Venue: Hokkien Cemetery Pavilion
What does the word merdeka mean? The word means “independence” – the ability to stand on your own. Today is Merdeka or Independence Day for Malaysians. Why did we seek independence from the British 48 years ago? While it is true that the British brought a vast amount of development to Malaysia like the building of good infrastructure, education by the Christian missionaries, etc., they also took away a lot of our natural resources such as rubber and tin. Furthermore, the British felt that they were superior to us. Malaysia’s independence was indeed special because it was achieved peacefully and without bloodshed, unlike that of many other countries. For that, we can be thankful.
A healthy body can be likened to a well oiled, smoothly functioning piece of machinery. When the body functions smoothly, the mind feels nice and comfortable. So the mind should reciprocate by helping the body to function smoothly. But instead of gratefully doing this, the uncivilised mind—overcome by greed, hatred and delusion—follows its whims and fancies often at the expense of the body. This is evident in the increasing number of psychosomatic illnesses present in today’s highly-stressed society. Busy people with even busier lifestyles go for processed foods instead of natural ones resulting in the soaring number of medical cases. In their quest for profits, greedy farmers use huge amounts of pesticides on their produce, and those in the animal husbandry industry use hormones and harmful chemicals to raise their livestock. Even the rich cannot escape because although they can afford organically grown foods, they still hanker for tasty but unhealthy ‘junk’ foods. Many people do not have the time or inclination to live a healthy lifestyle that should include proper rest as well as sufficient physical activity. We are the slaves of our own greed, hatred and delusion. So in a way, we can say that although Malaysia has achieved independence, its citizens have not.
Unlike us, the Buddha is enlightened and has achieved ‘merdeka’ from greed, hatred and delusion (the imperialists of our mental response to sense stimulation). To emulate the Buddha, we should try our best to civilise our mind so that the body and the mind can function in harmony, thus bringing about more comfort and happiness. For laypeople, this means participating in the course of training outlined as dana, sila and bhavana.
Many devotees come for dana especially on a public holiday like today. However less will come for talks and even fewer for meditation. Last week, we were really fortunate to receive a group of devotees from Bukit Mertajam who came up to SBS and donated RM20, 000 to build a road up here. They are called the Tuesday Lunas Dana Group because every Tuesday, they will gather to prepare dana for the monks and yogis in Lunas Buddhist Hermitage. They have been doing that for the past 15 years. They started as a group comprising just a few regular people and now the group has more than 1,000 members. Dana is completely handled by them: from the collection of funds (each member contributes RM5.00 each month) to the purchasing of food, cooking and finally, the dana proper. Since the funds collected are more than what they require for dana monthly, the balance is channelled as charity to various Buddhist organisations elsewhere.
One of their members told me the bitter story of her life. She was divorced when her daughter was only 5 years old. As a single parent, she worked hard in a cigar manufacturing factory as well as a mistress of ceremony for traditional marriages (sang ke mm in Hokkien or mak andam in Malay) to raise her child. Life was hard. She was so poor that she could only afford to purchase two cylinders of cooking gas a year. She recalled how she had to send her daughter to school on a bicycle and when it rained, the journey was a torture. Given a choice, she would not have undertaken either of the two jobs mentioned because one indirectly encourages people to smoke and the other involves a certain amount of fibbing. She worried about the karmic repercussions of not being able to keep her sila well, such as a possible future rebirth in the animal realm.
I consoled her by saying that in life, we often encounter situations that prompt us to commit unwholesome kamma or perform wholesome kamma. When circumstances permit, we can always strive to do more good to offset the akusala that we sometimes have no chance to avoid. It is actually our mind that is the forerunner of all things good and bad and if we can conquer it, we can better our chances. Then, even if one is set to be reborn as an animal, it might be as a pampered pet of a rich household!
I asked her why she was so dedicated to doing dana. She told me that Ven Suvanno’s talks on the cause of a miserable rebirth due to a previous miserly existence was the encouragement and motivation needed. She is hoping that her next life would be an improvement. This is a very positive attitude indeed. Even in the face of hardship, her faith is ever strong.
I encouraged her to go one step further—to learn and practise meditation. This does not just mean sitting in a half/full lotus posture, closing one’s eyes and being absorbed in an object of focus, oblivious to one’s surroundings. One very important aspect of mindfulness meditation entails developing the ability to be constantly aware of our mind and thought processes, and, as a result, sharpening our mental response to the 5 senses, which is the root of all good and evil. This kind of ‘wise attention’ is the ultimate bhavana. Every single time that you are able to achieve this will be a ‘merdeka’ of sorts from unconscious slavery to greed, hatred and delusion, albeit a transient one. With persistence and continual effort, we will certainly become more and more skilful in applying introspective awareness in this way throughout our waking hours. In saying that, we hope that many of you will make the effort to join us for meditation every Saturday night up at SBS.