Tea House

Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

Repose in Light

Ivan Latham

The majestic light of the Buddha Amitayus is the most exalted. No other Buddha’s light can match his. The light of some Buddhas illuminates a hundred Buddha-lands, and that of others, a thousand Buddha-lands.

Once one has encountered Amitabha’s light, suddenly one views society with new eyes. The clouds part and the perspective clears. Suddenly one sees the nature of the human condition in not-so-glorious technicolor. The news, the subject matter of the television programming, observations in the shopping mall – all of these things will no longer escape your attention like they may have escaped it before. And everywhere you look you will witness the craving, anger and ignorance of a human race caught in the endless round of Samsara.

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A Meditation on Mind, Body and Place – Ho Siu Kee

Wilson Chik

An ancient Banyan tree: a giant in its own rite, towering. Thousand green leaves shimmering air, each leaf, a moment in life. Nested inside, in the intersection of two gnarly branches, stands Dr. Ho Siu-Kee (known as Kee to friends) in all white. Though human, Kee is scaled tiny in this instance, comparatively. Nevertheless man and tree paired, inseparable.

This is how Kee chooses to open, and this is also how Kee chooses to close his recent talk: with a photograph of himself in the midst of a towering Banyan tree. Perhaps, this visual imprint comes to signify a deeper still-motion in progress, a quest of coming full circle not only in his myriad of creations such as this photograph (even though to Kee this is a thought recorded), but in the long line of life-work-art thoughts that purposefully places his body in synthesis among geometries, both personal and spiritual, thus far. We, as the viewers, are placed too in an immediate relationship with him, intimately. Unknowingly we fall into place, so to speak, drawn in by aesthetics and a precision that can only besiege us. For example, Kee standing in the Banyan tree.

Is he merely just standing? At what point is he the subject? Or is the Banyan tree the subject? Or us, the viewers as subjects? Somehow we are all participating. Our senses are homed. When, artfully prompted, the eye (and I) of self-reflection clicks, much akin to a revolving mirror that can change direction: a different view point arises. When does Kee become the object in the photograph? Or does the tree become the object? Or all of us, as viewers, are the objects in this, including the lens, and the photographer taking the photo? This is a case in point that we are all participating, as we are, in this moment and every moment, in a triangulation: a perceiver, in the mesh of culture and nature.

This brings the matter of agency to the surface, prodding at the nuances of how we are connected? Through intersubjectivity or interobjectivity? All layers, no matter how mundane our daily lives happen to be, reveal constantly the relationship that connects each one of us with both animate and inanimate objects. And in a such a spectrum of interdependency, this whole world of experience comes to be through our 5 senses and thoughts. True to this, Kee’s works, once specifically placed by craft, are to be experienced by body and perceived by mind.

Kee’s notable creations span from as early as 1995 to current and we are carried right along with each art. In one of his seminal work, Walking on Two Balls (1995), the artist’s body is put into a state where day-to-day balance is compromised, and a new balance must be sought. The challenge is to walk on two wooden balls, sculpted by Kee himself, and of the course, the inherent risk is that Kee might fall. We all watch the video playback half-holding our breath. The graph-like windows, pane by pane, in the background qualitatively chart the act of movement. Our own bodies move right along with Kee’s. A heightened sensitivity and aliveness permeate.

Kee, in his nonchalant way supplemented in the talk, mentioned the previous 9 times failing, which meant losing balance, was just as important as the 10th try in maintaining balance. Each attempt contributes to the body’s dynamism in adapting, which is an on-going and ever-changing process. Each balance lost is the success in finding balance. This process validates an ever-changing state that yields hope in finding new balances. If not, in a fixed state, adaptability would be hard; thus, change would be impossible. Hence, there is no fixed state.

Furthermore, materiality of the human body is extended beyond flesh and bones. In this case, wooden balls. What does this extension tell back about our own adaptability in the extension of material and the inter-connectivity between two seemingly different materials? Here, specifically, flesh and wood. By contact, this act of engagement, we have already bridged materiality. The inner, intra and inter relationships splinter broader, with the mind on board, resolving, from one material to another. An exchange occurs in inclusivity. Ultimately, through different materials, it all turns back into one materiality and mentality – the self, the mind and body – man in flux.

To experience Kee’s art, a tread naturally traverse through an ever-widening and inseparable scope of humanity, culture and nature. We, as either the viewers or participants, no longer can live in isolation or exclusivity as much as we like to deludingly think. In Aureola No.13 (Foot Stand)(2012), a steel ring is constructed, when Kee stands on the self-made pedestal, he is totally enveloped by this circle.

The invisible becomes visible: the border of light or radiance or sheng guang (聖光). Once again, the body placed in the center of this steel circle, does it free or limit the body? And how does the mind perceive this halo? With steel, its materiality challenges with weight and hardness. Does steel amplify the body through its material augmentation?

Or does steel undercut the body by contrast, drawing out more its vulnerability? Which, then, limits or liberates? Kee pushes the body further here by taking a penetrating stand, literally and symbolically, not only with materiality and mentality, but he takes into account context by placing this “holy” (the Germanic root of this word, whole and uninjured) stance directly in locale, situated right in Hong Kong. Sites in Mongkok, a public housing estate, a landfill etc. immediately unravel the mind, body in place! Here the switching of subject and object brings the background to the forefront, and what’s on the forefront into the background. An inevitable interconnectivity is sought and this is what constitutes this world of experience – life as we know it. As if instantaneously the outer world were to turn inwards and the inner world were to turn outward, we would have to reorient to the degrees of connection, rather than separation, in its throughness.

The aura (steel ring, Kee in white on a pedestal) that draws a crowd in Mongkok. The aura that lights in solitude the dark of Hong Kong living in the pubic domain, in the housing market and in the estate of governance. The aura that can stand as it is in the mounds of rubbish in a landfill. All of our personhood, not just sainthood, is being contested, referenced and pressed. Our senses and mind cannot turn away in disregard, at least I think this is the wish of every artist whose art invokes and or provokes, and also whose art impresses and or expresses. This is high art in situ, biopolitical in nature, examining the extend of limitation and liberation in our own body and in the social dimension at large. This complexity of limitation and liberation then tells back the stories on how have we been living our lives in context, an echo for each one of us to catch, to reflect and to own.

Dr. Ho Siu-Kee: a human being in his own rite stands, towering. Trillions of cells shimmering air, each cell, an universe in life. Nested outside, even more expansive, veins and intersections of gnarly branches span an ancient Banyan tree in all shades of green and brown. Though a plant, Banyan is scaled a giant in this instance, comparatively. Nevertheless, man and tree paired, inseparable.

Unwise Scholars

Ivan Latham

A sign of Namo Amitabha outside Templo Budista de Foz do Iguaçu, a Chinese Buddhist temple built in Brazil in 1996.

A man may read a million books
But lack wisdom all the same;
Friends, if we would be scholars,
Let us be scholars of the Name.

A man may count the stars of heaven
But miss true value all the same;
Friends, would you be a scholar?
Pray, be scholars of the Name.

Though we listen at the feet of great masters
And yet fail to hear all the same,
Friends, we must learn true scholarship,
Is scholarship of the Name.

When we throw our all on Amitabha,
And understand Self is lame,
And cry out Nianfo praises,
Friends, we are scholars of the Name.

The Name of the Buddha

Ivan Latham

What’s in a name?
What’s in a name indeed!
This Nianfo name is all in all –
My faith, my yearning, and the seed
Of Pure Land life raised by my call
Of Namo Amitabha!

On trying not to eat animals

Graham Lock

I like meat. I like waking up in the morning to the sound and smell of sizzling bacon. I like the aroma that wafts out when an oven is opened and a leg of lamb cooked to perfection in it own juices is slowly lifted out. I like chomping on pork crackling and sinking my teeth into succulent pork belly. I like thick slices of roast beef served with roast potatoes and a rich gravy.

Or at least I used to like all these things. The ‘problem’ now is that it is very hard for me to mindfully eat a meat dish without thinking of the animal from which the flesh has been sliced and how it might have met its end. Similarly, how can I sit and send loving-kindness to ‘all sentient beings’ without bringing to mind the sixty billion land animals and a thousand billion marine animals that are killed every year for us to eat? Those figures, by the way, come from Matthieu Ricard’s A Plea for the Animals: The moral, philosophical and evolutionary imperative to treat all beings with compassion. I would definitely recommend this book. It’s informative, interesting and persuasive without being at all preachy.

Of course, our culture in general, and the meat industry in particular, is very good at ‘shielding’ us from the full horrors of industrial food production, and preventing us from making the connection between the food on our plate and the awful conditions in which the animals are raised, not to mention the screams, bellows, blood, and shit of the slaughterhouse. But ignoring all this shouldn’t really be an option for anyone following the Buddha-Dharma, it seems to me.

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The Restored Lotus

Ivan Latham

The Flowering Heart. From Earth Hive

Every newborn is like a lotus flower that rises from the muddy water, untainted. It is new life emerging from the Samsaran dirt, life that reflects Pure Land perfection. Only the negative karmic imprints that this life carries with it can taint the lotus as they ripen souring the fragrance, sullying the bloom. But the original beauty and perfection can be restored. Many attempt this restoration themselves by practicing mindfulness and virtue, trying to nurture the bodhi mind through meditation, that the lotus might bloom again.

But in this last dharma age, such self-powered practices are increasingly futile; the Buddhahood we seek under our own steam can take countless more lifetimes to achieve, and the truth is that we are unlikely to achieve it at all. So, what can we do? Shakyamuni Buddha gave us the answer. We can follow the Pure Land path, entrusting ourselves to the power of Amitabha Buddha, who will take us to His Pure Land upon our leaving this world, where our Buddhahood can be realised immediately. Where the lotus can bloom again by His infinite light, and the fragrance of the Dharma will be restored forever.

Namo Amitabha!

Who knows what else might come?

Ratnadevi

‘Ready’, called the egg when it was laid. ‘Now I’m ready!’ called the tadpole when it had hatched. ‘Now I’m completely ready! ‘ called the creature, animal when it had two legs.

‘Now, finally, I’m absolutely completely ready! ‘ called the creature when it had four legs and a long tail. ‘Who knows what else might come…’, said the frog, when he was ready.

(author unknown)

Warm enough now to sit outside at the allotment, in cross-legged meditation position, contemplating eggs. How we blew them empty, half a century ago. And then painted them, under instruction of mum, turned into a high priestess transmitting ancient wisdom. A dozen of them attached with cotton thread to a willow branch – so light they are, swaying in the blow of our breath. We also boiled eggs and dyed them in luminous tulip colours, magic sulphurous odours filling the kitchen. Who will eat them all? Seemingly rituals are allowed to be wasteful and non-utilitarian.

At the allotment again, with our 5 years old granddaughter. Eagerly she collects the treasures the Easter Bunny has hidden among the fresh green, variously shaped leafs of the perennials along the borders and in the little nesting places where the fruit trees branch. When she has found them all she wants to find more. While she gets busy with her grandpa doing a little weeding and digging, I re-distribute a clutch of those metal-foil covered chocolate eggs. ‘Some kind of bunny has hidden some treasures for you’ I announce. Her eyes light up and she bounces up and down: ‘A Granny Bunny!’

Children manage to make magic at any time, under any circumstance. For us adults, a surprise find may open that door to us: like finding a ‘real’ bird’s egg. That speckled perfection, clearly containing something. Some part of us may awaken, curious, wondering and intent on making meaning, but perhaps not only in the literal way. Yes, it’s probably a blackbird’s egg, but really: What is it? What is inside? What wants to be born?

Maybe we don’t have to wait for those chance happenings or the ritually planned surprise of a gift. What would it take for us now to tap into that child-like aptitude for wonder-filled appreciation, on a daily basis? There is a way of approaching meditation that does that for me: sitting and being open to the ‘unknowingness’ of this moment, and the next.

Balancing Spirituality and Academic Study

BD Dipananda

It has now been 13 years since I balanced the duality of a monastic and a academic life and I have several key observations  to share.

Values of Celibacy As a Monk

First, my on-going celibacy is the most dramatic hall mark of difference in my life amongst the secular laity.

I have come to realize also that it is linked to the tradition to serve the community without reservation.

It is also to expand my spirituality to its utmost limit and fully present the demonstration of the values of the Buddha’s teaching.

Monastic life has a distinctive appeal for me and answers to my inner longings since childhood. As a result, in the beginning of monastic life, choosing to study in college was not an easy decision. I have to weigh up what my master would say, and how the Buddhist community would judge me if I go to college.

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Postcard from Raymond: Cosmic Lotus

From bestyleshare.online

What will I see when I leave this world? Will my “sight” even be the kind of visual “seeing” that I’ve known all my life? What will I hear when I have no auditory organs?

What will I bring with me when I sigh farewell?

Nothing.

I will have nothing.

I can take zilch, nada with me to the grave, the crematorium, or the seas where I might be sprinkled like flakes dissolving into a great foam of abyssal waters.

I am nourishment-in-waiting for the creatures and bacteria that feed on expired engines of fluid and meat.

But I am also made from the cooled gas and minerals of exploded stars. I am stardust from cosmic entities that suffuse the universe. Suffusing spacetime and consciousness itself is the invocation “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” which was revealed to mysterious visionaries in the Indic wilderness. We’ve received a personal invitation from a place beyond existence and nonexistence. We respond with our devotion and faith in “Namo Amitabha Buddha” and await our welcome.

I have no eyes in the earthly sense. But I can glimpse the celestial, inner flesh of a bud. I have no mortal sense of touch, but I can feel its softness. I have no more human ears, yet I can hear the most delightful music and gentle intonations. I take no breath, yet I gasp in joy.

Homage to the Primordial Wisdom Dakini

Lyudmila Klasanova

A dakini is one of the most remarkable manifestations of the Buddha nature in female form. In Buddhist tradition, dakinis are worshiped as human emanations of wisdom that keep the key to the esoteric knowledge of Vajrayana and reveal the path to complete freedom. The term was originally associated with secondary figures in the entourage of the deities of local traditions of India. In classical Sanskrit texts, dakinis are described mostly as hostile demonic creatures inhabiting sinister and secluded areas or places of cremation. Such spaces are considered sacred because of the opportunity they provide for inner contemplation and spiritual realization.

Dakini Vajravarahi. Drawing by the author.

The change in the adoption of the figure of a dakini occured under the influence of Buddhist meditative schools (6th-7th century), as a result of which they begin to be venerated as protectors of meditation and spiritual guide who help in removing illusions. The way they are accepted in Tibetan Buddhism is completely different and this is expressed very well in their Tibetan name khandroma, which translates usually as “a woman, who is walking, flying or dancing in the sky”. In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, khandroma is a symbol of the sky, which is all-embracing, like emptiness. She is the one who reveals the truth about the emptiness of all phenomena and moves blissfully in boundless space of emptiness.

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