HKG day 3.1 – the Buddha beckons

Woke up around 0900, showered and had breakfast at the hotel. Pretty much your standard everyday hotel breakfast serving sausages, eggs and the lot. After a solitary breakfast (sniff) I went back to room, got ready and went out.

Took the MTR to Central and walked to the Star Ferry. Got confused for a bit – there were no signs to Pier 6 where I could take a ferry to Lantau Island. Tried asking a guy who looked local but didn’t really understand what he said. In the end I decided to follow a couple of tourists who seemed to know where they were going. Walked quite a distance, passing by the bus station and finally reached Pier 6. I could see the magnificent Four Seasons Hotel which would be completed in 2005.

Bought a ferry ticket to Lantau Island, it costs HKG$21. Bought another bottle of a 500ml mineral water for HKG$5 before boarding the ferry. On the way I could see lots of small islands – nice view for sure but I decided to take a short nap instead. Woke up 35 mins later at Mui Wo (Silvermine Bay) and queued up for Bus 2 to get to Po Lin Monastery. The bus ride costs HKG$16 per journey; you have to have exact change. I didn’t want to end up like a few tourists in front of me who had to get off the steps to get the change so I used my Octopus card.

The bus ride itself was an experience. I sat next to the window; very beautiful view but also felt very unsafe. We were going up a mountain and the roads were small and winding and the bus driver wasn’t exactly driving slowly. We passed by the Shek Pin Reservoir, very blue water and from there we could see the back of the Giant Buddha atop a mountain.

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery- Giant Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha from afar

We reached Po Lin Monastery around 1200, there were quite a few people around. I was already feeling very calm and serene. I headed for the temple first. Bought a handful of incense for HKG$18, lit them with difficulty for 3 of the incense were rather huge, prayed for a bit then stuck them to the few pots. Or at least tried to. Of course I got burnt by the falling ashes; one week later I still bear the marks.

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery 03
Temples temples temples

After offering the incense I went inside the first area and made a small donation. There and in a couple more temples there were large and beautiful figurines that included Gautama Buddha, Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva and a few of her manifestations, the four cardinal deities and Amitabha Buddha. I could recognise some of the Buddha’s disciples though I couldn’t name them then. One of the figurines was definitely Manjusri.

At one of the areas you could do stick fortune telling. Never done it before and it wasn’t easy, trying to get one stick out and keeping the others in. So maybe it’s either luck or your own fear – the stick that stood out the furthest, please fall out so I don’t have to embarrass myself by doing it all over again.

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery 04
Where I stuck my incense

I got Lot 29 and asked the woman what it meant since I couldn’t read Chinese. I didn’t understand her Cantonese so she led me to a younger guy sitting nearby, who showed me a translation book of all the lot numbers. Twenty-nine… twenty-nine… there you are. Something about a sword and bravery and a play and… stuff. I think it said I would be successful in my undertakings but would have to watch out for my family members’ safety and health. Love life would be good. I peeked at Lot 30 and decided that Lot 29 was a heck lot better.

Walked out of the temples, there were the impressive archway and a giant incense burner.

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery 01
Said impressive archway

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery 02
Giant incense burner for the giant Buddha statue?

Bought a HKG$23 pass to visit an exhibition which was not open to the general public; unless you pay of course. I had no idea what the exhibition was about, but what the heck.

Hence began the climbing of the many many many steps (all 286 of them) to reach the Giant Buddha. Was a bit exhausting, then again I know I am far from fit. Overheard a girl from China telling her partner she couldn’t climb anymore. Her partner started to meanly berate her in a very rude manner about her fitness and how she should exercise when they get back home. What a man bitch.

At the very top, the Giant Buddha wasn’t very huge… duh. There were a few statues around, female deities offering flowers etc to the Giant Buddha. Walked around the inside hall, saw a plaque in memory of Anita Mui and there were flowers and bears and stuff left behind by her fans.

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery - Giant Buddha close
Tian Tan Buddha, as close as I could get

The general exhibition was basically large paintings about Gautama Buddha’s life. I went upstairs to the paid exhibition; on the second floor there were a lot of paintings of Buddha and generally about Buddhism, calligraphy and stuff. Another floor up was 2 of the Buddha’s relics. According to the information board, when the Buddha passed way there were 84,000 relics in the form of tiny crystals and today Po Lin has 2 of them. I couldn’t actually see the relics; it was roped off so you couldn’t get too near. Luckily the understanding committee of the temple decided to take a large close up photo of the relic and place it at the altar. I have heard of people breaking down and cry upon seeing the Buddha’s relics. I think they are either dramatic or overly emotional. Of course it is an important thing in Buddhism history but it was never an important thing in Dharma. A relic just reminds you of the Buddha, that he lived and taught, just like all the figurines carved in memory of the Buddha in their various representations. All this… holding on to an image thing is pure nonsense. In the same way we bow to the Buddha because we respect Him and His Teachings, because we aim to be like Him and free ourselves from Samsara. And all your Boddhisatvas are elevated beings, they do not really have a form, a self but only mind. When we recite a Boddhisatvas name the effect was to connect our minds with the particular Boddhisatva’s energy so s/he could assist etc.

I am not making any of this up. There IS a connection between different realms in form of energy and connectivity. For example I have never seen a spirit or if you like, a ghost before in my life. That could be due to that my ‘vibes’ are not too much in tune with their vibes. It’s really all physics, one way or the other. The best person to explain this would be OYW, one of the most logical and practical Buddhist speakers I know.

Of course being human we are naturally weak and more often than not need a god-like memory to hold on to, be it your assorted gods and deities, power, status or money. And I’m not saying that it is a bad thing; in a way it builds and inspires faith. So long you don’t harm other people and make their lives absolute misery or distorts the real purpose of learning the Dharma, you can jolly well do anything you want. We all need something to hold on to at times.

I can feel spirituality anywhere — in a Christian church with the choir praising the Lord or in my room alone by myself contemplating life. The reason I take on Buddhism philosophy was because it proves to be more scientific, logical, responsible and sensible.

The Buddha was a very logical man.

I don’t mean to diss the relics; it’s just a culmination of how I feel about such things and never got to writing them. In his book ‘Funny Monk’s Tales’ Venerable Sujiva related an incident with Venerable Dr. K Sri Dhammananda:

“So one day I asked the Venerable Dr K Sri Dhammananda what he thought of relic claims. He gave me a distant look and with bulging eyes said, “These are things concerning the devotional aspects of Buddhism. We do not need all these to study and practise the Dhamma.”

That jolted me up a bit. So it’s not so important after all. It’s true, as the Buddha himself said: “He who sees my teachings sees me.” What is important is that we follow the Buddha’s exhortation and practise the Dhamma. So the Venerable Dhammananda’s answer was a good one but I wonder how I can get the message across to those people who still get frenzied over relics. Ah, faith, good faith, you should always come with wisdom, otherwise it can be dangerous.”

But it was a great honour for me to be able to see the Buddha’s relics, even though it was quite a distance away from the roped-off area.

Walked out of the exhibition and it was quite windy. After all we were at a peak. The view was breathtakingly beautiful, oh the surrounding mountains just took my breath away! Not that the steps didn’t do the job but this was in awe rather than exhaustion. I could recognise a couple of the mountain elements, thought to myself, hey that’s a fire mountain. Wished I had paid more attention in my Feng Shui classes.

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery 05
Very beautiful view

Then began my descend to catch a bus back to Mui Wo.

Hong Kong December 2004 - Polin Monastery 06
Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look…

As the bus had yet to arrive and there was already a queue I decided to look around at one of the stalls selling post cards, souvenirs and such at high prices to unsuspecting tourists. I approached an old woman and in my broken Cantonese, asked if she had anything for my burn marks. She was rather nice and toot-toot, and handed me a small jar of something which I was quite sure would do the job. The Chinese always has these ointments and stuff for cases like mine. As I was applying the balm, a Caucasian female was asking the price for the displayed postcards. The old woman asked me to relay the price information to the female which I willingly obliged.

Since the old woman was so nice to me I decided to stick around her stall a bit longer, pretending to be interested in the dusty souvenirs of qilin and Chinese fans and played interpreter for her and the Caucasian female. When the female left I too decided to take my leave and queue up for the bus. I asked the old woman if I could take a photo of her and she laughingly but adamantly refused, claiming, “hou yok shun ar” (not presentable). Finally I gave up, said goodbye and made a beeline for the queue.

The journey back to Mui Wo was just as scary. When we reached Mui Wo (in one piece) I bought a ticket back to Pier 6 on Hong Kong Island. Basically the ferry journey was uneventful but the sight was pretty nice.

Read more:

Day 1 : To Hong Kong
Day 2.1 : In Search of Tin Hau
Day 2.2 : The Octopus Strikes Back
Day 2.3 : Flower Crazy
Day 2.4 : Central; A Different World
Day 2.5 : Night Time, Light Time
Day 3.1 : The Buddha Beckons
Day 3.2 : To The Peak and Back
Day 3.3 : This Girl Needs a Beer
Day 4 : Leaving Hong Kong
Some thoughts on Hong Kong

Sariputra – The Wise and Humble Disciple

This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 25 October 2001.

A long time ago there was a rich man who lived in Varasani in ancient India. He was wealthy but miserly. So tight with his gold that he refused to spend a single cent to see a doctor when he was very ill. After his death, he was reborn as a poisonous snake and guarded all the gold he had amassed during his lifetime, which he had buried in a secret underground chamber.

After 5000 years, the snake died and was reborn as the same species of snake as before. He watched over the gold for another 5000 before finally realizing that in order for his to be reborn in another realm, he had to give away his gold for charity. Thus he approached an old man on the road. The elderly man was at first afraid and tried to escape but the snake assured that it would not harm him, for it would only add to its bad karma.

The snake led the old man to a rundown house and asked him to dig into the earth. The old man dug out a pot of gold and handed it to the abbot of a monastery, as instructed by the snake. He also took the snake to the temple so that it could pay homage to the Buddha. The snake then told the abbot that there were other pots of gold buried in various places. After the pots of gold were recovered and used for propagating the Dharma, the snake died and entered Trayastrinisa Heaven. In his next life, he was reborn into a noble family in ancient India and was named Sariputra.

Life of Sariputra

As mentioned earlier, Sariputra was born into a noble Brahman family in Magadha (southern India). He was a very bright and intelligent child, being able to fathom and memorize all the books he had read. During a banquet, he impressed a king so much that the king awarded a village to eight-year-old Sariputra.

At the age of 20, Sariputra left his home in search of the Truth of Life. He studied under a scholar and became best friends with Mogallana (known also as Maudgalyayana in Sanskrit). Both were extremely smart and knowledgeable and after a while, they left their teacher for they felt that there was nothing more he could teach them.

One day while walking on the street, Sariputra met Assaji. Assaji was one of Gautama Buddha’s first 5 disciples. Sariputra, who was very much impressed by Assaji’s calm and dignified demeanor approached the venerable and respectfully inquired his name and the name of his teacher.

Assaji told Sariputra his name and that of his teacher, Gautama Buddha. He also describe a little of the Buddha’s Teaching, which filled Sariputra with delight. He went home excitedly and told Mogallana the incident. Mogallana was so happy to know that they have found a worthy teacher at last that he shed tears of joy. The following day they gathered all their students (about 200 of them) and went to the Venuvana (bamboo) grove, where they became Buddha’s disciples.

Cultivation of Past Lives

There is a famous incident written in Buddhist scriptures about one of Sariputra’s previous lives. This happened during the early stages when Sariputra first vowed to become a Bodhisattva.

One day, a deva (Buddhism equivalent to an angel) came down to earth to test the young Sariputra’s determination to achieve Bodhisattvahood. He turned himself into a young man and cried when he saw Sariputra walking towards him. Sariputra asked him what happened and the man told him that his mother was suffering from a terminal disease. The doctor said that she could only be saved with a concoction of some herbs mixed with the eyeball of a monk. “Of course the herbs are easy to get but to obtain a monk’s eyeball? That’s impossible!” he lamented.

Sariputra, feeling extremely sorry for the young man decided to offer his eyeball to him in order to save his mother. On the spot, with much pain and difficulty, he dug out his left eyeball and gave it to the man. However the young man exclaimed that only the right eyeball could be used for the medicine. Sariputra was shocked to hear this, but only blamed himself for not asking the young man before digging out his eyeball. Without hesitating he dug out his right eyeball and handed it to the man.

The young man took the eyeball and smelled it. Ungratefully he threw the eyeball to the ground and scolded Sariputra, “This eyeball smells horrible! How can you expect me to use it as medicine for my mother?” With that he used his feet to squish the eyeball into a pitiful mess and walked away.

Sariputra thought, “It is not easy to save all beings and be a bodhisattva. I better concentrate on self-cultivation than saving others.”

Then several devas appeared in front of Sariputra and told him, “Don’t be discouraged. That was an arrangement by us to test your determination to become a bodhisattva. You should go forth and continue your efforts.”

By this, Sariputra’s will and compassion to save others returned. Thus for the next few kalpas he never stopped his spiritual practices. He finally achieved enlightenment in the lifetime that he met Gautama Buddha.

The 10 Great Disciples of Gautama Buddha

1. Mahakasyapa (first in asceticism)
2. Ananda (the first to hear the words of the Buddha)
3. Sariputra (first in wisdom)
4. Subhuti (first to express his feeling of impermanence)
5. Purna (the first to explain the guides to good laws)
6. Mogallana (first in possessing supernatural powers)
7. Katyayana (first in teaching the Dharma)
8. Aniruddha (first in attentiveness)
9. Upali (the first to take the precepts)
10. Rahula (first in esoteric practices and desire for instruction of the Dharma)

Sariputra is noted for his quickness and intelligence. His wisdom surpassed many and he was also good at observing and preaching the Dharma. It is said that he was fortunate to be trusted enough by the Buddha to lead a large number of disciples. When Rahula, the Buddha’s son joined the Order of Sangha, he was entrusted to Sariputra.

Sariputra is featured many times in certain sutras. Perhaps the most famous sutra in which Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva answered Sariputra’s question is the Heart Sutra, explaining that form and emptiness are the one and very same thing.

When the Buddha entered Nirvana at the age of 80, Sariputra is represented standing on His right hand side and Mogallana on His left. In kalpas to come, Sariputra will be reborn as Padmaprabha Buddha, meaning the Flower-Light Buddha.

Amitabha – The Buddha of Infinite Light

This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 11 July 2001.

Origins of Amitabha Buddha

A very long time ago during the period of Vairocana Buddha, there lived a king who abdicated his throne to become a monk. Dharmadatu was his name and after hearing Vairocana Buddha’s words, he made 48 great vows to save all beings from suffering.

After much difficulty and many rebirths, he attained Enlightenment and was named Amitabha, meaning ‘infinite light’. In the Amitabha Sutra, the Buddha stated that 10 kalpas had passed since Amitabha became a Buddha.

The Amitabha Sutra

The Amitabha Sutra was translated to Chinese by a famous monk, Kumarajiva (344-413 CE) during the Later Qin Dynasty. The contents of the sutra spread widely and it soon became very popular. It was not long before every Chinese family learnt the words of the sutra and practiced the ways of Buddhism. I took the liberty of summarizing the sutra into a few paragraphs and more comprehensible words.

“Once the Buddha was at Shravasti in the Jeta Grove preaching to a large gathering of Arhats and Bodhisattvas. At that time, the Buddha told Sariputra about a Buddhaland in the West called the world if Utmost Happiness located billions of worlds away. It was in that particular Buddhaland where a Buddha called Amitabha teaches the Dharma to numerous beings He had saved from eternal suffering. That land is called Sukhavati, or known as Pure Land or Western Paradise.

The Buddha described the Western Paradise as a land of pure happiness with jewels and treasures located everywhere. Bright lights, fragrance and music filled the air and the ground was made of gold. Every morning, mandarava flowers would fall like rain, enveloping the land with its sweet scent. Rare and unusual birds in various shapes and colors created by Amitabha Buddha fly freely everywhere, adding to the picturesque of this ultimate heaven. Their clear singing of happiness proclaim the joy of Dharma

Evil does not exist in this land; hence the meaning of it lost upon its blessed inhabitants. The lifespan of Amitabha’s disciples and the beings He had saved stretches to several kalpas. Many among these being will dwell in Buddhahood in this very lifetime.

The Buddha then told Sariputra that anyone who, upon his time of death, think of Amitabha Buddha and recite His name sincerely with a clear mind, would be quickly reborn into the Western Paradise.”

More on Amitabha Buddha

Amitabha Buddha’s most important vow (vow no. 18) was to create a land of boundless joy and happiness, accessible to those who give up unwholesome actions and recite His name with a clear and calm mind. When the time has come for the person to die, Amitabha Buddha will appear before him to take him to the Western Paradise where he would never again have to go through the 6 realms of rebirth.

Amitabha has 2 assistants by His side – Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva on His left and Mahastamprapta on His right. Avalokitesvara, better known as Kuan Yin is a disciple of Amitabha. Her willow and vase is said to carry a person’s soul to reside in the Western Paradise. Mahastamprapta (Bodhisattva of Universal Strength), although not as well known as Kuan Yin is also responsible in welcoming loyal devotees of Amitabha to the Western Paradise at the time of their death. She represents Amitabha’s wisdom, just as Kuan Yin represents His compassion.

It is said that when Amitabha speaks, the fragrance of the vipala flower exudes from His mouth. Every pore on his body gives off the sweet scent of sandalwood. Wonderful treasures of many kinds could be brought forth with His hands. He is currently residing in His Western Paradise, teaching the Dharma to those He had saved.

The school of Buddhism taught by Amitabha Buddha is mainly based on pure conviction and faith. It is known as the Lotus School of Buddhism, a wing under Mahayana Buddhism practiced mostly in China. One of the reason it achieved so much popularity is because of its simple requirements to attain a stepping-stone to Nirvana. In ancient times, Buddhism texts and scriptures were studied by top scholars and learned laymen. The large population of China was poor farmers who had no access to such luxuries. Hence the simplicity of avoiding unwholesome actions and reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name with a clear and sincere mind was easy for many people to follow.

The 48 Great Vows

1. If, when I attain Buddhahood, should there be in my land a hell, a realm of hungry spirits or a realm of animals, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
2. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should after death fall again into the three evil realms, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
3. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not all be the color of pure gold, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
4. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not all be of one appearance, and should there be any difference in beauty, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
5. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not remember all their previous lives, not knowing at least the events which occurred during the previous hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
6. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not possess the divine eye of seeing at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
7. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not possess the divine ear of hearing the teachings of at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddhas and should not remember all of them, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
8. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not possess the faculty of knowing the thoughts of others, even those of all sentient beings living in a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
9. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not possess the supernatural power of traveling anywhere in one instant, even beyond a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
10. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should give rise to thoughts of self-attachment, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
11. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not dwell in the Definitely Assured State and unfailingly reach Nirvana, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
12. If, when I attain Buddhahood, my light should be limited, unable to illuminate even a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
13. If, when I attain Buddhahood, my life-span should be limited, even to the extent of a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
14. If, when I attain Buddhahood, the number of the shravakas in my land could be known, even if all the beings and pratyekabuddhas living in this universe of a thousand million worlds should count them during a hundred thousand kalpas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
15. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should have limited life-spans, except when they wish to shorten them in accordance with their previous vows, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
16. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should even hear of any wrongdoing, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
17. If, when I attain Buddhahood, innumerable Buddhas in the land of the ten directions should not all praise and glorify my Name, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
18. If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, aspire to be born in my land, and call my Name even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offences and abuse the right Dharma.
19. If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions, who awaken aspiration for Enlightenment, do various meritorious deeds and sincerely desire to be born in my land, should not, at their death, see me appear before them surrounded by a multitude of sages, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
20. If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions who, having heard my Name, concentrate their thoughts on my land, do various meritorious deeds and sincerely transfer their merits towards my land with a desire to be born there, should not eventually fulfill their aspiration, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
21. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not all be endowed with the thirty-two physical characteristics of a Great Man, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
22. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the Buddha-lands of other directions who visit my land should not ultimately and unfailingly reach the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excepted are those who wish to teach and guide sentient beings in accordance with their original vows. For they wear the armor of great vows, accumulate merits, deliver all beings from birth-and-death, visit Buddha-lands to perform the bodhisattva practices, make offerings to Buddhas, Tathagatas, throughout the ten directions, enlighten uncountable sentient beings as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges, and establish them in the highest, perfect Enlightenment. Such bodhisattvas transcend the course of practice of the ordinary bodhisattva stages and actually cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra.
23. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in my land, who would make offerings to Buddhas through my divine power, should not be able to reach immeasurable and innumerable kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands in the short time it takes to eat a meal, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
24. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in my land should not be able, as they wish, to perform meritorious acts of worshipping the Buddhas with the offerings of their choice, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
25. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in my land should not be able to expound the Dharma with the all-knowing wisdom, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
26. If, when I attain Buddhahood, there should be any bodhisattva in my land not endowed with the body of the Vajra-god Narayana, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
27. If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings should be able, even with the divine eye, to distinguish by name and calculate by number all the myriads of manifestations provided for the humans and devas in my land, which are glorious and resplendent and have exquisite details beyond description, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
28. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in my land, even those with little store of merit, should not be able to see the Bodhi-tree which has countless colors and is four million li in height, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
29. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in my land should not acquire eloquence and wisdom in upholding sutras and reciting and expounding them, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
30. If, when I attain Buddhahood, the wisdom and eloquence of bodhisattvas in my land should be limited, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
31. If, when I attain Buddhahood, my land should not be resplendent, revealing in its light all the immeasurable, innumerable and inconceivable Buddha-lands, like images reflected in a clear mirror, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
32. If, when I attain Buddhahood, all the myriads of manifestations in my land, from the ground to the sky, such as palaces, pavilions, ponds, streams and trees, should not be composed both of countless treasures, which surpass in supreme excellence anything in the worlds of humans and devas, and of a hundred thousand kinds of aromatic wood, whose fragrance pervades all the worlds of the ten directions, causing all bodhisattvas who sense it to perform Buddhist practices, then may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
33. If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions, who have been touched by my light, should not feel peace and happiness in their bodies and minds surpassing those of humans and devas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
34. If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions, who have heard my Name, should not gain the bodhisattva’s insight into the non-arising of all dharmas and should not acquire various profound dharanis, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
35. If, when I attain Buddhahood, women in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions who, having heard my Name, rejoice in faith, awaken aspiration for Enlightenment and wish to renounce womanhood, should after death be reborn again as women, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
36. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions, who have heard my Name, should not, after the end of their lives, always perform sacred practices until they reach Buddhahood, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
37. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions, who, having heard my Name, prostrate themselves on the ground to revere and worship me, rejoice in faith, and perform the bodhisattva practices, should not be respected by all devas and people of the world, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
38. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not obtain clothing, as soon as such a desire arises in their minds, and if the fine robes as prescribed and praised by the Buddhas should not be spontaneously provided for them to wear, and if these clothes should need sewing, bleaching, dyeing or washing, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
39. If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not enjoy happiness and pleasure comparable to that of a monk who has exhausted all the passions, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
40. If, when I attain Buddhahood, the bodhisattvas in my land, who wish to see the immeasurable glorious Buddha-lands of the ten directions, should not be able to view all of them reflected in the jeweled trees, just as one sees one’s face reflected in a clear mirror, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
41. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should, at any time before becoming Buddhas, have impaired, inferior or incomplete sense organs, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
42. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not all attain the samadhi called ‘pure emancipation’ and, while dwelling therein, without losing concentration, should not be able to make offerings in one instant to immeasurable and inconceivable Buddhas, World-Honored Ones, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
43. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not after death be reborn into noble families, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
44. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not rejoice so greatly as to dance and perform the bodhisattva practices and should not acquire stores of merit, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
45. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not all attain the samadhi called ‘universal equality’ and, while dwelling therein, should not always be able to see all the immeasurable and inconceivable Tathagatas until those bodhisattvas, too, become Buddhas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
46. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in my land should not be able to hear spontaneously whatever teachings they may wish, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
47. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not instantly reach the Stage of Non-retrogression, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
48. If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not instantly gain the first, second and third insights into the nature of dharmas and firmly abide in the truths realized by all the Buddhas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

Praise to Amitabha Buddha

“The Amitabha Buddha’s body is the color gold. The splendor of His brilliant light is beyond mind. The light of His brows illuminates a hundred worlds. His eyes are pure brilliant light, limitless like the oceans. In Amitabha’s realm of infinite light, all beings are transformed And Enlightened into countless Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. His Forty Eight Vows ensure our liberation In Nine Lotus Stages we reach the ultimate shore of Enlightenment. Homage to the Buddha of the Pure Land, Compassionate Amitabha Buddha.

NAMO AMITABHA BUDDHA!
NAMO AMITABHA BUDDHA!
NAMO AMITABHA BUDDHA!”

Manjusri – The Royal Prince in the Buddha’s Realm

This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 29 June 2001.

Millions of years ago, there was a wise teacher called Amala-Surya-Tathagata. The king who rules the kingdom had a daughter named Da Hui. One day Princess Da Hui knelt down before Amalas-Surya-Tathagata and asked him to transform her into a man, so that she could achieve to Bodhisattvahood.

The teacher replied, “So long as you aspire to be the mind of supreme benevolence and accomplish wholesome merits, you will be able to turn into a man.”

Upon hearing this, Da Hui instantly became a man. He thus renounced the world and began his practice. After a long time, he became Manjusri Bodhisattva.

Who is Manjusri?

Gautama Buddha had two close assistants – Samanthabhadra on His right and Manjusri on His left. Manjusri had attained Buddhahood many times. At present He bears the title “Spiritual Buddha Who Joyfully Cares for the Jewels”, and in the future (which will be thousands of years to come) He will be the ‘Buddha Universally Revealed”. It was stated in the Lotus Sutra that Manjusri had trained and disciplined many Bodhisattvas. The introductory chapter of Lotus Sutra stated that Gautama Buddha was once a disciple of Manjusri before He lived the life in which He became a Buddha.

Manjusri – meaning “Gentle and Sweet Glory” is the most popular Buddha embodying transcendental wisdom (full Sanskrit name is Manjusrikumara). Known as the royal prince of the Buddha’s realm, He appears in various forms to release beings from their suffering. Theravada Buddhism portrays Manjusri as a youth seated upon a pale blue lotus which holds a sun and moon disc. The discs signify that He is supported by blissful wisdom and loving compassion. He holds a double-edged sword that severs ignorance in His right hand, and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra to his heart in his left. His golden yellow image symbolizes wisdom and knowledge. Manjusri is adorned with 6 types of ornaments (necklaces, anklets etc) which represents his fulfillment of the Six Perfections – Generosity, Morality, Patience, Joyful Energy, Meditation and Wisdom.

Manjusri is often depicted seated on a green lion. This indicates that the wild mind, as wild as the king of the jungle can only be calmed through meditation. His wisdom has indeed inspired many monks, practitioners and laymen to overcome all obstacles to attain peace of mind. Some devotees consider Him the god of science and believe when He preaches the Law, every demon is conquered and every shred of evil that might deceive mankind is dispersed.

On hand to attend to Manjusri are the Five Messengers and the Eight Youths. Each of them carries a page that sings His praise and virtues. Indeed, to the Mahayana Buddhists, Manjusri is relied upon to overcome ignorance and to attain the supreme wisdom to be of the highest benefit to all beings.

Research and excavations in various parts of India and China showed that there were not many followers of Manjusri before the 7th century. Figures and texts recorded more of Gautama Buddha and Maitreya Buddha, who is believed to be the next Buddha to descend upon Earth (again, after thousands of years). The famous Hsuan Tsang (7th century) during his journeys noted many images and carvings of Gautama and Maitreya Buddha. The only referance of Manjusri was a single shrine dedicated to Him at Manthuraa. This lack of details about Manjusri is possibly because such figures were not very distinguished symbolically at that time. Hsuan Tsang also recorded more of popular Buddhas and investigated only famous legends. However by the end of the 8th century, there was a healthy Manjusri cult in China, thanks to a mountain called Wu Tai Shan in which Manjusri is said to have appeared before common beings.

The Five-Terrace Mountain (Wu Tai Shan)

In the Shanxi Province in China (near the borders of Hebei), there stands a magnificent mountain known as ‘Wu Tai Shan’. This grand and majestic mountain with 5 flat-topped peaks (which brings the name Five-Terrace Mountain) rises about 3000m above sea level. Today it is a very popular tourist and pilgrimage spot with a prosperous and flourishing Buddhist center.

Wu Tai Shan is seen as the earthly abode of Manjusri since the 5th century. This is because there are reports and written texts of His presence on the mountain, appearing to many monks and travelers. So widespread were the stories of His appearances that by the middle of the Tang Dynasty, it became an international pilgrimage center. During the Qing Dynasty, the famous Emperor Kangxi was a frequent visitor of the mountain.

Manjusri appeared to various people in a few forms – in the form of a child, a beggar, an old man, a glowing cloud or a bright shining light. The earliest known story of His appearance was to an Indian monk, Buddhapalita who made a trip to Wu Tai Shan in 676CE in hope of seeing Manjusri. Upon reaching the mountain, Buddhapalita prostrated on the ground and prayed to Manjusri. When he got up on his feet again, he saw an old man approaching him. The old man asked if Buddhapalita had brought along a certain scripture that can help ease the evil committed by Buddhists in China. He had not, and the old man told him in order to see Manjusri, he had to return to India and retrieve the scripture. Happy with gratitude, Buddhapalita bowed his head in respect and when he looked up, the old man had vanished. When he made his second trip to Wu Tai Shan with the scriptures (689CE) Manjusri revealed Himself to him again and showed him the mountain with its secrets.

Since then Manjusri appeared to many pilgrimages, such as Tao-I who related his experience to emperor Hsuan Tsung. The emperor was impressed and awed by the story that he funded the initial construction of the Golden Pavilion monastery on the mountain. The monastery was completed by the end of the 8th century thanks to the efforts of an Indian monk, Amoghavajra who received more funds from emperor Tai Tsung. A Japanese monk named Ennin stayed for over 2 months on Wu Tai Shan in 840 CE and recorded his wonderful experiences with the manifestations of Manjusri.

In new texts discovered a few years later, it stated that the Buddha had predicted that Manjusri, the God of Wisdom would reside at Wu Tai Shan. It is also believed that He appeared during a time of darkness of Buddhism, where ignorance prevailed, thus causing endless suffering and wrong propaganda of the Dharma. Hence by revealing Himself, Manjusri in a way rescued Buddhism from its decline with His Special Teaching deemed fitting for the circumstances at that time.

Manjusri will become Maitreya Buddha’s teacher in future. Maitreya is slated to become the 5th Buddha to descend upon Earth in this kalpa.

Praise for Manjusri

“Wonderful Auspicious” is replete with great kindness.
Mother of Enlightened One Throughout the Three Periods of time.
His wisdom is beyond measurement.
His left hand brandishes a sharp sword that severs all afflictions.
And his right hand holds the blue lotus which reflects the mark of His virtues,
A peacock and lion – spirit acts as His carriage.
Poisonous dragons and fierce beasts are subdued and become pure and cool.
The Pure Youth with The Five Topknots – This is a provisional manifestation.
Originally, He is the Happy Treasury of the Thus Come One.
Homage to Manjusri Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom, who dwells in the Golden World of Pure Cool Mountain.”

Manjusri is known as ‘Wen Pu’sa’ in Chinese and ‘Monju’ in Japan. The mantra to chant for Him is “Om Arapachana Dhih”.

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva

This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 29 March 2001. One of my favourite Bodhisattvas.

A friend told me her story: She was sleeping on her bed when she felt something sit on her chest. The thing was heavy and she found it difficult to breathe. It was as if she was paralyzed, for she could not move her limbs or scream for help. Thus she recited this mantra : “Namo Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva” over and over again in her heart. When the thing withdrew itself a little, she recited it verbally and after a while, it disappeared. She described the thing as a ‘shadowish shade of gray darting into the darkness’.

This phenomenon is not unusual for the religious. Most orthodox religions believe that there are other beings in this universe other than humans (and we are not talking about the possibility of Martians). These beings are known as spirits, ghosts, souls – beings that most people have never seen and will never see.

Or could be sleep paralysis, but for the sake of this, let’s go with the ‘thing’.

It is generally believed that these beings have not crossed over to other worlds because of attachment, revenge or for other reasons. Some of these beings enter the human body and cause much suffering and discomfort to the person. Perhaps the most well-known case of exorcism is depicted in ‘The Exorcist’. William Peter Blatty was a student at Washington’s Georgetown University when the local papers published the story of the exorcism of a 13 year old boy. He took an interest in the case and wrote ‘The Exorcist’, which later became a cult film of the same name. In the real life case, the boy had been possessed by a very strong spirit that could not be exorcised by Jesuit priests. In the end, it was said that the Archangel Michael saved the boy.

Such incidents were also recorded in the Bible, where it stated that Jesus performed exorcism on countless of distressed people. After His rise to heaven, His disciples carried on His work. In Mahayana Buddhism, there are many deities who are said to be able to help rid the body of disturbing spirits.

So how are these stories related to the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva?

If you experience any incidents caused by spirits, think of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and recite His name repeatedly. He is a comforter of the poor, sick, depressed, hungry and those troubled by nightmares and spirits. His vow of Bodhisattva is so strong and powerful that all beings respect and are in awe of him.

Origins of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva

During the time of Buddha Lion Power (one of the 5 Buddhas of our kalpa), there was a young lad, son of a respectable elder who saw the divine appearance of the Buddha. He wanted to emulate the Buddha and asked His advice. The Buddha guided him well and the lad made a vow, “I now determine to relieve the sufferings of beings in the six realms of suffering and sorrow, skillfully leading them to Salvation through innumerable kalpas, before I myself attain Buddhahood.”(sic) Thus Ksitigarbha has remained in the Bodhisattva stage for endless kalpas, selflessly freeing other beings from suffering.

In another life, Kstigarbha was reborn as a Brahman girl who respected and paid homage to the Buddha everyday. However her mother was prejudiced against the Buddha and His Teachings. She indulged in idle and slanderous talks against the Triple Gems (the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha).

When she died, her daughter knew that her mother would suffer in hell because of her evil deeds. She gave all her worldly belongings to charity and prayed at the temple everyday. She asked for the Buddha’s guidance to tell her where her mother was reborn. The Buddha allowed her to go to Hell in search of her mother. She met the king of sea-devils who told her about hell and the infinite number of suffering beings. The king also told her that her mother had been reborn in a deep hell, but had gone to heaven because of the girl’s sacrifices and filial devotion. The girl, moved by the pain and suffering she saw, made a vow to the Buddha, “I shall exercise my best to relieve people of their sufferings forever in my live of kalpas to come.” She became Ksitigarbha and the king of sea-devils became the Bodhisattva of Wealth.

According to the ‘Sutras of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva’ – one of the most popular Buddhist sutras, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva renewed his vows 3 times in front of Gautama Buddha. In Chapter One, the Buddha was preaching to countless of Bodhisattvas and gods in Tavatimsa Heaven. He then praised Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and revealed His great and compassionate vows. Majusri Bodhisattva asked the Buddha of the number of beings that stood before them. The Buddha told Majusri that He himself did not know the exact number of the beings. They were beings that had been saved by Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva through countless kalpas.

In the final chapter of the sutra, Gautama Buddha preached the following to humankind and other realms in the wheel of life:

“Listen to me carefully and I shall tell you in detail. If virtuous ones of the future see the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva’s image, hear the Ksitigarbha Sutra, chant this Sutra, make offerings to Ksitigarbha, pay homage to him, they will receive these benefits:

1. They will be protected by devas and dragons.
2. Their ability to do good will be increased.
3. Opportunities for doing good will increase.
4. They will strive to attain Buddhahood.
5. They will enjoy sufficiency of food and clothing.
6. They will be free from diseases.
7. Floods and fire will not affect them.
8. Robbers will not trouble them.
9. They will be respected and admired by people.
10. Spirits and devas will protect and assist them.
11. Females shall be reborn as males.
12. The females will become daughters of noble and exalted families.
13. They will be reborn with good complexion.
14. They will be reborn in the heavens for many lives.
15. They will be reborn as kings and rulers of countries.
16. They will have wisdom to recollect their past lives.
17. They will be successful in al their aspirations.
18. They will enjoy happy family relationships.
19. Disasters will not affect them.
20. Their bad karma will be removed.
21. Wherever they go, they are safe.
22. They will always have peaceful dreams.
23. Their deceased relatives will be free from suffering.
24. They will be reborn with happiness.
25. They will be intelligent and skillful.
26. They will have compassion for others.
27. They will finally attain Buddhahood.”

The embodiment of benevolence, Ksitigarbha is the only Bodhisattva depicted in a monk’s attire. He has a kind and compassionate look, carries a staff and is seated with a ‘five-leave’ crown on his head. He also holds a precious pearl in his hand, said to contain vast magical powers beyond description. In the Chinese Buddhist Pantheon, Ksitigarbha is seated just below the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is often confused with Tripitaka of the infamous Journey To The West (Tripitaka was a monk from the Tang Dynasty who made a dangerous journey to obtain the Buddhist scriptures). This is because they both wear monks’ robes with a crown on their heads. Some say that Ksitigarbha is also King Yama, the Lord of Hell. However, Ksitigarbha is a Bodhisattva (the next thing to being a Buddha) and not a mere king of the 5th level of Hell.

The Sanskrit version of the mantra, as mentioned earlier is “Namo Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva” and the Chinese is “Namo Di Zhang Wang Pu’sa”.

The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 16 February 2001.

In many Buddhist temples, there will be images of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara or popularly known as “Guan Shi Yin Pu’sa” (Guan-Yin for short). Most images depict the Avalokitesvara as a benevolent woman clad in white robes, holding a vase of pure water in one hand and a willow twig in the other. However, the Avalokitesvara originated as a man. So how did this transformation of gender come about?

In Buddhism, it is believed that all Bodhisattvas are asexual. They appear in various forms in different circumstances. The Avalokitesvara for example, has 33 manifestations which will be listed out later.

Before the Avalokitesvara became a Bodhisattva, he was Prince Bu Xun and lived in the Southern coast of India. After listening to Gautama Buddha’s discourse, he decided to renounce the material world to become a disciple of the Buddha. Avalokitesvara was overcame by the suffering of all beings and made a great vow of compassion to deliver them from further suffering.

In the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), a Lady Guan printed a “Biography of the Goddess of Mercy”, in which she claimed that the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara was a female. She and other women believed that there are certain tasks that male Bodhisattvas were not ‘fit’ to perform, such as bestowing and delivering babies. Choosing Avalokitesvara for this task was a shrewd and wise choice because Avalokitesvara can transform into 33 manifestations, and a female was part of the transformation. The trend caught on and soon many temples began erecting images of a female Avalokitesvara. The most popular image of the Bodhisattva is of a pretty woman wearing white robes, with kind eyes and jade-white smiling face, wearing fringes with a bun done at the back of her head, a willow in her right hand and a white vase in her left.

One of Avalokitesvara’s appearances is of her with 1,000 hands and eyes. It is one of Avalokitesvara’s 33 transformations but a popular myth surrounds this appearance. Legend has it that she was the 3rd daughter of Prince Zhuang of Chu (722 B.C. – 481 B.C.) named Miao Shan. Miao Shan was a devoted Buddhist who abstained from taking meat and chanted Buddhist sutras every day. When she asked her father’s permission to enter nunhood, he flew into a rage and had her killed. Her soul was brought back by King Yama (Guardian of Hell) to a peaceful place in the province of Zhejiang, where she could practice Buddhism without interference. She attained Enlightenment and spent her days benevolently helping human beings, relieving them of their distress.

One day Prince Zhuang fell seriously ill. Doctors told him that the only cure for his illness was to rub an ointment made from the hands and eyes of a being that was never angry. When Miao Shan heard this, she gouged out her own eyes and cut her hands and made them into medicinal pills for her father. When the prince got better, he was ashamed of his evil deeds and ordered that a statue be made for Miao Shan. Through some miscommunication, the statue ended up having 1,000 eyes and hands.

According to the scriptures, Avalokitesvara was contemplating compassion for the happiness and safety of all beings when he became so ‘stressed’ that his head burst into 1,000 pieces. Amitabha Buddha (not to be confused with Gautama Buddha) saw the situation and helped ‘glue’ back Avalokitesvara’s head. He also bestowed 11 heads, 1,000 eyes and 1,000 arms to the Bodhisattva so that he could alleviate every being’s suffering. That is why when people pray to Avalokitesvara sincerely, He can come to each individual, even though they are at different places at that time.

The 33 Manifestations of Avalokitesvara

According the scriptures, Avalokitesvara can transform into 33 incarnations (depending on situations) and save beings from 13 types of disasters. The following are the 33 manifestations of Avalokitesvara.

1. Avalokitesvara who holds the willow branch
2. Avalokitesvara of the dragon head
3. Avalokitesvara who holds the sutras
4. Avalokitesvara of complete light
5. Avalokitesvara of enjoyment or playfulness
6. Avalokitesvara who wears white robes
7. Avalokitesvara who sits on a lotus leaf
8. Avalokitesvara who views waterfalls
9. Avalokitesvara who gives medicine
10. Avalokitesvara of the fish basket
11. Avalokitesvara the King of Merit
12. Avalokitesvara of moon and water
13. Avalokitesvara of the one leaf
14. Avalokitesvara of blue throat
15. Avalokitesvara, powerful and virtuous
16. Avalokitesvara who extends life
17. Avalokitesvara of various treasures
18. Avalokitesvara of the rock cave
19. Avalokitesvara who bestows calmness
20. Avalokitesvara of 1,000 hands and eyes
21. Avalokitesvara of fearlessness
22. Avalokitesvara who wears robe of leaves (Parnashabari)
23. Avalokitesvara of Vaidurya
24. Avalokitesvara of salvation
25. Avalokitesvara of the clam
26. Avalokitesvara of 6 hours
27. Avalokitesvara of universal compassion
28. Avalokitesvara of Ma-Lang’s wife
29. Avalokitesvara of prayer
30. Avalokitesvara of Oneness
31. Avalokitesvara of non-duality
32. Avalokitesvara holding the lotus
33. Avalokitesvara of pure water

Bits and Pieces

The Avalokitesvara Mantra is ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. It contains 6 syllabus. Each syllable represents each of the 6 realms in the world of Samsara (Deva, Semi deva, Humans, Animals, Hungry Ghosts or Petas and Hell). When a being from any of the 6 realms hears this mantra, it will immediately cast away all angry thoughts and be enlightened.

The vase held by Avalokitesvara contains ‘Amrita’, meaning the Dew of Compassion. It can purify the defilement of our body, speech and mind. It also contains curative powers and can extend life.

In the practice of Feng Shui, Feng Shui masters who suspect a particular house of being resided by beings other than human would chant the great mantra, “Om Mani Padme Hum”. As mentioned earlier, beings who hear this mantra will be enlightened. Angry spirits would behind their anger (and the house) and more subdued spirits would lay still and be enlightened.

According to a Feng Shui master, a person who has chanted the great mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” a 100,000 times in the space of his lifetime would be granted one miracle. He would also have ‘priority’ access to Avalokitesvara whenever he calls His name sincerely.

“Think of it as an ISDN line to the great Bodhisattva,” the Feng Shui master says.

The 5 Buddhas Of Our Kalpa

This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 2 February 2001. Edited for clarity (I was very young when I wrote this).

Most people know that the founder of Buddhism was Sakyamuni, known also as the Gautama Buddha. But do you know that there are three other Buddhas who had descended in this kalpa with one more to come?

What is kalpa?

Kalpa is a term for a long period of time. Okay, maybe long is an understatement. Reverend Tri Ratna Priya Karuna from the International Buddhist Meditation Center in LA, California describes it as ‘a world period of virtually incalculable length. (This) kalpa is divided into four shorter periods, each of which is so long that it cannot be measured even in terms of thousands of years.’ Think of bags and bags of lavatory rolls with 1 centimeter for 100 years. Now unroll all the lavatory rolls. That is how long a kalpa will be.

In Buddhism, there are many kalpas but let’s just get on with the one we are in now. After all, we are not going to live this life long enough to experience other kalpas.

The kalpa in which we are living now is an extremely favorable kalpa of 5 Buddhas. These 5 Buddhas are special because they came down to the earth to preach the Dharma (Teaching of the Buddha).

Buddhism as we know today is the based on the Teaching of the 4th Buddha, the Sakyamuni Buddha. Sakyamuni lived in present day India around 2,500 years ago. He was born into a royal family as Prince Siddharta Gautama but renounced his princely life at the age of 29 to seek for the Truth of Suffering. He attained Buddhahood by His own efforts at the age of 35 and preached His Teaching to others. Sakyamuni attained Parinibbana when he was 80 years old. Parinibbana is a state where rebirth will not occur again. The being will not be subjected to the wheel of life (also called as Samsara) anymore.

Wheel of life

Let’s rewind to the first Buddha who came down to this world in this kalpa.

After 29 Buddha-less kalpas, Kusanda Buddha was born into a Brahmin family. The brahmins were second in seniority to aristocrats, followed by traders and lowly ones. He live royally, married a Brahmin woman by the name of Roccini and they had a son named Uttara.

At this period of time, an average human life span was 40,000 years. Unbelievable? Remember the kalpas, dear… We are talking about billions of years here. Kusanda spent 4,000 years living in princely comforts.

Kusanda then saw the Four Sights (it is a requirement for the aspiring Buddhas to encounter the Four Sights before they renounce the world. The Four Sights are an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a monk). He renounced the world, meditated for 8 months and attained Buddhahood.

The road to Buddhahood is not as simple as it sounds. It involves a lot of process and rebirths. Nevertheless, it is basically deep concentration, meditation and a strong determination.

After achieving Buddhahood (or Enlightenment), Kusanda Buddha lived for another 28,000 years and taught the Dharma to others.

The 2nd Buddha

Years and years later when the human life span was 30,000 years, Konagamana Buddha was born into a Brahmin family. He then married Rucigatta and they had a son by the name of Satthavata.

As with the first Buddha, Konagamana saw the Four Sights, which led him to renounce the world. He meditated for 6 months before becoming a Buddha.

For the next 21,000 years, Konagamana Buddha preached the Dharma. He passed away at the age 24,000. Yes, still unbelievable… It was unbelievable when UFOs were sighted. Or when experts announced that this world would accommodate 7 billion people in 10 years.

Let’s move on.

After yet another millions of years, Kasyapsa Buddha was born into a Brahmin family. His wife was Sunanda and their son was named Vinjitasena. The average human life span was 20,000 years.

Kasyapsa then saw the Four Sights, relinquished his world of comforts and meditated under the Bodhi Tree before becoming a Buddha.

Kasyapsa Buddha lived for 16,000 years helping different realms of beings get on the right path to Nirvana.

Jackpot Predictions

In Buddhism, rebirth is a way of life. A being can be born into either one of the 6 realms – gods, semi-gods, human, animals, hungry ghosts and hell. The state of your next rebirth depends on your karma, which is the Law of Cause and Effect. The rule is simple – do good and avoid evil, and you will be born into a better realm. The desirable realms are gods, semi-gods and human.

In the process of attaining Enlightenment, Gautama Buddha went through many rebirths. His rebirths were not always of the human realm – there were lives where he was reborn into other realms as well.

During the time of the Kusanda Buddha, Sakyamuni (the 4th Buddha) was King Khema, a devout Buddhist. After renouncing the world in the Kusanda Buddha’s presence, the Buddha predicted that King Khema would become a Buddha named Gautama in this kalpa. (Gautama would be Sakyamuni’s family name).

Sakyamuni was King Pabbata during the time of the Konagamana Buddha. He was a powerful ruler with a strong army. After meeting him, Konagamana Buddha predicted that King Pabbata would become the Gautama Buddha in this kalpa.

When Kasyapsa was Buddha, Sakyamuni was Jotipala the Youth, a famous and extremely accomplished young man. A friend brought him to the Buddha. After listening to the Buddha, Jotipala took his vows and became the Buddha’s disciple. Kasyapsa Buddha then prophesied that Jotipala would become the Gautama Buddha.

Enter The Future

The 5th and final Buddha in this kalpa would be Maitreya Buddha, popularly known as the Laughing Buddha.

Maitreya Buddha would descend on this world after millions of years when the average human life span reaches 100 years. He would be born into a Brahmin family (note that among the 5 Buddhas, only Gautama Buddha was born into a royal family).

Like all the Buddhas before Him, Maitreya would live idyllically until He encounters the Four Sights. He would then severe ties with the material world and live an ascetic life. After 7 days of deep meditation, Maitreya would become a Buddha and proceed to preach the Dharma.

After Maitreya Buddha passes away, His Teaching would continue in this world for 80,000 years. Then it would be time for another kalpa.

The name Maitreya means ‘universal love’, which is apt as He ‘specializes’ in loving kindness.

Currently, Maitreya Buddha is residing in the Pure Land of Tushita (or Tushita Heaven) where he teaches the Dharma to bodhisattvas (beings aspiring to become Buddhas).

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.” -The Buddha