15 Things a lawyer turned monk taught me

The book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma tells of a story of a famous, rich, busy and successful lawyer Julian Mantle. One day, he suddenly collapsed inside the courtroom. When he woke up, his doctor gave him two options: give up being a lawyer or give up life. Afraid for his life, he gave up everything including his prized Ferrari and went to the Himalayas to search for the meaning of life. When he came back, he shared with John, his young lawyer apprentice, what he learned from the sages living in the mountain.  Reading Julian's words, I felt like he was talking both to me and John. He gave me valuable lessons that I am also sharing with you:

1.       I've realized something very important, John. The world, and that includes my inner world, is a very special place. I've also come to see that success on the outside means nothing unless you also have success within. There is a huge difference between well-being and being well-off.

2.       As a matter of fact, most good gardeners guard their gardens like proud soldiers and make certain that no contamination ever enters. Yet look at the toxic waste that most people put into the fertile garden of their minds every single day: the worries and anxieties, the fretting about the past, the brooding over the future and those self-created fears that wreak havoc within your inner world.

3.       Worry drains the mind of much of its power and, sooner or later, it injures the soul.

4.       Find out what you truly love to do and then direct all of your energy towards doing it.

5.       My friend, saying that you don't have time to improve your thoughts and your life is like saying you don't have time to stop for gas because you are too busy driving. Eventually it will catch up with you.

6.       Most of us live at such a frenetic pace that true stillness and silence is something foreign and uncomfortable.

7.       The quality of your thinking determines the quality of your life.

8.       There is nothing noble about being superior to some other person. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.

9.       Fatigue dominates the lives of those who are living without direction and dreams.

10.   Here, in our society we have lost our passion. We do not do things because we love to do them. We do things because we feel we have to do them. This is a formula for misery.

11.   When you improve yourself, you are improving the lives of all those around you.

12.   "By the time most people figure out what they really want and how to go about attaining it, it's usually too late. That saying, 'If youth only knew, if age only could," is so true…

13.   Those who have never been exposed to the principle that 'time mastery is life mastery' will never realize their enormous human potential. Time is the great leveller. Whether we are privileged or disadvantaged, whether we live in Texas or Tokyo, we all have been allotted days with only twenty-four hours. What separates those who build exceptional lives from the 'also rans'  is the way they use this time."

14.   We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

15.   I feel empty inside. I have missed the gift of living.

Looking through Jesus' eyes

Photo from this website
Most of the people I talk with thought that meditation will give one some supernatural power.  That is true. However, by the time you get to know your power, you are too cautious not to use it because meditation teaches one to be calm, to watch or control a rising emotion, and most importantly to be compassionate with other people and sentient beings (like animals). Aside from being silent, meditation is also praying for him/herself and for other people, of “feeling” them, their suffering, happiness and sadness.

Sometimes, when I meditate like this, the connection feels so strong that I can’t help but cry not out of pity but of compassion. I remember one evening, I was lying on my bed and listening to “We Are The Reason”, imagining Jesus Christ being humiliated in front of the crowd. I have watched several movies about this in the past but at that time, I felt like I was Him or with Him. I heard the noises, felt pain on my knees and the heavy breathing. Despite the situation, I did not sense any anger, remorse nor negative feeling. The feeling was excruciatingly painful that I cried profusely. I sat up for I couldn’t breathe, my eyes swollen, my face wet, but my crying never seized.

Then I saw faceless strangers, walking wearily, homeless and begging, laughing. I was seeing them in a different way. It was like a mother looking at her beloved children. It was compassion, the feeling of wanting to hug her children regardless of what they are doing or who they are. I felt longing. The feeling was too much for me. Part of me was telling to let go. I might have been crying for 30 minutes. It was already draining me. After a while, I stopped. Resting, I thought: Did I just get a glimpse of how He felt? Only then did I truly understand why He does not forsake anyone, and why He loves us so much no matter how many mistakes we committed against Him.  I know the feeling now. It is something no words can explain. Truly He has given every being the greatest gift. I am glad I have known Him.

Eating in silence

It was a weekend. I decided to join an invitation to stay in a Buddhist temple for a whole day of meditation. It was my first time to join a group for meditation. What I like a lot about that whole day was meditating while eating. Our host that day, lead us to a big dining hall with long tables and series of chairs on the side. The hall reminded me of school canteens except there was golden statue of the Laughing Buddha. We formed a line outside the hall. A student, a scholar inside the temple, hit the wooden block twice. Then we went inside the dining hall. We were told to bow down to the Buddha and move as silently as we could. When we were seated, we prayed the five contemplation.

Photo from this website

Since it was a silent meal, we were not allowed to speak and merely focus on the taste, texture and smell of our food. There was a plate with food, a small bowl of rice on the left, a small bowl of soup on the right, and a chopsticks. To move the food wares near me, I have to put the right bowl to my left, the left bowl to my right and the plate in the middle of the bowls. We must also sit straight and occupy only the half of the chair to avoid slouching. When taking in food, we were to move only the bowls or chopsticks to our mouth. We must maintain our straight-back posture. The food from the plate has to be transfered to our bowls, and eat from there. If we need rice or water, we have to move the bowls in the middle of the table and the scholars will fill it for us. If we want more of what was on the plate, say a tofu, we have to leave one tofu so the scholars would know what we need. Holding the small bowls is unusual for me. We hold it with our thumb on the brim and all four fingers holding the bottom of the bowl. It was like measuring the bowl with your hand. Once done, we have to put one bowl on top of the other and put it back again on the edge of the table, away from us, then the plate on the other side, and the chopsticks in between. We also have to bow down again to the Laughing Buddha as we go.

The first time I did this, I was more mindful of how I was doing it rather than how the food was prepared. I also forgot how to ask for water as there was no glass for water. I ended up drinking water during our break. The second time, I unmindfully left my almost-emptied bowl of soup in the middle of the table. Suddenly, a scholar poured water on it mixing water with the soup. I almost said “Oh no, no, you’re pouring water on my soup.” But I let it be. So, that’s how it is to ask for and serve with water, I thought.  The third time, I was a little ok. I was able to taste the food served and was thankful for whoever prepared it.

Eating in silence is so much fun. I never usually do that. I guess most of us do not usually do that. During meal time, we would gorge on our food, talk about movies and laugh at jokes. Being silent could imply that something is wrong. So we fill in silence with chats. It is refreshing not to talk for a while and just live in the present moment.   

3 Simple ways to control anger

Photo from this website

The photo is from the movie “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring.” Though the movie is about karma, this particular scene where the young monk (left) and his master where writing the Heart Sutra is one of my favorite scenes. The young monk has just returned to the temple after killing his wife. Seeing the tormenting anguish that the young monk has in his heart, the master wrote the Heart Sutra using his cat’s tail. He then asked the young monk to carve each calligraphic note using a knife as shown in this photo.  The purpose of the master is for the young monk to let go of anger so he can see things in the right perspective.  When we are angry, we immediately react that causes more pain to both ourselves and the other person. Anger does not resolve anything but only aggravated things. So how can you control anger?

1. Be mindful of your emotion. Meditation is important here. Meditation will help you to see the rising and falling of emotions like a wave in the ocean that rises and eventually settles again.

2.  Breathe deeply 5-10 times before you speak. This will slow down the processing of thoughts into negative speech. You may go out and have some fresh air or be silent for a while.

3.  Talk to people who make you smile or happy. Forget about the burning issue at hand for a moment.  Chat with people about something else. The positive energy or aura from people helps cleanse the negative vibration that we just created.

Remember that nobody can control you unless you allow them to be.

Medidating like a lion or a dog?

Photo from this website
The first time I tried sitting meditation, in half-lotus position, eyes closed, I noticed how my mind would spread in so many thoughts like a fireworks display on New Year’s Day. I thought of what I did in the morning, what my colleagues told me, where I would eat for dinner, etc. What made it difficult (and is still difficult until now) was that I usually caught myself thinking when I was already half-way of the story, then I go back to my breathing --- breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out …. I read from a Facebook post a quote about the wandering mind. It says that an untrained mind is like a dog that will go chasing after the stick that the owner throws. A trained mind is like a lion. Lions do not chase sticks, it chases the thrower. Yikes!

Next time I meditated, I tried to be a lion. I have to look at where or how my thoughts started or will start. It was doubly difficult. It felt like I have two minds: one is waiting for the other to think, while the other is waiting for the other to doze off so it could play. After some time, I caught a glimpse of how my mind wanders. I noticed that my thoughts are triggered by certain objects, like if I breathe and I noticed that my breathing is shallow, I would think of a possible heart problem, then I would think of hospitals, then of the nearest hospitals, then of borrowing money from people, then of remembering my officemates, and so on. And all these happened so swiftly, in a few seconds. And though I have a taste of what it’s like to be a lion, I am still a dog. I really need to practice more.