For a banana like myself, my mind can sometimes take a vacation when I go house visits to relatives. Creating this article hopefully helps me and those struggling people out there go through CNY without stirring up more anger than is needed in samsara.
If you are an expat/ mountain turtle who nearly wore black to their colleague’s house for CNY, this article will help you impress your hosts too. I have weaved in some Dhamma verses to add further flavour to these greetings. Here we go!
1. 新年快乐 (Xīn Nián Kuài Lè)
This is the classic greeting which means “Happy New Year” and is ‘deployed’ at the host’s door with two oranges.
Interestingly, the Dhamma teachings focus on the day-to-day, a deeper level of greeting and practice. HH Dalai Lama contemplates:
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, and I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.”
We might feel that 2023 will be a year of great uncertainty given the slew of layoffs. But we use such greetings to remind us of the positive possibilities each day and year might bring.
2. 步步高升 (Bù Bù Gāo Shēng)
This greeting means “to ascend higher with each step”. It wishes the other person progress in whatever they do and set their mind towards.
The Buddha last words were ‘Strive on with diligence’ as he left his disciples. This meant going forward with the practice despite the adversities faced on the path. We sometimes ask ‘How do I know if I am progressing on the path as a Buddhist?’. Ajahn Brahm, a famous monk from Australia, talks about checking if we are gradually letting go of Greed, Hatred, and Delusion within us as a marker of progress.
To progress. We must let go.
3. 年年有余 (Nián Nián Yǒu Yú)
This greeting is a word play with the Chinese words “余” (yú) which sounds like identical to “鱼” (yú).
“”余” (yú) forms the phrase “剩余”, which translates to abundance. The second “鱼” (yú) means “fish” which is commonly an auspicious symbol in Chinese customs
So you are greeting the person with multiple abundance every year!
Buddha talked about blessings in the Mangala Sutta which we can associate with the idea of abundance (having enough).
“Not to associate with the unwise, but to associate with the wise, and to honour those who are worthy of honour — this is the greatest blessing.
To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself on the right course — this is the greatest blessing.”
There are 38 such blessings mentioned by the Buddha. Do check it out to literally count your blessings:) You might realise that your blessings and abundance are more ‘overflowing’ than you could ever imagine.
4. 心想事成 (Xīn Xiǎng Shì Chéng)
This greeting points towards ‘Achieving what the heart desires’.
“Mind is the chief forerunner of all good states.
Experiences are led by and produced by the mind. “
The Buddha pointed out mind as the first area of origin that defines our action and experiences. By changing the way we think and act, we can change our lives. Recognising the importance of the heart is key to changing our year ahead.
If what we desire is unskillful / ill-will in nature, we are likely to end with an outcome that is sub-optimal for our happiness. Likewise, this works for us if we are skillful and good-willed in nature.
5. 金玉满堂 (Jīn Yù Mǎn Táng)
This is the most Chinese greeting we can conjure up. It translates to ‘wishing you a house full of gold and jade”. This means we wish someone an abundance of wealth and wisdom/knowledge.
This is probably something most of us dream towards. Interestingly, the Buddha often talked about the 3 refuges (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha) as the triple gem. Real gems that are beyond the cusps of ageing, sickness, and death.
“And what is the noble search? There is the case where a person, himself being subject to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, seeks the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding. Himself being subject to ageing… illness… death… sorrow… defilement, seeing the drawbacks of ageing… illness… death… sorrow… defilement, seeks the ageing-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less, undefiled, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding. This is the noble search.” – Ariyapariyesana Sutta
A noble search for the Dhamma is one that gives an abundance of spiritual wealth and wisdom. Our material riches, loved ones, and titles will eventually fade upon death, so Buddha encourages us to work on something that doesn’t fade with effort-Our practice.
And there you go! 5 CNY verses that bring 5 different Dhamma reflections as we dive into the Chinese New Year. May these reflections bless both you and your family!
TLDR: Everyone has a different take as to what they think is important in life. Three things that matter most to me are love and kindness, personal growth and development as well as purpose.
Disclaimer: my answer to this question is based on my personal experience and reflection. Everyone has different takes on this matter. Please treat it with a pinch of salt. Thank you:)
Once, I asked my dad if he had ever blamed my grandparents for not sending him to university. Out of the eight siblings, only my Ah Pek (paternal elder uncle) was given the support to pursue higher education. What made me feel indignant was that my Ah Pek did not take the opportunity to complete his degree.
On the other hand, my dad had to give up his dream of becoming a doctor. He had to take on the role of an ‘oldest’ son (Ah Pek was the oldest). This gave Ah Pek the opportunity to further his studies. My dad was a smart boy who always scored first in his cohort despite having to work after school and during the weekends when other kids were playing.
He was also a kind brother who always gave in to his siblings. I just found it such a shame that he did not get the opportunity he deserved. However, his answer to my question was a no. I was perplexed.
As a young girl, I grew up feeling jealous of my older sister. She was always the priority. From the presents that my parents got for us to enrichment classes she was sent to, she always had the best.
Even the main reason why I was sent to study in Singapore was to accompany her (we are from Indonesia). We are only one and a half years apart but she seemed to always have more than me. I drew so many parallels between my dad’s life and mine but why did he respond so differently from me?
He explained to me: “there is no reason for me to blame them. The condition just was not right.”
“I was glad that at least your Ah Pek had a chance to go to college.” He shared.
“He had good kamma. Think about it, if it was not for our family’s financial difficulties, do you think I would work hard to be where I am right now? I could pay for your Ah Gou’s (aunt’s) education, help to build the temple, and send you and Jie Jie to Singapore. Life is about making the best of what you have and being purposeful with it.” He added.
There comes a time when we ask ourselves, what really matters in life or does anything in life really matter? From my reflection on the parallels between my dad’s and my response, it helps me understand what really matters in life. Here are three lessons
1. Love and kindness
My dad’s love for his family was the strength that kept him going despite all the challenges that he faced. It was definitely not easy to combine work and study at such a young age. Yet, he did not complain and remained hopeful.
He did not see his choice of helping the family as a sacrifice, but rather, a privilege to show his love and care for his family.
Because he sees life from the lens of love and kindness instead of hatred and resentment, he lives with contentment and peace. He also gained people’s trust as well as love and respect from his children.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lao Tzu
2. Personal Growth and Development
No one is born perfect and that is the beauty of it. When we are aware of our weaknesses, we learn that there is no reason to be conceited and proud.
Looking back, the reason why I was often jealous and dissatisfied was that I held on to the fixed view that I had to have more to be happy.
I blamed everything on the outside world, thinking that everything was unfair. My life was in a downward spiral as I held on tightly to my victim mentality.
After learning about the Four Noble truths, I came to understand that the source of my suffering was craving. Not getting what I want to result in so much anger and hatred. The mind’s nature is to always seek a more pleasant experience. However, the more things that I wanted, the more pain I got. That is why drug addicts find it challenging to overcome their addiction and need higher doses over time.
Meditation is so helpful in training the mind to be more mindful, peaceful, and aware. Although I am new to meditation, I put in effort to be a better practitioner. After all, personal growth and development is a work-in-progress right? *Wink wink*
“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.” – Dhammapada 103
We may seek the meaning of life, but there is actually none. That is why as Buddhists, we practise working towards the end of Saṃsāra (cycle of rebirth).
However, it does not mean that we live a dissipated life. Instead, we create our own meaning of life.
Meaning in life can include developing kindness, compassion, and love. In other words, we make peace with our lives by having good relationships with ourselves and with others. We can practise this anytime and anywhere.
“Better it is to live one day strenuous and resolute than to live a hundred years sluggish and dissipated.” – Dhammapada 112
Thank you for reading my reflection on what matters in life. I hope you gained something out of it.
Learn to not confuse perception from truth. This is because perception is subjective and may not depict the story accurately. Clinging to perception causes one to become infatuated, leading to more craving and suffering. (MN 149)
Practise the four brahma-viharas (loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity) to lead a happier life.
Be patient with yourself. Every process takes time and there is no timeline for you to follow.
New to meditation like me?
Find out the essential knowledge and tips you need to help you better understand how to meditate. Our Meditation 101 guide is curated as a starting point for meditation for beginners as well as to help buddhist youth get a better understanding on the difference between buddhist meditation and secular meditation.
Content warning: This piece describes acts of homophobia and bullying that might be disturbing to some readers.
Since young, Kyle is always confused with how people look at him and why people like to call him names that are demeaning and hurtful. The term “gay” was not common during the ‘80s in Singapore.
A boy behaving femininely did not fit into how society thought a boy should behave Boys in this group are labelled “Ah Kua”. Ah Kua is a derogatory Hokkien term for a transsexual or transvestite.“Maybe something is not right, I have to be more like a boy,” Kyle recollected on his thoughts as a child.
Today, Kyle is a jovial, energetic, creative designer and Buddhist guide who volunteers at a soup kitchen and Buddhist organisations. Though he has gone through a hurtful past, he now recollects his experience with zen and ease.
He hopes that his sharing will spark a conversation about how it is okay to be different and how we can support our LGBTQIA+ friends within the Buddhist communities.
The Challenges of Being Different
Kyle was easily a bully’s target in school as the only boy in the choir. He joined the choir because he loved to sing but yet he was often called a “Sissy” for choosing to do what he loves.
“Every day I am thinking…am I going to be called something else?” Kyle shared. He would find longer routes to his destination to avoid a group of boys who would bully him.
Secondary school was where things escalated.
“If you like boys, then there is something wrong with you,” Kyle recalled. Boys would shame him in public by shouting derogatory names at him or throwing garbage into his bag.
Thankfully, he had four female friends who always defended him from the bullies. They made the pain of insults easier to bear. He recalled taking part in the school’s talentime competition, with the song ‘Hero’ by Mariah Carey. The lyrics inspired him to go up on the stage to express himself and the audience was stunned at his performance. Kyle could reach all the high notes in the song. His performance led to less bullying as people saw his talent in singing.
Kyle felt lucky as the derogatory remarks were instead replaced with the nickname “Mariah”.
Mariah Carey’s “Hero” gave him the courage to be stronger during those tough times. The lyrics and tune provided a space of calm and refuge. “Mariah Carey and Whitney Huston are where my pillars of strength and inspiration came from. “That’s before I came into contact with the Buddha of course!” Kyle chuckled.
The Buddha as his inspiration
“I am not special, if I suffer I am not the only one,” Kyle realised as he found out about the four noble truths.
Learning the noble truths that life is subjected to unsatisfactoriness and there is a way out of it resonated deeply with Kyle. It gave him the empathy that he was not alone.
Bullying followed Kyle even when he was pursuing a diploma at NAFA. He really wanted the bullies to suffer badly. He was thinking about how to seek revenge all the time. However, he realised all the unhappiness and burdens within caused by hatred arose from being attached to his ego.
“At a later stage, I learnt more compassion.” Kyle shared. He drew his source of compassion from a Dhammapada verse on hatred.
“Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.”
Responding to hate with hate only tortures oneself with anger, Kyle reasoned.
“Being kind to oneself is not just shopping or buying things for yourself. We always say be kind to yourself. When you are not angry towards others, that is when you are really being kind to yourself”
Kyle’s sharing struck a deep chord within me. In a society that starts talking about self-care, we often talk about the material. Kyle’s sharing nailed it that the emotional aspect is hardly looked at.
“Life without Dharma will be tougher to live on. The loss of my loved ones, the physical suffering from illness, the mental tortures of guilt and hatred. My suffering only I can relate to. No matter how happy one can be, the drum always sounds better when it’s far away.”
Kyle is thankful to be alive in this time where the Dharma still exists. He is constantly inspired by the teachings of Ajahn Buddhadasa, Ajahn Chan, Venerable Hsing Yun, and Thich Nhat Hanh, Without the Buddha’s Dharma, these masters wouldn’t exist.
Kyle has enormous gratitude for how the Dharma has transformed him.
I wondered to myself, “With so many challenges at school, was his experience in the Buddhist community any different?”
Gay + Buddhist?
Although Kyle never had negative experiences from the Buddhist community regarding his sexual orientation, challenges remain. Occasionally, when doing Dhamma volunteer work, he was apprehensive about sharing his sexuality as he was unsure how people would react.
He felt compelled to ‘tone down’ his behaviour when he entered the Buddhist setting.
“Why?”, I wondered.
Kyle shared that it remains a cultural taboo to say, “It is okay to be Buddhist and to be gay”. Something that is not discussed, creates uncertainty. There is a dearth of centres that have Dhamma talks and resources tailored to LGBTQIA+. Hence, there is uncertainty whether LGBTQIA+ members are welcomed.
The compulsion to tone down on his femininity eventually faded as Kyle developed his Dhamma knowledge.
He concluded that being LGBTQIA+ is not a sin. Rather, it is the way that we treat others and ourselves that matters more than our sexuality. Our thoughts, speech, and actions of kindness and wisdom are of utmost importance.
That made me wonder how we can better support our LGBTQIA+ friends.
“Be sensitive to what you say as it may make them feel uncomfortable. You may be close but do not take liberty in sharing with others about the person’s sexual orientation.” Kyle advised.
He recalled that some straight friends might accidentally ‘out’ their LGBTQIA+ friends, leaving them in an awkward situation.
“If we are standing up for them, just defend them because everyone deserves kindness and no one wants to be treated harshly,” Kyle advised. He mentioned that is better to avoid ‘out-ing’ LGBTQIA+ friends if they aren’t prepared to share their sexual orientation.
As friends, we also can express skilful speech by not stereotyping a person immediately. Don’t call out someone for ‘straight acting’ if they are gay and expect gay people to have to act a certain way.
In addition, if you suspect that a friend is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, don’t ask them. They might not be ready to share and feel even more stressed.
One Buddhist community that helped Kyle was “RainBodhi” (HYPERLINK), which combined two words “rainbow” and “Bodhi”. It is a LGBTQIA+ friendly community that conducts talks and provides resources to help one another.
How can members of the LGBTQIA+ community develop more compassion towards themselves against a conservative society which may not always be understanding?
“Take your time and explore what is happening. It is always through initial confusion that we gain clarity and wisdom eventually. Once you understand your emotions, you know better about this “Me” and “I”. Pick up a Dhamma book to ground yourself.” Kyle shared.
Kyle added, “If you aren’t religious, then pick up philosophy or inspirational books.”
Remind yourself “There is nothing wrong with you”.
With Kyle developing so much wisdom over time, I wondered what Kyle would tell his younger self.
“Trust your instinct. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way you are. One day you will know a group of people who truly love who you are. You will meet an amazing teacher, the Buddha. You will come across the Buddha’s teaching and it will transform you. Be kind to people as much as possible. I promise you, that’s the only way that will help you through all the struggles. ” Kyle encouraged.
“Stop obsessing with losing weight and lose the ego instead!” Kyle added in jest.
In the spirit of pride – acceptance and care- Kyle summarised his thoughts by sharing, “Keep giving joy and love to people around you, even when you can’t find it yourself. Because whatever hardship you are going through, all the joy and love you have given would come back to you eventually”
TLDR: When we are at the height of our career success and plummet into failure overnight, what do we do? Gather our courage to see things from a different perspective.
The Highs Could Only Go Higher Right?
2019 was an amazing year for my career. I achieved the coveted promotion by securing large revenues for my company, the bosses had only praise for my hard work, and I earned nearly 1-year worth of bonus.
Times were good, and when January of 2020 approached, I had only big plans for the year. This was going to be the zenith, I knew that I would achieve my second promotion, earn even more money and shine ever bigger.
In a natural turn of events, I knew nothing.
The moment COVID began impacting Malaysia, my career nosedived in a single day. All the deals I had lined up were halted, and the tumultuous journey began.
Long were the days of tough talk with the bosses; it felt almost like a consistent interrogation revolving around my presence in the company despite my lack of revenue. It was apparent how the company now saw me as a burden.
The Crash Of Change
I was entangled in a mass and mess of emotions; my mind alike to the sea that I so love, unpredictable. Fury, jealousy, melancholy, had a wonderful time consuming my waking thoughts.
Thoughts of “Why can’t they understand my difficult situation?” and “Why are they making things difficult for me?” only oiled further anger within.
To soothe this heat, I began plotting to create reputation damage to the company. Sharing this with a good friend, he merely asked “What is the point of harming others and oneself?”
Building Courage Again
That phrase gave my mind a sudden epiphany. For years I have heard the phrase ‘embrace change’, but now I am behaving like a temperamental child robbed of desires.
It is odd how I welcome change with a big hug only if it is in my favour yet loathe the tide’s natural turn when my desires are unmet. What I needed, was quite simply courage.
Courage to admit that success and failure are betrothed, there is nothing shameful about failing. Courage to refrain from blaming an external party for the source of my negative emotions, and instead to realise that I am still a lot of work in progress. Courage to embrace change, both positive and negative with grace.
I found the Dhamma quote on being unshakeable when the winds of life blow inspiring: