Welcome to the Handful of Leaves podcasts. Today’s episode is very interesting because we will be talking about Buddhist leaders and mental illness. The aim of this podcast today is to shed light on the challenges and lived experiences of our friends with mental illness, especially on the unique challenges faced as leaders in the Buddhist scene.
Today we have a guest who will bring in a very unique perspective to this topic as she has personally navigated mental illness while also holding leadership roles. So let’s welcome Sister Ching Wi.
[00:00:35] Sis Ching Wi:
Hi everyone. Hi Cheryl. Thanks for having me.
Hi. Sister Ching Wi is a social worker with Aranya Sangha Dana Fellowship, a nonprofit that helps Buddhist monks and nuns, especially those living in the community. She’s also a facilitator who designed the Life Story Workshop for seniors and graduated from the London School of Economics and the National University of Singapore.
Can you share more about your personal journey with mental illness and how it has intersected with your leadership or volunteering roles?
[00:01:07] Sis Ching Wi:
Hi, Cheryl. I’ve been a social worker and because I benefited a lot from practicing the Dhamma, so I also try and serve the Buddhist community in any way that I can. This is actually the 10th year of my depression. It’s a very, very long journey. It started with me taking a break from work, I was just doing nothing. I happily thought that I was just going on a holiday, but then I didn’t realize that not doing anything made me have a lot of time to ruminate. Then I found myself starting to worry. You’re so used to working every month and seeing the paycheck in your bank account. So, these worries become bigger and bigger worries.
And then lo and behold, I was just spending my days on the sofa watching TV. It got so bad that even when I had to go to the toilet, I just couldn’t get out of the sofa at all. I just felt like it was so difficult to move my body. Sometimes people say, your body feels as heavy as a mountain, it really felt like that. I really had to force myself. So every day it’s very tiring mentally because it’s not like I’m just sitting there stoning away. My mind was super hyperactive. I couldn’t take care of myself. And I really had to force myself. But I still tell myself, okay, maybe being a social worker, this is just burnout. You just need to rest more.
So it went on for a few weeks and then one day I was just standing at my window.Suddenly I just caught myself thinking,most of us live in HDB Flats, when I looked down, suddenly the thought came, “Oh, actually it’s very easy to just drop down.”Then the next thought was, so how do you do that?Well, I guess I can push myself off my ledge and then I lose balance and I fall, or I can maybe just find a stool or a chair and step on it.Finding a chair will be easier. My chair is in the kitchen, so I turned and I walked towards the kitchen.
It was quite a serious thought in the sense that there was the intention of executing it as well.
[00:03:00] Sis Ching Wi:
There was even a plan. So after a few steps of walking into the kitchen, I realized that it was a suicidal thought. So that’s when I figured, okay, I can’t do this on my own. I went to see a psychiatrist and a counselor at the same time. And I started my healing journey from then on. But it wasn’t smooth at all because of my personality of being a perfectionist and a workaholic and all that, I would ask a psychiatrist, okay, so how long will I take this medication before I’m up again? Should we give it three months?
It almost seems naive like you’re thinking three months, but actually now in retrospect, it takes 10 years.
[00:03:36] Sis Ching Wi:
Exactly right. A good way of understanding depression, I like the model of BPSS, which is biological, physical, and psychosocial. I like this model because the focus is not just on taking medication and getting better, but I also have to look into the psychological aspects and social aspects. This helped me a lot. I had to figure out how to manage stress.
This is where mindfulness comes in and as a Buddhist already meditating, not a lot, but enough to help myself a little bit. It really made me see how I have some unhealthy thought patterns being a perfectionist. It came from wanting to do the best that I can. It’s fine to do the best that you can, but you’re not a machine. Where did doing the best that I can come from? So it gave me a chance to really investigate. It came from a sense of being responsible. Again, being responsible is a very good virtue, but to balance it, to be healthy, you must know how to draw boundaries.
You must have the wisdom of knowing at what stage I have fulfilled my responsibility, when I should let go and not blindly be responsible 100% all the way. In these 10 years, I had a chance to really look at my thought patterns, my mental habits, trial and error and figure out. It’s like moving into OS 2.0 from OS 1.0 that totally failed. And along the way it’s 1.2, 1.3. So it’s not just about curing my chemical imbalance in my head, about managing my emotions, taking good care of myself in terms of health, but also really examining, throwing away what doesn’t work for me in terms of my thought patterns and adopting and practicing good mental habits.
Almost like the mental hygiene, cleaning up the unhealthy ones, learning and relearning. Like you mentioned, you don’t get it right the first time. It’s like 1.1, version 1.2.
[00:05:44] Sis Ching Wi:
In a fun way I tell myself, okay, so now this is a game of how many times do you want to continue to run into the wall? Because I would have high expectations of myself to get better. Okay, the medication is working. So now, I’m eating better. Maybe in two months’ time, I can take on more work. Actually, I have experienced, whether I wanted it or not, different ways of letting go. And I think this is so precious as a Buddhist. It’s very easy to say, I want to let go of my troubles.
But how do you do it exactly. Yeah. So let’s delve into that a little bit deeper, it’s almost as though there are a lot of conflicting parts of your personality, because there is the part of perfectionism wanting to get everything right. But on the other hand, when you are facing a depressive episode, you will be on the side where you can’t even move yourself to do the most basic things like going to the toilet. When you’re a leader, all of these tendencies would come into play. So, how has it intersected for you personally, between having this mental illness with your leadership?
[00:06:49] Sis Ching Wi:
There are a few layers. It’s my inner work, and then of course, working with the team or the project. I remember right at the beginning I would get overwhelmed to the extent of not showing up. And this is so out of character, right? I try so hard. I just couldn’t. It’s a combination of dread, being very scared, being very weak. Basically, I just couldn’t get out of the house. And then I will look at the time, the meeting has started and I’ll be missing it. And then after that, I’ll feel so bad. The guilt, the shame and I eventually retreated to just not showing up at all, not answering phone calls. As long as my handphone has battery and there’s a blinking light, when I see the blinking light, I will break into cold sweat. So I just want the battery to be off. I was just like isolating myself.
But then I still continue to feel bad actively, because I know, tomorrow there’s this thing, and three days’ time there’s this thing and all that. But of course, friends and fellow workers, everyone was very understanding and people got really, really worried. And then I know people will get worried and that set me off into another spiral. Of course, in the midst of all these, friends couldn’t get hold of me. They started contacting my husband, my sisters and close friends. Then, people knew that I had depression.
So at that point, it was not public information yet.
[00:08:05] Sis Ching Wi:
Yeah, it wasn’t. Then people started passing messages back, to send me loving kindness, tell me not to worry. It made me more relieved. So I told the psychiatrist, you know what I discovered? When I went off the radar, the world did not collapse.
[00:08:21] Sis Ching Wi:
And after I said that, I felt so relieved. I felt so relieved. So it’s not that I’m so egotistical, like the world revolves around me. But I was feeling so bad and I think I must have been beating myself up for so long, for not being able to perform all my duties.
So this term of being a leader, well, I guess you take on more responsibility. Part of the responsibility, at least for me, I always try to be hands-on. So then there’s this added responsibility of letting more people down. That was horrendous. Yeah.
Yeah. I think a lot of times leaders, especially in the Buddhist scene as well, people define leadership as basically being the person that is doing everything, doing the most. That can sometimes be a very heavy burden to lift, especially if you are already going through a very difficult moment in your life. But what you just shared is very powerful in the sense that sometimes leadership can be viewed as a shared responsibility amongst the communities, not just on your own shoulders. You are there, but also there are people supporting you there.
[00:09:30] Sis Ching Wi:
Definitely. In fact, I was already very blessed. One of my biggest takeaways was, thank goodness I didn’t have to do a lot of hands-on. So it wasn’t like I was the one who had the key to the Dhamma center, and then because I wasn’t there that night, people couldn’t attend the Dhamma talk. So it’s more at the planning level and all that. If we communicated enough and if we do proper planning, so what if somebody is down? The team just goes on and work gets done.
It really brought in the point that no one is indispensable. The leader must immediately think about leadership succession. It’s like day one of anything that you do,this notion of letting go is extremely important. It’s not just letting go of the duties. It’s not about being irresponsible, but it’s about can we find someone to shadow you? Can we work as a pair? Can we work as a team? And then somebody else can learn, the newer ones can learn, and the senior ones, can work themselves out of a job and go to the mountain and meditate.
So I’m curious, how do you juggle between a sense of responsibility versus a sense of shared community?
[00:10:44] Sis Ching Wi:
I think it’s mostly in our mental attitude. The responsibility and the job scope, you have to fulfill. But how can I try to be mindful of my attachment to the task at hand? If I’ve done it, I’ve done it. I don’t need to go back and be a perfectionist and ruminate. Can I let that go? Okay, I can. It’s an exercise in letting go. If this organization that I volunteer in or this project that I do, if we cannot achieve the objectives, then how? So, I’ve developed this habit of anticipating impermanence. There will be changes. And just being very clear to myself, okay what can I accept? Is there anything else that I can do?And that’s it.
I’ve gone through a rehearsal in my mind of the possible disasters. And when things happen I’m not caught off guard. In these rehearsals, it’s a chance for me to contemplate, how much do I personally, selfishly want this or am I seeing it too narrowly?
Yeah, that’s very wonderful. Thanks for sharing your reflections on this. What I take away is if someone is a leader who is struggling with mental illness, first is having that kind of self-awareness that this is my bandwidth, this is my capacity. And contrary to our ideas of taking on the whole world, on your shoulders, you can also understand that these are your boundaries. These are what you’re capable of and plan for how you can share these responsibilities. How can you give other people maybe an earlier heads up as well, so then you don’t have to feel so burdened by everything.
Then the second piece is that, where you’re possibly responsible for the task at hand, do your best and try to let go of whatever outcomes if you have already done your best and be at peace with whether the thing turns out good or bad knowing that you have already given it your all.
[00:12:33] Sis Ching Wi:
Thank you for the summary. I think a very important point comes to mind and that is the sense of ownership. I am not saying that I’m doing it fantastically well, but I know that it’s always important and I always try to do it right. If the sense of ownership is truly felt by most of us in the team, then it’s an organic thing. If the leader is out of action, everyone still has a shared vision, everyone still knows where we are going. So it becomes co-creation. It means that everyone brings in what is it that they want rather than it’s just a vision or goal by one or two people. Along the way, more or less we will achieve our outcome, especially being Singaporeans.
But the process is so important, whether we learn and we grow, whether we help each other to be more mindful, whether we are supportive of each other’s emotions. When you have disagreements and when people get hurt, do we as a team want to talk about it? It’s a way of supporting each other. The process is so important, especially if we are looking at voluntary projects, even if you’re paid nothing. I think a lot of times the stress comes from people misunderstanding us, miscommunication, not being able to share our passion, and not being able to contribute. So all this is about just the process of how can we help each other to achieve our own individual objectives as well as our collective team objectives.
And I think when individual contributors on the team are empowered, then that’s where we see more proactivity as well. That’s how the team grows in a more positive direction as well. With all the challenges you mentioned just now, how has that shaped your perspective on leadership? Do you find that it influenced the way you approach any positions that you hold?
[00:14:31] Sis Ching Wi:
Oh, definitely. The biggest lesson is in empathizing and respecting people I work with. Most people wouldn’t tell you they have had a hard day. They’re dealing with whatever that is happening in their lives. Most people are just responsible and they just wanna give their best.
So if we are not sensitive enough to catch people, these are the small little things, but extremely important things that we can do right by just checking in on people, making it a point to really get to know the people I work with. If there’s a change in their behavior or their energy, I can sense it. And developing a real relationship, just being authentic about it. We allow each other to offer support and even to take care of each other. That’s a huge thing that I’ve learned.
It seems that it empowered you to really be more compassionate to the people around you, especially in terms of building that personal, genuine relationship, seeing them as humans rather than just a person to get something done.
I’m also reflecting on the four Brahmavihārās that the Buddha taught us. One is loving kindness where you spread unconditional loving kindness to the people around us whom we are working with. Secondly, it is to have that sense of compassion to want to reduce their suffering.
I think these two things, in particular, are quite neglected sometimes when we are in the rush of getting projects done perfectly, or by a certain deadline. Sometimes we can forget these two pieces. It’s so important to always anchor ourselves that the person in front of us here is a human being, and we should wish for their happiness and to reduce their suffering as well.
[00:16:16] Sis Ching Wi:
Yeah. One point that I really wanna share is that the very basics of practicing Buddhism is to avoid wrongdoings, do good and purify our mind. So this notion of doing good, I used to not be able to understand. In Chinese Mahayana there is this 普贤菩萨十大行原品. It’s Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s Ten Great Action Vows. One of it is 恒顺众生. It literally means to serve and to support all sentient beings, to help them as much as possible.
So then now that I think about doing good, in the course of us having the responsibility to get the job done, we have limited time. Sometimes we feel that it’s not so important to ask how everyone is feeling. Or if somebody doesn’t know how to be the administrator of Zoom, instead of taking the time to teach, you find somebody else who can.
But then if we were to look into doing good, if I take a bit of time to teach this person, then this person would learn something. This is such an important skill and this person can do a lot more, not just for the project or for the organization, but for his or her life. So it is about enabling and empowering people. So I’ll get smart next time. When I am planning the next project, let’s plan in time. Let’s plan this in as a task, so that we have the bandwidth. A project is a project, but you can build in small little tasks and goals along the way that we all can practice, we all can help each other to grow.
I really love that.
[00:17:58] Sis Ching Wi:
Yes, do good.
Yes. And it’s almost like if you set your mind on doing good, you’re intent on it, you would be able to find ways. You’re so smart in incorporating that into the project plan, empower this person, teach this person, put that as part of the to-do list. It’s so beautiful because then you are also helping another person. We help to nurture them to their highest potential and that creates a whole ripple of positive effects onto the community. Thanks for sharing.
[00:18:27] Sis Ching Wi:
Welcome, Cheryl. I really invite everyone to just try one small little initiative like that and when the project is done, everyone’s heart is closer to each other because I’m also rejoicing and celebrating your success. Not just in the final step of that project. Along the way the logistics person has to do this, the marketing person has to do that, but then I know I was journeying with you a lot more. So all the interconnection and all the rejoicing, it’s so beautiful. So please try it. Everyone just try it.
Yes. Let’s try doing that. For all the leaders who are listening here, try to intentionally put in an action step that you could do to help enable another person to learn to grow or to be nurtured. You mentioned rejoice as well, and I thought is so appropriate that rejoicing is the third Brahmavihārā . I shared the first two just now. The first being loving kindness. The second being compassion to reduce people’s suffering. And the third one is to rejoice to feel appreciation for other people’s success, joy and growth. The fourth one is the idea of equanimity. If everything fails, we practice that sense of equanimity, to see things as it is, that it is what it is. That’s the Four Brahmavihārās as well.
[00:19:41] Sis Ching Wi:
You frame my sharing in such a way that I think it comes across as so smart.
What you share is very valuable.
[00:19:48] Sis Ching Wi:
I think a lot of times equanimity, we related to letting go. The way that I eventually come to experience it is dynamic. It is not dead silence. It’s a dynamic process, there is also a timeline involved. There’s a duration involved. So equanimity as a state of mind, I can be mini equanimous and I can be super zen-out equanimous.
It is like a spectrum.
[00:20:15] Sis Ching Wi:
It is a spectrum. Earlier on I was talking to my husband and I said, I have to practice mindfulness to literally save my life because I need to catch all these illogical suicidal thoughts when they come up. It is quite similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. When your eyes see something, it goes into your brain. It will be linked to a certain thought or a certain memory. Then, you will create a story in your head. And when the story is created, it seems so real. Sometimes certain feelings will come up and you may even want to do something about it.
Let’s say someone may see my very short hairstyle, which is my lack of mindfulness in communicating with the hairdresser. Somebody may think, I also want to have that hairstyle, maybe next time I can go and get that hairstyle. So from seeing me, you develop thinking,
[00:21:04] Sis Ching Wi:
Yes. It may even lead to emotions and actions, I like this, or I don’t like this, and I wanna do something about it. So back to mindfulness and being equanimous. I realized that I have to be mindful and I have to manage myself in such a way that I don’t become too crazy high and I don’t become too depressingly low. For me, this is kind of like being equanimous. I just have to stay within a range of emotions. And in order to do that, I have to constantly be mindful. Then I realized that actually, this is a very good skill to have as I go about life, when I’m stressed, when I am in a hurry. I found my zone, I have to just keep on practicing to be in that zone. As a result, I’m more grounded, my mind is clearer. Whatever work I do, I can just be more attuned. I have more space to observe people, to be more considerate of how they are doing, to pick up if they are feeling low, things like that. This is my own interpretation and working model of equanimity. This is how I apply and I understand the Four Brahmavihārās.
Can you share what are some practical trainings or reflections that you do to help keep you within that healthy boundary?
[00:22:23] Sis Ching Wi:
Being a workaholic and a perfectionist, I had to try very hard to convince myself that I have to take it easy. After convincing myself to take it easy, I have to put it into an action plan.
The take-it-easy action plan.
[00:22:38] Sis Ching Wi:
Oxymoron. So how many percent of your action plan have you completed in taking it easy? Yeah. I’ve learned to just tell myself it’s okay that I don’t get it right all the time. Finally, I think what worked was to have a sense of fun and adventure. Let’s treat it as a game. If I can catch a negative thought, yay! What do I reward myself with? So there are a lot of constant opportunities to reframe and to practice self-compassion. When I decided to see this as a fun thing, I finally took off. I finally started to really incorporate a lot in my life. Yeah.
So in the Take it Easy action plan, there are some guidelines if anyone wants to build up their own action plan. Reframe. So if your habitual tendency is to get angry, allow yourself to think of alternative ways about this. What can I do other than get angry? What are some other things that I can put in instead?
Second is to make it fun. Try to catch yourself. Try to notice how many times you have a negative thought or how many times you go into unhealthy coping behaviors. And third is to practice self-compassion. Occasionally indulge in a healthy amount of potato chips or whatever else, not indulge until you get a stomachache. But get some form of harmless fun to your life.
[00:23:56] Sis Ching Wi:
Along the way, I think small little victories, I celebrate. Neuroscience theories will tell you, if you celebrate, you’re developing your neural pathway, you are growing it. So if I pay attention to good things, then the good neural pathways will grow. If I pay attention to bad things, then I’m just sabotaging myself. So then celebrating becomes very important to seal it in. I went on this whole spiel about, look, you’re a responsible person. You are Buddhist, so you don’t celebrate in an indulgent way. Don’t be so frivolous and all that. Hey, wait a minute. Oh yeah, hey, I caught it! In this ongoing process, I’ve also gotten to know myself a lot better.
I’ve also gotten to see my ego. We all have this vanity, of wanting to present the best of ourselves. After I try this and that, and bang my head against the wall, there comes a point where I go like, oh, I forget it. This is just too tiring. I just let go. So I keep letting go, I don’t care how people think of me anymore. This is a healthy kind of adjustment. The whole idea is you become more and more relaxed. You wanna take it easy. Eventually, I got somewhere after years, and When I saw people behaving in a certain way that I used to behave, that empathy and compassion came out. But then I quickly remind myself, Hey, remember you’re a social worker, it means that there’s a tendency for you to not respect your own boundary and go and help save the whole world. Right? Anyway, these thoughts we’ll always have in our heads, but we don’t have to entertain them. But then I’m able to see people struggling, and it just makes it so much easier to connect. The empathy of just wishing somebody well, just smiling at that person.
I will admit that it’s really not easy, just bravely seeing yourself for who you are, but it results in a lot of beautiful things in my life now for myself and for people around me. So it’s totally worth it. I’m sure even for friends listening who are not diagnosed with depression. All of us have got bad days and all that. But just keep on working on ourselves. It will come to a stage where we become better and when we are better, we become more attuned to people around us and we can start to help people around us. Then it just becomes a cycle that goes on and on. Yeah.
And like Thich Nhat Hanh always says, the more we are in touch with our own suffering, then the more we can be in touch with other people’s suffering. That’s where true compassion can spring up. Because we understand it for ourselves, we truly know how unpleasant it is. When we touch the core of it, then we are also able to see it in everyone. And in that sense, we see, despite our colors, our perspectives, our views, underlying all of these things, we are one and the same in terms of our quest for happiness, our quest to be free from suffering in our own ways.
[00:26:41] Sis Ching Wi:
So beautifully said.
And Sis Ching Wi, I really want to thank you for coming on this show. It’s very brave of you because there are a lot of people out there suffering from diagnosed mental illness or even mental illness to a lesser degree, but still struggling. And I think that by you coming up here today to speak, you’re also speaking for all of them and of course everyone else who’s keen to understand a little bit more. Would there be one message or word of encouragement that you would like to share with the people who may be listening and struggling silently?
[00:27:18] Sis Ching Wi:
For all of us who are struggling, just keep trying. Even if it’s just about managing to get a glass of water for yourself. It’s not about always having progress all the time or to achieve big milestones. As long as we don’t give up, we are trying, as long as we are breathing, we are trying. So as long as I just tell myself I will keep trying, that’s it. That’s my project.
I would like to invite everyone out there, be it you are a leader or team member, to see if we can hold space for each other. Very simply put, if you can see that somebody is struggling, then there are some little acts of kindness that we can do. Holding space also means, if we see some toxic behavior, then we should call it out. If a leader is too demanding, then can we communicate more with each other so that at the end of the day, we don’t end up creating more harm to each other as an operating principle. And I’m sure there’s a lot of different context and all that. So calling out toxic behavior may be the more intense kind of action. But if we see it as a spectrum, if we see unkindness, are there ways that we can try again and do it in a different way?
If we can all try and put this at the back of our mind, to always hold space for each other and to always make sure that we take care of each other, just as how you want to take care of yourself, this will have a very good outcome for ourselves and for people around us.
And like the Buddha said in the Karaniyametta Sutta, like a mother loving their only child, that’s how you should cherish other people as well and view them as precious or treat them with that form of kindness and gentleness. Thank you so much, Sister Ching Wi.
And for all of our listeners here, I hope you enjoyed listening to our conversation. If you like this podcast, please like, give us five stars and stay happy and wise. See you in the next episode. Thank you.
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Editor and transcriber of this episode: Cheryl Cheah, Susara Ng, Ke Hui Tee
Hello. Welcome to another episode of the Handful of Leaves podcasts, where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life. I am Kai Xin
and I’m a ghost. No kidding! I’m Cheryl… with flu.
[00:00:14] Kai Xin:
And today we are gonna talk about ghosts. It’s gonna be interesting because we’ve collected some stories from some of you, our subscribers. We’re gonna share three stories and also insert the Buddhist perspective of ghosts as well as the ghost month.
So for myself, I used to be very fearful of ghosts. You know, when you’re a kid in primary school, I don’t know if you remember the chain messages that say like, “Oh, if you don’t send this to 10 people, then at night somebody will knock on your door or somebody will hide under your bed.”
Yeah. That scared of the hell of me. I thankfully don’t feel scared anymore. So actually, I like watching ghost movies. In fact, I feel that they’re a little bit sad. And yeah, people jio (invite) me to do crazy things like go to abandoned Istana buried deep in the woods, it’s like those abandoned house.
(I was also) quite daring as a teenager also, you know, cycle midnight, go to Old Changi Hospital and then got caught by the police as we were coming out, ’cause we didn’t know there’s like CCTV installed.
It’s like you don’t just enjoy ghost movies. You wanna put yourself in a ghost movie like that!
[00:01:22] Kai Xin:
No, I don’t do that to find trouble, but it’s just more to explore and adventure ’cause I just find them interesting.
I’m the total opposite of you. I would not wanna go to any of those places and I don’t wanna watch ghost movies. Last time on my way to school, I used to sit those public buses and then to entertain us a whole bunch of high school girls, right, the driver he’ll play a ghost movie and it’s usually the very, very scary one. He’s those like, Thailand Ghost movie or Japanese ghost movie? Like The Shutter.
[00:01:51] Kai Xin:
Japan’s one is the worst. Yeah.
It’s very scary and he’ll play it on repeat. So first time, I close my eyes. Second time, my friends watched so I need to pretend to be very courageous, and even after watching like one snippet for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, I cannot shower for like a whole week. Many years later, I’ll still think of the scene (in fear).
[00:02:11] Kai Xin:
I can empathize. I’ve been there before and I think we can also share a little bit more about perspective on ghosts, how to view them, how do we respond when we actually encounter one, or in the scriptures, what did the Buddha teach about all this.
In fact, this entire month is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. The seventh month in the Chinese calendar, which falls in August and people believe that this month the Hell Gates will open and then the beings from the underworld they’ll come out and it includes the ancestors that have passed away.
Most people would usually have more ghostly encounters as well.
[00:02:50] Kai Xin:
Oh, yes. Or like you would suddenly see a lot of funerals under your void deck.
By the way, we are recording this at 1125pm. Cheryl is making a cockroach looking expression. Hopefully the fear would change to something else at the end of the episode.
All right. So I think we can start off by asking first the whole thing about Ghost Month, is it a Taoist thing or is it a Buddhist thing?
I think a lot of people’s knowledge is that, Ghost months you just make sure when you walk on the road, just avoid all the Joss sticks or the paper. Actually it’s very interesting, the Ghost Festival, has its roots in the Buddhist festival, Ullambana.
So the Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to a story from India. There was this well to do merchant Maha Mogallana who gave up his trade and he then went on to become a Buddhist monk, and he was the monk That’s foremost in psychic, and so after he became an Arahant (fully awakened being), you know, being very filial and all that, he wonder, “Hey, what happened to his parents?” So he used his psychic power to travel all the universes and realms. After you died and born either of the higher realms or the lower realms.
So he found his father in heaven. Good. Nothing needed. But then when he found his mother, his mother was reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts. As a lay woman, she was very rich, but she was not generous.
So when she died, she was reborn in this low realm. So Maha Mogallana Alana went down to the Hungry Ghost realm, and eventually saves her from this plight, and the story ends with this festival and the rescue of his mother from hell.
[00:04:23] Kai Xin:
The interesting part of the story is that the Buddha, specifically in the Sutta, the Ullambana Sutta mentioned that even like the Heavenly Kings, and even Maha Moggalana, an Arahant, by using his power, he was not able to be able to elevate the mother from, suffering from the hell realm. So Ullambana is basically a gathering of all the Sangha members, the monastic, and then lay people would offer certain things usually like robes or food and it’s believed that the power of this gathering and the merit, probably uplifts the mind of the lower beings to then be able to reborn in a better place. Which we will cover more, later how, you know, the mechanism work, ’cause I think there’s also a lot of misconceptions around it.
And interestingly we have a submission of a story from KS, and this is in Malaysia and I wouldn’t say it’s like a ghost, ghost story, but I found it quite touching actually.
I’m gonna give some context first for clarity. ’cause this is a recount of, his or her aunt. And basically what happened was the, the aunt has four children and passed away at a relatively young age because of cancer. So, The account over here is not long. About few months after the passing away of aunt who, whose name is Ah Soon, uh, suddenly a family member received the information from somebody through word of mouth to say, “Hey, somebody is looking for the husband of this person, named Ah Soon, which is the aunt,” and then the uncle was then notified and apparently it was some person from the temple that is really far away from where this family is living, and it’s like, okay, what’s going on? So they brought the entire family there, located like eight km away. They’ve never heard of this temple before.
And apparently in the temple there is this medium did this ritual where, um, kind of get the aunt to communicate through his body I mean as a medium. So in the conversation, the aunt actually communicated how she felt very unjust and resentful, like why does she have to pass away at such a young age? And then very painfully due to cancer at the age of 40, and then living behind a husband and four children who are still relatively young. I think the max that was mentioned here was like secondary school age. So she also shared that she’s currently residing in the third level of hell and she was quite descriptive during this whole ritual.
She explained that there are levels of hell categorized by punishment, torture or suffering. And the first level is the least suffering and the deepest, which is the 18th level being the harshest suffering. Then, her current level is third level, so she can still chant every day and shared that she’s destined to be reborn in human realm again after 10 years.
Then according to the uncle and cousin, who’s the children of the aunt, this was the first and the only time that the aunt came to the temple conversed with them through the medium and there’s no other accounts already.
I think the part where she was lamenting about having passed away so painfully, the submitter also shared that through some notes that the deceased wrote few months before her passing, she did indeed share that same sentiment.
It is quite interesting because such a far away temple was able to accurately know the name, the situation. So what do you think Kai Xin? Do you think hell really exists? What do you think of the story?
[00:08:08] Kai Xin:
I can’t say for sure ’cause I’ve not seen hell, but I do believe and have some faith that it exists. In fact, in the Sutta the Buddha actually described quite in detail, the different levels of hell and the different kinds of punishment.
Some of the realms can actually receive some form of merits from like us human beings. You know, if we dedicate, they’ll feel joyful. But some, no matter how much you try, right, also cannot. So there are different levels and there’s more than one Sutta that actually talks about hell in the, the Pali canon and in the Mahayana scripture. In fact, I think the question is why are peopleborn in hell.
Right? We, I think just now we have, uh, an example about being stingy. You know, we are not generous enough. And then in terms of like the account of KS, so it is believed that if you die with a very negative mental state, the negative energy will just bring you down to the lower realm.
Yeah. And the last thought is very important, so it might be the case that she feel that resentment and that became a condition for her. So in other there’s this very interesting exchange between Yan Luo Wang, or King Yama, and somebody who just entered the hell realm.
King Yama or the hell of God.
The God of hell.
Hell of God. Yeah, it’s God of hell.
[00:09:41] Kai Xin:
He’s like the God of hell. And it’s interesting because God of hell is actually very compassionate when it’s described in the Sutta and it’s also there to teach beings in that realm of what they did wrong so that they can reflect.
What happened is that, the King Yama was lecturing this being and say, Hey, you know, uh, didn’t it occurred to you that if a person were to do evil deeds, even before you die, you’ll already be tortured, which is true, right?
If you conduct a crime, let’s say you go scot-free for 10 years.
But can you imagine the torture every day? Just worrying whether people will find out whether there’s any tracks that she didn’t cover.
[00:10:29] Kai Xin:
Yeah, it’s a mental torture in itself, right? Very interesting ’cause king Yama was saying that, even like here and now, evil actions have a punishment, then what more the life after?
So from that note, Wouldn’t you reflect that, hey, I need to do good with my body speech and mind. And he say, as we are living on earth, we will probably see the divine messengers . So, sickness, aging, and death. Then didn’t it occur to you that you are subjected to all of this and because of that, you shouldn’t just squander your youth away.
You should use the time to, be a person of integrity, do good, guide your mind, et cetera, which I found to be quite interesting ’cause we don’t necessarily have to even believe in the afterlife, but you just think about like this life, and if we are able to see like the divine messengers, then we would be able to do good, purify our mind a little bit and uplift our entire spirit.
We think about hell as external, a place to go to a, a place to be fearful of. But hell is actually within your own mind.
[00:11:42] Kai Xin:
Yeah. So you ask how exists or not, it can be metaphorical or it can be literal, right?
Yes. And there’s this, Sutta sharing, it says that evil is done by oneself. By oneself is one defiled; evil is left undone by oneself, by oneself is one cleansed.
It shows that hell, suffering is a consequence of unwholesome actions. but you also have the ownership to get out of that place. You can change if you find yourself to be suffering because, you do a lot of unwholesome things but there is the opportunity for you to take responsibility, to get yourself out of that hell. Evil is left undone by oneself, by oneself is one cleansed. So there is no God there to punish you.
[00:12:32] Kai Xin:
Then some people might ask we offer all this food. If cannot, then why do I offer all this food?
I think sometimes it’s also about whether we have the capacity to. If I’m just overwhelmed and overcome by anger, it’s actually very difficult to think straight and to say that, oh, you know, I have to repent and I have to do good. ’cause it’s always in hindsight.
We need like a spiritual friend or some wise people to pull us back on the path, in order to have that clarity of mind. So regarding the question at the very beginning we talk about, hey, you know, all this offering, does it really work? What’s the mechanics behind?
I got this Karma point and got this karma point, but it’s really about recollection of one’s virtue. So like you say, right? Because if the evil is done by oneself, then oneself is being defiled. If a person has virtue, and we recollect that virtue, then the mind brightens. So the, there’s also another Sutta that talks about specifically offering food to deceased relatives.
So it’s like, outside the walls they will stand and then they return home. Then, no one remembers them and say, oh, such is the karma of this being. There’s no person to actually, dedicate.
Oh, that’s quite sad.
[00:13:50] Kai Xin:
So, I think even like in this lifetime, sometimes we are forgotten by people, and you see people who are very lonely, they age alone and stuff.
Some people can also attribute that to causes and condition and karma, like, have you been a good person? The more virtuous you are, then you’re surrounded with great friends that are very appreciative, that would support you. So if you’re talking literally in the Sutta, it was described that, those who feel sympathy for their relatives will actually give timely donations, and you’ll wish may this relative be well, which I think is very beautiful act as well, because it’s like you’re appreciating them like, ah, you were my relative who have done me good, or I’ve benefited from your presence.
And it’s also simply that, that gratitude, right? Where it’s understanding without you, I won’t be here as well. Without all your ancestors, even though you don’t know them by name or form, without them, you can’t be here.
[00:14:46] Kai Xin:
So it’s not so much like we do all these offerings, , tolong (please) don’t come and disturb me. But it’s more like, oh, this is an occasion for me to appreciate you and to practice gratitude.
There was this case where King Bimbisara was very lucky to offer the Buddha, a wonderful meal, Dana.
But then he forgot to share merits to his relative. So after that meritorious deeds, what happened was that he heard a lot of crying sounds, so then he could ask Buddha, Hey, Buddha, how, why, like that Then Buddha say, ah, cause , you never go and share your merits and this occasion to, give food to the Buddha is so, so rare, your relatives have been waiting for a very long time, but you didn’t share with them, so they are quite upset with you. So then, King Bimbisara did it again, and then this time he shared all the merits re- collecting all the goodness that he’s done, wishing for his relatives to take part and rejoice and, there was no more, wailing sounds and, and they were also very happy after that.
[00:15:49] Kai Xin:
Every time we do good, we must think off the conditions that allowed us to do good and just dedicate the merits to our departed relatives. And going back to the question of, okay, so how does it work? I thought we are the owner of our own Kamma.
I had this question many years ago and a friend gave me this super cool analogy if you are sentenced to say 10 year of prison sentence, right?
You can’t do anything in prison. And he is like, oh, I have to wait it out. And sometimes the conditions can, can be quite bad, like depending on, you know, which squad. So he kind of compared it to like, hell. If somebody visit you at the prison, like a relative and say that, Hey, I did this, this, this good deed, and when I did those, I thought of you or I donated this, in your name, how would you feel?
Like, wow, happy, right? Like you thought of me, I don’t feel so lonely. Then because you feel that maybe your conduct in prison would be better and because of that your jail sentence is also shortened. So, It’s not so much that you are, paying off people’s negative, karma or like helping them to free them from punishment.
We are still the owner of a karma, but it’s more of like both the receiver and the giver gain merits because we are happy about the process of giving and it’s the uplifting of the mind. And because of that, then we create the conditions to be in a better space. Yeah.
It’s so important because it’s so easy to forget the goodness and the merits that we do. So if I recollect the times where I feel very depressed and I feel like, oh, life doesn’t have any meaning, uh, that sort of dark mental state just clouds the mind and I’m just not able to remember or think about any of the goodness I’ve done and that further weighs me down.
[00:17:47] Kai Xin:
That’s so true.
So having that brightness, of good deeds just being shared, just being generously, uh, rejoiced in, is, is so, so, so powerful. And that one mindset can lift beings up, sometimes even from the hell real to an instantaneous rebirth. If it’s lifted so high, especially if maybe it’s a form of recollection with regards to the Buddha, and maybe a faith that is so strong can instantaneously lift them into a higher, a better rebirth.
[00:18:19] Kai Xin:
Yeah. Yeah, that’s so true. In fact, a friend has shared with me before when she was in a really dark place, She’s like, can you share, some good things ’cause I really cannot think of anything that is joyful. I can’t think of any good things that I’ve done. Can you just share with me, what is good in your week so that I can rejoice?
Sometimes even this life, the darkness just clouds your mind and it really helps to have somebody there with you to recollect.
A very good practice for, for everyone also who perhaps find themselves sometimes pegged down by the burdens of the world and we can become a bit pessimistic, is to have a diary or a small journal to just write down all the good deeds that you do and how you’ve helped someone, how you even thought a good thought, in your mind. You know, maybe feeling happy for a friend. Just write that down. And occasionally when you’re feeling down, you can just look at it again.
I have a relative who shared with me that I’ve actually done a lot of good things in my life. A lot, a lot, a lot of good deeds, but I don’t remember them. And that’s why I always feel very depressed. So then she also started this and it helps her, not only recollect that, on her death bed, but also on her day-to-day to increase her wellbeing.
Speaking about death, it is a good practice to read to a person who is dying, recollect all the good things that they have done so that their, their mind is bright when they’re departing. And, it’s also said that, you shouldn’t be crying. It’s like, why you leave me? It, it’s kind of like the auntie story, right? It’s like, I’m so young. I feel bad for leaving my kids behind, my family behind. Then they go with a very, very down mind. So it’s good to have this diary so that your loved one, like let’s say if I’m on my death, Cheryl please share it to me all the good things I’ve done. All the times a lot la uncountable good deeds done.
[00:20:19] Kai Xin:
I’m not sure whether I can recollect all of them when I die. I think who, who knows The bad karma in the past might have ripened during my death moment. So yeah, it would definitely be helpful to have this, jot down somewhere.
And I think it helps the living as well to be able to look at your loved one to say, wow, actually this is such an amazing person, how actually the best lesson learned from separating from loved one is to live your life well as like a living person, that’s the best gift that you can give to them.
I don’t understand that. Can you share more?
Why is it the best gift? The person died already.
[00:21:02] Kai Xin:
To lead a good life yourself is the best gift that you can give to them. So that they don’t have to worry. You know, like how they wouldn’t know, ah, haven’t you seen ghost movies, the attachment is a thing, right?
So if a person is burdened by family duties is good to live a good life so that you don’t have to worry them and you don’t be the cause of why they are in a lower realm. Just like, you know, my life is good. Don’t have to worry. Just go, go to a better place. Everything is taken care of.
And I guess like if you live well, you’ve got more good things to share, more merits to, to give them as well. And, that will be very helpful. Like if they happen to be lower. We can also share some interesting things about merits.
[00:21:51] Kai Xin:
I’m gonna share another story. This one is Army. So people, guys who have served the army probably also have experienced, something similar. Like how, how do you react or respond when they are supernatural encounters?
So this story goes like this, OCS days, that’s like about a decade ago up. So this person, our follower Jaden, was sharing the story of how they had to do like this night navigation at the top of Rambutan Hill. Never served NS before so some of the terms I don’t know, but basically, this hill, you have to go in groups and then there are different checkpoints to clear, within a stipulated amount of time that everyone would have like their helmet, their vests, et cetera, and the torchlight.
And they would tape up with a red tape with very, very small square window so that the light emitted is very minimal. So he was navigating the pitch black forest for very long. Only cleared two out of four checkpoints and was very desperate.
So at the time, most of the other cadets have already completed their course and went down to the foot of the hill and to prevent losing cadets in the forest, the instructor, would say that if you cannot finish clearing your checkpoint by a certain time, and if you hear the whistle start walking down a hill or return to the last checkpoint that you were at.
So it was really humid at night, and he was very tired from climbing the steep terrain and from all the falls that he had. And he was walking around aimlessly, like there’s no sense of direction, but he knew that he was somewhere near the highest edge of the hill because of the, the noise of the highway beside, which also meant that he was very far away from the base.
Then suddenly he saw someone in uniform. Cheryl is making a funny expression. And she says she pretend not to hear. Okay, I’m gonna continue anyway,
Those of you who are scared also, you can, uh, fast forward. So suddenly he saw someone in uniform walking towards him. But he was very happy. He was happy to see this other person because he was walking alone for a good 15 to 20 minutes and he couldn’t quite see the face, like, ’cause you know, helmet was low.
Then his eyes squinting ’cause all the sweat and he went to ask this person, do you wanna join me and find the checkpoint together? And the person didn’t look at him, always had his back facing him. So he told Jayden that he came from a checkpoint that is not too far from where he was.
And then he pointed the direction. Then suddenly the whistle sounded so it’s like a cue for them to go back. So Jayden invited him to walk to the checkpoint that he said that he came from since the course has already ended, so we have to go to the nearest checkpoint.
Then, weirdly enough, this person rejected the offer and insisted on going to another checkpoint on his own. Then the whistle sounded again. So I, I think at this point you can really tell that maybe the person is not a person.
So he’s just like, ah, yeah, this very stubborn guy. So he made his way down to the direction.
Then just like all 10, 20 steps, and then he saw other cadets and instructor. Then the instructor shout at him and asked him whether he saw anyone who was also like as equally lost as him, and then, He said yes, but then he turned back then ’cause 10, 20 steps only, he turned back then suddenly nobody.
So very long story short, the instructor informed all the other instructors via the walkie talkie to do a head count at the base. And then, they call back and say that everyone has returned, left only the three of us at the checkpoint. After returning to the base, he went to ask around if anyone saw him, talk to him. Like who was this like fellow? And most of them look like they have been back for a very long time. Uh, then he look at the direction of this dark hill, then he froze.
And before leaving the base and returning back to, their bunks, he look up at the night sky and then he put his palms together. He believed there Bear spirits everywhere in trees, in rivers. And that one just had to be respectful to the environment, especially if it’s not our property and place.
So I think he realized that, actually the someone that he saw that was actually nice enough to help him was not a person ’cause everyone else was already at the base. And, so all the goosebumps are for nothing. ’cause this is not really a scary story. Some might say that he’s a bit thinking too much or maybe he counted wrongly or hallucination, but he truly believed that it was like somebody that he talked to.
There’s really no way for the person to return in such a short span of time, after that interaction. And he felt thankful that the being actually led him to the checkpoint ’cause he was so lost and he told himself to be more respectful and believe that Hmm, perhaps there are also good spirits around.
So it’s not really like a malicious spirit per se. It’s like Casper, the friendly ghost.
The very long and interesting story. What’s your take on this? Are you less scared of ghost now? Like you had the perception like, oh by, hey, this, this goes so nice.
I still scared.
[00:27:16] Kai Xin:
Why are you scared?
I think it’s just the idea of something that is not human anymore that is very scary. But of course they may have good intentions. They sometimes may have not so good intentions, but it’s like how we are scared of sharks because of all the movies that portray them to be extremely dangerous.Yeah sharks are so gentle.
They generally don’t bite humans unless unless you’re go and agitate them. I think a lot of this fear is very, unfounded is coming from misinformation, and unfamiliarity. So there’s this story that Ajahn Somchai, a monk, the vice abbot of what Maja, um, shared actually about fear and ghost.
So it’s very common for these monks to, you know, go to the charnal ground where, you know, they just put the dead body there, in the open or because they’re planning to cremate it maybe the next day or something. So he was sharing how one of the novices the brother died, uh, young, some young boiler.
And so they placed the body of the young boy and he planned to do his meditation there. So usually what monks would do is that they’ll go in the afternoon to survey the area so that they recognize the trees. They know that at night if they think too much , it’s just overthinking, ’cause they already saw the tree in the afternoon, but he didn’t get to do it in the morning.
So he could only go into the charnel area at night. and that was when everything is extremely scary. So he was sharing his experience, how he sat there and he was just so terrified. He kept looking over to the area of the boy ’cause he was scared, like, “Oh my God, the boy is going to like, suddenly stand up and, scare me or like, haunt me or whatever.” For many, many, many hours, he just couldn’t make his mind settle down. ’cause he was that terrified. It was just pitch dark. It’s only him and the body there. And so he made the determination. He’s like, okay, this fear is not going to go away. I will just keep doing my walking meditation until it goes away. So, For the first few hours he, when he was walking, he was just, he kept like imagining every time he turned around, the being was gonna be behind him but through his perseverance, he managed to overcome that fear, to realize that actually fear is not so much in external things in the ghost, in the body, uh, in the whatever thing out there, but rather fear is within himself.
And with that, he was able to watch over the fear in his mind , and he was able to overcome that fear of death, of channel, ground, of the body. And his mind became very, very, very bright because of the peace and wisdom that he found.
And long story short, while I’m sharing this story, is because, yes, I’m very scared because the external goals is very unfamiliar to me.
I don’t know where the ghosts come from. Is it a bad intention or good intention ghost, but knowing that fear is within my mind, is something that I can overcome with mindfulness, brings the power back to me and I don’t have to be so scared. And I can then choose to use Metta like the Buddha shared in the Metta Sutta, right?
To share loving kindness, goodwill to all beings, regardless of what form they take, whether it’s scary or pretty or whatever. That’s my reflection.
So are you less scared now?
I talk until I less scared now.
If we can see them in a different light and learn from them, uh, that, that’s how I overcame my fear. ’cause if you think about it, if I die and like I need help, then I go to my relatives, or my family then they run away from me. I’ll feel so sad. It’s like, hello, you’re supposed to help me. The more you go near them, the more they run faster.
Exactly. I do feel that these beings are very sorrowful and to our best of our ability. Of course, provided that we have virtue, then we have something to share.
Then on another hand, it’s also, virtue really helps to stabilize the mind. ’cause if I never do anything wrong, then why am I scared of? Why, why am I afraid that they would come after me?
No, I kind of disagree. Like you scared sometimes it’s not about what you are trying to hide, but it’s more about trying to protect your life. Like what if they come in, I dunno, possess me, then I don’t have my life anymore or what, right?
[00:31:59] Kai Xin:
I think if the virtue is strong enough, then your mind would be bright and they wouldn’t be able to disturb you . Of course there are malicious beings. Not to say that, all beings are kind. Some might actually be very revengeful. So we definitely have to be careful and like, uh, Jayden mentioned, right? Be respectful of the environmental, don’t purposely go and find trouble or criticize them.
If we can understand causes and condition, and I think virtue, not in a sense that, we got nothing to hide, therefore we are not scared of them, but we are so confident in our own morality that there’s really nothing to be scared of. That’s like literally the best protection. It’s not the amulets, but even when we chant, you know, it’s a way of to dispel the spirit.
But actually in the middle of the chanting we are steadying our mind and recollecting the virtues, and that is the protection. I feel like virtue is very important. There’s, uh, then there’s nothing really very much to be scared of. Rather it just like, oh yeah, you come, then I feel for you. Uh, is there anything that I can share than just wish them, well.
In fact, the, there is one famous discourse called the Karaniya Metta, where the monks actually encountered beings that are very naughty. Like they go and disturb the monks when they were trying to meditate in the forest. So it was close to the Rains retreat, I think. And then they’re like, they all have their own experiences like that.
The ghosts going to disturb them. Then they realized that everyone is being disturbed by this ghost. That, okay. Okay. Go back to the Buddha and ask like, for his advice and the Buddha’s, like why, why you come back and, uh, ask them to chant this, go back again. And the entire suta is basically recollecting about how one should be contented, easily satisfied.
And it, it’s not really like, oh, go, go away or hey, you know, stop doing all this nonsense, but it’s really about rejoicing what are some of the, the virtues that we should be cultivating in this life and whatever beings you are think of that as well. And the beings actually stop disturbing the monks, and they coexist during the period.
Mm then it always goes back, right, that the mind is a fore runner of things like how keeping your mind in a wholesome state is what protects you in moments of fear, in moments of the unknown.
I actually really like the point about being respectful. I think if we can just treat like other beings even including ants or animals, insects, with respect as you were to a friend, rather than criticize or be rude and offensive.
I know someone who can connect with these beings, have shared experiences of where these being can be offended through wrong speech.
[34:55:44] Kai Xin:
In fact, one of our listeners shared a story about how she was disturbed by a spirit because of something inappropriate, which he said he or she, this is anonymous, so happened around like Bukit Timah area, at night.
So when, I’ll just take it as a “She”, when she came home, then she felt very uneasy and, uh, chanted like, oh, money pay me home. But it didn’t really help and it was quite, uh, visual. So she sat at the side of the bed and somehow just lie down as if cannot be controlled, if feels almost like a possession.
This my interpretation and felt like, oh, this invisible energy creeping up, from the leg to the body as if somebody, something is taking over the body. Right when it’s just right below the nose, like creeping up, she chanted Guru Rimpoche seven line prayer and suddenly felt the force retreat. And it was scary because it’s like the thing is still in the room and felt really disturbed for the period and had like a mental meltdown and snap, and so this person has access to some high Tibetan Monk who happened to be in Singapore during that period and felt like the force just needed to seek help from the high master.
Two points to take away from this story from my perspective is, number one, guarding our speech. Be respectful. I’m not sure whether the inappropriate thing was about the being or something they walked past, or is it just about somebody? And then, somehow there’s this being kind of just latched on and it seemed like the being is also trying to ask for help in order to meet like the high master to maybe gather some merits as well.
Yeah. I personally have heard, some stories in the monasteries where beings will come and, just like really want to tap on the merits in order to then be reborn in a better realm. Yeah.
Yeah. I think putting it in the perspective is just turns on the switch of compassion, right? It’s like, you can see them as beggars, that they need something that we have, that we can offer, and beggars, if you think about it, they don’t come in lavish clothes, right? They usually come in very, dilapidated, outfit, and their hair is disheveled. Their face is dirty. So in that, in that same sense, they don’t always appear very beautifully. But that’s because they, they, they don’t have much and they need something and we can always, give them and, and share with them, hopefully to alleviate their, their misery.
The Ghost Month really have a lot of things to teach us. We’ve covered quite a lot. I mean, stories as well as, you know, the, the different, conditions. In terms of teaching, to me, I feel number one, compassion is definitely yes. And then filial piety or a sense of appreciation and gratitude and also teaches us how not to end up in those state. It it’s really about guarding our body, speech and mind to cultivate virtue.
And even if we don’t believe that hell exists, it doesn’t matter because just in this life we will be able to reap all of the benefits of all the, the good virtues that we have cultivated. And like you say, like you mentioned quite a few examples about how when the mind is very down, you know, or depressed or like angry, we are in hell on earth.
So it’s important to take this away rather than look at the hell beings or ghost in a fearful light, think about what they can teach us.
Yeah. And one more thing to add is the idea of karma, right? That all actions, um, be it wholesome or unwholesome, there will be a certain result and you, the person who had the intention and conducted whatever act you’ll be the owner, you’ll be the heir, you’ll inherit, this karma as well. And no one, even the loved ones or no external god creator, can take that for you, can save you away from that.
The power is within your hands to change to be more intentional in cultivating the wholesome, the skillful. With that, then you can be assured that you are, wherever you go. There will always be good wholesome results following you. With good coming down and with the good and wholesome results. Also remember to think of people who have helped you along the way and in the best of your abilities, dedicate them to your departed relatives or any beings who need them.
If you have an opportunity to take part in the, the Ullambana ceremony, Sadhu, it’s very virtuous. Otherwise, you don’t have to wait for ghost month in order to dedicate merits. I think you can do it on a daily basis, we make it a habit actually after every Dhamma talk. There’s this sentence that I really like a lot.
I feel joy listening to the Dharma talk. I, I wish that other beings would be able to experience this joy as well. Or like, may they be free from suffering and may I be free from suffering?
Oh, I’ve not heard of that. Thanks for sharing.
Yeah. So we wish others well. And may you be well listening to This’s episode and if you wanna continue to do good things or you wanna do more, you can go to our directory directory. Handful of leads live for events. listen to DMA talks, volunteer. Do offerings like there’s alms giving every weekend, actually every day at Wat Palelai Buddhist Temple as well where you can offer food to the monks and me your virtue allow you to build the conditions to meet with more goodness.
Yeah. Hope you’re not too freaked out by this episode it’s actually not very scary. I think it’s more heartening and inspiring than scary. So may you be well till we meet again. Goodbye. Stay happy and wise!
Buddhist Youth Network, Lim Soon Kiat, Alvin Chan, Tan Key Seng, Soh Hwee Hoon, Geraldine Tay, Venerable You Guang, Wilson Ng, Diga, Joyce, Tan Jia Yee, Joanne, Suñña, Shuo Mei, Arif, Bernice, Wee Teck, Andrew Yam, Kan Rong Hui, Wei Li Quek, Shirley Shen, Ezra, Joanne Chan, Hsien Li Siaw, Gillian Ang.
Editor and transcriber of this episode: Cheryl Cheah, Susara Ng
TLDR: What does independence in Buddhism look like? Zeb shares how awareness, compassion, and acceptance help him to experience some liberation from suffering in daily life.He also discovers what the Buddha’s half-smile represents to him.
Quick quiz, it is the month of August, what comes to mind? Fireworks may come to your mind since it’s the month of the celebration of Independence in 3 countries in Southeast Asia. The 3 countries are: 1) Singapore Independence Day, which is observed on the 9th of August; 2) Indonesia Independence Day on the 17th of August; and 3) Malaysia Independence Day on the 31st of August, respectively.
For me, independence refers to experiencing the fruits of the Dhamma, liberation from the suffering of daily life. Gaining ‘independence’ from the grasp of suffering.
This August, I wish to share my experience with you on how awareness, compassion, and acceptance can help you realise ‘independence’. When we can free ourselves, we are freer to free others of their suffering in turn. As a bonus, I would like to share what the Buddha’s half smile represents to me.
Awareness helps us stay on course:
If we are not aware of what is on the ground that may trip us over, we may suffer serious injury. Looking at suffering when we are suffering can make the pain seem endless. But if we look deeper, we may note that there are two levels of pain.
The Buddha uses the parable of the 2 arrows, with the first arrow being the actual pain, while the second arrow is our reaction to the initial pain. Knowing the difference between them brings to mind that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
We suffer because we are afflicted by the three poisons in Buddhism – greed, hatred, and delusion. We suffer because we are greedy and desire more. We want that extra serving of ice cream when we are already full leading to unwanted stomachaches.
We suffer because we are angry that we missed out on the popular Taylor Swift concert tickets purchase, while our enemies got lucky. We suffer because we are lost in our own delusional thinking that we should not have to suffer in life.
We ignore the 1stNoble Truth, that “There is Suffering.”
When we are aware and realise how we are afflicted by the three poisons, we may have a chance at suffering less.
We are less caught up with the pattern of clinging, pushing away, or being lost in our faulty thinking that life is unfair just because we suffer in our daily life.
I lost my job as a Counsellor in June 2023. I practised letting go of my desired identity as a healer. I accepted the emotional turmoil that I experienced as I faced the loss of my coveted career. I saw the pain of losing my job and discerned to not burden myself with additional suffering, by playing the blame game.
Pain is pain, we do have to honour the power of pain in its ability to overwhelm our senses. In meditation retreat practice, we are encouraged to watch pain in earnest mindfulness, because pain is also subject to the law of impermanence. Yet the truth remains that some pain may take a little longer to go away than we can handle.
A strategy I found to be helpful in cases where the pain was overwhelming was to apply compassion to myself.
The traditional phrases that we can use to apply compassion go like this: “May I be free from pain and suffering.”
Just reciting the compassionate phrase repeatedly, can have a calming and relaxing effect on us, and I observed that my pain slowly reduces in its intensity, because I was not so tense and uptight about the pain anymore.
I know it works for physical pain because I have not once, but two different hospitalization experiences in the past 4 years, with a combined hospital stay of 26 days in total!
I became an unwilling participant in observing human pains, both of myself and others, in a hospital setting. I am also grateful to have excellent medical care at Singapore’s Hospitals.
Using my medical pain – being hospitalized, was a valuable lesson in understanding suffering. I observed that I can choose to suffer less because I was able to apply mindfulness and compassion in facing my pain with much patience.
There are limits to what painkillers can do to mitigate the pain. I tried to observe the pain mindfully, but my mind was just too confused and distressed under the cocktail combinations of physical pain, painkillers to manage the pain, and the mental pain of being alone in a hospital ward.
I tweaked the compassion phrases to “May I be free from pain and suffering, as much as possible,” given that the strongest painkiller was only capable of dulling the pain so much, and I cannot realistically expect the pain to disappear.
Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, when I notice that I am more relaxed and accepting of the pain, the suffering naturally reduces in its intensity.
Acceptance of our reality:
The 1st Noble Truth states that “There is Suffering.” No need to run away from suffering. We are not choosing to embrace unnecessary suffering, but we learn not to run away from inevitable suffering.
We are learning not to add the 2nd arrow of suffering, on top of the 1st arrow of pain.
When suffering arises, we can watch it mindfully, and observe the ever-changing nature of the physical, emotional, and mental nature of the suffering.
Acceptance is not about being a defeatist, it is instead a courageous act, to accept reality for what it is. It is having the inner confidence that one can tackle whatever things life throws at us. Of course, we are armoured with the Wisdom of the Buddha’s teaching, to have various practices such as Mindfulness, 4 Brahmavihārā, and Forgiveness, to help us face and overcome the challenges in life.
With mindfulness, I pay attention to my ever-changing thoughts and emotions about the loss of my job. Sending loving kindness to myself, I try to maintain a positive mindset with the inevitable change.
Practising compassion, I strengthen my empathy for myself and others who are affected by layoffs and retrenchment.
I remain joyful for those who have a job now, for they are not suffering from the uncertainty of job loss.
And I try to stay equanimous, knowing that change is inevitable in life and that I will be employed in due time, with the right effort placed in my job search process.
Finally, I try to forgive myself for being less office politics savvy which may have led to my job loss; and I resolve to continue to learn and get mentoring to up my game in the workplace.
Hence, I suffer less, by having the wise understanding that there is suffering in life and recognising that it is not a personal failing to face suffering, or that I am being punished by some invisible beings out there.
I also want to thank and express my anumodana (gratitude) towards my kalyāṇamitta (spiritual friends) who have inspired me to continue learning and practising the Dhamma.
My spiritual friends reminded me of the impermanence of life’s ups and downs, and that I would suffer if I were stuck in holding on to my perceived identity loss of a Counsellor when I lost my job; but by turning to the Dhamma, I can find some solace and further deepen my understanding of the suffering and impermanence of one life’s status.
The half smile:
As I journey through life and the inevitable challenges in life, by practising the Dhamma, I come to understand the Buddha’s half smile, as realising, and accepting the suchness of life that there is nothing that I need to push away or to cling to and that is okay.
When I am secure in my acceptance of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in my life, I too smile contentedly like the Buddha, that I will have both wisdom and compassion to meet life challenges resolutely, with calm and ease.
The ultimate independence:
In conclusion, I hope the above personal sharing inspires you to continue to practice the Dhamma to attain the ultimate independence, which is Nibbana (Enlightenment). If we practice the Dhamma, we can find moments of mini-independence and freedom, that will help buffer against our day-to-day living stressors.
Whatever small amount of ease and lightness in our life that we can glean and experience, it will surely continue to build upon our faith and practice in the Dhamma.
I wish you too will have a taste of experiencing liberation and smile like the Buddha’s half smile. Sukhi hontu – May you be well and happy.
Explore how you can practice Mindfulness and Compassion in recognising and enduring the minor inconveniences in life.
See if you can adopt the Buddha’s half smile in accepting the inevitable challenges in life.
If you are in a position to support your friends who are in career transition, extend your help. You may refer to this past HOL article by Livia Lee for additional ideas to support those who faced layoffs.
TLDR: The Brahmavihārāare more accessible than you realise. Read on to find ideas on how to practice them in your daily life. Learn more about the author’s first-hand experience of the LGBTQIA+ Buddhist community, Rainbodhi Singapore.
When we think of the Brahmavihārā, or the Divine Abodes, we may think of this heavenly state of mind, as something that exists only when you are able to achieve the elusive and hard-to-attain states of mind called Jhāna.
As human beings, we naturally crave happiness and shun suffering, hence I too have been chasing the elusive happy state of mind. While on a meditation retreat, I chanced upon the practices of the Brahmavihārā, and I was able to achieve a taste of the pleasant states of mind, which has been alluded to as living like Heaven on Earth.
Who would not want that experience?
The practice of the Brahmavihārā can also help us better manage our emotions when dealing with the 8 worldly concerns in our daily life. And you can have a taste of the Brahmavihārā without going through an intensive meditation retreat.
Here, I would like to share my experience, of encountering the 4 Brahmavihārā of Mettā – Lovingkindness; Karuṇā – Compassion; Muditā – Appreciative Joy; and Upekkhā – Equanimity, in the Rainbodhi Singapore* community here. And, how you can practice the 4 Brahmavihārā in your own daily life.
I faced anxiety and dread in my first meeting with the Rainbodhi Singapore community, as discrimination and judgment can sadly occur even within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Internalised homophobia hurt members of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a minority, an outsider, and a non-local, I face challenges in finding a safe space across communities. Fortunately, my experience with the Rainbodhi Singapore community is different.
Mettā – Lovingkindness:
As I walked and panted up the steps at Fort Canning Park for Rainbodhi Singapore’s first monthly picnic, I kept wondering to myself if I should turn away. As this could be a potentially socially awkward event for the shy, introverted me.
Yet, I told myself that, I already came so far, and I should just show up. Showing up is half the battle won, I often remind my friends, that I should practice what I preach.
As I inch closer to the picnic site, from afar, I saw the smiley and happy face of Kyle Neo, the founder of Rainbodhi Singapore, waving his welcoming hands at me.
Kyle’s face radiated so much lovingkindness and friendliness that it melted away my fear and doubt about this meeting.
It was still early and there was just another person, Koh An Ding, at the picnic, but seeing her smile and nod happily as I approached the picnic mats further welcomed me into this new community for me.
What did I learn from these simple gestures from two relative strangers? Lovingkindness can manifest itself in a friendly smile or nod, making a world of difference to those around you. We can spread Mettā around us, getting on the bus, a smile, or a nod at the bus driver. If you try, this can enormously impact everyone’s life.
Continuing my picnic story, being part of a community is key.
We self-identify as members of the Rainbow community. This shared identity allows us to understand and connect with one another easily, even if it is our first meeting.
And this allowed me to open up about the challenging work experience that I was going through at that moment in time. Being heard and being seen by my new friends, I felt the wave of compassion washing over me, not because I am part of the minority group, but because I am a fellow human being, who is experiencing pain and suffering in life, at the workplace.
Compassion – bearing witness to another suffering, does not take away their pain, but it strengthens the bond of humanity when we recognize the 1stNoble Truth – that “There is Suffering”, and that we are not alone in the broad theme of “Sufferings of the World.” You can relieve the suffering of important people or even strangers, by just lending your listening ear.
Muditā– Appreciative Joy:
The repeal of Section 377A in Singapore, the law that criminalises sex between men, was officially repealed in November 2022, and I witnessed much joy and appreciation within the Rainbodhi Singapore community.
However, there is much left wanting by the community in terms of freedom and understanding from broader society. At times, some members of the community feel it is up against an ongoing slew of oppressive expectations and stereotypes.
Nevertheless, this does not stop one from rejoicing in the success and freedom of any groups within the rainbow community.
Living our life on a hedonic treadmill, we feel that we must constantly chase after happiness, to constantly get the dopamine kick, the feel-good chemical spark in our brain. And that can be a challenging thing to happen in our life.
Just like playing your favourite mobile game, levelling up to the Beginner’s level is so much easier and faster than trying to level up to the Expert’s level instead.
Hence, trying to seek happiness and joy to happen in our life would be frustrating, because it would be further and fewer in between.
How about trying this instead?
How about in our daily life, you choose to rejoice in others’ happiness, and you can multiply the joys in your life much easier and faster.
This provides an ongoing stream of happiness, joy, and gratitude to come into our life, not dependent on good news happening to us alone, but also builds upon the goodness that showers on others.
I always wonder if this is one of the secrets of the happy monks and nuns that we see in temples and monasteries when they are constantly rejoicing in laypeople and fellow monastic goodness, that they can stay perpetually happy.
While there is a win for LGBTQIA+ rights with the repeal of Section 377A, it also comes with the news of the amendment to the Constitution with the intent to protect the definition of marriage, to narrowly define it between the marriage of a man and a woman.
It creates the split feeling of a win (with the repeal of Section 377A), yet a loss (with the greater restrictions of the marriage definition), banning the possibility of same-sex marriage in Singapore, for now.
Some members of the Rainbodhi SG community encourage calm and patience, in securing greater gains for the LGBTQIA+ community, over time.
To me, it is a good example and portrayal of Equanimity, in the face of the mixed wins and losses in life. Trying to stay balanced amid the salad mix of emotions is what the practice of Equanimity calls for.
In our life, we may be shocked and overjoyed with the different ranges of emotions that may come up, when faced with different life events. And given enough time, we find that the initial emotions usually wear down and become less intense.
Hence, I would say that we all have practised Equanimity in our life, more than we realised. Just give it time, for time will heal all wounds. Khanti (Patience) is one of the 10 Pāramī (Perfections) that are encouraged to be developed after all.
June is typically celebrated as Pride Month. Finding Rainbodhi’s community has been a joyful experience. I hope this inspires more LGBTQIA+ Buddhists and allies to learn and join Rainbodhi Singapore’s activities. Do explores your own ideas on how you can further practice the Brahmavihārā in a practical way in your daily life.
Wish to find out more? You can visit the Rainbodhi Singapore website here or join the Telegram group for event updates here.
You can be creative and innovative in practising Loving-kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity in your daily life.
You can deepen your practice of Lovingkindness and Compassion towards the under-represented community in Singapore, such as the LGBTQIA+ community in this Pride month and beyond.
* For those unfamiliar with Rainbodhi Singapore, this is the community of Buddhist practitioners in Singapore, who also identify as members or allies of the LGBTQIA+ community.
TLDR: How can we use the Dhamma to help others going through a hard time? Cheryl suggests that we reflect on our own capacity, apply mindfulness, and cultivate compassion.
Ever found yourself struggling to help a friend in their darkest time? Have you received unsolicited advice when you’re down?
As someone who has struggled with mental health issues, receiving timely and compassionate emotional support feels like having a beacon of light shine in the darkness to guide and comfort you.
In this article, I will be sharing some ways in which we can learn and apply the Buddha’s teachings to offer better emotional support to those around us to help others find their own inner strength and resilience to navigate difficult emotions and offer support that is truly healing and transformative.
1. Pause and Reflect on Your Own Capacity
Emotional support is not just “sitting there and nodding your head.” It can be very challenging, especially in times of crisis or when dealing with difficult emotions.
Sometimes, it may also hit a raw nerve and trigger wounds that have not been healed fully especially if you are supporting someone close like a parent, sibling or spouse. Before saying yes to helping others, first, prioritise self-care and check in with yourself by asking these 3 questions.
How is my mental and physical well-being right now on a scale of 1-10?
What is my capacity to hold a space of non-judgment and understanding?
What’s my intention to help?
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that for one “to be of service to others, we must first learn to take care of ourselves. When our own cup is full, then only we can offer it to others.”
When we offer help from a space grounded in stability and well-being, we are offering an invaluable gift to another. A gift of presence that enables us to be fully with the depths of another person’s pain unravelling in an authentic and compassionate way.
More often than not, when we say ‘yes’ to help, it may be because we have a fear of judgment or a begrudging sense of obligation to show up. This may affect the quality of our presence and authenticity.
When you are clear about your own capacities and intentions, you can then draw boundaries that are compassionate to you and the other person. [Read: Not ghosting someone]. You can reassure them of how much you care about them, acknowledge that they are experiencing immense suffering, and importantly, iterate a commitment to getting back at a specific date or time.
Here’s a sample message that you can modify and use.
“Hey, I hear that you are suffering deeply due to [life event or stressor] and really wish that I could be there for you. However, I am feeling [What are you feeling] and I don’t feel like I can give you the support you deserve. I care for you deeply and [relationship/friendship] means a lot to me. Please allow me some time to take care of my suffering and I will be there for you as soon as I’m able to.
Can I call/text you to chat in [a specific days/hours]? Meanwhile, please take care of yourself well.”
Another important aspect of offering emotional support from a Buddhist perspective is the practice of “mindfulness.” This involves being present in the moment and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Using mindfulness, we can become more attuned to the other person’s words and body language. This can help us communicate more effectively and be more responsive to the other person’s needs. We can also respond to difficult emotions with kindness and compassion, rather than reacting in a harmful or dismissive way, offering them a safe space to be vulnerable.
More often than not, emotional support is not about fixing or solving problems, but rather about offering a safe and non-judgmental space for others to process and express their emotions. And in doing so, one can then get in touch with their inner resilience and wisdom to transform their own suffering.
Here’s a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, that captures this beautifully:
“The way to suffer well and be happy is to stay in touch with what is actually going on; in doing so, one will be able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.”
To provide good emotional support, one does not need to have perfect mindfulness. Truth is, nobody is perfect (unless you are a fully enlightened being). Instead, start where you are and with what you can and continuously practice the skill. Here are 3 tips to help you incorporate mindfulness into listening (PsychCentral):
Ground yourself with a deep, mindful breath before responding.
Reflect back on what you have heard: Summarize or paraphrase what the speaker has said to show that you have understood their perspective.
Ask open-ended questions: Ask questions that encourage the speaker to expand on their thoughts and feelings, rather than closed-ended questions that require a simple yes or no answer.
Remember, mindful active listening is a skill that takes practice, so be patient with yourself and keep working at it.
Grounding yourself in compassion shifts the perspective from “I” to “You”. It’s no longer about “What can I do to support?” but rather, “What do you need to reduce your suffering?” and committing to offer that.
This is a subtle difference but one that is immensely powerful. How many times have we received unsolicited advice when it was not the right time, and how did that feel?
By cultivating compassion, we can better understand and relate to the struggles and challenges others may be facing, and offer support that is grounded in understanding and care.
When unsure, the most humbling way, is to acknowledge the uncertainty and ask “I’m not sure what can help you to feel better at this moment, can you please help me?” Or, simply, “what do you need most at this moment?” Then you can offer what is appropriate to the moment – a hug, solutions, resources or perhaps, tissue to wipe their tears away.
Sometimes, the response could be uncertain too, and that’s the perfect opportunity to offer space and sit with them in silence as they untangle their emotions.
In conclusion, providing emotional support in the Buddhist way involves taking care of oneself, being mindful, and grounding oneself in compassion to offer meaningful and supportive help to those in need, while also cultivating our own sense of compassion and understanding. This is merely the tip of the iceberg, and there are many other ways that the Dhamma can be applied to benefit others.
Want to learn more?
The Dot Connections Growth Centre is organizing a 7-module Diploma in Buddhist Psychotherapy and Counseling commencing in April 2023 to November 2023, which focuses on the practical and theoretical training in counseling therapeutic skills based on Buddhist precepts and tenets.
The course is also coupled with secular approaches to counselling and psychotherapy in dealing with the mental and emotional issues of clients. You will also get to acquire practical experience through internships with community organizations.
You may learn more here or registerhere . If you have any other questions, please contact Dot Connections by Whatsapp at 8501 4365 or via email at [email protected].