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The Taoist Wisdom – Sai Weng Shi Ma

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical tradition whose origins extend back to 3000 B.C. The first actual written works to promote the Taoist outlook appeared around 500 B.C. and were attributed to the legendary Taoist sages, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Lao Tzu is the author of the Tao Te Ching.  

Taoism is organized around several key principles and, like any philosophical outlook, presents a way of seeing and understanding reality. The word TAO itself translates as the Way, or Path. This meaning includes both the way in which we perceive the world around us (how do we make assessments? what are our values?) and also the way in which we interact with life (how do we behave? what are our actions?). The manner in which we perceive reality influences our way of being in the world, our path of action.

The Taoists saw all changes in nature as manifestations of the dynamic interplay between the polar opposites yin and yang, and thus they came to believe that any pair of opposites constitutes a polar relationship where each of the two poles is dynamically linked to the other.

There is a very famous and acient Taoist story that every Chinese know about – I love it tremendously. The story is about an old Taoist farmer whose horse ran away:

There once was an old man who lived with his only son at the border of the state. They liked horses and often let them graze freely. One time a servant reported to the old man, “A horse is missing! It went into the neighboring state.” His friends felt sorry for him, but the old man was not bothered at all by the loss. In fact, he said: “Who knows! The loss may bring us good fortune!” A few months later, a weird thing happened. Not only did the missing horse return home safely, it also brought back with it a fine horse from the neighboring state. When his friends heard the news, they congratulated the old man on his good luck. But the old man said, “Who knows! This may bring us ill fortune!” One day, when the old man’s son was riding the fine horse, he fell off it, broke his leg very badly and became crippled. Many friends came to comfort the old man, but the old man was not disturbed by the accident in the least. “Who knows! This may bring us good fortune after all!” he said. A year later, the neighboring state sent troops across the border. All young and strong men were drafted to join the fight, and most of them got killed. The old man’s son however was not drafted because he was crippled – and so his life was spared.

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Tibetan Lama – Living Buddha’s Blessing

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This was one of the unusual experience during a recent custom tour which I arranged for an American visitor, Ben is very interested in Buddhism Culture and it was so interesting that we were able to meet a Tibetan Lama in Shanghai – who just happened to revisit this city after 5 year, isn’t that amazing?

To have a better understanding about Tibeten Buddhism, you have to know the following:

Lama is a title for a Tibetan teacher of the Dharma. The name is similar to the Sanskrit term guru. Historically, the term was used for venerated spiritual master or heads of monasteries. Perhaps due to misunderstandings by early western scholars attempting to understand Tibetan Buddhism, the term Lama has historically been erroneously applied to Tibetan monks generally. In Tibetan Buddhism, the lama is often the tantric spiritual guide, the guru to the aspiring Buddhist yogi or yogini. As such, the lama will then appear as one of the Three Roots (a variant of the Three Jewels), alongside the yidam and protector (who may be a dakini, dharmapala or other Buddhist deity figure).

A basic Buddhist belief is that our bodies are made up of the 5 elements (water, fire, earth, air, and space – the Chinese label this one metal). And they also think that the whole universe is impermanent. The Buddhists believe that there are ‘subtle elements’ as well as the denser elements that we can see and feel. If a spiritual practitioner is compassionate and wise enough, they believe that they can dissolve their body into a “rainbow body” made up of the very subtlest level of the elements. After someone’s death the Buddhists practice something called Shi-Tro for the next 49 days(7 days a cycle).

Also a core Buddhist belief is that of the Bodhisattva or the wise one who can choose whether to come back to Samsara (earth where all life is suffering) or go on to Nirvana (where there is no longer suffering). The Boddhisattva intentionally chooses to return to Samsara “for the benefit of all sentient beings.” 

The reincarnation system for the Living Buddhas is the main point distinguishing tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism. ACCORDING TO TIBETAN BUDDHIST teaching, while reincarnation is inevitable for everyone, there are certain beings who have so trained their minds through intensive study and meditation that they can influence the conditions of their next birth. These tulkus, as they are known, are bound by their vow to return to lead others to enlightenment. The Dalai Lama, whose lineage can be traced through 14 successive rebirths, is the best known. But within Tibetan Buddhism at large there are many such tulkus. Sera monastery alone accommodates some 25 of them.

Lama Osel is the best known of these, and his story was the inspiration for Bernardo Bertolucci’s film about a Western reincarnate, Little Buddha – Lama Norbu comes to Seattle in search of the reincarnation of his dead teacher, Lama Dorje. His search leads him to young Jesse Conrad, Raju, a waif from Kathmandu, and an upper class Indian girl. Together, they journey to Bhutan where the three children must undergo a test to prove which is the true reincarnation. Interspersed with this, is the story of Siddharta, later known as the Buddha. It traces his spiritual journey from ignorance to true enlightenment.

The process of finding the “soul boy” usually happens 49 days after the death of a Lama, there are high monks who know where to search and they usually bring the dead Lama’s old things during the process. There are unbelievable stories like a boy select the Lama’s toy from 100 other toys and shouting “this is mine!”

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Guanyin Pusa – Legend of Miao Shan

Guanyin is an extremely popular Goddess in Chinese folk belief and is worshiped in Chinese communities throughout East and South East Asia. Guanyin is revered in the general Chinese population due to her unconditional love, compassion and mercy. She is generally regarded by many as the protector of women and children. By this association she is also seen as a fertility goddess capable of granting children. An old Chinese superstition involves a woman wishing to have a child offering a shoe at a Guanyin Temple. Sometimes a borrowed shoe is used then when the expected child is born the shoe is returned to its owner along with a new pair as a “thank you” gift. Guanyin is also seen as the champion of the unfortunate, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and those in trouble. Some coastal and river areas of China regard her as the protector of fishermen, sailors, and generally people who are out at sea, thus many also come to believe that Mazu, the Daoist goddess of the sea, is a manifestation of Guanyin. Due to her association with the legend of the Great Flood, where she sent down a dog holding rice grains in its tail after the flood, she is worshiped as a rice goddess. In some quarters, especially among business people and traders, she is looked upon as a Goddess of Luck and Fortune. In recent years there have been claims of her being the protector of air travelers.

Believe it or not, there is an amazing story about her:

According to the story, a king asked his daughter Miao Shan to marry a wealthy man who is not caring, she told him that she would obey his command, so long as the marriage eased three misfortunes.

The king asked his daughter what were the three misfortunes that the marriage should ease. Miaoshan explained that the first misfortune the marriage should ease was the suffering people endure as they age. The second misfortune it should ease was the suffering people endure when they fall ill. The third misfortune it should ease was the suffering caused by death. If the marriage could not ease any of the above, then she would rather retire to a life of religion forever.

When her father asked who could ease all the above, Miao Shan pointed out that a doctor was able to do all of these. Her father grew angry as he wanted her to marry a person of power and wealth, not a healer. He forced her into hard labor and reduced her food and drink but this did not cause her to yield.

Every day she begged to be able to enter a temple and become a nun instead of marrying. Her father eventually allowed her to work in the temple, but asked the monks to give her the toughest chores in order to discourage her. The monks forced Miao Shan to work all day and all night, while others slept, in order to finish her work. However, she was such a good person that the animals living around the temple began to help her with her chores. Her father, seeing this, became so frustrated that he attempted to burn down the temple. Miao Shan put out the fire with her bare hands and suffered no burns. Now struck with fear, her father ordered her to be put to death.

In one version of this legend, when she was executed, a supernatural tiger took Guanyin to one of the more hell-like realms of the dead. However, instead of being punished by demons like the other inmates, Guanyin played music and flowers blossomed around her. This completely surprised the head demon. The story says that Guanyin, by merely being in that hell, turned it into a paradise.

A variant of the legend says that Miao Shan allowed herself to die at the hand of the executioner. According to this legend, as the executioner tried to carry out her father’s orders, his axe shattered into a thousand pieces. He then tried a sword which likewise shattered. He tried to shoot Miao Shan down with arrows but they all veered off.

Finally in desperation he used his hands. Miao Shan, realising the fate the executioner would meet at her father’s hand should she fail to let herself die, forgave the executioner for attempting to kill her. It is said that she voluntarily took on the massive karmic guilt the executioner generated for killing her, thus leaving him guiltless. It is because of this that she descended into the Hell-like realms. While there she witnessed first hand the suffering and horrors beings there must endure and was overwhelmed with grief. Filled with compassion, she released all the good karma she had accumulated through her many lifetimes, thus freeing many suffering souls back into Heaven and Earth. In the process that Hell-like realm became a paradise. It is said that Yanluo, King of Hell, sent her back to Earth to prevent the utter destruction of his realm, and that upon her return she appeared on Fragrant Mountain.

Another tale says that Miao Shan never died but was in fact transported by a supernatural tiger, believed to be the Deity of the Place, to Fragrant Mountain.

The Legend of Miao Shan usually ends with Miao Chuang Yen, Miao Shan’s father, falling ill with jaundice. No physician was able to cure him. Then a monk appeared saying that the jaundice could be cured by making a medicine out of the arm and eye of one without anger. The monk further suggested that such a person could be found on Fragrant Mountain. When asked, Miao Shan willingly offered up her eyes and arms. Miao Chuang Yen was cured of his illness and went to the Fragrant Mountain to give thanks to the person. When he discovered that his own daughter had made the sacrifice, he begged for forgiveness. The story concludes with Miaoshan being transformed into the Thousand Armed Guanyin, and the king, queen and her two sisters building a temple on the mountain for her. She began her journey to heaven and was about to cross over into heaven when she heard a cry of suffering from the world below. She turned around and saw the massive suffering endured by the people of the world. Filled with compassion, she returned to Earth, vowing never to leave till such time as all suffering has ended.

After her return to Earth, Guanyin was said to have stayed for a few years on the island of Mount Putuo where she practised meditation and helped the sailors and fishermen who got stranded. Guanyin is frequently worshipped as patron of sailors and fishermen due to this. She is said to frequently becalm the sea when boats are threatened with rocks. After some decades Guanyin returned to Fragrant Mountain to continue her meditation.

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