Saturday, November 23, 2013

KINTSUGI – Fix something broken using gold!

KINTSUGI – Fix something broken using gold!

I just read that Kintsugi is a Japanese art form where broken pottery is fixed with a lacquer resin sprinkled with powdered gold. Once, the broken pottery is fixed with gold it actually looks way more attractive than the original.

The story goes that 15th century Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea cup and sent it to China for repairs. It came back repaired with ugly metal staples. Seeing it look so ugly he got very disappointed. He then prompted his craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repair.  The craftsmen used the cracks and aggrandized those with gold and the breaks became works of art. Japanese collectors sometimes would break perfect prized ceramics, just to have them mended in gold. These so said damaged pots actually fetched a higher price than their perfect counterparts.

Japanese took something broken and ugly and turned it into something beautiful!

Shouldn’t we turn our life’s cracks into works of art? Look back at your life and see how every crack has actually made you more beautiful. Often when I have asked people to look at their life, most have agreed that what seemed like a negative time in their life eventually turned out to be the most meaningful turning point for them.

From time to time we all break. Relationships break, aspirations break, friendships break, health and wealth suffer cracks and at times we feel incapable of repairing ourselves. These are the very times that can make us beautiful. All that is needed is faith that what ever is happening has some reason behind it. Often when we are in the midst of a perceived negative event it is impossible to see the good in that situation, but when we look back we can see that because of that event our life took a different trajectory. We could go on complaining about what happened or become miserable and angry or we could look at that so said negative event or break in our perfect life and use it to make life more beautiful.

I am reminded of a friend who spent time in prison. For all purposes he should have been angry and bitter, but instead he used that time to read up on various philosophies and worked on his body and mind and pretty much reinvented himself.  In his own words, “ had I continued on my original path, my body would have probably given up on me. Prison saved me.” Similarly a major health scare forces us to adopt a healthier life style and a broken relationship sometimes makes us more considerate and compassionate.

All negative events can be turned around and made into something beautiful, for it is true that which does not kill us makes us stronger.

I am also now understanding that physical death too is not necessarily the end. Yes the body dies but the soul continues on its onward journey. Although a difficult concept to accept, I can see that it makes perfect sense. We all come with previous baggage. The sooner we start accepting the breaks and the cracks the sooner we will start to recover and shine.

Next time something undesired happens, think about the Japanese art ‘kintsugi’ and see how that event can be dusted with gold to make it something of value.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bonsai life

The Japanese have perfected the art of Bonsai. The first time I saw these miniature trees, I was taken aback by the beauty and often stopped to marvel at these unnatural works of art.  Although the trees look beautiful, I have often wondered how the trees must feel?   Their inner rootlets are cut and are not allowed to strike deep into the soil. Because they do not have deep roots they can’t shoot high into the air either. Hundreds of years old trees look like little shoots. Their growth is thwarted by cutting their roots!

We humans are the same. Often our growth is thwarted because we never really develop our roots fully. We allow ourselves to be influenced by the views and opinions of others. Instead of looking for answers from within we keep looking outside. We have never really learnt to trust our own inner guidance. We never allowed the roots to go deep. We allowed society, schools, colleges, governments and corporates to prune our roots and shoots so that we would never grow into our full potential.

Although many of us may look perfect on the outside, maybe our spirits have been thwarted to live a bonsai lifestyle.  We have all been made to believe that outward beauty and appearance matters more than what is inside. Our roots have been cut, so that we may never reach our full potential.  We have been made into little bonsais who are constantly looking for validation and approval from the outside world.

Only if, the bonsai cedar or oak knew its full potential? Only if, we all knew our own full potential. 

"The body is a treacherous friend. Give it it's due; no more " he said . " pain and pleasure are transitory ; endure all dualities with calmness, while trying at the same time to remove their hold . Imagination is the door through which disease as well as healing enters. Disbelieve in the reality of sickness even when you are ill; an unrecognized visitor will flee ." ( from the book - Autobiography of a yogi )


Your life reflects your most dominant thought. If you don’t like what you are experiencing , change your thought about it.

Often when something pleasant or unpleasant happens, we tend to share that experience many times over. We talk about it, write about it, think about it and dwell on it for some time. If it’s a pleasant experience, it feels great, but if it is an unpleasant experience we feel sad and tired. For example, when someone is diagnosed with some illness, the person speaks about that illness often. This keeps the illness alive for much longer. The attention tends to remain on the illness instead of the healing. Next time you experience something unpleasant; try and not speak or think about it. As Swami Yogananda said, “ An ignored visitor soon leaves”. But most of us seem incapable of ignoring something or someone that causes us pain. We keep that experience very close to our heart and at every opportunity give it unwanted attention.

Our life is a string of experiences and experiences are nothing but our interactions. Therefore if we want to improve our life we need to change the interaction between the subject (that is usually us) and the object (that could be a person or an event) . Changing the object may not be possible but changing the way we view the object is always possible.


Ramana Maharshi :

“It is in the mind that birth and death, pleasure and pain, in short the world and ego exist. If the mind is destroyed all these are destroyed too. Note that it should be annihilated, not just made latent. For the mind is dormant in sleep. It does not know anything. Still, on waking up, you are as you were before. There is no end of grief. But if the mind be destroyed the grief will have no background and will disappear along with the mind.

Question : How to destroy the mind?

Ramana Maharshi : Seek the mind. On being sought, it will disappear.

Question : I do not understand.

Ramana Maharshi : The mind is only a bundle of thoughts. The thoughts arise because there is the thinker. The thinker is the ego. The ego, if sought, will vanish automatically. The ego and the mind are the same. The ego is the root-thought from which all other thoughts arise.

Question : How to seek the mind?

Ramana Maharshi : Dive within. You are now aware that the mind rises up from within. So sink within and seek.

from (Be As You Are by David Godman)

Dont throw cold water on your child's dreams. Don't drill common sense in them. Don't take away their hopes, certitude and confidence in possibilities . Don't tell them how life is meant to be, because we have no idea how life is meant to be! If you really want to teach them something, teach them how to live fully connected . Teach them how not to be slaves to their senses. Teach them how to control the mind . Teach them how to reason, for life must be dominated by reason and not by impulses. Reason must then give way to faith and finally surrender.
An object may appear to produce happiness for a short while, but the object is only an instrument. An object by itself does not posses the faculty of happiness or sorrow, because the same object has different appeal to different people or different appeal to the same person at different times. The locus of happiness is ourselves. Therefore to find happiness, we need not search far and wide, as any search outside will take us farther away from ourselves - the locus of happiness. ( excerpted from Self Unfoldment by Swami Chinmayananda ) 

The above reminds me of an episode that happened when I was 7. When I was young, pencils gave me immense happiness. I used to collect pencils of all colors and shapes. At any opportunity I would try and increase my pencil collection. I had a suitcase full of pencils and every time I added to my collection I experienced immense joy. One day my suitcase was gone. During one of our house moves, my suitcase full of pencils was lost. I was inconsolable. My most precious possession was gone. I was all of 7 years old and all that mattered to me was gone. I cried for days and no matter how many pencils were given to me, I still wanted my own pencils back. After all I had collected them over 2 years. Today when I think about the incident, I laugh at the thought of, how attached I was to my pencils. 

What happened?

Something that gave me so much happiness when I was young does not even make me blink or smile today. The object is still the same, but my attachment to that object is completely gone. If happiness was in the pencils, I should get the same joy today as I got at 7. Sadly that is not the case. Today my attachment to pencils is almost non-existent, but I have other desires and attachments, that are probably more insidious. I need to now understand that my happiness lays deep within me and not in anything outside of me. Just as I have outgrown my love for pencils, one day I will outgrow all my out worldly desires and attachments. 

Till that happens- I am a work in progress a ‘Spiritual warrior in training ‘.

Myth of the body .

All our troubles stem from the myth that we are the body and when this body perishes, all our hopes, dreams and pains perish too. Such is not the case. 
We are eternal souls who have a body, mind and intellect. Through the body we experience the world of objects, through the mind, we experience the world of emotions and through the intellect, we experience the world of thoughts.

Sadly we have all bought into the myth that we are the body and therefore all our fears and aspirations arise from this body consciousness. It’s a bit like believing that our shadow is our body. If the shadow gets driven over we should feel the pain, but such is not the case. We would laugh at the person who would react in any way to his or her shadow. Because we accept that our shadow is not the real me, we do not feel any pain. Similarly the day we can understand that this body is not the real me, we will be able to go through life the way we are meant to. To experience life as a dance of the soul.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Love vs Attachment

In a recent class we were asked to decipher the difference between love and attachment... In the first instance both are perceived to be the same. From our own experience we know that when we love someone or something we become attached to the person or the thing.

 When our teacher asked us to think about someone we love, most of us being mothers thought of our children. What is the first thought that comes to our mind when we think of our children? It’s concern for their wellbeing. Sadly, that concern turn’s into worry and we believe that our children will be lost without us.

 According to our teacher what we perceive as love is nothing but attachment and attachment and love are complete opposite of each other. If we are attached we cannot love and if we experience and share true love we cannot be attached. This was all extremely confusing to begin with but as we delved further it became clearer that what we think is love is nothing but attachment wrapped in expectation. 

Love in its true sense is all-inclusive, it is beyond the mind and the body. It is selfless, patient and accepting. It is not dependent on the value or relationship because the notion of separateness is non-existent in love. To love another is to love the self and to love the self is to love another. Love in a true sense transcends the bodily separation and therefore love is spiritual. The difference in forms and names leads to a feeling of separation and we forget what love is. Love means freedom and acceptance of as is and what is. Love is a life enabling force and not a life limiting force. Love is all encompassing, unconditional, freeing, accepting and without expectation and without control.

 Attachment on the other hand breeds a sense of possession and makes boundaries. Intense attachment with a person or object leads to fear and pain of loss. Attachment is exclusive instead of inclusive. Attachment leads to dependence and expectation. Attachment is transitory and is dependent on the value we apportion to the object of our attachment. When the perceived value decreases our attachment also decreases. If we truly understood and practiced love, our love would not waver or change. 

Intellectually we can say we understand the difference between love and attachment but realistically the line we draw in our heads is quite fine and often we don’t know how to love without attachment. 

Thinking about my daughter, I know I love her, but I still act out of attachment to her. In my desire to ensure that she is happy and well looked after, I put expectations and boundaries on her. I tell her what to do and I hover around her ensuring she is doing her homework. I believe I am doing all this because I love her and her future depends on how I bring her up. I am fearful when I think of something happening to her. I experience emotional pain when she gets sick or is physically hurt. My so-called love feels suffocating to my daughter. If it were real love she would feel free and not entangled in my web of affection.

 As my understanding of life and spirit is expanding, I can see how my belief structure is limiting my ability to experience and share love. My actions are probably motivated out of fear and how I will be perceived as a parent. If I am to truly love her, I need to accept her just as she is and not try and change her. I need to accept that she is her own person with her own likes and dislikes and these likes and dislikes may not necessarily be the same as mine. I need to see her beyond the physical and see the sameness of spirit. I need to have faith that she is as much a child of God as she is mine. If I am concerned about her well being and safety so is God. I need to understand that although I gave birth to her I do not posses her. She came through me and not to me. I need to be a guide and a mentor and fulfill my motherly duties to the best of my capacity. I need to clearly understand the difference between love and attachment.

 In our day-to-day behavior we equate love with showing concern and being there for the other person, but however much we feel that we are doing things out of love there is an underlying expectation. The moment I say I love you a part of me wants to hear the same words being said back to me. If I do something for another a part of me expects something in return. Even the law of karma states that what goes around comes around so we are not wrong in our expectation of certain outcomes, but we then need to understand that what we claim to be love is not really love but attachment.

 When we were really made to reflect on the real understanding of love, it was shocking for me to realize that till now I had only been attached and not really loved. How many of us can truly say we have loved unconditionally? I for one have not, but as my understanding of life, love and spirit is growing so is my discernment of love and attachment.

 Starting today I will focus on my behavior towards my loved ones and see if that behavior is rooted in love or attachment? Is my behavior limiting the other or is it allowing the other to flourish? Is my behavior based on a need or desire on my part or is it coming from a place of genuine giving? If I were to truly love I would have to detach myself from the outcome and not have any expectation. I am probably not alone in my questions and my misunderstanding of love and most of us confuse one with the other.

 But it’s never too late to let go of attachment to let love in. xxxx

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I kidnapped a Monk!

I first met Ajahn Brahm a few years ago when my friend Suree asked me if I could drive a monk to Cathay City for a talk that he was to conduct there. I had no idea who I was supposed to pick up but I agreed.  I had by then started on my quest of understanding the meaning of happiness and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to spend some time in the company of an enlightened master.

I arrived at the designated place and was waiting in my car when I saw Suree walking towards me with a tall ‘gwaelo’ monk in tow who was beaming from ear to ear. I got out of the car and greeted the smiling monk who I learnt was born in London UK and named Peter Betts, he studied Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University and then travelled to Thailand to become a monk and train with the Venerable Ajahn Chah. He was renamed Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera (lovingly known to most as Ajahn Brahm).

Having got a quick briefing on his birth and academic background I proceeded to chew his brain on why he decided to become a monk. He told me with a very straight face that it was because of a broken heart. He said the love of his life walked out on him and he felt he had only two choices, either end his life or become a monk. He decided on the latter. I believed him. Not sure if it is the true story but it sure sounds more interesting than saying that it was his calling.

Ajahm Brahm, Venerable Dhammapala , Bhante, Suree and Daniel
I did my driver duty and was kindly invited by my friend to sit in for the talk. The next 90 minutes were the most amazing 90 minutes I had. Ajahn Brahm in his  inimitable style had the audience in splits. It felt more like a comedy show than a serious Buddhist talk. Ajahn Brahm had such a wonderful way of making serious topics appear so simple that the whole auditorium was completely mesmerized and at times laughing hysterically.  I remember the story he shared that day. He spoke about ‘The two bad bricks’.

In Ajahn’s words;

"After we purchased the land for our monastery in 1983 we were broke. We were in debt. There were no buildings on the land, not even a shed. Those first few weeks we slept not on beds but on old doors we had bought cheaply from the salvage yard; we raised them on bricks at each corner to lift them off the ground. (There were no mattresses, of course — we were forest monks.)

"The abbot had the best door, the flat one. My door was ribbed with a sizeable hole in the center where the doorknob would have been. I joked that now I wouldn't need to get out of bed to go to the toilet! The cold truth was, however, that the wind would come up through that hole. I didn't sleep much those nights.

"We were poor monks who needed buildings. We couldn't afford to employ a builder — the materials were expensive enough. So I had to learn how to build: how to prepare the foundations, lay concrete and bricks, erect the roof, put in the plumbing — the whole lot. I had been a theoretical physicist and a high-school teacher and was not used to working with my hands. After a few years, I became quite skilled at building, even calling my crew the BBC ("Buddhist Building Company").

When I began laying bricks, I'd tap one corner down to make it level and another corner would go up. So I'd tap that corner down then the brick would move out of line. After I'd nudged it back into line, the first corner would be too high again.

"Being a monk, I had patience and as much time as I needed. I made sure every single brick was perfect, no matter how long it took. Eventually, I completed my first brick wall and stood back to admire it. It was only then that I noticed— oh no! — I'd missed two bricks. All the other bricks were nicely in line, but these two were inclined at an angle. They looked terrible. They spoiled the whole wall. They ruined it.

"By then, the cement mortar was too hard for the bricks to be taken out, so I asked the abbot if I could knock the wall down and start over again — or, even better, perhaps blow it up. I'd made a mess of it and I was very embarrassed. The abbot said no, the wall had to stay.

"When I showed our first visitors around our fledgling monastery, I always tried to avoid taking them past my brick wall. I hated anyone seeing it. Then one day, some three or four months after I finished it, I was walking with a visitor and he saw the wall.

" 'That's a nice wall,' he casually remarked.

" 'Sir,' I replied in surprise, 'have you left your glasses in your car? Are you visually impaired? Can't you see those two bad bricks which spoil the whole wall? What he said next changed my whole view of that wall, of myself, and of many other aspects of life. He said, "Yes. I can see those two bad bricks. But I can see the 998 good bricks as well.”

"I was stunned. For the first time in over three months, I could see other bricks in that wall apart from the two mistakes. Above, below, to the left and to the right of the bad bricks were good bricks, perfect bricks.

Moreover, the perfect bricks were many, many more than the two bad bricks. Before, my eyes would focus exclusively on my two mistakes; I was blind to everything else. That was why I couldn't bear looking at that wall, or having others see it. That was why I wanted to destroy it. Now that I could see the good bricks, the wall didn't look so bad after all. It was, as the visitor had said, 'a nice brick wall.”

I too had been struggling with my own two bricks and had failed to see the 998 perfect bricks in my life. That one story left a huge imprint and I became a fan. I read all his books and watched all his YouTube talks. Last year when Suree called me to tell me that Ajahn Brahm was coming back to Hong Kong and if I would be interested in driving him to Cathay City again, I jumped at the opportunity. This time I had hundreds of questions and he answered each one of them with so much patience and clarity that I was in love all over again. I did not miss any of his talks while he was here last year and then one day when I was supposed to drive him and a few other monks back to the temple where they were staying I decided to take a detour. I decided to take the scenic route and before they could figure out what was happening I had very surreptitiously brought them to my place. I wanted Ajahn Brahm and Venerable Dhammapala to come to my house and I was afraid that if I asked them they would say no as Ajahn had a very tight schedule. I decided to kidnap them instead!

So we drove along the harbor and the lights looked beautiful. After we had driven for a about 15 minutes Venerable said to me that nothing looked familiar to him and if I knew where I was going. I said, “ Oh yes I know exactly where we are going. After being in the car for about 25 minutes, Venerable appeared a bit concerned and asked me again if I knew the right way. I then confessed that I was not really sure so I was going home to pick up my husband and then he would drive over to the temple. I don’t think the venerable was very happy with my idea!

Although it was true that I was not really confident of reaching the temple at night from Central (as I had mostly driven there during the day and that too from my house in Clear water bay ) I really wanted Ajahn Brahm to come and bless my house and meet my husband. It was a very naughty thing to do but I just followed my heart.

We arrived at my place around 10.00 at night and sadly they could not stay long as it was already quite late and all the monks were very tired. My plan worked, My husband agreed to drive Ajahn Brahm, Venerable Dhammapala and the three other young monks to the temple and by the time he came back he too was besotted with Ajahn and came with me to his next talk. My helper too was mesmerized and the next morning my daughter who was nine at that time was so upset with me that I did not wake her up to meet the smiling monk. She heard about the beautiful prayer he had done and the special blessing that one of my helpers received that actually turned out to be a curse for me. My helper wanted to go to Canada and this was on her mind. When I asked Ajahn to bless her and do a special prayer for her, her dream came true. Although I wanted her to be happy, I realize now that I really miss her and I wish I had asked for my own prayer to come true and not hers, but then that would not be the Buddhist way!

For weeks after we kept discussing how wonderful it was to have had 5 monks visit my house and I had actually kidnapped them and brought them home.

Ajahn Brahm is back in Hong Kong in Feb 2013 and I cant wait to see him again. Please check the following website for details and if you can, do not miss the opportunity to listen to this amazing story teller/monk.