burglar, he grabbed hold of a baton underneath his bed and hit the intruder as hard as he could. He heard the scream of pain and the sound of a person fall to the floor. He quickly lit a candle, and found to his horror that the man who lay dead on the floor was his own father! This case was brought to a local judge who passed a verdict of ‘not guilty’ on the son. The simple reason was that the son did not deliberately kill the father; he thought it was an intruder and he had the right to defend himself. However,
52 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
the public’s views were split and most of them were not happy with the verdict but could not find enough reason to support their views. In the end, the honourable Poa Boon Jin (sometime called Poa Gong) was called in to reopen the case. He was very famous for his wisdom and his use of moral judgement. The son was once again brought into the court room and this time in front of the wisest judge in China. After he had studied the case, Poa Gong condemned the local judge for lacking insight and being unable to solve this case wisely. To Poa Gong, the nature of the case was clear enough to deserve the guilty verdict. He said the two famous lines which subsequently had a great impact on people. They were: “Father steals because of bad son. Having good son, father has no need to steal” Poa Gong looked angrily at the prisoner with his head bowed down in front of him and said: “Had you practised your filial piety and not been too stingy with your own father, he would have been happy to live with you and felt free to talk and discuss anything with you. Your father was forced to steal from you because you didn’t practice your filial duty. You deserve to be punished.” Everyone in court cheered and was happy with the explanation and the guilty verdict.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 53
Love, sex and relationships
Don’t commit adultery
In a world where people are facing moral chaos, committing adultery has gradually become a common event. This is a very big issue to talk about. I can only share with you the major points that are relevant to your need. I certainly do not expect everyone to agree with me but I hope that you might since you have agreed to walk the path to find your true self.
Don’t do it again
It may be that you are married and you have committed adultery before. Let’s say your marriage hasn’t been too bad and your adultery was a genuine mistake. You might have been found out by your partner or you might not. I am sure that you experienced lots of guilt and shame as well as trouble. If you have been forgiven but your guilt and shame still bother you, my advice is that you must try to forgive yourself. You cannot turn the clock back – what done is done.
Learn from your mistake, make it up to your partner and don’t do it again. You won’t be qualified to walk this path and you will not find your real self if you keep on making the same mistake over and over again. It doesn’t matter how many times you have cheated on your partner, once you pick up this book and you want to carry on with this mental journey, you must stop right away. You have to be strong and get your moral act straight right now.
Do the right thing and be very patient
If you are very unhappy with your marriage for whatever reasons, sort your problems out in a righteous manner as best as you can. Divorce if you must so that you can keep your sanity intact. If you have no choice and are cornered to bear the suffering because there might be children involved, you are doing the right thing because you put your children first. Please be very patient, my work is designed to help you. At this point, it is important for you to be extremely patient. If you are, however, experiencing a great deal of mental pain because of your rocky relationship, I advise you to engage in vipassana meditation sooner than later.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Being single and hoping to have a stable relationship
If you are single and quite young, mid teens to twenty something, you probably have found out about the whole new experience of sex and relationships. For some reason, you have also been drawn to this book and you want to give it a go. How are you going to handle sex and relationships from this point onward? I am going to give you a little bit of sex education which is rather different from what you have learnt. No, it isn’t about birds and bees. This sex education, however, is on the basis of understanding the intention of Mother Nature. I am a mother of three teenage sons and also see the ultimate truth. This probably earns me the right to talk on behalf of Mother Nature.
The strategy for procreation
Every existing natural phenomenon has its own reason. Instinct is placed in humans and animals for a reason too. Instinct is the term that scientists use when they cannot explain phenomena logically and rationally. To Mother Nature, instinct is an integral tool she uses so that certain jobs can be done for her. As far as instinct is concerned, both humans and animals follow it naturally without having to learn much.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 57
Sexual instinct is the most powerful feeling that Mother Nature bestows on humans and animals for one sole reason – procreation. Mother Nature gradually prepares boys and girls by giving them the hormones so that their bodies will be ready to reproduce. Puberty is the stage when the physical body begins to get ready for the sexual act. The instinctive powerful sexual attraction resulting from hormones (chemistry) at the right age is also Mother Nature’s strategy in trying to bring a man and a woman intimately together so that they will be ready to do the reproductive work for her.
Sexual intercourse is a painful act that no one wants to do without a reward. So Mother Nature gives us an incentive, which is substantial enough to make two people perform sexual act. Without the bribery such as the intimate bodily pleasure and orgasm, humanity would be extinct in no time at all. Apparently orgasm is supposed to be the best physical feeling that a human body can ever achieve. Nevertheless, the whole of the sexual act, which happens instinctively, exists for one sole reason and that is to add another human being to the world. Without the tools of hormones and orgasm, sexual acts would not happen. Humans and animals are equal as far as sexual activity is concerned. We
58 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
basically do the same thing to serve Mother Nature’s purpose. This is the way I see sex from Mother Nature’s point of view. Anyway, these are all about the chemistry and the mechanical sides. You may wonder where would love fit into all these?
The ingredients of Love
It isn’t easy to understand love. There is no straightforward feeling or act that can be called love. However, we can express our love towards someone by being kind, caring, understanding, thoughtful, gentle, helpful, considerate, patient and so on. Once these moral ingredients are thrown in together, the outcome is a big pot of love. Only human are capable of expressing such beautiful emotion such as love. All those ingredients are moral emotions which are also gifts from Mother Nature and they distinguish human from animals. Without love, people would act according to their sexual instincts, which is no different from that of animals. So the factors that cause two people clicked and intimately bond together are chemistry and love. If you have both combinations, you will be a very lucky person. You are able to experience the most special and enjoyable physical and mental feelings humans can achieve. Without love, the sexual act is merely instinctive. There are four functions in which humans and animals are equal; they are eating, getting rid of the excess, sleeping and having sex.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 59
What makes human head and shoulder above animal is our moral emotion, obligation commitment and responsibility. These beautiful qualities can be well cultivated in humans; animals cannot do as well as us. Should a couple want to have a long lasting relationship, they have to cultivate love and not just having sex. But when you are young and sexually active, it is very difficult to separate love from sex. This is the part where you need not only experience in life but wisdom too.
Sex without love
We all know that a relationship based on sex and without love does not last. This type of relationship can be easily spotted. When one partner doesn’t have enough sex, there are a lot of sulking, discontentment, agitation, frustration, emotional blackmailing, etc. going on in the relationship. Things can turn very nasty if one partner has no love towards the other. This type of relationship usually incurs domestic violence when wives are often raped by their own husbands and cornered to scream in silence.
When the so called ‘midlife crisis’ finally arrives, it is the challenging time for you to prove to yourself how much you understand and value love. When sexual performance is on
60 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
the decrease, without wisdom, most men and probably some women too would think they are less attractive and begin to lose their confidence. You might think that Viagara is a godsend and the best thing that technology could bring to men. The wisdom says this magic pill is nothing more than the compensation of the missing reward or sweets that Mother Nature grants us for doing the big job for her. Entering middle age doesn’t necessary have to be a ‘crisis’. In the contrary, the experience of those past years should give middle-agers enough wisdom to understand life better than fresh young people. This life experience should allow them to step over this significant threshold with dignity and confidence, and not the other way round. If you value love more than sex, you will stick with your marriage vow until death us do part. Unfortunately, judging from the shocking divorce statistic which has shaken the backbone of our family institution, it can only point to one thing – people haven’t understood love well enough.
Craving for sweets
Without the real wisdom regarding the intention of Mother Nature, human takes the reward for granted and become greedy. The way grown men and women craving for their sexual rewards is no difference from the way young
Supawan P. Panawong Green 61
children cry for their sweets. Every time kids see a chocolates bar or a bag of sweets, they would excitedly jump up and down with eyes wide open. So would adults with sex. This is the main reason why the majority of serious crimes happening in society right now are sex related. Finally, they are led to one thing – craving for sexual sweets.
The degrading human
The abuse, the corruption and the exploitation of this bag of sexual rewards has degraded humans below the animal level. The powerful sexual instinct and the will to procreate make men and animal equal. But if we look closer, animals have sex only during the mating season so that they can produce their offspring for Mother Nature – the assignment. When the time comes, some animals like salmons, crabs and penguins would make the most spectacular journey of a life time to their breeding ground so that they can lay eggs and complete their life duty. Then, animals would go off sex until the mating season comes round again, some don’t live till the next round! They don’t have excessive sex like human do – especially sex on demand. Animals don’t exploit Mother Nature of her rewards either. The contraception and viagara are ways of eating the sweets without wanting to take the responsibility. Still, these two items can be compromised for the sake of some (worldly)
62 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
happiness that presumably we are entitled for. But how can we place ourselves head and shoulder above animals when we have all these sex-related problems such as rape, paedophile, prostitution and human trafficking? Animals cannot turn sex into a multi billion pound industry and reduce human to sex slaves, can they? Human trafficking is one of the most brutal international organised crimes that inflict immense suffering on their own kind. All these sex-related problems have made human far worse than animals and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
What makes human excel above animals
You can see that this third moral precept – not committing adultery all the way to sex related problems – is not easy to practice at all if you don’t understand the intention of Mother Nature. The only way man can excel above animals is our artistic skill in cultivating and expressing love as well as taking responsibility of our own actions. If man can exploit the gift of moral emotions like we do with sexual sweets, our global society won’t be in this mess. This is also to guarantee that when Mother Nature wants to take her bag of sweets away, we can easily let go and move on to something that is far greater than sex – love. Without this wisdom, we are wasting our time and resources in trying to solve the sex-related crimes, which are the tail of the problems.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 63
When you are young and lack experience in life, it is very difficult to separate sex and love. Love can only be understood through age, maturity and life experience. When two people spend 30 years or so of their life together, raise children and go through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, love grows in between those times like a tree spreading its branches, leaves, flowers and fruits. As long as both persons nurture this love tree with plenty of moral emotions and responsibility – kindness, care, understanding, forgiving, patience, etc. – it will certainly grow stronger just like any tree that is well looked after. This is an experience that you can only learn through the process of life, and unfortunately there is no short-cut to it. There is no definite formula of how to make the love tree grow either. Everyone is an individual; you just have to learn and pick up your own ingredients to make this love recipe work for you. Though I am certain of one necessary ingredient to make love grows – patience and plenty of it! When you reach the state and age where sex is less or not at all involved, and when you look at your partner’s wrinkled face, you can still see the beauty through those age-lines and you can naturally express your moral emotions without realising it, this is when you can truly claim that you know love. And you are a very lucky person indeed because by doing all those
64 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
difficult tasks to keep your marriage and family survive, you will have better chance to know your true self and earn your long lasting peace.
Responsibility and commitment
We cannot talk about love, sex and relationships without talking about responsibility and commitment. Mother Nature brings two persons together for one sole reason and that is to add another human being into this world. Once again, mother nature uses her crucial tools – hormones and instinct – to make sure that a young new life will be looked after, taken care of and survive. The whole of the pregnancy, child birth and the bonding between mother and child is pure magical work of Mother Nature that needs no scientific explanation. Everything has been carefully and perfectly worked out so that a human can be born, grow up and live to fulfil its own life cycle.
The amazing network of pregnancy
When a woman is pregnant, the body is amazingly prepared to hold a baby until it is ready to be delivered. Despite its most complex network, the whole system runs smoothly and amazingly. Only women can experience the most powerful maternal instinct towards the baby to whom she gave birth.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 65
All nursing mothers have the experience of their breast milk rushing to their breasts every time their babies cry for feeds. I had a taste of such a beautiful and special experience, so much that I had to tell myself I was so lucky to be a mother! Without such beautiful moral emotions, all mothers would just have one child and no more or none at all and the human race would be extinct!
My Eureka experience gives me the licence to go a bit deeper into the heart of Mother Nature and allow me to understand why such beautiful feelings are given to a mother. Once again, this is the bribery – yet another bag of sweeties – that the almighty bestows on mothers but this time we call ‘mother instinct’. This series of wonderful moral emotions (gift) is to guarantee that a woman would look after her new born so that this baby can survive and live into his/her adulthood and another cycle of life will begin. Without this healthy instinct (bag of reward), who is going to burden this huge responsibility of looking after an infant who does nothing but cry, sleep, eat and dirty itself ? Looking after babies and children is extremely hard work. This is a well known fact that all mothers know. Therefore, Mother Nature grants this amazing moral obligation such as the powerful maternal instinct so that mother and child can emotionally cement
66 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
together. This is the most unique bonding relationship between two humans that no other relationship can ever match.
As a matter of fact, human and animals have equal share of this bag of sweets. Animals have the duty to look after their brood just like human have. But with our physical advantage (bigger brains), we have better opportunity and skill to harness and elaborate this divined gift. It is an extraordinary privilege for a mother to be able to devote her consistent care and affection to her infant. Without this unconditional parental love, humanity and the entire animal kingdom will never survive.4
A natural family is cemented by the biological bonds and natural affections between parents and their offspring.
All mothers instinctively have a close bond with their babies. Societies that have more mothers abandon their babies show the sickness of that society. This event is on the increase in our society. In the end, we have to come back to blame the cause that makes mothers break away from that fundamental powerful instinct; they mainly stem from political, financial and social reasons. Female infanticide in China is purely politics. It means that something has gone very wrong in that society. In the end, we have to talk about the right kind of culture (enlightening culture) which can help to maintain the balance of nature.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 67
Having both parents to bring up a child is a natural function of which people nowadays have begun to lose track. Nature creates both male and female with distinctive purposes. Apart from procreation, male and female are supposed to play different roles in bringing up a child. One is a provider and one is a homestead. A healthy family unit means both male and female play their parts right. A man needs a woman and a woman also needs a man. A well balanced child needs to have the input from both father and mother. The family itself reflects the needs of all the parties especially of a child who requires many years of care and attention. It doesn’t matter whether the couple is married or not. As long as they are living together as a family unit, love, take responsibility and commit to one another through thick and through thin, those are the real matters. Love is moral in itself even without a piece of legal paper. A traditional family is the natural lay out engineered by Mother Nature with which humanity should not tamper. Social change has caused a great number of children these days to grow up in a single parent family. All single parents realise how difficult it is to bring up a child on their own. Research has shown that children from a single parent family tend to have more psychological problems than those from two parent families. This result tries to tell us that it is
68 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
unnatural for a child to grow up in a single parent family. Women have proved themselves that they can do what men can in a lot of aspects. It is indeed a great liberation for women. Nevertheless, this freedom doesn’t come without a price.
I know that I would be crucified for saying that a woman’s job is at home. I don’t totally adhere to that point, but I am still very much in favour of mothers spending more time with their children because this is nature’s will. I cannot stop the world from spinning, nor could I stop social change. I even know that working class families need to have two incomes to make a family survive even in rich countries, not to mention the poor countries where all mothers have to work extremely hard to support their families. Nevertheless, I need to emphasise that a traditional family is the intention of Mother Nature.
Ladder to peace and harmony
Family institution is the backbone of every society since…God knows when. Why? Because this is the key factor for a well-balanced and peaceful society and a nation. A child’s heart is liken a clean new canvas, on which parents could paint whatever pictures. As children grow into their adulthood, not only their shoes sizes grow with them, but also their moral
Supawan P. Panawong Green 69
behaviour. The emotional and psychological qualities, good or bad, are the outcome that parents have painted on their children’s heart. Ultimately it is mothers’ hands and hearts that shape and mould the nation in the rear. For every good man, there is a better woman behind. It then comes down to governments to make life easier for couples so that they can raise a successful family without much financial struggle to begin with. If every child could be brought up in a warm and stable family, the final outcome will certainly affect all of us because we will be part of a stable and harmonious society too. I don’t go as far as achieving a crime-proof society but less havoc way of life will do – which already seems like a far-fetch concept. Let’s not forget our prime purpose of life which is to find eternal peace. This aim can be achieved easier should we have a chance to live in a more stable and peaceful society. And how we can build such an ideal culture, it must begin at this backbone institution first – family. That’s why we need to back and tie this idealism into the enlightening culture. When religious and political leaders have wisdom as described above, and respect the workings of nature, they can at least make this mental journey to ultimate freedom possible by creating the right kind of culture.5
The enlightening culture has been elaborated in my book called A Handful of Leaves
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Tampering with nature
As far as a natural family unit is concerned, it is alarming to see humanity tamper with nature even further. The advanced technology which can engineer the procreation of humans causes new social phenomena which could have never happened in the past. We have entered into the new era of making designer babies. Let’s see what this columnist described our horrifying futuristic society.
“We are clearly moving to a situation in which children are created to some ideal specification and only loosely connected to those from whom they receive their genes. That is, if the genes are not themselves produced in the laboratory. We are told that, within the next 20 or 30 years, it will be commonplace for women to store their eggs before the age of 30, for them to choose sperm from donors who fit their ideal specifications, for them to actually produce their children – or have them produced by someone else – when they are in their 60s, or later. There will be clones and vats full of eggs and embryos, waiting on the convenience of selfish adults, to be used or thrown away at will.”6
Artificial insemination has allowed a single woman to have a child without having to live with her male counterpart;
By Anthony O’Hear, Daily Mail, page 10 Monday, May 8, 2000
Supawan P. Panawong Green 71
lesbian couples can also have children in the same way. Gay couples have begun to have children through surrogacy. Pregnancy has been delayed for women to pursue their career. The IVF program makes it possible even for women at post menopause to have children. But please don’t think that we can have it all without paying a price. It has been reported that babies conceived using fertility treatments – induced ovulation, artificial insemination and in-vitro (test-tube) fertilisation – are more likely to have birth defect. All these social events are unnatural and defy nature. This has plunged our already complicated society into deeper impediment, which is totally unnecessary. There was a story about the dilemma of the surrogate twins who were born without identifiable biological or legal parents. Six-months-old Emma and Danielle were conceived in a Greek laboratory from sperm donated by an anonymous American at a Danish laboratory and the eggs of an unknown British woman. They were implanted into the womb of a British surrogate mother who had made an arrangement with an Italian man and his Portuguese wife. When the couple found out that the twins were girls, they didn’t want them and told the surrogate mother to abort the twins. Instead the surrogate mother went through an agency in America who provided her a lesbian couple who wanted to adopt the twins. As the story went, now the surrogate mother
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
and the lesbian couple have fallen out over the 25,000 medical bill. The babies are looked after by a nanny.7 We are treading on very dangerous ground when we foolishly think that we can overcome nature. No matter what good reasons are brought up, the bottom line is that we are seriously tampering with nature. It is Mother Nature who has the last say and certainly not us humans. Maybe the HIV virus, AIDS the return of bacteria that resists any antibiotics and all kinds of weird diseases can tell us something. This is, however, a time bomb that we might not live to witness the pending disaster.
Buddhist monks especially those who are ordained at a young age may defy the powerful sexual instinct and bypass sexual experiences, but only a handful of them truly survive – the determined ones who honestly commit to their ultimate enlightenment. Provided that monks stick with their strict regime of practice, which involve heavily on meditation, they will experience the more refined inner peace. This, in return, can smooth over their powerful sexual desire and compensate their sexual needs.
Daily Mail. Monday, May 8, 2000
Supawan P. Panawong Green 73
Although monastic life is a short cut to eternity, it is certainly not for everyone. This book is therefore designed for you who want to lead a normal life as well as wanting to find eternal peace. Although it is much more difficult to do so, it is not at all impossible if only you try a bit harder.
The journey to discover your true self requires high level of self-respect. So never do anything that might make you lose your self-respect, especially if you are a woman. Follow your instincts of shame and guilt. Life isn’t worth much if you lose your self-respect! More importantly, you will never succeed in finding your real self should you lose your self-respect. Resisting temptation is the most difficult part of this mental journey, that’s why this book can take you only half way to your place of destination. To reclaim your true self, you must, later on, pay attention to cultivating your meditation skill – bringing your mental self back home.
Choosing the right partner who has the same level of understanding as you is the most important factor to make a marriage work. Never rush into a relationship until you are sure about it. According to the Buddha, the significant factor
74 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
that can bond a couple together is the moral compatibility of the two people. If one partner has much higher moral ground than the other or vice versa, it is very unlikely that the relationship will survive. Therefore, it is very important to choose someone who is morally compatible. By sticking to your own set of moral, it is very likely that you will attract the type of person who has similar quality to yours.
The karmic factor
If you are single, hate to be alone and desperately want to find Mr. or Miss Right to be your intimate partner, I do understand your feelings. Apart from the physical attraction and the chemistry that make two people clicked, there is, in fact, a third factor – karma! The karmic factor will engineer two people to find each other somehow – and sometime in the most unexpected and amazing situation. The factor might correspond to this famous saying: “you don’t find love but love finds you.” But please don’t get too carried away just yet. It isn’t a black and white matter. As far as karma is concerned, it can be both your previous good and bad karma that cause you to stumble upon a total stranger and end up spend a lifetime together. If it was your good karma, it is very likely that the relationship would be less troublesome, which is a more truthful approach. I don’t
Supawan P. Panawong Green 75
want to give you a false concept such as that if your previous karma was good, everything would be all rosy. That is not the reality because life is liken to a big roller coaster – the ups and downs are part of true living. In the contrary, if it was the bad karma that brought two people together, it could be paying debt time – can be quite scary! It depends on who owed who in the past. I am sure you have seen enough examples from people surrounding you as well as in the daily papers. Sometime it is very difficult for the third party to understand why certain people don’t just walk away from their brutal relationship, why take the punishment and bear the immense pain. Well, this is karma for you. Having heard that, please don’t be panic. Bad karmic consequences can be diluted and made less serious provided that you understand how karma works. It very much depends on the present karma, which are totally within your control. It is very important you understand the law of karma so that you know what to expect as well as having a chance to plan your future a bit better. I will talk about karma in my later chapters.
Nothing is perfect
No matter what kind of life you lead, married or single, with or without a family, remember that no one can possibly
76 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
have everything perfect in life. Everyone has problems compatible to their age, gender and status. Remember that life is nothing more than a continuous roller coaster. At least you can get off one at a theme park but not in real life, not until you die. For your information, death will not end all your problems either, not yet! Without knowing the true purpose of life, we won’t be able to straighten all these important issues of life. The truth about life is that even though you don’t look for trouble, trouble will look for you one way or another and thrust on you without invitation. So there is no need to compare, compete or get jealous of anyone. Trust me, everyone on this planet – rich or poor, high or low – has equal share of problems all the same. Should you know the ultimate purpose of life and succeed to find your true self by walking this noble path, you will be able to overcome challenges and obstacles that life throw at you.
The quicker you know, the better
When you can understand all I said above, you’ll have a better chance to grow your love tree so that you can cherish the beautiful relationship with your loved ones. The sooner you know, the better. Don’t forget the crucial ingredient, which makes a relationship work – patience and plenty of them!
Supawan P. Panawong Green 77
Before I tell you a love-related story, please bear with this brief overture. Love doesn’t only burn but also bites terribly too. There is hardly anyone who can escape from the pain resulting from love, sex and relationships. The following story tells us how love and infatuation could bite and burn a young monk and how the Buddha taught his disciples to overcome such powerful instinctive feelings. Western people may find this story rather offensive and even class it as a taboo. Please do understand that this event happened in India over 2,500 years ago and the Buddha merely stated the painful truth of life. I urge you not to use our modern standard to judge people of a different time and culture. Instead, please try to capture the significant concept that this story intend to deliver.
During the Buddha’s time in the city of Rajagaha (or Rajgir in modern India) ruled by King Bimbisara, there was a very famous prostitute named Sirima. Every man not only in this city but even far away had heard of her irresistible charm and most striking beauty. It was a well-known fact that men in Rajagaha would pay up to 10008 so that they could spend
The money currency used in the Buddha’s time was called gahapana but I use pounds sterling here just for the sake of easy writing and understanding.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
a night with Sirima. It was hardly a surprise that Sirima had made a great fortune out of her profession since there were plenty of men queuing up just to have a glimpse of her. Once, Sirima was approached by a woman named Utara who gave her 7000 so that she could entertain her husband for her for seven days. Utara was a devout Buddhist and wanted to make a great offering to the Buddha and the Sangha (monk order), but her husband was not a Buddhist. To be able to get on with her alms offering, her father sent 7000 to his daughter and advised her to hire Sirima to entertain her husband so that she could be relieved for seven days. This arrangement worked out very well. The husband was overwhelmed by Sirima’s magnetic beauty and charm. He completely forgot his wife and let her get on with the alms offering without bothering her. On the seventh day, the husband looked out of the window and saw his wife busy in the kitchen. She was covered with sweat and soot from cooking over the huge charcoal stove. From the distance, the husband actually looked at his wife with disdain and smiled with contempt. However, Sirima did not know the true intention of that smile. Although she was hired to do a job, she couldn’t help feeling possessive towards the man whom she was paid for to be with. Then, her jealousy had the better of her. She was curious to know at
Supawan P. Panawong Green 79
whom her client was smiling. She looked out of the window in the same direction as the man did and she saw Utara. Acting out of fierce resentment, Sirima left her client behind in the room and rushed downstairs heading towards the direction of the kitchen and had every intention to hurt Utara by any means. Her renowned beauty was suddenly overshadowed by her ugly rage. Utara was, by contrast, a noble, intelligent and kind lady. She could tell right away what was on the prostitute’s mind when Sirima suddenly stormed into the kitchen and went straight towards the hot oil pan. Utara quickly prayed to the Buddha and asked for her good karma to protect her from any pending danger. In front of all the horrified faces of the servants, Sirima attempted to throw a spoon of hot oil on Utara’s face. Although the danger was imminent, Utara appeared to be calm and remained in control of herself. She was praying to the Buddha for his protection all the while the horrifying incident was happening. Her prayers were answered when Sirima’s first vicious attempt failed. The hot oil although splashed onto Utara’s face, it didn’t burn her for some reason. Sirima tried again for the second time but this time she missed and so did the third time. The whole kitchen was overpowered by terrified screams of household workers, except Utara who managed to keep her calm. The servant didn’t know how
80 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
to stop the frightening heated situation that unexpectedly pounced on them. After the third failed attempt, Sirima suddenly retreated all by herself. She felt as if she was just woken up from a very bad dream and abruptly came to her senses. She then realised how wrong she was and felt terribly guilty in letting anger had the better of her. She fell down onto her knees, head bent with both hands clutched hard together and her whole body trembled with fright. Utara not only had no hatred towards her supposed to be enemy, she also expressed her worry and kindness for Sirima. She slowly moved towards the guilt-stricken prostitute and kneeled down beside her. The noble lady gently put her hand on Sirima’s shoulder and gave her a soft squeeze in a consoling manner. As she was gently stroking Sirima’s dark and shiny hair, Utara said in a very calm tone of voice: “Sister, why did you choose to do such awful karma?” Having heard the serene voice, Sirima slowly raised her head up and looked at the land-lady whom she had intended to hurt moments ago. Sirima was taken aback by the most unusual kindness she was receiving. Had Utara shouted at her and showed her anger, she would have felt better. The unique compassion of the noble lady made Sirima feeling even more guilty. She cried uncontrollably and her voice trembled as she tried to say:
Supawan P. Panawong Green 81
“Mistress, why aren’t you angry at me? You are supposed to be jealous of me and not the other way round. I attempted to do the most wicked karma to you but how can you not hate me and be angry with me? How can you be so calm and kind to me?” “It is the sublime Buddha who taught me how to remain calm and at peace. It is him who taught me how to overcome anger and jealousy. Now, you can understand why I hired you to look after my husband for seven days so that I could have the time to do the great offering to the Worthy one and his Bhikkhus,”9 Utara explained. Sirima listened attentively to Utara. Her heart was filled up with great delight on hearing the word “Buddha” and how he could transform people’s lives. She begged Utara to take her to see the Buddha. Upon the first meeting with the Buddha and listening to his teaching, Sirima attained the first level of holiness. Sirima became a faithful Buddhist and gave daily offerings to eight monks at her home. But monks who were not yet holy, looked forward to visiting Sirima and her enchanting beauty.” One day a monk who had heard of Sirima’s beauty finally had the chance to collect alms food from her. Sirima was ill
Bikkhus means monks
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
on that day, but she was still so beautiful and the monk could not help taking glimpses at her. He was filled with lust and infatuation the whole day, and would not even eat the food she gave him as it was his only link to Sirima. On that night, Sirima died suddenly. Since she was one of the main supporters of the Buddha, King Bimbisara informed the Buddha about the news. The Buddha straight away found a way to teach his love bitten disciple as well as many other monks who were drawn to Sirima’s beauty. The Buddha passed on the message to King Bimbisara and told him to shift Sirima’s body to the open grave situated in the south gate of the city. “Set up guards to watch over Sirima’s body and make sure that no animals can get hold of it. Then, tell the subjects to get everyone in town to gather at the graveyard three days from now,” the Buddha sent the message to King Bimbisara who granted his wish right away. Three days later, a crowd of people began to build up at the graveyard according to the order of the King. Only old people and children were allowed to stay home. The Buddha told all his Bhikkhus to follow him to the graveyard. The love sick monk was so pleased that he was going to see Sirima for one last time. He had not been sleeping nor eating since the day he saw Sirima.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 83
Just like any other corpse in the graveyard, from once being a beautiful lady in town, she had now been reduced to a discoloured and festering corpse. Liquid was dripping out of the different splits of her body. There was no sign of beauty left any longer. While waiting for the Buddha to arrive, the crowd could not help but turn their heads away from the decomposing body. At the graveyard, the Buddha was standing at a prominent place surrounded by his Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, male and female followers. He then asked King Bimbisara who was standing by his side: “Your majesty, who is that corpse?” “That is the body of Sirima, my Lord,” the King answered. “So, that is Sirima,” the Buddha confirmed the King’s answer and nodded his head slowly. He then continued: “Your majesty, please ask one of your servants to speak up loudly in the crowd right now. See if there is any man who is willing to pay 1000 for Sirima.” The King’s servant took the order and shouted into the crowd and asked people whether anyone would be willing to pay 1000 for Sirima. The crowd was unusually quiet. Most of the men’s heads dropped low and avoided looking at the King’s man for fear that they might give out the wrong message. The king’s servant gradually dropped the price down
84 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
from 1000 to 500, 100, 50, 10, 5, 1, 50 pence to one penny but no one spoke up to claim Sirima. King Bimbisara informed the Buddha that no one would have Sirima even though she was given away for free. The Buddha paused a little and said: “Listen carefully Bhikkhus. Look at Sirima. This is the woman who used to be the most desirable object for so many people. Just not long ago, men in Rajagaha would queue up to pay 1000 just to be with her for a day. There have been only three days since she died but no one wants her even for free. This beautiful body has ceased to live and is being conditioned by the law of change. This is the truth of this body. What happens to this body also happens to other bodies. What happens to other bodies also happens to this body. Listen Bhikkhus, look at this rotten body which gives out a horrible smell. It has bones, blood, flesh and skin which had been created so perfectly by karma. This body is very sad indeed because it is subject to the law of change and it is not long lasting. Yet, ignorant people still think of this body with great pleasure, easily develop infatuation and want to cling to it.” No sooner had the Buddha finished his teaching than a great number of Bhikkhus and lay people understood his teaching and gained different levels of enlightenment. The young monk who had been bitten by love and infatuation, also reached the first level of holiness.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 85
Lies & intoxication
Lying is yet another difficult precept to observe. This is because wrong speech comes out so quickly that it is often too late to stop by the time you realise what you have said. Besides, the real world we are living in revolves around lies, either true lies or white lies. Someone said: without lies, humanity would perish of despair and boredom, and the world might stop spinning! A straightforward lie often comes with fear and greed. Fear and greed are the two feelings that lean against each other. If you want something so badly, you might lie to get what you want. Once you have it, you are afraid of losing it. The most common fears are that of losing material wealth and of losing face. These two types of fear cause people to lie through their teeth, which is common in our modern society. Speaking the truth make you feel good and don’t invite worries that will grow into unnecessary trouble. Please
remember that being truthful can cleanse your mind. This will lead you to easily uncover your true self later on. Observing this precept is like taking a thick layer of dirt off your mind first so that you can easily deal with the more subtle dirt when you engage in your vipassana meditation. It is therefore important to do your best to keep up with this precept. At this stage you should really stop all kinds of untruthful words which directly get other people into trouble. These are straightforward lies and cheating that you should not find difficult to stop if you want to walk the path. Apart from that, you have to use your own judgement and listen to your instincts of guilt and shame again. If there is anything that you need to say while you hear the echo in your head that tells you not to say it, you must resist your temptation. Think well before you say it. Silence is always a good solution.
Telling the truth is not always easy. It very much depends on to whom you talk and what his or her personality is like. Some people can take constructive criticism, but some can’t. Facing the negative truth about ourselves is always painful. You need a great deal of courage to handle it. If you are the one who has to tell the truth and your truthful words will definitely hurt people, especially your loved ones, these are a few tips.
88 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
1) Check your intention. Make sure you want to point out the truth to someone because you mean well to that person and not for other reason. Don’t do it to boost your own ego. 2) Be tactful and choose the right time. Never humiliate and belittle people especially in front of others. Work out all the pros and cons especially if you know the person is mentally fragile. You must also be able to handle the situation if the person you confront could not handle the truth and/or react badly. If the other party do not want your help, you might need to back off, let go for now and know that it is their loss. At least, you have done your best. Apologise if you must and end the matter in a friendly term. There is no definite formula of how to do it; you just have to use your own judgement to work it out. Make sure you have all the facts right first. 3) If you are the one who has to face the truth yourself, listen carefully and face it with great courage. If it isn’t true because the fact isn’t right, do not get angry; explain in a calm manner and end the matter in a peaceful way. Don’t make the other party feel guilty and awkward. Smile and remain friendly. If the criticism is true, be thankful and have gratitude towards that person who has good intentions towards you. Regard that person as someone who points out a hidden
Supawan P. Panawong Green 89
treasure for you. If you don’t know your faults, how can you possibly improve yourself ?
White lies & talking nonsense
Although white lies are often harmless to people, I still think that it is better if you can avoid them. Not to say anything can be an alternative to white lies. White lies which help to bail people out from embarrassment, awkwardness or to boost their confidence are quite acceptable as long as they are not over the top. However, trying to suck up to people by saying untruthful things just to boost their egos in an attempt to gain something is unacceptable. To enhance someone’s confidence is noble but to encourage someone’s ego to flare up is damaging to both parties. Having a big ego is not healthy as far as walking this path is concerned. You must care for other people too and do your best in trying to keep their egos down. One day that person might want to walk this noble path to find his/her true self like you. This precept doesn’t only mean untruthful speech but includes talking nonsense or rubbish, making disparaging remarks, fault finding, being judgmental, having a sharp tongue, swearing and so on. Talking nonsense and rubbish often comes with excessive talking. If you want to observe this precept effectively, talking a bit less can help enormously. Talking too
90 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
much will allow you to make more mistakes as far as false speech is concerned. Be aware of what you are going to say. If you feel uncomfortable about what you are going to say because it is not totally true, though maybe harmless, it is better not to say it. Don’t make any promises that you cannot keep.
There is however another type of lying that can be justified as moral. Your speech can be totally untruthful but you do it for good reason and not for your own benefit. In the real world, apart from having people lie through their teeth to save their own skin, it is delightful to see that there are also people who say virtuous lies to save someone from embarrassment or to protect someone from getting into trouble. This kind of lie can be morally justified as long as the result of that lie causes no trouble to anyone else.
This story was told by the late teacher Tang Mor Seing. It happened in ancient China. Once there was a young man who was serving his apprenticeship far away from home. Young men would learn their trades and skills by living with the person who took
Supawan P. Panawong Green 91
them on and there was no payment in return. Ar Peng had been doing his printing apprenticeship for two years. Three days away from the Chinese New Year, his kind owner said to him: “Well, Ar Peng, you have been working with me for two years now and you haven’t yet gone home. You told me that your mother has arranged a girl for you to be married. Why don’t you go home and spend the New Year with your family and perhaps you can get married too.” Ar Peng answered: “It is very kind of you sir to let me go home but I think that I will wait another two years. Once I finish the apprenticeship with you, I can work for you for a year to earn some money and then I will go so that I can have enough money to give to my parents as well as spend it on my wedding.” “That is not a problem. I will give you 300 yuan as a gift for the New Year. This should cover your journey for you to spend the New Year with your parents, and probably it is enough for you to get married too,” the kind man suggested and handed Ar Peng a red envelop containing 300 yuan. Ar Peng was very happy and touched by the kind gesture of his old boss. He expressed his gratitude and set off for
92 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
a long journey on the next morning. It was a two day journey and he had to check in at a local inn and spend a night there. That evening, after he had his meal, he had a chat with an old men sitting by the inn. As the conversation went on, Ar Peng heard the noise like someone crying. He was a bit unsure at first and asked the old man if he heard it. “Oh yes, you heard it all right. Shame...it is such a sad story.” The old man shook his head; his face was filled with sadness and he continued with his story. “The crying sound comes from that house. A motherin-law and a young daughter-in-law with her four-year-old son are crying because they will be separated tomorrow. The man left his mother and his wife not long after she had the baby. There was some news at first but suddenly it stopped. They spent all their savings to keep the family alive but the money ran out a few months ago. They had to go to the loan shark in the village to borrow some money hoping that they could pay back when the son would send some money home. They kept on waiting all these months but there is still no news from the family man. Now, tomorrow the loan shark will come to take the daughter-in-law away as a means to pay off their debt. That’s why they are in great distress. In fact, they have been crying for days for fear of the parting.”
Supawan P. Panawong Green 93
Ar Peng attentively listened to the tragic story of this family. He then asked the old man about the son’s name and the reason he went away. “Well, the son was actually a well educated young man and he went away to search for a fortune. So his mother said. It could be the war that stopped him from sending news and money. Who knows?” Ar Peng made an excuse to get away from the old man and disappeared into his room. An hour later, he came out with a letter in his hand and he walked straight to the house where the women were crying. He knocked on the door. The older woman came to open the door with her eyes all puffed up. “Sorry to bother you. You don’t know me but I have a message from Tay Toh Hui. I believe that he is your son. Well, someone has passed on this letter to me with this red envelope when he knew that I was passing this village. The person asked me to deliver this letter to you,” Ar Peng said gently to the old woman. The old woman opened the letter and found that it was written by her son. In the letter, the son said sorry to his mother, his wife and son that he hadn’t been able to get in touch for
94 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
a long time because of the war. He had, however, made a trip to a foreign land and would return home soon. In the meantime, he had made contact with his friend and arranged to send 300 yuan for the family to spend. The old woman shared the good news with her daughterin-law and they were elated with great relief that they would have enough money to pay back the debt and tie them over for some time. They both said thank you to Ar Peng for bringing them the good news and never suspected anything. Indeed, Ar Peng had forged the letter and also gave away his New Year money to the family who desperately needed help. He then realised that he didn’t have the money to go home for the New Year. He decided to go back to his boss and concocted a story that he was robbed of all his money during the journey and he was willing to stay on working for his boss. His boss didn’t suspect anything and told him not to worry about the money. A year later, Ar Peng was offered by his kind boss again to return home. He repeated his journey he did a year ago and once again he checked into the same inn. He was unaware that he was spotted by the old lady with whom Ar Peng had had a brief encounter. Later on that evening, a respectable man in his early thirties approached him and asked him to write a few
Supawan P. Panawong Green 95
words on a piece of paper. After the man had looked at the words on the paper, he asked Ar Peng whether he had come to stay in this inn the year before. Ar Peng said yes. Right away, the respectable man was on his knees and paid respect to Ar Peng who was only in his early twenties. Everyone was surprised by the event. The respectable man was Tay Toh Hui who then told the people in the inn that this man had saved his family from separation the year before. It was time for him to show his gratitude to this young man. He asked Ar Peng home to see his mother, wife and son who also kow towed to him with great respect. The house was more prosperous compared to a year before. That was because three months after Ar Peng had left the letter and money for the ladies, the son came home with a big fortune from foreign land. Ar Peng’s lies had turned out to be a blessing to the family. The family offered Ar Peng a big sum of money to start his own business. Ar Peng refused at first and said that he had to pay back his gratitude to his boss. Without the kindness of his boss, he wouldn’t have had the 300 yuan to give to the old lady in the first place. Then, Ar Peng told his side of the story. Finally, Ar Peng went back to his home town and married the bride chosen for him by his mother. With the generosity of Tay Toh Hui, he then set up his own printing
96 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
business and asked his kind old boss to retire so that he could look after him alongside his own family.
The crucial precept - intoxication
This precept is also another very difficult one to observe in our modern society where drinking alcohol and using drugs are embedded in the culture. You naturally want to know how exactly you can observe this precept if you are keen to have a drink from time to time. I put the stress on drinks because it is the mainstream culture, but in fact, this precept includes taking all kinds of intoxicants. However, using some kinds of alcoholic drink as well as some forms of drugs for medical and health reasons is the exception as far as this precept is concerned.
To understand the significant need in taking this moral precept, we must come back to our final goal of life again. Please look at this picture on the next page.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 97
To uncover your true self, you need to climb both ladders – observing moral and doing vipassana meditation. Both ladders will prepare you to have the very high level of selfconsciousness. The fully enlightened person is also the one who has the full and total self-mindfulness. The vipassana meditation ladder on the right hand side is, therefore, aimed to increase your self-awareness to the maximum level. The more often you practice bringing your mental self back home, the higher level of self-consciousness you will achieve, which means the better chance you have in revealing your true self. For this reason, the moral ladder on the left hand side is to prepare you to have at least the basic level of selfconsciousness. This can be achieved only when you abstain
98 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
from alcohol and especially drugs (including some prescribed drugs) because these substances can decrease the level of your self-awareness from below the accepted normality to entirety. This makes you have less chance to reunite with your true self or no chance at all if you become an addict. Your life then could easily spiral downward, completely out of your control, which is very scary. That’s why you need to resist your temptation and never get yourself into a mess before you realise it.
Soberness is a must
As a matter of fact, this Buddhist moral precept is the most serious one among the five fundamental precepts. Once you lose your basic consciousness, you can easily violate the other four precepts without your knowing. Drunken people, apart from being boring, they also have no shame and guilt. They can do all kinds of shameful, degrading, offensive and even violent acts, which they would not do if they were sober. Once they are clear-headed, they would feel awful towards their shameful behaviour and if they don’t have the inner strength to fight, they would turn to drink or drugs to forget their problems again. The vicious circle begins; such a life is no life - a cast off! That’s why the majority of the crimes in society are alcohol and drugs related. Alcohol and drug abuse also the main reason that wrecks our family institution. Now, can you
Supawan P. Panawong Green 99
understand why the British government allow pubs to open 24 hours a day? In one hand, they try to solve crimes, which mainly resulted from alcohol and drug abuse anyway; on the other hand, the government let pubs open 24 hours a day. It’s just like trying to put the fire out by throwing more petrol into the fire instead. Not to mention the enormous amount of money spent on health care in trying to cure the smoking, alcohol and drug related diseases. Do all these contradictions make any sense to you? This is a global issue that need to be tackled with immense wisdom. Otherwise, we are wasting our time and resources in trying to curb the tail of the problems. Can you understand why I want to help just only you? Anyway, your soberness is a must if you seriously want to find your true self. It is as simple as that.
It can be difficult at time or almost impossible to follow this precept if you have to observe social protocol of which having a social drink is a big part. In this case, you have to answer for yourself. I can’t give you any advice because to me, alcohol doesn’t taste nice at all. I cannot share the drinking pleasure with anyone because I don’t drink. However, I will not make you feel guilty because you need to have a social drink from time to time. You have to know your own limit.
100 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Moderation is important. Always bear in mind the reason I told you above. Although this precept is difficult to follow, I do believe that if you are serious about returning to your normal self, you must have certain qualities inside you already and drinking heavily is not one of them.
Although there are only five basic moral precepts to follow, you can see that they are easier said than done. If they were easy to follow, this world wouldn’t be in this mess otherwise. At this stage, I would like you to do your best. I don’t expect you to be whiter than white. At the same time I don’t want you to make too many excuses either. Follow your instincts of shame and guilt. These ethical feelings are gifts from Mother Nature, which help to prevent you from crossing over the moral thresholds. If you have done anything that makes you feel ashamed and guilty, learn from your mistakes and try not to do it again.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 101
Once you begin to climb the moral ladder, you will soon find out the complication and some really tricky situations that I didn’t talk about. Life in relation with the universe we live in is an enormous issue. There are, in fact, a lot more unsettled questions about moral issues. All these can only be clarified when you gain your own wisdom through vipassana practice. Most importantly, your ultimate goal of life has to be crystal clear first. Otherwise, all these scattering pieces of jigsaw puzzles about life will not be clicked into right places. Once the goal is clear, the means to the end will begin to make a lot of sense to you. Otherwise, you will always have some loose puzzles here and there. Hence, it is best if you can climb both moral and meditation ladders at the same time because they are supporting each other. You cannot do one without the help of the other.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Apart from the five basic moral codes, giving is also yet another factor, which can boost your mental journey to find your true self. When I talked about the enlightening culture in ‘A Handful of Leaves’, I also talked about the spirit of giving among the Thai people. In this chapter I will however put more stress on the aspect of how giving can help you to excel along this path.
Before you can appreciate the goodness of giving, you must know the harm of the opposite quality first – selfishness. Generally speaking, we all used to be selfish in one way or another and to a greater or lesser degree. I would like you to recall the feeling when you were cornered to give something away or, rather, to give up or lose something unwillingly. Can you remember the horrible feeling in your heart and stomach? It was an agonizing feeling, wasn’t it?
People are different. Some people are kind-hearted and their giving is almost a natural thing for them – so easy to do. Whereas some are extremely stingy even to their (supposed to be loving) partners and their own children. We can’t believe how mean some people can be. Let’s not talk about those who pretend to be kind and generous to others because they want something in return. Such people use their wealth to buy their way through life, as long as they have money, of course. I am going to talk about normal situations, which happen to people of all status, no matter you are rich or poor. Let’s say you are a normal level-headed person and even a kind-hearted one. Once in your lifetime, you must have experienced such a feeling when you had to give something away. That thing might have some meaning for you. After you had given it away, you felt regret and wished you could have that object back. But it was too late, so you grieved over it for a little while until you forgot about it. It is a very common human experience, which appears to do no harm to anyone, isn’t it? But this is precisely the point that I want you to look at should you seriously want to unravel your true self. Although such unpleasant feeling does no harm to others, it does bite and sting you quite a bit while it lasts. If you let such foul mood happens too often without correcting it, it will certainly
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
slow down your mental journey to your place of destination. Why?
Mental journey belongs to mental self
The Buddha said that the door entering Nirvana (the Kingdom of God) is indeed very narrow. If you pull a single strand of your hair out and cut it into three parts, even one part of it is far too big to go through the entrance of Nirvana. To reach God’s Kingdom, we must use our ‘mental self ’ to enter and obviously not physical self. So how can we know if our mental self is big or small? And if it is too big, how can we shrink it to a small size so that we can squeeze through this extremely narrow door of Nirvana?
A size zero ego
Unlike mental self, the wide range of bodily size is, at least, visible. Should we become oversized, we can, in any case, see it and do something about it. Mental size is invisible, which make it more difficult to know if it is big or small. But if you could relate your mental self with the word ‘ego’, it will give you a better clue as how large, medium or small your mental size might be. Judging from what the Buddha said, it looks like your mental self need to fit into a size zero before you can enter the God’s Kingdom.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 105
Despite its invisibility, mental sizes can be judged by one’s selfishness and uncharitable character. They are the unfavourable qualities that make up the different sizes of mental self and bar you from showing your kindness, which enables you to give and be generous. Your mental size will expand or shrink according the level of selfishness and self-interest you have within yourself. The more you have, the bigger your ego will become and vice versa. This following story, which is not far from the true picture we have in the world nowadays, can give you some clue as what size your mental self might be.
Pushing camel through needle’s eye
There was a time when Christ was preaching the word of God, when he was approached by a merchant with his caravan of goods. “What must I do if I want to enter the kingdom of God?” the merchant asked. “You must love God more than anything else,” answered Christ. “I have already loved God more than anything else. What must I do next?” the merchant pursued. “If so, you must learn to love your enemy and your neighbours just like you love yourself,” said Christ.
106 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
“I have also done that. Please do tell me what else is left that I can do if I want to go to the Kingdom of God.” the merchant insisted. Christ looked at the merchant in the eyes and said firmly: “If you have done all those things, you must leave behind all your possessions and follow me.” The merchant paused for a little while, he then turned his camel round and walked away without saying a word. Then Christ said: “It is easier to push a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to the Kingdom of God.” The Buddha said exactly the same thing: “It is easier to push an elephant through a needle hole than for a rich person to enter Nirvana.”
Kindness counteracts selfishness
I want to make a clear connection for you that to unravel your true self is the same task as to flatten your mental self to ground level. While selfishness inflates your mental self, giving will shrink it. All these positive elements such as: kindness, compassion, hospitality and generosity can counteract selfishness, stinginess, meanness, greediness, self-interest and so on. The trouble is practising all these constructive elements can be quite painful especially if your mental self is on the bigger size to begin with. Well, this is the bad news!
Supawan P. Panawong Green 107
Giving can be trained
But the good news is that these positive qualities can be trained and cultivated as long as you know exactly why you want and need to do it. Practising giving can be compared to bending a metal spoon, which is very hard to bend at first. If you are a selfish and self-absorbed person, it is difficult to give and cross over that painful threshold to begin with. There are a lot of resistance – hard to bend or difficult to give up. Nevertheless, if you try harder and keep on bending the spoon, the metal will get softer, the resistance will become less and less depending on the effort you put in. The more you learn to give, the more you can chip off your selfish element, the easier you can offer and the better you feel.
Breaking the spoon
Your target in bending this spoon is to break it in half because you have set the goal to enter the God’s Kingdom. The entrance to Nirvana requires a size zero mental self, doesn’t it? That’s why you need to break this spoon. In other words, you need to flatten your mental self down to earth level. Only then will you be able to squeeze through that extremely narrow door of Nirvana, where you will find your true self. By then, you will experience no pain in giving. Your charitable heart will have no limit. You will be able to express your loving
108 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
kindness unconditionally. This is the supreme quality, which your true self can reach.
This following guideline will help you to loosen your selfishness.
1. Break the word ‘selfish’ up; you will see that ‘self ’ is fishy and smelly. Being selfish doesn’t make you smell good! 2. Learn to get rid of rubbish first! If you have never had the habit of giving before and find it very difficult to give even the things that you don’t need, you can begin your giving habit from there. Look into your cupboard, wardrobe, pantry and garage, if there are things that you don’t need and will never use and are still in good condition. Give them to a charity shop or people whom you know and who need them. Never give anything that is too old and too damaged to people. Throw that stuff away! 3. Give away the less meaningful objects. You might be the type of person who always gets rid of the rubbish in your house but you still find it difficult to give away things that are in good condition even though they have less significance to you. You can either give them to charity or to someone who might need and appreciate them. You might find that you have to bargain with your resistant thoughts and feelings. Be strong,
Supawan P. Panawong Green 109
once you put that object in a bag, don’t open it again until you give it away. 4. Give away the more meaningful possessions! This kind of giving requires a great deal of courage. It is quite normal for people to keep the best for themselves. The term ‘best’ could mean item of monetary or sentimental value, or something you simply like most even though it doesn’t have much value. Find an expensive item that you no longer use but still cling to its value as important, and find a suitable place or person to give that object away. It will be more painful to part from that item. Be strong and courageous. If you succeed in doing it, it will take a big chunk of your ego away. However, if that item has very high sentimental value, and is not a photograph, pass it on to your children if you have any and don’t ask what they will do with it. If you don’t have children, find a good place for it. 5. Entertain your guests with the best food in the house. Don’t tuck away any good food in your fridge or freezer so that you can have it for yourself. Bring them out and offer them to your guests. Difficult at first but will get easier. 6. If you have a very comfortable life and never have to worry about money, it means that you are able to give away your excess more than those who don’t have much. Don’t
110 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
leave too much money behind in your will unless they are property-related. You cannot take money with you when you die. You came to this world naked; you will also leave this world naked. Remember that it is much nicer to be able to give and enjoy seeing the happy faces of those who need your help while you are very much alive. They can be your family members, relatives, close friends, neighbours or even a maid, a cook or a caretaker you know at work. Help them out when they are in trouble. As a reward, you get to see their happy face and appreciation. 7. Give money to charity from time to time according to your capability. One man might give just 1 to charity and another man might give 1000 to his favourite charity. You might think that the latter man is more charitable compared to the first one. That is not always the case. The first man might happen to be more generous than the latter if he earns 2.50 per hour and has three children and a wife to look after while the other man earns up to 1000 per hour and is listed as one of the richest in the country. The Chinese have a saying: ‘Never say one penny is less and ten thousand is more’. That is because when it comes to giving, the result is the same. One penny from a beggar and ten thousand from a rich merchant, once given away, yield the same consequences: reducing the chunk of selfishness.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 111
8. Never be too stingy with your own parents. While they are still alive, make their lives comfortable for them, look after them well in whatever way you can. Treating your parents well is the best giving you can ever do. They represent a field where you can do your best deed. Grow the merit tree on your parents; it can help take away a big chunk of ego. If you live in a Buddhist country, you will be quite lucky to be able to give daily when monks come for alms. 9. Always find a way to give, if not materially, it can be your labour, ears or time. Giving your ears, time and patience to people who need to talk is important and very helpful. This is also the best way of giving when you don’t have much money or material to help others. Chunks of selfishness can be taken away in this manner. 10. Once you have given something away no matter it was objects, money, labour or time, don’t boast about it. Even when it enters your mind and you begin to feel proud, be aware of such feelings and let them go. Don’t keep on licking your ego even though no one knows about it. You might be able to think of something else that you can do to take away your selfishness and greed: do it without any hesitation.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Two fingers up
I heard this story from the late teacher, Tang Mor Sieng. Being tight-fisted can haunt you to your deathbed. You will certainly take along this bad quality to the beyond. Once there was a Chinese man who had a wife and two sons. He owned a pawn shop and gave out loans with high interest. His livelihood had made him very rich but very infamous among his relatives and customers. He hardly had anyone whom he could proudly call ‘friend’. People knew that he was extremely stingy and mean to everyone, even to his wife and sons. Although he had enough money to last him one or two lifetime, he wouldn’t spend it unless there was very good reason. All the expense in the household was carefully budgeted. They ate only cheap food. Although they had a big house with many rooms, only one light was allowed to be turned on at a time. They perpetually lived in a very gloomy and depressing atmosphere. When his two sons reached the right age to get married, he tried to find brides through matchmakers but the arrangements often fell through one after another. He couldn’t agree on the requested dowry from the woman’s side. Deep down he was prepared to give next to nothing away. Those who knew his tight-fisted reputation did not wish to relate
Supawan P. Panawong Green 113
with him anyway. He often moaned to his wife who was rather fed up by her husband’s meanness but didn’t know what to do. “They are too greedy. I am not going to give them that much money. I am sure there are other families who can appreciate what I offer. No...I am not going to pay them. I’ll wait. Too greedy...too greedy” he shook his head slowly from side to side while he was moaning. A few years went by and he was more worried for his sons’ future. However, he couldn’t see that it was his selfishness which caused his distress. Finally, he was sick and he did not recover from his illness. It reached the point that he couldn’t talk anymore. On the last day of his life, his servant, who had served this household for many years, was serving him some water, but he refused to take it. For some reason, he kept on sticking his two fingers up. The servant quickly fetched the mistress to see her husband, assuming that the master might want to say something before he died. The wife came and sat beside him. The dying man looked at his wife and raised his two fingers again. “Don’t worry about our two sons. Although they are not married, they are adults now, they can look after
114 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
themselves. After all, we have our family business. They still have a livelihood, you must not worry, husband.” The wife gently consoled her dying old man. To her surprise, her husband’s face turned red and angry. He tried to say something but there were no words coming out. He still stuck his two fingers up and pointed upward. While the wife was in bewilderment and tried to work out what her husband was trying to tell her, the old servant, who was standing nearby, suddenly grasped the meaning of the two fingers. She quickly walked to the corner of the room and switched off one light bulb. No sooner than the one light went off, did the wife see the great relief in her husband’s face. Then, he died.
Never say one penny is less and ten thousand is more
I also heard this story from the late teacher, Tang Mor Sieng. Once there was an old master who lived with his young disciple in a temple. One day, the old monk had to go out early to see someone in the nearby village. Having practised meditation until he had gained super-knowledge, the master could foresee the future. Before he left the temple, he told his young novice:
Supawan P. Panawong Green 115
“You guard the temple well today since a noble and rich lady will come to offer alms. You must make her feel welcome. I will come back late afternoon.” “Yes, master. I will mind the temple and look out for the rich lady.” The young disciple bowed his head successively a few times to his master as a gesture of understanding the master’s order. He was pleased to hear that a rich and noble lady would come to offer alms. It meant that he would have a delicious meal that day. He was very happy and spent that morning in anticipation of her arrival. In the meantime, in the nearby village there was an old lady who was very poor but kind-hearted. It was her birthday and she wanted to give alms to the monks. Being very poor, she had no money to buy good food for an offering. She decided to go into the rice field early in the morning and pick all the grains scattered around the field, even though some were damaged and dirty. She brought them home and decided to cook a bowl of rice porridge. Adding a bit more water to the rice would help to increase the quantity of it. “This should be good enough to offer to the two monks at the temple.” The old lady talked to herself proudly while she was looking at the bowl of porridge in her hand. She was very happy that she could, at last, cerebrate her birthday by giving alms to
116 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
the monks. She slowly walked to the temple and carefully held the bowl of rice with her two hands. When she reached the temple gate, she could see the young novice stretching his neck looking past her as if he was trying to find someone in the distance. It was only fifteen minutes before the offering time ended. (Monks are not supposed to eat after midday). It was obvious to the old lady that the young monk looked a bit impatient and restless. She approached the young novice who still did not pay much attention to her and said gently with a smile: “Is the old master in? Could you please let him know that I have come to offer alms today because it is my birthday?” The disciple then looked at the old lady with a bowl of rice porridge in her hand. The bowl was not covered and by the time it reached the temple, bits of dirt and small leaves had fallen into the bowl and mixed with some floating damaged rice on the surface of the water. It looked rather unappetising to the young monk especially as he had been looking forward to the glorious and delicious food from a rich lady as he was told. Having waited all morning for someone who had not turned up, the young monk became more and more agitated and restless when it dawned on him that he might have to eat this bowl of porridge if the rich lady did not turn up in that short time. He answered the old lady with an abrasive tone of voice.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 117
“No, the old master left early this morning. He won’t be back until late afternoon.” The old lady felt unwelcome and was taken aback by the monk’s unexpected reaction. However, she thought that it was still all right if the young monk accepted her offering instead. So, she said: “If so, could you please accept my offering then since it is my birthday. I intended to make merit so that I could be rich in my next life.” The monk could not refuse the offering from the old lady. He reluctantly told the lady to follow him to the shrine room where the offering would take place. He couldn’t help casting another look towards the path leading to the temple gate with a glimpse of hope that the rich lady might turn up, but there was still no sign of the noble lady and no glorious food. The time for offering was nearly up, so his hope of having good food was gone. The young monk was very disappointed and annoyed that he had to have the dirty rice porridge for his meal today instead of some well prepared mouth-watering food. The novice’s impatience turned into resentment and anger. No sooner had the old lady walked towards the temple gate, than the monk came out from the shrine room and threw away the whole bowl of porridge on the temple ground for birds. It was the same moment when the old lady happened
118 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
to turn around and red-handedly catch the novice’s nasty act. She was very stunned and shocked by the hurtful scene and very disappointed by the monk’s outburst. The old lady stood trembling with anger by the temple gate and shouted at the monk. “How could you? How could you throw away my offering? That’s it. From now on, I will have nothing to do with monks anymore.” Following that unexpected and most disappointing event, the old lady never did another offering and never set her foot in the temple again. She condemned and cursed the monk openly to people. She died a few days after and took with her the bitterness and the anger she had towards the monk. Meanwhile, the old master came back to the temple that afternoon. The first question he asked was: “Well, did the noble and rich lady come today for the offering?” The novice was still very annoyed and disappointed because he had missed having a delicious meal as he had expected. He answered the master with a grumpy face. “What do you mean by rich and noble lady, master? I’d been waiting all morning but no one turned up except this old lady with a bowl of leftover porridge which looked most revolting. I didn’t even bother to eat it. I threw it away for the birds instead.” The novice explained.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 119
The master could not believe what he had heard and exclaimed: “Oh...Buddha helps! You don’t realise what you have just done to this old lady. When I said that there would be a rich and noble lady coming to give alms, I meant this poor old lady. She was rich and noble because she was very kind, generous and tried her best to give alms despite her poverty. She had spent all morning picking each grain of rice from the field just to cook that bowl of rice porridge for us. You have brutally turned her generosity away.” The young monk was shocked by the master’s speech. He felt very ashamed and guilty of his cruel and unforgivable behaviour. He asked his master what would happen to him and the old lady. The master paused for a while and sadly said: “Well, what will happen is that this old lady who will die in a few days will be born rich in her next life because she had done her merit. But the anger she had towards you will make her do more bad karma towards the triple gem. This bad karma will cause her to have a rebirth in hell. You will then become her son in one of your rebirth and you are going to help her when she will be in hell.” In one life, this old lady was born into a rich family and she was married to a rich man who was a devout Buddhist but died before he could reach his old age. With the bitterness and anger she took with her from her previous life, the wife was
120 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
very angry that her husband did not live long despite being a pious Buddhist. She did more bad karma by insulting the triple gem, had no respect for monks and did not give alms. It had now reached the time of the Buddha Gotama. The young novice, however, came to be born as Maha Moggallana, the Buddha’s left hand disciple who also had the super-knowledge in performing miracles. After his mother had died, he went to heaven and hell to find out where his mother was. He found his mother being born as a hungry ghost in hell. He quickly performed a miracle and gave his mother a bowl of rice and water. In not wanting to share the food with anyone, the hungry ghost accepted the bowl, putting her arms and hands over it so that she could have the food all to herself. Suddenly, the food turned into red charcoal and she was unable to eat it. Moggallana tried again and the same event happened endlessly. He quickly came back to ask the Buddha how he could rescue his mother from hell. The Buddha advised him to give alms to monks in four directions and ask the monks to share the merit with his mother. He quickly did so. Through the merit that Moggallana had sent to his mother in hell she was later born in heaven. I wrote this story down exactly in the way that it was told by the late teacher Tang Mor Seing. It was based on the Mahayana Buddhism. The teacher concluded that the significance
Supawan P. Panawong Green 121
of the half year festival in the middle of the seventh month celebrated widely among the Chinese is based on this story when Moggallana wanted to help his mother escape from hell. Millions of Chinese cook a variety of dishes and offer them to hungry spirits so that they can be free from their suffering status.10
The mean master
This is another story told by Tang Mor Seing. It is quite relevant to the topic, so I would like to share it with you. Indian society has a very narrow band of middle class; people are either very rich or very poor. Once, there was a millionaire who owned a very big house with a fleet of servants. Unfortunately, no one liked him at all. This included his entire staff, and even his wife and children loathed him. Indeed, he was a miserable, penny-pinching man. Despite his overwhelming wealth, his selfishness took his popularity away and left him without any friend. Gossiping about the meanness of the master was a pastime enjoyed by the servants and people
Only the Buddhists have the tradition in passing on the result of their good deeds (called ‘boon’ in Thai) to the beings in other realms. This is a way to help and reduce the suffering of those who have bad rebirth. I will clarify this concept in my next book: The User Guide to Life… The Law of Karma, which will be released in due course.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
in the neighbourhood. Although he had a proper name, no one knows and everyone called him ‘the mean master’. While other millionaires in town would set up food shelters and fed hundreds of beggars every day, the mean master was far from being a philanthropist, he had no intention of doing so. Most beggars knew about his tight-fisted reputation and often walked past this rich household without bothering to beg. The great King Sakka or Indra was the supreme leader of the heavenly beings called Tavatimsa – the realm of the Thirty-three gods. He often looked over the events on earth and put the world to rights. One day, he thought that he would correct the character of the mean master. He then came down to earth. By using his heavenly power, he made himself look exactly like the mean master. It was the day of a festival. Everyone dressed up in their best clothes and went to the fair except the members of this rich household. They not only had no best clothes to wear like others but also had no extra money to spend at the fair. Life went on as usual in this miserable household. However, the mean master went to the fair by himself without asking his wife and children to come along for fear that he would have to pay extra for everything they might want to buy at the fair. He took with him a few loose coins. He went through nearly every food stall in the fair and could not decide
Supawan P. Panawong Green 123
what he would have to make spending his money really worthwhile. However, he had soft spot for sweets, and his mouth watered terribly when he stood by a stall watching a man making all the colourful candy floss. It suited him right to the ground because that was one of the cheapest sweets they sold in the fair and he didn’t mind paying just two coppers for something he really enjoyed eating. He walked around with the candy floss in his hand and ate it joyfully. “I must be the luckiest millionaire in town to be able to walk around in this fair and eat the most delicious candy floss.” Said the mean master to himself. His selfishness allowed him to see only what he wanted to see and nothing else. No sooner had the mean master left the house, than King Sakka arrived at the entrance appearing exactly the same as the master of the house. He walked into the front courtyard with a smiling face and greeted all the servants with kindness and warm heartedness. Everyone was shocked, and could not believe that this jolly man was the mean master. That was because the mean master never smiled to anyone; he only moaned and groaned to people. At first, the servants thought that it was the mean master’s twin brother. The great deity knew exactly what was going through everyone’s mind. He called everyone to gather around the front courtyard and said:
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
“Don’t worry, I know what you are thinking. Today is an auspicious day and I have decided to be a changed man. From now on, I will be kind and generous to every one of you. Soon, you will call me the kind master instead of the mean master. So, right now, I want every one of you to have a day off and go enjoy yourself at the fair. But before you go, I want you to help yourself to some new clothes. I have plenty of new clothes tucked away in the back room. Go and help yourself. You will also have some money to spend at the fair. Raju, my head servant, will hand out money for you before you leave.” No sooner did his speech end, than the thundering sound of cheers and joy burst out from all the members in the household. Everyone greeted the good news with great delight although some were surprised by their master’s sudden change of heart. Nevertheless, the whole house was filled with smiles, joy, and happiness. People began to sing, dance and tease one another while they went to choose their new clothes and prepared to leave for the fair. They were all very happy to see that at last their master had turned into a philanthropist. The great heavenly being in human form then turned to the wife and children who were still in shock and could not believe their old man’s sudden altruistic behaviour, and said: “Now, I know that you always want to give to the poor and beggars. Why don’t you do it today? You know where
Supawan P. Panawong Green 125
everything is. Just help yourself to whatever you want to give away. You don’t have to ask me. Just do it.” The wife and children bent down to touch the feet of the husband and father as a gesture of respect, not knowing that it was the great Indra from heaven. Then, they went off to do exactly what a millionaire was supposed to do – give to the poor and beggars. With the help of the children and a few servants, they managed to give food, clothes and money to the poor and the beggars in the neighbourhood. The news quickly spread and soon there was a long queue waiting. In the mean time, while the mean master was enjoying himself at the fair, he was greeted so happily by some of his servants who had just arrived. Some of them even bent down to touch his feet and say thank you. The mean master was very surprised by his servants’ behaviour because no one in the household ever greeted him with a smile let alone giving him such high respect. He could not understand what made them so very happy. Then, he suddenly spotted that all the servants who came to greet him had brand new clothes and some money with them to spend. He began to get suspicious and knew the only way to find out was to go home. As he turned round the corner of the road which would lead up to his house, he saw a long queue of beggars lining up.
126 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
When he stretched his neck up trying to see where the queue came from, he was quite sure that there was a big crowd of people right at the main gate of his house. Fear quickly set in his heart and he couldn’t imagine what was happening in his household especially to all his wealth. He could hear his own heart beating like a drum at high speed. He ran straight to his house, used his hands pushing people away so that he could get through to the main gate. The mean master was frozen by the picture he saw right in front of him. His mouth was dry and his eyes were wide open. He couldn’t speak and was in deep shock. What he saw was the picture of his smiling wife, children and a few servants busy handing out food, clothes and money to the poor. Then suddenly, the mean master burst out with a big shout: “Stop, stop, everyone stops right now!” His face was red and filled with anger. Then, silence crept in and spread from that small area to the outer circle. Everyone stared at the mean master and tried to understand the situation. Suddenly, the great heavenly being, Indra, appeared right in the middle of the crowd before anyone could say anything. The king of the heaven still appeared to look the same as the mean master. Indeed, both of them were standing facing each other. The silence pierced even deeper when the crowd saw the two
Supawan P. Panawong Green 127
men facing each other looked totally identical. Indra broke the silence first and said: “I am Indra, the great king of Tavatimsa – the realm of the Thirty-three gods. I came down from heaven today to give this selfish man a lesson. The reputation of your meanness had reached heaven and made my seat hot. That’s why I had to come down to sort you out.” No sooner had his words finished, than his body transformed into the most magnificent and glorious man who was every inch a divine being. The crowd cheered with a thundering sound, then stopped suddenly and everyone was down on their knees including the mean master who was now trembling with fear. The great king looked at the shaken mean master and continued: “I know that your fear of losing your wealth right now is much greater than your fear of me. You are a despicable person. Your selfishness had made everyone loathe you. I wanted you to have a taste of being liked, loved and having respect from others which are something you never had before because you love your money too much.”
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
The mean master began to recall the feeling he encountered briefly at the fair when his servants came to greet him with happiness and touched his feet. Although he was bewildered by the most unexpected event, he had to admit that it was indeed a very good feeling knowing that someone liked him and had respect for him. The words of the great king hit him right in his heart. He began to see how miserable he was. Judging from the happy faces of his wife and children when they were giving made him realise how much his family had to put up with his selfishness. Following the divine speech and having put everything in perspective, the mean master began to feel ashamed of himself and wanted to offer a sincere apology first. He then crawled pitifully a few inches to the great king from heaven, placing his hands on the divined feet, head down and face touching the ground. Suddenly he was taken over by the fear of death. He spoke with a trembling voice to the holy man: “Please do forgive me, my lord. I promise I will change. I will have a change of heart from now on. I promise. Please don’t take my life away. I will be a good millionaire and give charity everyday.” The great king of Tavatimsa was pleased to hear the answer from the mean master who was about to have a change of heart. He then said:
Supawan P. Panawong Green 129
“Good, that is what I want to hear and you’d better make sure that you keep your promise. Otherwise, I’ll be back! By the way, don’t worry. All the clothes, food and money that these people had today are not yours, they are all mine.” Right at that instant, the great king of Tavatimsa disappeared into thin air along with all the clothes, food and money which were waiting to be handed out earlier. The mean master stood up and took over the situation. He proclaimed loudly to the crowd: “Please wait for a moment. I will bring you more clothes, food and money.” The crowd cheered with great joy towards their master’s philanthropic gesture. The mean master disappeared into his house. A short while later, he came out again with a row of his servants who carried food and fine clothes. He himself carried with him a big bowl of coins. From then on, the kind master, which was his new name, regularly gave to the poor. He had finally joined other kind millionaires in town and become a proper philanthropist. He was well loved and respected by his family, servants and people. He had never had another visit from the great king again.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
The Simple Diet
Checking the goal again
You must have realised by now that the door to Nirvana is incredibly slim and only a size zero mental self will manage to get through it. For this reason, we are still hovering around this ego concept as how can we find more ways to shrink this ego of ours to ground level? To reduce the size of ego might be a difficult concept to western people because western culture, to some degree, emphasises on boosting people’s self-esteem by allowing one to have a bit of an ego. This is considered to be a significant factor for challenge and success to some certain extent. How can we survive this highly competitive world without looking after our own self-interest, which build around self-centeredness? So once again, it is important that you must check against your ultimate goal of life, if not, you will get muddled up, otherwise. It just so happen that the size zero mental self is such an extreme concept to even the Buddhists, let alone the non-Buddhist especially westerners who are not brought up in
the Buddhist culture. This is the whole point why you must have your final goal in clear perspective and you also want to achieve that goal so badly too. Or else, you will get terribly confused and see no reason why you have to defy what the rest of the world think.
You cannot have it all
Should your goal be crystal clear, you can understand that it is the misdirection in life that causes people to see no harm in having an ego as well as allowing the sense of self to flourish because this would prevent you from reuniting with your true self and achieve the on going happiness that everyone is talking about and yearns for. Without this final goal, the misdirection will constantly create the classic catch 22 situation that is hard to break free. This tedious cycle will cause more contradictions and confusions among people and is an ideal recipe for social chaos. I am afraid to have to say that you cannot have it all but have to choose one or the other. You cannot use your egocentric personality to pursue your worldly success while you are at work and when you come home, you put on an altruistic character so that you can have a taste of inner peace. This is very much like putting a little lamb in the same cage with
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
a hungry tiger and you want to know if this lamb might survive or not. Your soul (mental self) can only be in one place at a time. You cannot choose to have an oversized mental self and expect to squeeze through the narrow door of God’s Kingdom at the same time, can you? It doesn’t work like that. I am afraid.
As a matter of fact, there is a real profound meaning and the precise reason for it. If you look at chapter two under the heading ‘different words but same meaning’, you will see the list of words and phrases that share the same ultimate meaning and experience, one of which is the absolute (ultimate) simplicity (no.13). Nirvana is the same experience as the ultimate simplicity, which is equivalent to size zero mental self. You might have also come across the Buddhist terminologies such as: void and no-self – which I have avoided to use. That is because such terms create a great deal of misconception about Nirvana. They denote the sense of emptiness, hollowness and nothingness, which may frighten people off especially if you are a non-Buddhist and doesn’t grow up in Buddhist culture. It is quite hard to take in such extreme defying notion about the existence of life. Even devout Buddhists struggle to understand such thought.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 133
Nevertheless, you must listen to the wisdom of the enlightened ones who echo the same tune regarding the ultimate experience. All wise people will tell you the same message that Nirvana is void and have no sense of self but it isn’t an empty space as such. It isn’t like that at all. You must trust me on this one as I have seen it. As a matter of fact, everything remains exactly the same; there is only one thing goes missing – the sense of self. I, therefore, try to take away your fear of empty space and misconception by introduce such words as: simplicity, ordinariness, the size zero mental self and true self. I think these may represent the ultimate experience better than void and no-self. You can also make a connection that the fully enlightened ones are those who have the complete (absolute) simplicity and ordinariness embedded in themselves. This sheer simplicity even caused the Buddha to be inclined not to teach at first for fear that no one would understand. I can’t win really. If you are a type of person who is not keen to be ordinary and simple, you won’t give this concept a second thought, will you? That’s why I gave you a list of 24 terminologies to choose from so that you can at least find one that may inspire you to walk this difficult path. True self is also another attractive term that I prefer to use. Anyway, I can’t worry about everyone, can I? I am only working with you. Let’s move on, shall we?
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
How to practice simplicity?
Perhaps it might be easier to see the opposite qualities first. People with sizable egos tend to have at least one or more of the following characteristics about them: they are arrogant, conceited, superior, smug, difficult, pretentious, overconfident, expensive, fussy, demanding, hard to please and the like. These downbeat qualities inflate your mental self towards the larger size. On the other hand, the following qualities will shrink your mental size right down. They are: easy-going, unpretentious, down-to-earth, level-headed, ordinary, practical, trouble free, undemanding, uncomplicated, unfussy, basic, modest, economical, unaffected, humble, natural, unnoticed and the like. All these altruistic ingredients will make up a good recipe for a ‘simple diet’. Should you be able to stick with this diet, you will certainly take a few inches off your ‘mental waist line’ and your mental self will gradually deflate to size zero.
Moral and simple dieting
The higher status you have – whether that status is brought about by having wealth, fame or power – the more likely you will be to lose touch with your simplicity. High status allows your ego to bloom and flourish. It could invite
Supawan P. Panawong Green 135
complications into your life even though you don’t ask for it; nothing seems to be straight-forward before you know it. High profile life style can certainly prevent you from being simple and ordinary. Unless you know your goal and insist on sticking with your ‘simple diet’, you can remain level-headed. Without the strict regime of ‘simple dieting’, it is very difficult to take a few inches off your mental waist line and you mental size can expand before your realise.
The danger of wealth and fame
Whether you want to admit it or not, wealth, fame and power find their ways to destroy people one way or another. Apart from turning some people into egomaniacs, they make you lose touch with the real world, especially with the poor and the unprivileged. When you are extremely wealthy and powerful, with just one snap of the fingers, everything is done on your demand. In the end, these people don’t even know how to open doors for themselves. It is very sad if you can view it differently. Should disaster be happened in global society, these so called ‘lucky people’ wouldn’t know how to survive and will definitely die first. Unfortunately, most people cannot see the harm in this type of life style and try to live up to that level – wanting to join the ‘celebrity’ clan.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Worse still is that our mainstream culture (or just the Hollywood culture) is geared up to fulfil that false dream for people. This bogus fantasy has added a great deal of problems and complications into society. It creates more competition, greed, selfishness and cause people to violate their moral precepts further. A classic catch 22 situation subsequently arises, which adds more confusion and trigger more moralvacuum society. It is, therefore, very important that you often remind yourself of the supreme goal of life and do very best to stick to your ‘moral and simple dieting’. Even religious people such as monks and clerics are not safe if they allow worldly values – wealth and fame – to creep into their lives. The religious uniform won’t shield them from egotism. They have equal chance to be as egocentric as lay people. Quoting the holy texts do not make one become a holy person without committing to the practice of giving up one’s ego.
Invisibility and denial
The trouble is that, people with big ego cannot see themselves because mental self is invisible. Therefore, when mental self inflates because of one’s ego, they don’t realise. It is even more so when the responsible party is in denial. They cannot see how oversized their mental selves are. Physical size
Supawan P. Panawong Green 137
can, at least, be seen. Should one be overweight, plump, fat or obese, the hard evidence is all out in the open and one can do something about it. This is not the case as far as mental self and ego are concerned. Mental self can grow from size zero to the other end of the spectrum – whatever that is! – yet, the owner doesn’t even have a clue how egoistic one has become due to its invisibility. For this reason, it is very important for you to set your goal crystal clear first and widely open your heart for all these painful truths such as: confronting your moral impediment and accepting your egotism. Only then, can you accept the radical change in your life.
Everyone wants to feel special
Among all the simple qualities I mentioned earlier, making yourself unnoticed is also very healthy especially if you have a great deal of talent in you. It is quite difficult to do in our modern society where most people want to be noticed in one way or another and willing to do anything even just for a five minutes fame so that their egos can be massaged. This is what the living television is thrived on. I also remember a sad story line, which was depicted on the television drama ‘London burning’ and was quite true to life. The firemen wanted to find out who kept on setting off the false alarm at a hospital.
138 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
They finally found that a window cleaner did it. When he was asked why he wanted to do that, he answered that he wanted to be noticed and it brought some excitement into his life because he was bored to death by what he was doing – cleaning windows every day! As a matter of fact, some people go to a great length even faking illnesses and willing to undergo surgery so that they can be noticed by nurses and doctors. This whole process makes them feel special. These are all the variety of mental symptoms building around our mental self or ego. It also shows that we are social animals and need human contact especially ‘tender loving care’ (tlc). That’s why I have the inclination in not to believe that the magnificent crop circles were done by hoaxers. Such very talented people can make a huge fortune and will definitely be recorded in the history of mankind. Yet, they don’t want to reveal themselves in this day and age. I don’t buy that. The hoaxers who had, however, revealed themselves couldn’t do the intricate patterns. But please don’t ask me who did the most fantastic crop circles, your guess is as good as mine.
Bruised ego and havoc
A great deal of mental turmoil is caused by bruised and dented ego. Some people can react very badly should their egos have been crushed for whatever reasons. The reaction could
Supawan P. Panawong Green 139
be rage that leads to aggression and violence. If the combined bruised egos are the result of political or religious conflicts, the collective anger among the public can trigger the state of hysteria and lead to widespread upheaval. This is what egotism can do to both individuals and society as a whole. The genocides either done by Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot or other mad leaders are the direct result of their extreme oversized egos. Once an egomaniac is well equipped with political power, human tragedy and widespread mayhem are imminent. You can add up for yourself how many human lives were wiped out from the surface of the earth and how much suffering they have put humanity through by the hands of those few utterly mad and egocentric leaders. Despite the immense damaging effect, the public don’t seem to realise the harm in having the big ego. There is no way to straighten this knotted ball of string until you find the beginning or the end part of it – knowing the ultimate goal of life.
Doing a big job
In the contrary, should you do well in your ‘moral and simple dieting’, your mental self will shrink towards size zero for certain. Only then, will you be able to do big job; it will be possible for you to face challenges, big and small alike, without feeling the pain. Mental pain is struck on mental self (ego).
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Should your ego be small, you won’t feel the pain as much. Therefore, those who will survive daily challenges are likely to be the ones with small ego or none at all. Politicians are notorious egotists but will thrive well if they are genuinely altruistic, which allow them to show their loving kindness and compassion to the public. Kind-hearted individuals have to work very hard on reducing their ego sizes so that they can gain enough inner strength to carry on helping people. Without this regime, no one will survive. They must not expect anything in return apart from hoping to reclaim their normal self back in the end, which doesn’t sound much in the eyes of most people. For altruistic individuals, it is a long stretch road of pure giving without being noticed or recognised; worse still, despite the hard work, some might be wrongly understood, publicly humiliated or even persecuted. Nevertheless, this is the price one must pay to earn one’s ‘holy status’, this might be the only way to obtain unconditional love. The means and the end will narrow down and mingle into one. To practice selfless is to be selfless. Only selfless people can truly love anyone and want to give people the best thing only – the ultimate knowledge of enlightenment!
Supawan P. Panawong Green 141
The following is a check list which can help you to stay in touch with simplicity and ordinariness. 1. Working too much with your brain and less with your hands can make you lose touch with simplicity. Simple tasks around the house are healthy. The lower the job you can do, the simpler you can be. If you are young and still live at home with your parents, don’t let your mother wait on you. Clean up your own mess. Do things by yourself, cooking, ironing, washing and so on. All these works can keep you very grounded and you will survive better in the real world. 2. Never think you are too important that you cannot clean a toilet. Don’t let the toilet cleaning be your mother’s or a cleaner’s job. Do it yourself sometimes. This toilet job can shrink your mental self quite quickly! 3. Gardening work is also very healthy. It keeps you down to earth. 4. Never be too arrogant that you cannot say sorry and bow your head to someone especially when you are in the wrong. See what category you are in: If you can calmly take a criticism from someone above you, you are wise.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
If you can calmly take a criticism from someone equal to you, you are noble. If you can calmly take a criticism from someone beneath you, you are a saint. 5. It isn’t at all easy to take criticism from anyone because it bruises your ego. Most people will react with resentment, if not with anger even though the comments may be true. If you can take criticism calmly without feeling defensive even if the critic didn’t have the fact right, it means you must have a great deal of simplicity in you. Should you want to correct them, do it without anger; keep your cool. If not, let it go as long as you know yourself well enough that the criticism is not true. The smaller ego you have, the less pain you get. Whether you can take it up to the level of being a saint or not is something you can work on. This book is trying to help you towards that direction. So, if you can begin to work on it now, you might not have to work so hard later on. 6. Giving respect to those who deserve it is also very healthy, i.e. parents, teachers, elders, holy places and people. Carefully observe the cultural differences and give respect to whatever is important to the members of that society. It makes your mind soft, gentle and simple.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 143
7. Never boast about yourself and show off your success. It is better to make yourself unnoticed. Boasting about something you have is understandable though it is not healthy, but to boast about what you don’t have is unacceptable and emphasises your egomaniac. 8. Always make people feel comfortable, warm and at ease especially if you are on a high rung of the social ladder whether it is because of your wealth, profession, fame or power. Always give notice to those whose status is beneath you. Don’t take them for granted, especially people who do menial jobs for you. Show them your gratitude. Your smile can mean a lot to them and is worth much more than money. Take one minute to stop, talk and praise the good job they have done for you. Show them your appreciation. If people could do this, that window cleaner I mentioned above would not have to set off the false alarm and many others wouldn’t have to do silly things just to get themselves noticed. The higher the status you have, the more you can do to make people happy. You can only do this when your ego is small and you have a high level of simplicity in you.
An overflowing cup of tea
Once there was a scholar who had heard about an enlightened Zen master. He intended to find that master and
144 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
ask intelligent questions. Upon his arrival, his head was full of questions that he wanted to ask not to fulfil his inquisitiveness but to show his vast knowledge of Buddhist texts. The master sat calmly with the tea set in front of him and observed the young scholar as he entered the room, paid his respects and asked the questions. The wise teacher serenely listened to the young scholar talking about his Buddhist interest and then the questions. The master nodded his head as a gesture that he understood what the student had said. Instead of answering his questions, the master began to fill his tea pot with water and pour the tea into the cup. The young man looked at what the master was doing while he kept on talking to fill the silence, hoping that the master would interject with answers. Despite his attempt, the teacher did not correspond to his wishful thought. Instead, he slowly nodded his head and kept on pouring water into the tea cup until it was overflowing into the tray. The young student, by now, felt rather uneasy. He could not handle the awkward silence. So, he kept on talking and tried to reassure the teacher even more that he had great interest in Buddhism and really wanted to learn from him. The master finally put the tea pot down, looked at the young scholar, smiled gently and said: “Well, how do you like my answer to your questions?” The young man was surprised and intrigued by the master’s questions.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 145
“What do you mean by that, sir? I have asked you many questions but you did not answer me at all. I just saw you pour the cup of tea. How could I possibly know if I like your answer or not?” “Ah…but my pouring cup of tea was the answer to all your questions!” The young scholar was spontaneously enlightened! Using few words to spark off simultaneous enlightenment is the characteristic of Zen teaching. Admittedly, I didn’t crack the meaning of this story when I first heard it. Please don’t think that I am patronising you. Just in case you don’t solve it either, I should explain a little bit. The master tried to tell the young scholar that his head was already full of knowledge and could not absorb any more, which was like the overflowing cup of tea. Basically, the wise man tried to take away the young man’s self-importance which barred him from learning. If you are intellectually clever, you should take a great deal of notice to this case. Arrogance, pride, overconfidence and self-importance are very negative qualities that would bar you from walking the path. It is very difficult to get rid of such qualities if you have them. You need to be very honest with yourself and have a good teacher to help you.
146 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
I train my Tai Chi students to have the simple and humble quality as soon as they come into my class. I suggest the eastern culture of bowing to each other to them as a package deal in attending the Tai Chi class with me. The purpose behind is to rid of their self-importance. If students can bow to me and one another with genuine respect, their hearts will have room to learn. Those who find it difficult to do this will leave. It is a way that I use to sieve through my students. A real teacher will choose his or her pupils and not the other way round. The students might think that it is their choice whether or not they want to learn Tai Chi with me. They might choose to come to my class but I am the one who chooses whether they are qualified to learn or not. Those who survived my class are the ones I choose to teach even if there are only a few left in the end! I couldn’t hold on to this noble attitude in the past but not now.
Kwai Shane Cane
Having talked about how a real teacher would choose his or her own students, I remember a famous film called Kung Fu, which included a scene where the teacher tried to recruit the most suitable pupil to whom he can pass on his knowledge. Martial arts in ancient China were linked very closely with Buddhism and its practice. It indicated that when Buddhism reached China, it made quite a big impact on the
Supawan P. Panawong Green 147
Chinese culture as well as martial arts. Shao Lin, was not only a famous martial art school in ancient China but also a Buddhist temple. Martial art was initially taught in a Buddhist temple so that students would gain knowledge about how to lead a noble way of life. This included the introduction to the ultimate goal of life and the path to it, which meditation was the big part. Along the process of learning, students would be taught to identify the true face of their enemies – defilements. Students would then know that real enemy was not a person whom they hated and were ready to take revenge. The real enemies were their own greed, hatred, envy, anger and delusion which build around their egos. Therefore, before any martial art could be taught, students had to learn to deal with their inner enemies first, such as: greed, hatred and self-importance. This is the only way to guarantee that martial artists would not use their knowledge for wrong reasons. If there was any reason for a martial arts practitioner to fight at all, that reason had to be based on the ground of protecting righteousness only. Without this wisdom, martial art would be reduced to a mere self defence, if not a tool to boost one’s ego.
Kung Fu, acted by David Carradine, depicted exactly
the right concept of what martial arts should be like. Many people expected to see a lot of violent scenes when they heard the title of this film. It was quite the contrary; this film stressed
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
a martial artist, Kwai Shane Cane, who formed a close relationship and gained wisdom from his blind old master. The film began with a group of 20-30 young boys in their early to mid teens sitting in front of the main gate of Shao Lin temple waiting to be selected. Every morning, an elder monk would come out and pointed to certain boys and said: ‘You go home. You go home...’ The boys sat through days and nights, wind, rain and storm. The number of the boys dwindled as time went by until there were only four boys left. They were invited into the temple’s tea room. As they were sitting around a table with the cups of tea, the teacher invited the boys with a waving hand gesture and said: “Please, help yourself. You all must be very thirsty.” The three boys thankfully responded to the kind gesture of the master and reached their hands to pick up the tea cups in front of them, all except one. When the boys had finished sipping their cups of tea, the master told them very calmly: ‘You three boys can go home now.’ The three boys left the tea room and the master asked the only boy who was sitting with his head bowed: “Why didn’t you drink the tea like the others?” The boy answered the master calmly: “It is only appropriate for me to drink after the elder sir.”
Supawan P. Panawong Green 149
Finally, Kwai Shane Cane, was the only boy who was chosen to enter the gate of the Shao Lin temple. As the story moved on, Kwai Shane Cane formed a very close relationship with his blind master who taught him how to listen to the sound of the grasshopper and the wind, how to walk on a long piece of rice paper without leaving any traces and so on. They were indeed all the different meditation techniques that the master passed on to the young novice. It was a long process of how to help the young boy to deal with his inner enemies and find truth. Young Cane grew up within the walls of the monastery and learnt the most precious knowledge. By the time he left Shao Lin, he had become a grown man with a good heart, well qualified in the martial arts. He never wanted a confrontation and led a humble way of life. He soon learned that the world outside the temple walls was very different from the one he knew. This film was based on Buddhist concepts and was very well depicted. In ancient times, the relationship between a spiritual teacher and a novice was very intimate, which was correctly portrayed in this film. I advise you to watch this film. Modern martial arts films which stress mainly on violence and vengeance are very far from the true wisdom it teaches.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Dealing with death
To most people, death is one of the most fearful events that can always send chill down your spine. It is because we all love our lives so dearly and want to cling to them for as long as we can. This topic is, therefore, almost seen as a curse; we talk about almost everything under the sun but when it comes to the dying issue, we often dismiss it. But how can we dismiss something that is most certain and even defeat the ‘never say never’ maxim, which works every time until it comes to death. Hence, it’s high time we talked about death and dying in the same manner as we talk about the weather – tackle it with courage and understanding and hope that we will be able to reduce the fear of death by the time we finish with this chapter!
Fear of the pain
Theoretically speaking, you cannot be afraid of anything that you have never experienced before. For instance, you know that fire is hot because you have been burned in the past. You then stay away from fire because you are scared of the painful consequence. Death is something you have never experienced
before and you have no idea what it is like, have you? Therefore, you should have no fear of death. The fearful thoughts and feelings that most people have towards death are, in fact, the association with the pain, the suffering, the hospitalisation, the treatment and so on. All these are actually part of living, the phase of life prior to death. They are not the death itself. Sickness and hospitalisation are another fact of life that we must also learn to face with great courage. Pain and suffering result from illnesses are something that we can relate to because we have had a taste of them before. If not, we have seen other people gone through such suffering. Consequently, we are afraid of the pain and suffering which often bring subsequent death.
It is quite correct for some people to say that they are not afraid of dying but have more fear of how they are going to die. This can lead to a few more examples about tragic death and the suffering prior to death. The increasing rate of violence and crime in society nowadays causes people to feel vulnerable and insecure towards their own safety. We can no longer take it for granted that our own homes are safe place. Sadly speaking, we are all potential
152 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
victims as far as offences and violent crimes are concerned. I don’t know about you but I used to think that bad people don’t hurt children, pregnant woman and old people. I didn’t actually know what paedophiles were capable of, not until after I married and lived in England. This proves how na ve I was. The alarming thing is that as the age of the crime victims has become younger, so has the criminals. (There was a chilling case in one of the European countries, when two six-year-old boys attacked and killed a girl of the same age in the playground.) The vulnerability and insecurity among the public certainly gives us enough reason to be afraid of how we might be victims ourselves – good business for security firms to sell their security products though! If not crime, political upheaval, suppression, terrorism and anarchy can also inflict immense suffering and the fear of death among people. Anyone at all can be caught up in such widespread fearful predicament. As far as terrorism is concerned, no one is safe on earth. You could be having a pint of beer in your local pub, dining with your family in your favourite restaurant, sight-seeing on a magnificent historical place, working in your office on a 100 floor building or sitting comfortably on a plane, and suddenly all hell can break lose. Before you know anything, you are one among many others in the carnage resulted from a terrorist attack. In war-torn countries, innocent people are captured, tortured and
Supawan P. Panawong Green 153
persecuted in mass numbers. Under such fearful circumstances, it is very difficult to dismiss the thought of death and its whole package – pain and suffering! In a lesser degree, you could be caught up in some horrific accident or widespread natural disaster when you are subjected to a great deal of pain and suffering before dying. The Asian tsunami on the Boxing day of 2004 have made a great number of people put life in better perspective. Although this giant wave has brought an unimaginable scale of suffering to our fellow humankind, it also confirmed the painful truth: no one is invincible and even the almighty God cannot do anything about it! This should hopefully open your heart a bit wider and try to understand death with courage. I am also here to help you to overcome this eventual fear.
The tsunami ghosts
Having talked about the Asian tsunami, I have recently read an article in British newspaper where the writer talked about the sighting of the tsunami ghosts in Phuket and other tsunami hit area in the south of Thailand. The author explained that the sudden death didn’t prepare the dying to the after life as the natural or prepared death did. Those who had the near dead experience described similar incident of a bright light tunnel with their loving relatives on the other side or having
154 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
seen their dead relatives by their bedside. Should people be taken ill and death is imminent, both the dying and the deceased relatives are prepared and the guiding into the new world may happen. This doesn’t apply to sudden and tragic death. As a result, the dead literally didn’t know what to do or where to go from there. There were no loving relatives around to guide them into the new world especially when the sudden death happened far away from home. It is very likely that they didn’t know they had died. Consequently, their souls were trapped in the time capsule, which was like a permanent dream – or nightmare rather – and they were unable to wake up! I also heard similar story from one of my Thai students I met during my retreat teaching in 2006. Tao and four of her friends drove back from Phuket one evening, in the distance, everyone saw a farang (westerner) man hitchhiking by the busstop, they stopped the car intending to pick the hitchhiker up but he disappeared into thin air! Apparently, the spirit sightings were mainly foreigners and not the local Thai. The writer of the article explained that this might have a lot to do with the culture. The Thai, at least, grow up in the Buddhist culture which train people to believe in the law of karma and the cycle of rebirth. There are also
Supawan P. Panawong Green 155
ceremonies that the livings can send the results of their good deeds (boon) to the deceased spirits so that their souls can move on to the good places in the after life. Such ceremonies have been done right away to the Thai victims, either arranged by their own families or by the monks in local temples in a communal ceremony. Consequently, the local spirits knew exactly what to do or where to go but not the westerners a lot of whom are non-Buddhist and atheist.
Are you prepared to be a lost soul?
Please don’t quickly judge that I am trying to convert you into a Buddhist. You should know me by now that I do no such thing. My main concern in bringing up the tsunami ghosts is to urge you to seriously make a room in your heart for my advice. Having lived in the West, I have come across many concepts regarding after life from various people. Many seemed confident that they would certainly know more after they die, whereas some are sure that everything will be vanished into thin air – turning to be a big zero – at the instant of death. I find it rather difficult to understand such superficial and irrational thoughts. If you seriously consider the after life is another holiday resort you have never been, yes, you might know more or rather you know yet another place where you have never been before. But the after life is far from another holiday resort, is it?
156 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
If this subject is that easy to smooth over, how are you going to explain the phenomenon of those lost souls following the tsunami? As far as I am concerned, those bewildered spirits, trapped in a limbo land, have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves and especially how to move on from there. Right, if some of you don’t believe in that tsunami ghost story, it is very difficult for you to move forward. There are a few absolute certainties in life and death is definitely one of them. Unless you want to take a risk, wait until the actuality happens and find out for yourself that there is, indeed, an after life and nothing vanishes as you had imagined, will you then believe in the ghost story. That’s fine, but I hope you can see it will be too late. By then, you will be one of those lost souls yourself. Unless you are prepared to be trapped in a limbo land or in a permanent dream, I advise you to, at least, hear me out first and don’t do any pre-judgement. The notion about the law of karma and the cycle of rebirth that I will talk in my next book will give you better perspective about the after life. As a matter of fact, my entire work is to prepare you to know how to live, to die as well as how to handle the after life.11
In reducing the contents of the original edition of The User Guide to Life, I have decided to carry the whole contents about the law of karma and the cycle of rebirth to the successive book titled: The User Guide to Life…The Law of Karma, which will be released soon. You may find out the updates on my website.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 157
Arranging a good death
If you are afraid of the stage before dying when you might have to suffer a great deal of pain through serious illnesses or long term hospitalisation, I would like you to put your mind at rest first as you might be able to arrange a good death, especially if you are still young. Admittedly, it does sound a bit outrageous to even suggest something like ‘arranging a good death’. Some of you might think right away that I am talking about arranging a suicide pact like some cult leaders did to their followers. No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, committing suicide – no matter how good the methods are – is definitely not a good death, not to mention a coerced suicide pact. In fact, ‘arranging a good death’ in my meaning has everything to do with following the guidelines in this book and its pending sequence when I shall talk about the belief in the law of action (karma), which will make you think about the consequence of your own action. Only then, will I tell you exactly what you can do to arrange a good death. In the meantime, I just want to put your mind at ease and let you know that there might be something that you can do to have a peaceful dead. You can see for yourself that in the real world not everyone has to suffer before passing on. Some people can leave this world very painlessly and peacefully. At the moment, just
158 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
know that you should not be afraid of death and look forward to finding out what you can do to secure yourself a good death. What a thing to look forward to…eh?!
Fear of the uncertainty
I said earlier that you cannot possibly be afraid of something that you have never had any experience of before, such as death. Then, I went on to explain that your fear is more likely to be linked with the pain and suffering prior to death and not the actual death itself. I even went a bit further in trying to pacify your mind by suggesting that you might be able to arrange a good death. Although you may understand all those notions I have put across, some of you may find that the fear of death is still there. Although the words and reasons make a lot of sense to your ears but you can’t bypass the churning in the stomach and the fright in the heart when the death subject is brought up. If this is the case, it is very likely that you are afraid of the uncertainty, the mystery and the unknown which lies beyond your physical death. Can you see that it is very difficult to bypass the knowledge about the after life? Unless you can easily go into the after life and come back to share the experience, once again, you must listen to the experts who have knowledge. This is one of the most difficult subject to talk about.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 159
At this point, those who have strong faith either in God will be able to handle this type of fear better. If you are a Godbeliever, a good enough person and strongly believe that you will enter God’s Kingdom after you die, you should have no fear of death at all, should you? It means you will get what you want – reuniting with the almighty. This comforting thought should be able to smooth over your fear of death. But if that notion still doesn’t help you, you then have to question your belief and especially the concept of God. To question the concept of God is to question the ultimate destination of life – the very notion I talked about at the first two chapters of this book and indeed my entire work. This would bring you to the full circle. I hope you can begin to understand why I used 24 terminologies to represent the ultimate experience. No matter what subject you want to bring up and talk about, sooner or later, you will have to stumble onto this ultimate issue.
Big zero believer
If you, however, believe that everything will be vanished in the instant of death or turning into the big zero of void where there is no heaven and hell waiting to greet you, you should be jumping up and down with joy and have no fear of death whatsoever. It means your actions, good or bad, yield
160 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
no result. You don’t even have to take any responsibility to your actions while you are living. Why should you be afraid of dying if you are so sure that everything will be vanished into a huge void? So, it might be a good idea for you to thoroughly scan your feelings regarding death and beyond. If you are a devout science follower, you can only think rationally and logically, you might dismiss the after life concept and the tsunami ghost as something totally silly or even laughable. If so, you shouldn’t have any problem about dying and what lie beyond: once the mass of this body break down, life vanishes into thin air! We are just a lump of science!? If you, however, can still sense some uncertain feeling in the far end of your heart, which crash with your rational belief, it means you are confused. You might be using the ‘total in denial’ approach to deal with your fear of death and the uncertainty that lies beyond. Your denial might smooth your fear over when you are young and have some 40-50 years ahead of you. But no one gets younger, you will descend into your old age for sure, only then will you find out how strong your scientific faith will be. Also, don’t forget the unexpected sudden death brought to you prematurely either by accident or disaster I talked earlier. Before you know anything, you might be a lost soul trapped in a limbo land yourself. So, please be very honest
Supawan P. Panawong Green 161
with yourself and make sure that your denial plays no role in your belief.
Make room for wisdom
Should the belief in God and in void be able to help you to take away your fear of death, I advise you to cling on to them for the moment. Nevertheless, not everyone can manage to inject such strong beliefs in their heads and stick with them. Even the strong believers, who are a minority, can waver at some point. The majority of people still have fear of the unknown, similar to the way that we have fear of the darkness. Such fear cannot be easily eradicated. I would be a total fool if I told you that I know what lies beyond our physical death. I don’t know either. I have to listen to the expert too and that is the Buddha. The point is to be able to understand the profound concept about the after life, there are requirements. You need to follow the Buddhist practice until you gain your own wisdom first. The level of your comprehension will correspond to the level of the wisdom you have reached. I have gone through the practice until I have reached the level of wisdom when I have enough confidence to be your guide. As a result, I am working on the requirements that will pave the way for you to understand the
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
after life: the content of this book and its sequel as well as the practice of ‘bringing your mental self back home’ (vipassana). If you could follow my ‘user guide to life’, you will have enough wisdom to understand life, death and the beyond. Consequently, your fear of death will slowly disappear too; you will be able to handle death like a pinch of salt. I think this is the most you can do for yourselves as far as death is concerned. I hope you can see that you are in a no-win situation because if you dismiss the after life concept as being nonsense and irrational and you happen to be wrong. You will subsequently carry your false belief to the after life; your ignorance will go with you wherever you go. Have you ever questioned that your false attitude you are having right now is the result of the ignorance in your previous life that you carry along with you to this life? In my next book, I will talk about how karmic force influences the formation of our gene and DNA, which we are led to believe (by science) are the blueprints creating individual human being. To the Buddha, the real architect that makes us become an individual human being is ourselves – our own thoughts, feelings and actions. I’ll tell you more later. In the mean time, it is very important you put your scientific defence aside and make room in your heart for the pending wisdom to enter. This is the only way that you will learn.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 163
Death is a natural event
In the mean time, let’s find different ways of thinking that might help you to take away the fear of death, one of which is by trying to view death as a natural event. Birth, aging, illness and death are the natural life cycle of which no one can opt out. All life forms come and go all the time. Try to think that everyone in the past died and everyone on earth right now will die all the same and everyone who comes in the future will die too. Birth and death are like two sides of the same coin. You cannot choose one and opt out the other; they come as a package. Where there is birth, there is death always. I don’t know why I want to compare death to childbirth. When I was a girl, I couldn’t imagine how a woman could give birth to a baby. I was terrified of such a thought in the same way that I was terrified of death. When I was expecting my first baby, that fear was still there. Then, I tried to reason with myself by thinking that all women in the past have gone through childbirth as well as women now do, and women in the future will do. Giving birth is one of the natural events that most women have to go through. If other women could do it, so could I. Just bite the bullet and get on with it! So I told myself.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
That reasoning did help me to have less fear of childbirth and went through it three times within 5 years! I know going through childbirth is nothing like dying. But if you can apply this reasoning with death by viewing it as a very natural event, you might be able to smooth some fear over. I might be the only person in the world who tries to advise people to view death in the same way as going through childbirth! My apologies to men and women who cannot benefit from this advice!
Wish you all die accordingly!?
This true story might help you to gain more wisdom concerning death. Once, there was a Chinese family of four generations who went to see a famous fortune-teller on the 90th birthday of the great grandfather. The family expected the fortune-teller to say a lot of kind words and bless the family to continue having their great fortune, health and prosperity. The old fortuneteller looked at the expanding family with a broad smile on his face. As he was gently nodding his head, he pointed to each age group of the members from the oldest to the youngest and said: “You die first, you die next, you die after and you die last.”
Supawan P. Panawong Green 165
The family was dumbfounded and asked for an explanation. The fortune-teller smiled again and asked the grandfather calmly: “Do you wish this baby to die before you?” Suddenly, all the elder members of the family simultaneously came to their senses and nodded their heads up and down as a gesture of showing their agreement. The fortuneteller then continued: “Well, then. If you can all die according to your age, it is considered a great fortune for your family, isn’t it?”
The three old ladies and my parents
Many years ago, on British television, there was a programme call ‘Beyond the Cloud’, which showed the day to day life of people in Lijieng province, China. Among the few families and people whom they filmed, there were four old ladies who spent a lot of time together chatting and catching up with their daily gossip. One of the old ladies sadly talked about her past and said: “I went through so much hardship and suffering during the war and the famine. I can now put all those behind me and look forward to my death.” The way that those old ladies talked about death was amazingly natural. They had no fear and were totally relaxed
166 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
about it. You might want to dispute that after living through Moa dictatorial and brutal regime when starvation, hardship, torturing and persecution were routine, they had very good reasons to look forward to their passing away. Yes, that is true also, I don’t argue with that. Nevertheless, I still think that such relaxing attitude can hardly be seen in western society. I don’t say that all eastern people are totally relaxed and look forward to their death. I don’t go that far but it is still true to some extent, which, I believe, has something to do with the Buddhist rebirth and karma concepts. The old ladies’ attitude was very much the same as those of my parents. Many years ago, my father, in his late seventies, sent me some photographs. It looked like a day of a big family outing: my dad, my brother, his wife and their children. In the letter my dad told me that the photograph was taken on the day when they went to view a place for his burial ground! The Chinese are very fussy about their burial place, it must have good Feng Shui so that the family will be guaranteed of their good fortune.12 My dad passed away in 1995 and. The Chinese have a festival called “sweeping the tombs” some time in April. This
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese belief that the way your house is built and the way you arrange objects affect your success, health and happiness. Family tomb especially must have good feng shui.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 167
is the time when most Chinese families will go to visit the tombs of their ancestors. They will pay respect to their ancestors by preparing nice foods for offerings at the burial ground. After that, it is very much like a family picnic when all the family members will eat and enjoy a day out together. Above all, it is a day to remember their parents and grandparents. My family too have followed this tradition ever since my father was buried in that piece of land he chose for himself. It was a big family outing followed by a trip to the nearby waterfall. Living far away from home, I do miss the event. I think that it is a very good tradition to keep up. Younger generations can still have some link with their ancestors by keeping this tradition alive. I went back to Thailand on my father’s first anniversary. There was one evening when my mom, eighty years of age, was surrounded by five of her seven children and a few grandchildren, and we all chatted about this and that in a very warm atmosphere. A while later, the whole conversation shifted to talking about my mother’s funeral. My mom told us exactly how she wanted her funeral to be. She was very relaxed and feeling at ease about the whole issue. Three months after that family gathering and seven weeks after I had returned to England in 1997, my mom passed away. We gave our dearest mother a good send off, exactly the way she had asked us to do.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
By the way, my mom didn’t choose to be buried by my dad. She would rather be cremated and had her ashes scattered in the sea. They weren’t that good friends, unfortunately! So, the stories of the old ladies and my parents are what I mean by viewing death as a natural event. I hope they help you to gain some wisdom.
Relevant to age and status
The fear of death is relevant depending on age and status. No one wants to die young, of course. If you are, however, old and have poor health, you might be surprised to see yourself looking forward to passing over just like that old Chinese lady I mentioned above. Those with easy comfortable life do not want to die too quickly whereas those whose lives are a long series of struggle and hardship might see death as a blessing. It is all relevant depending a lot on your life circumstances.
Viewers can extract and learn whatever they want out of a film. To me, ‘Titanic’ was a particularly good film because it depicted a true event, which could easily happen to absolutely anyone and anywhere, even now. When death is
Supawan P. Panawong Green 169
inevitable and only a few breaths away, you have a choice of either accepting it and getting on with it just like going through childbirth, or you let fear take you over and try to run away from the claw of death as best as you can. No matter what your choice is, the end result is the same – death. Now, please think very carefully; if you were under such critical circumstances where there is no escape whatsoever, which is your best choice? Presumably you have seen the film, Titanic. Your first choice is to accept death, be prepared and get on with it with some degree of dignity and hopefully peace. The characters who chose this first choice were the captain, the architect of the unsinkable ship, the old couple who lay embracing each other in bed, the mother who tucked her young children in bed, the musicians who play the music till the very last moment and the priest with all his faithful worshippers. The other choice is to struggle to flee the doomed ship with a glimpse of hope to survive. By doing so, you will be taken over by sheer terror and the absolute fear of death, which was the choice that most characters chose in this film. I know that they are not much of a choice to choose from but if you must choose, which one would you take?
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Do you know what is around the corner?
Since the turn of this millennium, humanity has witnessed enough overwhelming human catastrophe either caused by terrorism or natural calamity. The 9/11 event in 2001 and the Boxing day Tsunami in 2004 should be the wake up call telling us loud and clear that it could be anyone of us. I do not view it as a curse, an omen or some bad luck in talking about it. I can only see the healthy side of it; such wake up call should make us be prepared for the eventual incident. The truth is we cannot know what is around the corner. Life is full of surprises and often they are really nasty bombshell that you don’t wish on anyone especially not on us and our loved ones. Even though you are psychic and know the future, it doesn’t alter an iota. If your number is up, that’s the end of it. That’s why it is important for you to learn all these facts of life and try to overcome your fear of death. Better still is to get out of this tedious cycle of rebirth for good. That’s why I am here to help you.
When death is inevitable
If I must answer the above question concerning how I would choose to die, I would undoubtedly choose to die with some degree of peace and dignity. So would you and many others, I am sure. The trouble is our wishful thought is
Supawan P. Panawong Green 171
one thing, reality can be something else. But this is also the whole point; you can be trained to die in peace with all your dignity intact. I will tell you exactly what you can do if you want to leave this world as peacefully as possible. Once again, I know it sounds a bit outrageous, but this is something that I can really promise you. What you have to do right now is trying to pass all the requirements by following the guidelines in this book.
While most people like to assume that no one wants to die, there are, indeed, certain people who don’t share the idea. Euthanasia or mercy killing is a subject that has been debated widely in the past decade and the supporters have been trying so hard to legalise this action. There are people who want to die in real life. Holland is the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia (December 2000) although mercy killing has been practised illegally since 1973. More than 3,000 people were helped to die by Dutch doctors last year including an 89-year-old who was not ill but merely said he was ‘tired of life’.13 In the same article was a moving story of a 46-year-old mother who had four children and had been suffering from MS. She said:
Daily mail Saturday December 2, 2000
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
“The news from Holland gave me such hope. Now people like me who want to choose the time of their death are at last pushing to an open door. When the game is up, you must have the right to leave the field. I will know when enough is enough and I want the right to say so. I know that the God I love is compassionate and won’t hold an act of euthanasia against me.” She has already planned the kind of death she wants and speaks about it the way people talk about a wedding. When we are young and healthy, death is another world away but we are all potential victims to illnesses. Not until we are the very sick patient ourselves can we truly understand why some people welcome death. I also think of the recent great discovery of humankind, the Human Genome Project which can offer a human life span of up to 1000 years. I suppose we have no idea how we should feel when we can truly live pass a few hundred years. But I think the profound story of the 89-year-old man who was simply ‘tired of life’ can sum up a lot. Don’t you think? I also believe that many old people are tired of life too but they don’t have enough courage to admit and be honest about it. That is because the western culture doesn’t allow people to do so. As I am writing this topic, the headline on British news today (12/2/07) is about a 30 year old woman and wife who has been suffering from an illness all her life and in constant
Supawan P. Panawong Green 173
pain. She has attempted suicide a few times but failed. She now wants to take her case to court so that her lawyer can argue for her why she has enough of living and wants to end her misery. Kelly hopes that the jury would understand and let her doctor assist her to die successfully without facing a criminal charge. The news also reported that there was another British lady who went to Zurich so that she could have euthanasia treatment. Following Holland, Switzerland and Belgian are two more countries where euthanasia is legalised. As for Kelly, she sees no reason why she has to do that. She would rather die in the home environment surrounded by her family. When the Buddha says life is suffering, he really means life is suffering. It is a matter of time before you can truly see it.
I myself have no objection to euthanasia. Think of this story: a father and son went mountain climbing and the son fell off the cliff. The branch of a tree went straight through his chest. He was in great pain and it was just a matter of time before he died. He begged his father for help. How could you help your son if you were under such predicament? You know that your son has no chance to survive. You can help your son by either quickly ending his misery or you think that life is too
174 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
precious and you must prolong his life which prolongs his suffering. We can be quite hypocritical regarding this issue because we have done mercy killing to animals for a long time. When we take sick animals to the vet’s and have them put down, we view such action as being kind to our pets. But when it comes to human, it is another story. I think if we can really work out a way to practise euthanasia without it being abused, I see no reason why it should not be legalised. This means that the doctor or relative who wants to carry out this act must set their mind on the compassionate level and genuinely want to help the patient to end their pain. The patients themselves also must prepare to leave this world in a very peaceful manner. However, I also understand that this practice can easily be abused.
As a matter of fact, if we didn’t have modern technology, euthanasia wouldn’t be an issue. This has a lot to do with the ICU culture. Without the medical technology, sophisticated drugs and ICU, very sick patients will die quite naturally. This matter does not exist in the poor countries due to the shortage of medical care. Euthanasia only comes into it because sick patients are not allowed to die naturally.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 175
In the past, committed Thai Buddhists would treat their passing away as a natural event. When they reached their old age and illness arrived, they would refuse hospitalisation and medication. They didn’t consider the ailment as an illness – just simply old age! Should their conditions got worse, they would refuse food. When the old people began refusing water, the family would know that they were quite ready to leave this world. This was a common practice and considered part of our ancestral enlightening culture.
When there is no real wisdom, people tend to think that saving life is always the right thing to do and therefore we must keep this heart working. We sometime bend over backwards to save lives and we don’t allow very sick patients to die quickly. The trouble is if we don’t know the true purpose of life, keeping the heart going is not really the answer to saving life. The real life saving is to help one to free this mammoth prison of samsara or leaving this cycle of rebirth for good. If you don’t, you will come back and repeat the process of
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
living and passing away exactly like what you are going through now. This is not the first time one moans about being tired of life. Sentient beings have been moaning for eon, yet we don’t have a clue. Due to the shortage of real wisdom in our contemporary society, we create misconceptions about living, immortality and eternity. We think it’s all about maintaining eternal youth and extending our life span for as long as we could. Such misconception encourages the ICU and the ‘nip and tuc’ culture. To solve all these problems, you need to know your ‘true self ’, which take you back to the beginning of this book again. Wise people would know exactly how to live and how to die – in peace and in dignity. I will not confuse you at this stage; you will find out more in my next book that physical death is really nothing to worry about.
Facing death is the loneliest experience on earth. No one can possibly share such feelings with you. Even if your most loved one is holding your hand and tells you to be brave, you still have to face death alone and leave this world alone.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 177
Knowing how to handle that short moment just prior to death is a skill that you can learn while you are living, one of which is, first of all, to reduce the feat of death. Once you have less fear, you won’t be panic and a good dead can be arranged. I am quite certain that all believers and non-believers, once they are on the verge of passing over, they are curious to know where they would be going next. I can’t see how people can get round it without listening to the wisdom from the past. So, let’s suppose here first that there is truly a soul which survives physical death and you (your true self) have to move on to the next dimension – whatever you want to call it. Let’s assume further that there were indeed heaven and hell waiting to greet you. If we can agree on this, I just want to make sure that you can, at least, go to a good place, heaven perhaps. I don’t think anyone wants to go to hell unless they are forced to.
To guarantee a good send off, it resulted in me coming up with a bizarre idea of how to prepare my Tai Chi students to face the last moment of their lives. I let my students practise what I call ‘death drill’. This might give you the creeps but it does help.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
You will either like it or hate it. I do not introduce it to my beginners’ class unless it is towards the end of the term when they have trained with me for some time. Even so, I used to wipe away almost the whole class by just talking about this issue. This made me realise how fragile western people are as far as death is concerned. Nevertheless, I also had some very positive responses in my advanced class when my students told me that this drill could help them to overcome the fear of death. Once, one of my students, Christopher from Austin, Texas, even cheerfully requested me to play this game when I was about to skip to do something else in class. It must be very difficult for you to imagine what I do with my students in class! Apart from Tai Chi, I do all sorts of other things too from hockey-cokey to death drill!
Suppose at this moment you are my student and you are taking part in this death drill with me. First of all, please lie down and choose the position that you want to die in so that you can improvise an inevitable situation when death is only two minutes away. Close your eyes and imagine that there are only two whole minutes left in your life. There is no escape from death, you have to go through with it and that is final. Let’s assume further that you are so lucky that your death involves no physical pain at all or as little pain as
Supawan P. Panawong Green 179
possible and you are not in a coma either. Therefore, you are still fully conscious. Naturally, there will be many thoughts and feelings rushing through your head and heart during those two minutes. Among them are the fear and the worries towards all your loved ones you are about to leave behind in this world. If you are a very kind and caring person, this fear might take over the fear of death itself. If this happens, you must tell yourself to let go first because there is nothing you can do about it now. Life goes on even after you die. Your loved ones will find their ways to live and survive. To be able to let go at this final stage means you have practised letting go before while you were up and about. If you have never done any letting go before, it is very unlikely that you can detach your soul from your painful thoughts and feelings during those two crucial minutes prior to death. So, when I told you to detach, I assumed that you have practised detachment before and you can do it. (The whole contents of this book aimed to help you to letting go.) This will prepare you for a good death and your spirit will travel to a better realm. If you, however, don’t worry about your loved ones apart from the fear of death, you must think in the way I guided you to do in this chapter. Tell yourself that death is
180 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
a natural event; everyone has to go through it all the same. Now it is your turn, you are going to face it with great courage.
Following the guideline
I asked you to let go and view death as a natural event so that you can regain your self-control as quickly as possible. Then, follow those of guidelines below that are applicable to you. 1. If you are a devout Christian and have a strong belief in Christ and in God, you must focus your mind on either ‘Christ’ or ‘God’. By chanting just one of the words repeatedly can reduce your fear, calm your mind down and allow you to be at peace. Do this until the last breathe of your life comes. 2. If you are a pious Buddhist, you can either repeat the word ‘Buddha’ or ‘Arahant’. Keep on chanting that word until the last breath of your life comes. 3. If you are a void (big zero) believer, you must focus your mind on the emptiness or void by chanting it. 4. If you have no belief at all, don’t let your mind float around, fully focus on your breath until the last moment arrives. 5. If you cannot do any of the above and have too much fear, chant the phrase ‘have no fear, go back to nature’. This won’t be easy but try it anyway.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 181
Although it is a bit premature to tell you the above, it is necessary just in case something, God forbid, might happen to you before you have a chance to learn more from me. Should death be inevitable, at least you have some idea of how to handle that last moment of your life and secure yourself a good after life. I must emphasise again that letting go cannot just happen at the snap of your fingers, it is like bending a spoon, you must practise and learn to let go while you are living.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Dealing with death, continued
I decided to carry these following stories – all link to death – to this chapter instead of making the previous chapter too long. They were recorded in the Tripitaka (the Buddhist scriptures) and therefore were based on real historical events which have been told and heard countless times among devout Buddhists.
Among the female lay supporters during the Buddha’s time, Visakha played the most important role and did a great deal in helping the Buddha establish Buddhism, one of which is building a temple called Pubbarama. Although Visakha could let go of her material valuables so easily, when it came down to losing her loved one, she struggled to set her heart free. Sadly, Vanna, her favourite granddaughter, was hit by a serious illness and died at young age. According to the ancient Indian tradition, whenever anyone died in the family, it was a custom for the elder relatives to soak themselves in the river so that all the sin could be washed away.
After Visakha submerged herself in the river by the temple where the Buddha was residing, her fine clothes and hair were dripping wet. Visakha was struck down by grief in losing her beloved granddaughter so she didn’t even go home and get changed; instead, she went straight to see the Buddha. The Buddha looked at the grief-stricken Visakha with kindness and said: “Visakha, if all the people in Savatthi were as good as Vanna, your beloved granddaughter, would you wish for them to be your children and grandchildren and would you love them all the same?” “If all the people in Savatthi were as good as Vanna, I would, of course, like them to be my children and I would love them all the same, my Lord,” Visakha answered. “Now, tell me Visakha, how many people die each day in Savatthi?” asked the Buddha. “Well, some days there are about a hundred or so but other days there might be just nine or ten. Nevertheless, there is at least one who dies each day.” Visakha tried to give the best answer. “Now then Visakha, if it is so, does it mean that you have to get soaked, wet and in tears like this every day? There won’t be any day that your clothes and hair will be dry at all and so with your tears. Isn’t it true?” Visakha listened to the simple logic that the Buddha gave her. She went silent for a short while and slowly nodded
184 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
her head in terms of understanding the meaning of those simple words. She dried her tears and said: “It is true, my lord. If I love all the people in Savatthi just like I love my granddaughter, there will not be any day that I can stay dry; I would have to soak myself in the river every day.” “Visakha, can you see that where there is love, there is suffering, grief and sorrow when you lose your loved ones. If you love a hundred people, your grief will mount up to a hundred-fold. If you love ten people, your sorrow will mount up ten-fold accordingly. The more people you love, the more grief and suffering you will have to bear when you lose them. That’s why I teach my disciples to go beyond love so that there won’t be any suffering to bear,” the Buddha explained. Visakha was very impressed by the teaching of the Buddha and said: “I do not wish to have a big family anymore.” That simple logic helped her shift the weighty grief off her chest. She thanked and paid respect to the Buddha and went home.
The Venerable Katjayana
Ven. Katjayana was an Arahant (the fully enlightened one) and one of the Buddha’s disciples who had helped to propagate Buddhism while the Buddha was still alive. Once he
Supawan P. Panawong Green 185
arrived at a kingdom whose king was in deep sorrow due to losing his beloved wife. The king had previously asked a sculptor to carve an image of his wife out of fine marble and he spent days and nights by the lifeless statue. One of the subjects had informed the king that the Buddha’s disciple who was also a fully enlightened one had come to town. The grief-stricken king was overjoyed and hoped right away that the enlightened monk might be able to bring the life of his beloved wife back. It is quite normal for people who are in great desperation to think that miracles might happen to them. Katjayana was brought to meet the king at the palace. The king was so happy because his heart was filled with high hope. He told the worthy monk that he would do anything at all to help the monk retrieve the life of his dearest wife. Katjayana did not say much. He looked at the king and gently asked: “Your majesty, could you please go into your garden and kindly break off a branch from that big tree for me.” Thinking that the branch of a tree was part of the sacred ritual, the king quickly rushed into his garden and broke a branch off the tree as requested. He came back to the monk with sparkling eyes and a smile on his face that had vanished ever since his wife died. Katjayana took the branch from the king. He then looked attentively at the king who was waiting
186 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
patiently for the next move. Then, Katjayana raised the branch up with both his hands and offered it back to the king and said very calmly: “Now, your majesty, please take this branch and put it back on the tree.” The king did not quite understand and said: “But you can’t do that. The branch has already been broken off. There is no way I can put it back like before.” Then, Katjayana kindly said to the king: “Could this be the same answer for your dead wife, your majesty?” The king looked at the branch in his hands and tried to digest the meaning of those few simple words. Although the answer was not what he had anticipated, it helped him to bring some sense back to his life. He nodded his head slowly showing that he could understand what the monk had tried to tell him. He then thanked the worthy monk and invited him to come back to the palace for his alms on the next day before leaving town. Katjayana took the opportunity to teach the king and his subjects about the noble truth of suffering and how to end suffering. The king finally got over his grief and became a committed Buddhist ever since. So did a great number of his subjects.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 187
According to the Hindu caste system, Kisa Gotami was born in a family of the lowest caste. However, her beauty had led her to meet a man in a higher caste who fell in love with her. He married her and Kisa Gotami was among a family who constantly looked at her with disdain. Her fate changed for the better when she gave birth to a baby boy. For the first time in her married life, since the birth of her son, she felt happy in being accepted by her husband’s family. Life, sometime, is full of cruel surprises. Sadly, her happiness did not last very long at all. When the baby was only eight months old, he died for some unknown reason. Kisa Gotami was devastated. Apart from the pain that she had to bear in losing her first-born, she could not imagine how she would be treated by her husband’s family. In a state of a shock, Kisa Gotami could not accept that her baby had gone for good. She completely broke down. She held her baby tightly to her chest from the early morning and wailed uncontrollably. Later in the morning, she left home and asked everyone she bumped into to help her bring the life of her baby back. Some people looked at her with great sympathy but some shook their heads, laughed and taunted her. “You mad woman, your baby is dead. How can you bring him back?”
188 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Kisa Gotami finally met a kind man who told her: “You must go to the Veluvanna monastery and ask to see the Buddha. He can help you.” They were the first comforting words she had heard all morning since she ran out from home, still clutching her dead baby to her chest. She didn’t waste any time and ran straight to search for the Buddha. Once she had arrived, she placed her lifeless baby right in front of the Buddha and begged him to help her. The Buddha kindly looked at the distraught young mother and said: “Yes, of course, I can help you but you must do something for me first. You must go to search for a handful of cabbage seeds.” The Buddha had not really finished what he was going to say. Kisa Gotami quickly got up, was ready to go and get some cabbage seeds with the hope that the Buddha might want to make some kind of potion out of them. The Buddha then quickly stopped her and said: “Wait Kisa Gotami, wait, please listen to me carefully first. I don’t want just any cabbage seeds. You must go to find a household where no-one has died in that family before. Only the cabbage seeds from such a family would help you. Now, you can go, and bring your baby with you,” the Buddha explained.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 189
The mother’s heart was filled with great hope. She quickly dried her tears, picked her baby up and left the monastery. She then knocked on every household door and asked for a handful of cabbage seeds. But when she asked them to confirm whether anyone had died in the family before, she had to reluctantly return the cabbage seeds with great disappointment. As the afternoon went on, Kisa Gotami could not yet find a single family who never had anyone die before. They were either grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters or sons and daughters. She also found out that not only old people die but young ones even newborn babies too can die all the same. She began to realise that it wasn’t only her who faced such a great loss in life. In fact, other people too were in the same predicament as her and they had to bear the same kind of pain and grief, no less than her at all. By evening, the corpse of her baby began to smell because of the heat both from the sun and her body. Only then did she notice the weight of the dead baby in her arms. She sat down with exhaustion and placed the baby on the ground right in front of her. She looked at her dead baby but this time from a much clearer perspective. Her tears had dried up and she didn’t feel like crying anymore. She picked up her son again and walked towards the river where people were cremating their dead relatives. She too joined in with the custom that had been passed down for endless generations in India.
190 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
While she was watching the fire burning her baby, she was surprised that she had not realised this fact of life any sooner. That night Kisa Gotami went back to the Buddha. The Buddha asked whether she had found any cabbage seeds at all. “There were plenty of cabbage seeds around but there were none from a family where no one had died before, my Lord,” the young mother answered calmly. The Buddha smiled a little and said kindly: “I assume that you have learnt something about life then.” “I have indeed, my Lord.” “Now, where did you leave your baby then?” the Buddha asked with curiosity. “I have already cremated my baby by the river,” she answered. “What would you like to do now then?” the Buddha asked, although he knew that this young woman’s karma was ripe enough to be enlightened. Kisa Gotami by then realised that there would be no life for her in her husband’s household. They were not going to accept a daughter-in-law who had lost her firstborn son. They would make her life hell for her. She then asked the Buddha to be ordained as a Bhikkhuni. The Buddha accepted her. Kisa Gotami then worked hard with her practice. Not long after that, she was fully enlightened and became an Arahant.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 191
We can easily relate to the above three stories which happened during the Buddha’s lifetime. Dealing with grief due to losing our loved ones is always difficult no matter what time and age we live in. The pain of a mother who loses her baby or a spouse who loses his or her life-long partner is still the same pain as of those people thousands of years ago – no more and no less. Nevertheless, I would like to urge you to notice that neither the Buddha nor his disciple said anything or did anything particularly extraordinary in helping those people to understand death and overcome grief. They were simple words with plain reasoning yet, extremely powerful, which gave direct impact to the listeners. It was also very much about saying the right thing at the right time. When people’s minds are struck down by grief or other extreme emotion, they cannot think straight and all reasons are out of the window. Having someone to talk with can certainly help to bring some sense back. As for Kisa Gotami, the Buddha knew that her grief was too great that she couldn’t possibly understand any teaching other than to find out the truth for herself.
The weaver’s daughter
Once the Buddha and his followers arrived at a place called Arawi. It was a great honour to the Araweens and they
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
gave the Buddha a great welcome by offering him and his disciples wonderful food and requisites. The exalted one returned his gratitude by giving the people a sermon. It was the most auspicious day for the Araweens and the congregation was packed with a big crowd. Among them, there was a fifteenyear-old girl called Kumarika. She was the only daughter of a local weaver. The Buddha chose to talk about the mindfulness of death. He said: “Listen to this, Araweens: life is impermanent but death is certain. It is definite that every one of us must die one day, sooner or later. Death is the end result of every life. Thus, you should all have mindfulness of death. Those who have never thought about death before, when death arrives, you will be terrified and taken over by fear as if you were facing a fierce and angry animal. On the other hand, people who always practise mindfulness of death will not be startled and afraid when death arrives. “People’s lives are very short. We all have to move on to the next life; quickly do your good deeds and lead a holy life. There is absolutely no one on earth who can choose not to die. Even people who live a long life may only reach a hundred years old. There are very few who can live longer than that. You must not be complacent and feel proud that you might have a long life. You must quickly do good karma as if there
Supawan P. Panawong Green 193
is fire is on your head and you must quickly put it out. You should have mindfulness of death and be glad that you can live until this very moment and that no danger has yet come to harm you. That’s why you must listen to the words of all Buddhas. “How often should you practise mindfulness of death? One might think that it is often enough to be mindful of death every day, every half a day or even every hour. You are wrong if you think that is frequent enough. Ideally, mindfulness of death should After the sermon, the Araweens paid their respects to the sublime Buddha and went home to their work and the struggle to make ends meat. They soon forgot about the teaching, but not Kumarika. While she was walking home, she thought to herself: “Oh! The words of the Buddha were magical and most inspiring. I have never heard such beautiful teachings before in my whole life. I must do exactly what the great teacher said. I will practise mindfulness of death.” She then practised mindfulness of death both day and night, at every breath as well as she could manage. She soon found out that the mindfulness of death could really help her to find inner peace and free her of binding fears. She gained awareness and saw the sad truth of life, which revolved around birth, ageing, illness and death. She kept the practise going for
194 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
three years, gradually developed her skill and gained good results. One morning, the great teacher, the Lord Buddha Gautama telepathically looked out for someone whom he could help, which was the tradition practised by all the Buddhas in the past. He then saw Kumarika, the daughter of the weaver of Arawi, enter into his mind. When he carefully looked into it, the Buddha knew that Kumarika had taken his advice on the mindfulness of death and she had done it for three years now. The Buddha could foresee that she also had the dhamma habit, which meant that she deserved to become a Sotapanna (the first level of holiness). Thus, the Buddha told himself that he should go to Arawi and ask the four questions to Kumarika, which would lead her to reach the fruit of Sotapanna. So the exalted Buddha along with his hundreds of followers set off on a journey for Aravi. The news of the arrival of the Buddha spread rapidly. The Araweens quickly came to pay respect to the Buddha and looked forward to listening to his teaching. Kumarika too was thrilled when she heard of the news. Her heart was pounding with great joy and excitement. “My father as well as my teacher has arrived. It has been three years since I last saw the Lord Buddha who has the golden complexion. Today, I will have a chance to see him again and listen to his most inspiring teaching. “
Supawan P. Panawong Green 195
While she was getting herself ready to go out, her father said: “Oh Kumarika, I am on my way to see one of my customers now. He wants me to weave him a piece of fine cloth for a special occasion. I have already started but I need to find out a few more details about the pattern and I have also run out of yarn. Can you spin more thread for me so that I can carry on weaving when I come back?” Kumarika did not expect her father to give her a job so suddenly. She was very disappointed because her heart had gone to be with her spiritual father, the Lord Buddha, but she could hardly say no to her father for fear of getting herself into trouble. She told herself that she had better stay and quickly finish the work and then she could go to see the Buddha later. She hurriedly spun the basketful of balls of cotton into yarn to be ready for her father to use when he returned. Her mind was, however, not with the work like it used to be. She was so anxious to see the Buddha that she did not finish spinning all the balls of cotton as she intended to do. She decided to leave the last few balls of cotton behind. “Father should have enough yarn to weave when he returns. I will quickly come home to finish the rest of these balls,” she said to herself. She then swiftly tidied and cleaned herself up and headed for the Vihara.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
Meanwhile, the Araweens came to the Vihara with all the well-prepared foods for offering to the Buddha and all his disciples. It was a Buddhist tradition that after the meal, the Buddha would return the gratitude by chanting the holy words of blessing to the congregation (anumodana). It is a way to rejoice and approve the meritorious deeds of the people. When it reached the time of anumodana, the leader of the congregation approached the Buddha. He expected to see the great Lord handing his alms bowl to him so that the Buddha could do the anumodana. The worthy one looked into the congregation well packed with people. He could not see Kumarika in the crowd. The Buddha then thought to himself: “I have travelled thirty yojana14 so that I could teach the daughter of the weaver. She has not yet arrived. I will wait until she comes and then I will do the anumodana.” The Buddha did not hand over his alms bowl to the Araween leader. He sat in his most serene manner, looked into the crowd and remained silent. When the Buddha was quiet, no one else would move or whisper a sound. The silence gradually spread to the whole of the congregation. Suddenly, it was as if no one was there. If the Buddha refused to speak, no one in the three worlds could make him talk. The silent
Yojana is the measure of the length of distance in ancient India. One yojana is equivalent to 10 miles or 16 kilometres
Supawan P. Panawong Green 197
atmosphere went on for quite a long time until Kumarika turned up and stood by the edge of the crowd near to the entrance. She looked straight to the greatest teacher of the world and was eager to admire his graceful appearance and golden complexion. She could see that the Buddha stretched his neck to look out for her and then everyone in the congregation looked in the same direction as the Buddha. Kumarika was an intelligent girl. For some reason, she knew that the Buddha was waiting for her. She finally reached the Buddha whom she had regarded as her spiritual father for the past three years. She carefully paid great respect to the Buddha and offered the basket with the reels of cotton to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the gift and put it down to one side. He kindly looked at the girl and asked: “Kumarika, where do you come from?” “I don’t know, my lord,” she answered. “Where are you going to?” the Buddha asked again. “I don’t know, my lord,” she answered. “Don’t you know?” the Buddha asked further. “Yes, I do know,” Kumarika nodded her head. “Do you know?” the Buddha asked again. “No, I don’t know, my dear father.” Kumarika slowly shook her head whilst she answered the last question. No sooner than the conversation between the Buddha and the girl had finished, the crowd showed their discontent
198 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
towards the daughter of the weaver. There were angry reactions and whispers among the crowd: “How dare she talk nonsense to the Lord Buddha? Why couldn’t she answer the truth that she came from her father’s house?” The Buddha knew about the angry reaction and the harsh words towards the young girl. He then raised his hand and the crowd went quiet again. The Buddha subsequently asked the girl: “What did you mean by saying that you didn’t know where you came from?” “I knew that I came from my father’s house but I don’t know where I was before I came to be born in this world, my lordship,” Kumarika explained. “What did you mean by saying that you didn’t know where you were going?” the Buddha asked. “I knew that after I leave here, I will return to my father’s home again but I don’t know where I will be going to after I die from this world, my lordship. I don’t know whether I will come back to be born as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a hellish being or a heavenly being in one of the upper realms sir.” “And what did you mean by saying that you knew? What exactly did you know?”
Supawan P. Panawong Green 199
“I know that I must die one day, sooner or later sir. That is what I know for sure.” “Then, you answered my last question by saying that you didn’t know. What did you mean, Kumarika?” “I meant that I do not know on which day I will die. I also do not know how and where I will die, my lordship.” The Buddha rejoiced at every answer clarified by the weaver’s daughter. He then talked to the crowd: “Listen to this, everyone. You blamed this girl because you did not know the profound meaning of the answers she gave me. Now that she has explained her answers very clearly, I fully approve and bless her. She answered all my questions correctly. Those who have wisdom can understand easily.” The Buddha paused for a short while and looked around at his congregation. He then continued: “This world is utterly dark. The majority of the people are still blind. There are very few people who could be enlightened. There are very few people too who could go to heaven. Most beings are trapped in the darkness just like birds trapped in the net of a hunter. There are very few who can break free from it. This world is completely dark not because of the lack of sunshine but because of the ignorance and the misunderstanding that people have towards their own lives. People have been living in the darkness of ignorance until
200 The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
they have got used to it. Not until they have a chance to come out of the dark and slowly experience the light will they reach the point where they can compare the difference between the light and the dark. Only then will they know that living in the darkness of ignorance is full of danger, threat and hazard. It is a very vulnerable and risky life. There is nothing pleasant about it at all. On the contrary, living in the light of wisdom can bring a great deal of joy, peace, true happiness and a chance to witness the truth. It is a great shame that there is only a handful of people who can see this.” Immediately after the Buddha had finished his discourse, Kumarika entered into the stream of holiness and become a Sotapanna. Although the Buddha aimed to teach and helped Kumarika to be enlightened, a great number of people in the congregation also gained wisdom from his teaching. They were very pleased and rejoiced in the worthy one. When the crowd dispersed, Kumarika hurried to return home and intended to finish the job that she had left undone. When she entered the room, she saw her father sitting in front of his hand loom. Apparently, he had dropped off to sleep while his right hand was still holding the flying shuttle. Kumarika did not want to disturb her weary father. She quietly sat down by her basket with a few balls of cotton left in there and was going to spin more yarn for her father. Suddenly she
Supawan P. Panawong Green 201
dropped the wooden reel on the floor, the loud noise woke her father up. Whilst the weaver was trying to gain full consciousness, he automatically threw across the flying shuttle in his right hand. Without full control of what he was doing, the flying shuttle did not stop and flew straight out from the other end of the loom. The sharp end of the needle went straight into the chest of Kumarika who was sitting on the left hand side of the loom. She screamed with a loud noise. The father got up and rushed to his only daughter who by now was lying flat on the floor. She was covered with blood. The father did not know what to do and shouted out for help. The doctor came but there was nothing he could do for her. She had died instantly. The weaver cried out with immense guilt and pain at losing his only daughter at such a tender age. He could not face such a huge loss nor could he live with so great a shame. He knew that the Buddha must still be at the Vihara. He quickly left to search for him as he was certain that the Buddha was the only one who could help to take away his immense suffering. Sitting and sobbing uncontrollably in front of the Buddha, the despairing father asked the Buddha for help. The exalted one looked at the poor man with great kindness and gently consoled him with the words of truth.
The User Guide to Life...The Moral Diet
“Listen carefully Pesaka: Please do not be so sad. The length of this samsara is so long that no one can possibly know the beginning and the end of it. We all have lost our loved ones before. This is not the first time that you have lost your dearest daughter. The tears of people who have suffered because they lost their loved ones somewhere in this samsara are as much as the water in the ocean, if not more. At this moment, your daughter has already become a Sotapanna. She has known the way to get out of samsara. She will not be born in any realm lower than that of human-beings. The gateway to hell has completely shut down for her. You must not worry.” The weaver attentively listened to the Buddha’s teaching, which was full of good reasons. Unlike three years ago when he did not think much of the sermon, now he could absorb all the profound meaning of the dhamma, which penetrated his heart. Suddenly, the grief and deep sorrow were lifted off his chest. He decided to follow the footsteps of the Buddha and humbly asked the worthy one to ordain him. Pesaka worked very hard with his practice and not long after that he became an Arahant, a fully enlightened one who has permanently left samsara behind.
Supawan P. Panawong Green 203
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.