Sunday, September 30, 2007

Weapons of Mass Collaboration

As an aside, today marks the first annual anniversary of my blogging expedition. And I have written a blog to commemorate the occasion in my other blog here.

The much awaited game between the Gators and the Auburn Tigers came and left last night. And the outcome was not one to my liking: a loss for the Gators, just like last year, except that it was an away game last time around.

Anyway I switched channel (but not allegiance) when the Gators was behind 0-14 halfway through the second quarter. I did that because I found that my emotion had become affected by the course of the game, going through big swings as the game progressed.

So I ended up watching a movie on DVD, Zodiac, the story developing slowly and forcing my mind to think about the connections between different parts of the movie. In other words, a more even-keeled disposition bereft of the imposed mood swings if I were to continue watching the Gators' game. Admittedly, I still have some earthly attachments to forsake. The good thing is I'm working on it.

But I did go to sleep thinking about the game, however fleetingly. So I had to resort to chanting Buddha's name (I could feel wify turning in bed too but for a different reason, or rather worry) to keep my restive mind at bay. In between, I chatted a bit with wify, assuaging her worry until I could hear her even breathing, a sign of slumber setting in. I guess I followed suit soon after as the next moment I opened my eyes it was already daybreak, the morning light streaming through the gaps in the vertical flaps of the window blinds.

A new day was born and by the time I read the headline on the front page of the morning's papers, Auburn Field Goal Fells Gators, my mind was calm and collected.

Post breakfast, I started on Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (2006, Portfolio). The front cover lists exemplars of community-driven websites (e.g., Wikipedia, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube) that defy hierarchy and control to gain a substantial foothold in cyperspace, making inroads into the business realm.

Long before this proliferation of peer-centric contents, we have had shareware, freeware, and now open-source ware. The last one resonated a chord in me just recently, from a user's standpoint. Thus far I have been using free browsers for Internet surfing, e.g., firefox, and also software that comes packaged with the PC purchase, e.g., MS Office suite.

As for the operating system, it still comes bundled, MS Vista in my case. In early 2000s, I have heard about the LINUS, even having paid a pittance for RedHat. But since I don't maintain a homepage, that remained on my shelf, demarcating the full extent, or the lack thereof, of my dabble with the opensource genre.

More recently, the office suite has become unbundled. Instead, there is a trial use version of up to 25 times, as in my latest PC acquisition.

I did not keep count of the access, but was rudely reminded earlier last week when the tool bar became watermarked, meaning most of the command icons inactive/disabled. And I know my honeymoon period was over, prompting a decision whether to get a license, or not. If not, then what? While I can get by with the MS Works word processor for blogging and Paint for editing images, they can get cumbersome at times.

Then I recall that Wei Teck has installed OpenOffice software on his laptop last year, and more recently he did the same for his sister's new laptop this summer. And migration, or portability, between OpenOffice documents and MS documents has been seamless. So yesterday, I did the same, and my desktop writing/publishing has become OpenOffice-based since, though I still have to use Paint to resize my images. That makes me a neophyte and beneficiary of the opensource platform.

As for mass collaboration, the web-enabled one, my participation is at best peripheral, sporadic, at the fringes, in the form of my blogs (again, using a free blog site). I have not contributed to Wikipedia, though my academic achievement and professional involvement do qualify me to become a contributor, in my humble opinion.

But within the more restricted arena of private practice, as in company- and firm-wide, I'm seeing, and actualizing, the benefits of peer production through knowledge sharing, leveraging the collective knowledge base of the entire firm to bear on specific geographically circumscribed problems and undertakings. This could be both intra- and inter-continents, the physical distance becoming a non-factor.

All that's required is a broadband connection, and a commitment to sharing and consultation. Much like maintaining a running inventory to meet seasonal demands among different outlets of a store chain, a consulting business likewise can allocate finite human resources at its disposal to cater for different work loads among its branches through Intranet portals without having to physically move its employees.

At the moment, there is still a dichotomy in leveraging the Internet for social/political networking/interaction and for business imperatives where the bottom-line is still largely profit. Mass collaboration is relevant, and in fact vital, for the former where the goal is leveling the playing field in the collective commons; as for the latter, the inter-firm boundaries are like the proverbial lines drawn on the sand, each firm encamped and jealously guarding what is in its own domain. It's fair to say that it may be a while before the much touted “weapons of mass collaboration” in the former realm would permeate into the latter, displacing the reigning “weapons of mass competition” in the private sphere.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Surging Bulls

I wore green yesterday, a white-based shirt with light green orthogonal lines superposed and a green pant. Not by design, it just ended up that way. But it fitted yesterday’s mood in Tampa to a T. You see, the Bulls of the University of South Florida (the college football team, the American one) was hosting the 5th ranked Mountaineers of the West Virginia U at the Raymond James Stadium here in Tampa. For Bulls’ meteoric rise (the program started 11 years ago and that’s still considered fledgling compared to other in-state brethren, say the Gators) to being ranked 18 in the country, a noted first, this was it, in front of a national TV audience.

I got a taste of what was in store earlier on Monday morning when I was driving Chea Ee to school (I mean, USF). Our usual route takes us around the Sun Dome, the beehive of the athletic program of USF. Usually at this morning hours, this part of the campus is relatively deserted, save for some briskly walking students heading toward the center part of the campus, which is the area around the Library.

But that day was different. As I was rounding the corner, the first sight that met my eyes was the littered grass verge skirting the Dome, paper debris strewn all over the place. Then the throng of people waiting in line, and the car park brim-filled came into view. Chea Ee commented that these were the football fans who had camped probably since last night just to buy a ticket to the Friday football game. “Somebody better clean off the unsightly litter after this,” I commented, the enormity of the game had yet to strike me. And the next day I passed by the same place, it was sparkling clean. Talk about campus cleanliness.

On the way back from work yesterday around 6pmish, I noted that the incoming traffic into town on the opposite side of I-275 was unusually heavy, the seemingly endless stream (caravan dragon, as the Chinese would like to term it) stretching for miles all the way to the Fowler Exit where I turned off into the local road homebound. Could it be that all these are Bulls’ fans, I wondered. Later on I learned that it was a sell-out, 67,018 to the last digit. This may have bettered even the attendance in the best Buc’s game (The Buccaneers is the pro football team of Tampa, and Raymond James Stadium its home field.)

The good thing for people like me who like to watch the game in the cool comfort of home, away from the cacophony, mayhem, and the boisterous fans, not to mention the frustrating traffic bottlenecks during the start and end of the game: the game was televised life on ESPN. And thanks to the Basic Cable service that comes with our HOA dues, I was able to settle in for a great adrenalin-filled ball game. Well, the reason I’m starting to add the Bulls to my favorite college football teams (The Gators, The Cal Bears, and maybe the Ducks) is because we live next to the campus, and Chea Ee spends four days a week somewhere in that sprawling campus, the Tampa and the main one.

Instead of sitting on the sofa, I sat on the coffee table, electing to be closer to the action, albeit marginally. Every first down, every fumble (by the Mountaineers) recovery, every interception, and every touchdown, by the Bulls, brought out a loud cheer from me, much to the consternation of wify. Conversely, every fumble, every loss of yardage, and every defense lapse (luckily there were not many), elicited a groan, a sigh, a classic case of my mental state being governed by externalities. Only for the duration of the game, I rationalized. It was as if I was tele-ported back in time, reliving the youthful exuberance of rallying for a loved team. (Here a Bull's mom is game enough to hold up the T-shirt featuring the Coach and the Surging Bulls: This is OUR HOUSE, the first U with two horns.)

I’m not sure whether it was game time jitters or the loud and hostile home crowd, but the Mountaineers were uncharacteristically careless, dropping catches seemingly at whims. And the frustration was written all over their coach face, pacing up and down along the side line, at times grimacing, at times spotting a resigned look [the TV lens can be both a wonderful thing, and a revealing one if you're the target, not missing a bit for the world to see]. Obviously, he was more into it than I was, albeit not enjoying the outcome the slightest bit.

But I would like to credit the Bulls defense for its tenacity, not in awe at all by the high-powering offence of the Mountaineers, garnering 37 points per game, on average thus far this season. At the end, to cut the blog short, the Bulls prevailed 21-13, handing the Mountaineers its second defeat in as many meetings between the two. Yes, the Bulls beat them too last year, at their home field.

This is certainly no flash in the pan performance. A pattern, a winning one, is beginning to emerge. And that is anchored on the change in the team’s mental attitude. The players now believing in themselves, and belief opens up a whole new set of possibility. Would this be the Cinderella team of the season? Would the Bulls go all the way? Would the national championship game feature two teams from Florida (the Gators is the other one of course in my book)? But I’m getting way ahead of myself, echoing the same guarded tone of the Bull’s coach in a post game interview while still in the field.

But they can dream? Can’t they?

[The blog title was inspired by the Headline in today's St. Pete Times, the Raging Bulls. Others similarly evoked are the Sitting Bulls, not like the Sitting Ducks (no pun inteneded) but sitting as in the power of concentration achieved in a sitting meditation, and there is no other way to explain the single-minded focus of the Bulls last night, and the Marauding Bulls for they seemed to be everywhere in the field like a stampede in a certain town in Spain at a certain time of the year, but that would seem a tad uncultured. So surging it is, like a tsunami, inundating the field.]

Friday, September 28, 2007

Painting Galore

Today’s blog is all about wify’s painting efforts: some bamboos, some flowers. These were done before today, which was the occasion of the second of her painting class by Mrs. Fan. She believes there’s truism in the adage that practice makes perfect. So paint she did, but most of them were on sheets of computer papers larger than size A4, which is the largest paper size of my 3-in-1 scanner/printer/fax machine.

Some of the papers are flimsy and hence not amenable to roller feeding without further treatment. So they were cellophane-taped to printing papers at the top edge and one inch long sides just below the top, a determination based on trial and error. But the system is still not perfect as can be seen from some of the wrinkles noticeable on the scanned copies. A flat-bed scanner should yield better results but that's with Wei Teck at UF. Nonetheless they do display some unintended patterns that add diversity to the images.

Here are the handful that could be fed through my scanner. This is one instant when a picture speaks a thousand words, let alone six here. So any more word would be superfluous.

Here they are, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Mid-Autumn Festival: Think Moon Cake

Today is Sep 25. That by itself, in this format, may not mean much. But if we cast it following the Chinese calendar, it’s also August 15. That means it’s Moon Cake Festival, by what we eat on the day, or the Mid-Autumn Festival, a literal translation of its Chinese counterpart.

Back home, while we all partake of the moon cake, which is not really a cake by western standard because the contents are encased within a crust, edible of course, the young and restless would parade around, paper-made lanterns in hand. Now the kids are all grown up, wify and I have to settle for just having a friend over to enjoy the moon cake, with a pot of tea.

Wify prepared a table-full of goodies in very short notice, and the moon cakes are from HongKong ...

But before that, I ventured outdoor to ogle at the moon, which is supposed to be especially bright and luminous on this night. Alas, it was not to be, thanks, and no thanks to the dark clouds hovering above me. Anyway, judge for yourself (I purposely framed the gentle glow between two tree tops).

As for the origin/provenance of the festival, I remember vaguely it being to commemorate the uprising of the masses in the dying days of the Yuan Dynasty, one of the two dynasties in Chinese history governed by other than the Han people, the other being the Ching Dynasty. In order to transmit the message for a synchronized uprising, undetected by the ruling government, they inserted the paper note in moon cakes for circulation. And the rest is history.

In Chinese folklore, the full moon is a symbol for the reunion of families. Therefore for those who are away from home and loved ones, it could be an especially trying time, the mind drifting back to the home while bodily separated. But we are glad Yu Huei could join us for the sentimental moment, helping to dissipate some of the longing feeling that tends to creep up on us in such a tender moment of nostalgia.

Wify and her frequent companion, both in life and in Dharma.

And wify's life-long companion ...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Date with a Kungfu Master

Wei Joo has taken up Shaolin Kung Fu for some time now, from the redoubtable Master Sifu (meaning the teacher -father, literally in Cantonese) Wong Kiew Kit. He has made several trips to Sg. Petani, Kedah, where Sifu is based, to learn under his comprehensive tutelage. When we first met one of his Sihengs (brother in learning in Cantonese), Anthony, in Gainesville, we knew of Sifu’s plan to be in Gainesville in September.

Wei Joo was very enthusiastic of us meeting his Sifu, our very first encounter, at such a faraway place from home, and has been tracking the date, Sep 22, ever since. With the help of Anthony, he has arranged for a lunch date with Sifu and his students on Sep 22, which is today. So there’s where we drove to this morning, just before 10.00am.

We first stopped by Wei Teck’s dorm at UF to see how he was doing, having sent him there for his Fall term about a month ago. As expected, he would not be joining us for lunch as the Gators was squaring off with Ole Miss at 12.30pm, but as an away game. That’s Gators football for the uninitiated, the first away game for the season. And there were doubts whether a string of starters featuring as yet untested freshmen could hold their own in hostile territory in their very first year of playing college football. And so the excitement level was bound to be high, and being a Gator football fan that he is, Wei Teck was not about to miss the game, even a televised one.

We were the first to arrive at the lunch venue, The Chutnees, offering a Fusion of Flavors from India. Located just off I-75 at Exit 386, the restaurant sits within an idyllic setting amidst the lush greenery. With the breezy wind, we felt comfortable sitting in the chairs on the front porch, despite the sunny weather.

There was a boutique featuring Indian wardrobe just after the entrance. Wify did a bit of rummaging, but apparently did not find anything to take home with, ostensibly because we stay with Chinese and western apparel.

Soon Sifu and his entourage arrived, and we filed into the Restaurant to partake of the buffet offerings. Admittedly the food offering was limited, but its tri-food (color, aroma, and taste) value was not diminished in any way. I liked the two rice dishes, very fine-grained and just the right touch of spiciness and rich color. The chicken drumsticks were exquisitely cooked, soft, tender, and delicious. I especially liked the spinach with taufoo, everything meshed into a greenish paste, which may put some people off. In fact, wify did just that, missing the dish in the process.

Sifu, in yellow silk traditional Chinese dress flanked by Siheng Anthony (Sifu's left) and Anthony's dad, with Sifu's son next to him. In fact, according to Anthony, Sifu was in a similar garb in Toronto right when others were thickly clad and feeling the freeze.
Sifu and the participants digging in already in the central dining area.

As for the company, I could only say fabulous. Sifu was loquacious, rattling off his experience with US travel. He took a month to criss-cross the country on the road. I wanted to ask him the best city that he has visited, but could not find an approproate time to interject. Perhaps next time.

I find him to be very approachable, cutting a kind fatherly figure to all his students. He is not protocol conscious, getting by with just the basic decorum, with sincerity and humaneness.

We are glad that Wei Joo has found such a great teacher, and we left Gainesville ever more assured that he has made the right choice.

The Lees and the ever-smiling Sifu.

But before that, we dropped by Mdm. Huang’s place and sampled some roast pork buns her husband brought back from Washington DC. Then we stayed on to watch about one and half quarters of the live telecast game between the Gators and Ole Miss. At the end of 3rd quarters with the Gators hanging by a thread (the score read 27 - 24), we could not sit at the edge of our seats anymore (the mounting tension was too much), and decided to leave the game at that to do some grocery shopping at CVS. And we did check with Wei Teck before we left for home that Gators held the Ole Mass vaulted offence to a scoreless final quarter and prevailed 30-24. A close call indeed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bamboo Painting

Through casual conversation, wify came to know that one of her friends has taken up Chinese brush painting for a couple of years. And the friend, Mrs. Fan, graciously accepted wify’s request to teach her painting. This morning was the first lesson, with another friend, Claudia, joining the “class”. The theme was bamboo, known for its resilience, uprightness bordering on nonchalance, and justifiably a favorite subject of Chinese brush painters. I have even googled some images of bamboo online to be used as samples in the class.

When I called home at noon, she sounded very excited, brimming with unrestrained enthusiasm. I can only imagine what a fabulous time she must have, at long last being able to indulge herself in doing the very things she enjoys, the things that have been put on the backburner for so long for the sake of our family. Upon reaching home from work this evening, she laid out her handiwork on the table for me to gloat. Of course I wasn’t the least bit surprised by her artistic talent, having known her for two-thirds of my life and counting.

I have scanned several of her bamboo drawings to share here.

The different shades of gray meshing together, the straight-edged leaves radiating in different directions, and the different segments of the bamboo demarcated by the gnarl-like joints.

A similar rendition but on a lightly-colored background, which contrasts well with the different shade of dark to give the illusion of depth.

The different hues of green seems to project another facet of bamboo, serene and carefree, and yet steadfast, anchored by the short spirals of joints.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Living Chan Day at the Park

This weekend turned out to be a very special one for us, a three-day immersion in Dharma activities. First, we hosted Master Jian Zong, a Buddhist instructor at the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale, CA, at our humble home on Friday (Sep 14, 2007) evening during which he delivered a Dharma talk on Zen meditation to a Chinese speaking audience (but it became a bilingual affair when several of our American friends turned up as well as blogged here).

On the next day (Sep 15, 2007), we brought Master Jian Zong, who stayed at our home for the night, to Clearwater for the 8th monthly event of the Middle Way Buddhist Association. The event, held largely for an American audience, comprised a session on Zen meditation followed by a Dharma lecture on Zen -- A Life of Wisdom [tune in for a separate blog on the proceeding in the near future].

Then today (Sep 16, 2007), we traveled again, this time to Phillippe Park at Safety Harbor, to participate in the Living Chan [Chan is the Chinese word for Zen popularized by the Buddhist movement in Japan] Day organized by Mdm. Nancy Kau, the local contact for the Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association, Florida Chapter. Starting at 10.30am, the day’s events featured the 8-Chan Movements, conducted by four Buddhist disciples from Taiwan who are on a 8-city tour of US to share their personal journeys in “elevating our quality of character, establishing heaven on earth” through experiencing clear, relaxed, and enjoyable Chan bliss. Tampa was their second stop, and the next one is Chicago.

The banner said it all, but in chinese (Dharma Drum 8-Chan Movements).

The Organizer, Mdm. Nancy Kau, giving the welcoming speech.

From my conversation with Mr. Tsei, one of the four isntructors, I learned that they are mostly retired teachers and university professors from around the Taipei area and they meet regularly to pass on the gems of their life experiences to the young generation who would one day shoulder the task of national development.

I estimated the turnout to be about 40-50 at its peak as some participants had to leave after lunch for a variety of reasons. The day started with the sitting meditation led by Mr. Liu whose instructions were ably translated by Mr. Patrick. We sat on half of the bench, width-wise, body upright, hands placed lightly on the thighs, eyes closed, refraining from talking, and started to relax from the top of the head gradually moving down to the sole of the feet. Feeling the softness of different body parts, we proceeded to focus on the breathing, and to feel nature, its expansiveness growing.

Mr. Liu, in white T-short, and Mr. Patrick, holding the microphone, acting in tandem.

This was followed by three moving exercises. They all started from the same standing position: palms joined, and legs apart at shoulders’ width. The first exercise involved swinging both hands, each alternately touching the opposite front shoulder and the back, with the waist acting as the pivot.

For the next movement, we crossed our fingers, and slowly raised the outstretched palms upwards over the head, applying pressure to extend them as far up as possible. Then we slowly brought them down, and when they were at the level of our face, we started to bend our backs forward while the palms, now facing downward, continued their downward descent, we laboring to inch them as near to the ground as possible, touching it if possible. However, we were told not to force it as relaxation is the primary aim. Then we reversed the movement and let the palms travel upward. And the whole cycle was repeated. Perhaps because the morning was warm and less breezy, the exercise actually brought out some sweats in me even though it was not done in a hurried pace. But I felt good, mind alert and clear.

The last Chan movement entailed the synchronous bending of knees and swinging of the hands to and fro. Mr. Liu said that the knees are supposed to be bent twice for each to-and-fro motions of the hand, and I observed his movement to be so. But for some reason my knees bent only once during the hand cycle and when I tried to consciously alter the knee movement as required, my hands either stopped or were moving in a very out-of-sync fashion. So I gave up and stuck to the one I was most comfortable with, mindful that the important thing is to be natural and relaxed.

Mr. Liu then continued with the Listening to the Wind Chan. “Feel the wind on the skin, feel the breeze going by your body,” he intoned. I closed my eyes as instructed, and tried to feel no pressure. As if on cue, the wind picked up a notch, and I started to feel the the brushing action of the wind as the air swooped by. We were asked to be neutral to the ambient noise, not making a conscious effort to detach the noise.

The last Chan before the lunch was the Eating Chan. We lined up to get the vegetarian food in our plates and while seated, felt gratitude for the food that was served. Then we looked at the food in front of us: colorful and tasty. We ate slowly, chewing the food that was of high carbohydrate content at least 30 times as the associated high starch level, which cannot be easily digested by the acidic secretions in the stomach, can interfere with the digestive system, leading to indigestion when the food is ingested too fast. Then we all dug into the food, the morning series of exercises having taken its toll on our stomach.

After lunch, Mr. Liu led us on an outdoor walking Chan, following a pavement path that descends to the edge of the water (the park is next to the uppermost part of the Old Tampa Bay), skirts along the water edge, and ascends back to Shelter #7, an open air roof-covered area where the Chan activity was being held) via a series of steps. Along the course, we paid 90% of our attention on our feet, feeling their contact with the firm ground. The remaining 10% was devoted to the surrounding lest we would walk into a tree or something.

Next we gathered around the water side of the shelter, some on cushions placed on either the hard floor of the shelter or the grass-covered earth, and some simply on floor mats overlain by a blanket placed on grass. I, along with some others, preferred the hard surfaces of the benches. Termed direct contemplation, we were asked to seek out a specific object to focus our sight: a small leaf, a ripple on the water surface, or just simply peripheral viewing with no focus on any particular object. I chose the later, and just took note of the things that entered into my window of vision, framed between two trees. There was some white birds flying by, surface waves gently moving though, some motion at the water surface possibly made by some fish jumping out of water. Occasionally a speed boat would careen by, churning up a frothy sea and leaving some wakes behind. For a time, I was focused on the tip of a wind-induced swinging Spanish Moss hung from one of the two trees. But just observing all the time.

Each finding his/her little niche for the direct contemplation.

My window of vision, now nothing but surface waves, and the tip of the Spanish Moss ...

Then the moment my wife was waiting for arrived: Chinese Calligraphy Chan. This is understandable as she has dabbled in Chinese calligraphy [see here] since she received her shipment of Chinese brushes and ink from back home [as these are not easily procurable items here in US].

The instructor, Mdm. Tsai, a Chinese soft brush in hand, explained that Chinese calligraphy has a art-like nature than promotes health and longevity, citing a Chinese calligrapher living beyond the century mark. The variation of strokes and ink strength (fast, slow, strong, soft, broad, fine) permits diversity and free expression. The very action of executing the brush strokes induces relaxation, and instills joy when we write for the moment, and accept whatever one has written. There is no pressure from competition, each finished calligraphy an achievement in its own right.

Mdm. Tsai demonstrating the proper way to hold a chinese brush.

Before that, Mdm. Tsai introduced the various forms of Chinese calligraphy, starting from the oldest form, the Oracle carved out on turtle shells and bones. This early form mimicked the form of the substance or subject of interest as borne out by the hanging banners of chinese calligraphy below.

The right two sets (or couplets) are of the Oracle format while the others are of more recent vintage (Chou/Han dynasties).

A soft brush in hand, a red colored concoction passing as ink in a paper dish on the table [my wife was told that the original black ink that was brought in was confiscated at the disembarkation airport because of its liquid nature], a blank sheet of paper to write on, and a copy of the twelve zodiac animals written in the Oracle form as a guide, the participants proceeded to write out the Oracle character that they wished.

Recognizing my own inadequacy in this respect, I chose to stand behind my wife and observed her, fully in her own elements now. At the risk of sounding boastful, she did earn praise from the instructor, noting that her writing demonstrated the many stroke variations that make Chinese calligraphy such a delight to behold.

These are the twelve Chinese zodiac signs of animals written in the Oracle format. While some are easily recognizable (the rat, the hare, the horse, being the top three on the left-most column), others are not so, especially the tiger. The trick actually lies in looking at some of the characters sideway from top to bottom. See how many you can make out, and answers are at the bottom. Also, one set is the guide given while the other is my wife's handiwork. Care to venture which is which?

Obviously, these are my wife's creations and by extension, the answer to the question above becomes apparent. The Chinese zodiac signs are the snake, the rat, and the horse, they being for my wife, her late GrandMa, and yours truly, respectively.

Putting the brushes away, we next held an orange in hand, and proceeded to appreciate the hard work of the farmers that bears fruit [no pun intended]. We then observed the fruit, noting its rough skin. Then our consciousness took over: is this fruit delicious? How do I peel it to get to the fruit? So our mind had moved from our touch to our consciousness, and to our eyes. We then plied open the fruit with hands as instructed by Mr. Liu. Smelling the contents, we were told that our mind had now moved to our nose. By eating the opened fruit slowly, our mind moved on to the taste buds. Then to our consciousness that now dictated that the fruit was good.

From this root shifting (In Buddhist parlance, each of us has six roots: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch, and consciousness) experience, we can see that our mind changes with the environment. And the important thing is to know where the mind is at the moment.

The last Chan movement of the day consisted of walking while holding a bowl of water in our hands, the Holding the Water Chan. At first, the water in the container would slosh about as we were two separate entities: us and the water in the bowl. But when the two merged and became one, the sloshing was replaced by a relatively calm surface, obviating any spill. But I must admit that this was easily said then done, and my wet hands were sufficient proof of that. But I got the point.

The last business of the day was a big round of applause for and our heart-felt appreciation to the unselfish efforts of the four instructors, not to mention the unstinting endeavor from Mdm. Nancy Kau and her group of indefatigable volunteers, under the aegis of Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association, who made this sharing possible. Before we parted company, we were each given a gift.
The gift, in addition to a 2007 greeting card from The Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association with a dedication penned personally by Master Sheng Yen, includes verses of encouragement/admonition from Master Sheng Yen calligraphed by Mdm. Tsai, our teacher today. The right set is in my wife's gift packet, translated as "Worrying is a superfluous ordeal; diligence is a motivator for safety," and the left set is in mine, translated as "Giving oneself is for repaying meritorious deeds; repenting is for regulating our own conduct."

For both me and my wife, the conclusion of the event marked the culmination of a Dharma bliss-filled weekend. And now, more photos to complete the pictorial account of the day’s proceedings.

Wify and Shenghua, who came with us.

Mdm. Wu, the fourth instructor, said we have the proverbial husband-wife look, the shot taken by Ted. Any dissenting view?

Lunch in session.

And the answers that you have been waiting for ...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hosting Master Jian Zong at our Home

Last night, we hosted Master Jian Zong, a Buddhist instructor from the CT Zen Center of Sunnyvale, at our home. Not only during the course of his Dharma talk, but also for the night. While we have hosted a similar talk before, the previous honor being accorded to us by Master Hwei Chen, accommodating a Buddhist monk in our home is a maiden experience for us, thanks to all our buddhist friends from both near and afar who helped make this unique experience a reality.

Perhaps drawn by the renewed appeal of Buddhist practice and meditation in steadying our daily lives marked by unexpected twists and turns, several acquaintances, both new and old, also dropped by for the very first time to attend the talk. What originally envisaged to be a Dharma talk to a Chinese speaking audience was transformed into a bilingual session (Chinese and English) due to the presence of our American friends, including one of Wei Joo's friend from Sarasota through his Shaolin kungfu's connection. And the demand of the motley crowd was ably met by Master Jian Zong whose measured tone and clear diction in both languages soon captivated our undivided attention.

But before that, all were treated to a sumptuous vegetarian dinner. And there were plenty of help there too. Especially gracious was Sister Yu Tze, who, despite having to absent herself because of her pre-arranged trip to Seattle, undertook to prepare several vegetarian dishes, which I took delivery of two days earlier from her home.

Food galore ...
New acquaintances ...
Old acquaintances ...

Now back to the Dharma talk. Master Jian Zong first expounded on the duality of emptiness and existence as a central Buddhist concept. These are not opposing or mutually exclusive notions as adhering to one to the total exclusion of the other runs counter to the essence of Middle Way. It's best summed up in the approach of letting go when a thing is done.

There are three levels of emptiness. The first is emptiness of self, connoting letting go of our attachments. The second level is emptiness of Dharma, which can be concisely explained by using an analogy. In Buddhism, there are 48,000 Dharma gates to learning Buddha's teachings but all with one universal aim: liberation of the mind and enlightenment. And the Dharma, which comprises Buddha's teachings, is the metaphorical boat/raft that provides our safe passage across life's ocean, the voyage oftentimes rife with treacherous peril and formidable impediments, to reach the other shore of safe refuge. But once ashore, we should let go of the raft, and not carry it on our shoulders. This follows from a central tenet of Buddhism, dependent origination, or in layman's terms, the causality effect, which holds that nothing ever happens without a reason, or a cause. The third level is emptiness of the Buddha nature, our very original nature, our very essence. [But what the Buddha-nature is empty of is not its own ever-enduring reality but impermanence, impurity, moral defects, and suffering.]

Turning to meditation. Master Jian Zong cited two moments in our daily routine that would benefit from meditation: before we get to work to calm down, and before we go to bed to settle down. Therefore, meditation aids in stilling the mind. But where is the mind? There is a popular Chinese song named "The moon represents my mind", which is employed in the analogous pointing to the moon using the finger as where the mind is. But we should not transfix our attention on the tip of the finger and confuse it with the moon up in the sky as where the true mind lies. Simply, enlightenment is the absence of confusion and ignorance.

All of us are born with the Buddha nature. And Master Jian Zong illustrated this truism by way of a Zen koan in which a monk asked his master what an enlightened state is like. The master answered, "Bhikkhunis are for women to become." On the surface, this seems to be stating the obvious. But if we drill deeper, we will realize that the enlightened being is with us from the start. All we need to do is to rediscover what has always been there.

Turning to sitting meditation, Master Jian Zong explained that the primary purpose is to still the mind, and enumerated the three steps entailed as follows:

a) Body posture: the best sitting position is the full lotus position where both legs are on top while cross-legged. The lotus is the symbol of a pure mind, and is the ubiquitous seat for the Buddha and Bodhisattvas in portraits. Then there is the half-lotus position where only one leg is on top, and simply cross-legged where both legs are placed below. If for some physical reason one cannot achieve the above sitting position, then sitting on a chair will do too since comfort and relaxation are paramount. In all cases, sit on a flat/firm surface and keep the body upright. Avoid sitting on a soft seat such as a sofa as then the bottom will sink, thereby making it difficult to maintain a stable and body upright posture. Both hands are then grasped together in a so-called diamond hand gesture where both thumbs are enclosed within the fingers of one palm which are then overlaid with the fingers of the other and loosely placed on the legs. [In Buddhist parlance, diamond is Bodhi mind, a non-moving mind.] Maintain a trace of smile on the face. And lower the eyes.

b) Breathing: Strive for a smooth, gentle, even, and silent breathing motion. Press the tip of the tongue against the back of the front teeth to keep the mouth moist.

c) Mind: This is the most important step. There are three disruptions to stillness that we should watch out for: wandering thoughts, dozing off, and boredom. Our mind can be likened as a monkey mind, always doing the screenplay, the direction, and the acting by itself. To overcome wandering thoughts, we need to let go, to leave everything behind. It's pretty much like a bouncing ball, the more we try to bounce it (controlling our thoughts), the more it has the tendency to bounce out of control. But if we stop the bouncing (letting go), then the bouncing will slow to a halt naturally. Wandering thoughts are also guests in our house. And guests come and go.

While wandering thoughts tend to afflict beginners, dozing off can beset advanced learners. One possible remedy is to open the eyes, massage the face, head and other parts of the body to regain clarify and focus.

Boredom is relieved by focusing, by being mindful of the breath. A method noted for its simplicity in this regard is the breath counting method. Just do nothing but notice the inhaling, but count 1 to 10 during exhaling in one breath. Depending on the length of the breath, the count can be to 7, 5 or 3.

Zen is the mind of the Buddha, and therefore the essence of Zen practice is embodied in the refrain that wherever you're, there's where the mind is! To focus one's mind is to be the master of one's mind.

Other variants aimed at convenience include reversing the count, and counting in another language. One can also focus on the tip of the nose and observe the breathing. Essentially it is using one single thought to overcome all other thoughts.

On how to maintain a state of compassion and to practice the Bodhisattva's way diligently, Master Jian Zong offered two means:

a) Make a vow, which is a powerful motivator for continuous effort and diligence [e.g., Pu Sian's Ten Great Vows, Guan Yin's 12 Great Vows, and The Buddha's 500 Great Vows], and

b) Observe suffering.

Both will help to cultivate compassion and kindness.

Medical studies have revealed that meditation can lead to stress relief. To put that in the right perspective, recent studies indicated that 70-90% of working people in US suffer from stress-related sickness, that 1 million workers are on sick leave a day, and that all these add up to 100 billions of medical expenses annually. Hence, more companies are now encouraging meditation practice among their workers.

By spawning the clarity of the mind, meditation can also help one focus on and figure out the problem, thereby developing one's potential. A clarified mind would be able to make the right decisions, a pre-requisite for effectiveness [doing the right things].

Master Jian Zong ended the lively Q and A session, some of which were covered in the salient points listed above, by recounting several real-life stories of how meditation helps practitioners to face life's adversity/emergencies/peril with well-conceived approaches born out of calmness instilled through the practice of meditation.

Thus ended a fruitful night of Dharma bliss during which beginners and advanced learners alike partook of the gems of Buddhism delivered by Master Jian Zong.

Master Jian Zong giving each attendee a gift ...

Monday, September 10, 2007


As I was blogging, the pan pipe music, I have a Dream (ABBA) was playing on the Rhapsody player that comes with my new computer. That tune was part of a nice collection of stuff my brother left with us after his visit here in May.

I have always enjoyed listening to music, much more than vocals. Often I would always gravitate toward the Instrumentals section while browsing in a music store. That “taste” was cultivated when I was still in Primary (elementary) school back in Malaysia during the days of the 45 and 33-1/3 rpm records. Those rich sounds made when a stylus touches a groove on a rotating black, thick record, hence the name turntable for the whole contraption (for those who may have not been born early enougth to know what it looks like, see image below gotten from here), had accompanied me through various moods, including studying for exams. I found that I was able to better focus with the melodious sound spiraling in the air.

Then the cassettes with the associated tape deck made their debut, which seemed to demand more maintenance, especially the tape head where deposits tend to adhere. Armed with a cotton swab, dipped into some alcohol solution, I used to brush the tape head to remove the deposits, which compromised the sound quality. Sometimes even to the extent of damaging the head because of my unrestrained cleaning operation, applying a tad more pressure than necessary.

Consistent with the pace of technological progress, compact discs was ushered in, together with the then ubiquitous Sony Walkman. I still remember my first Walkman, bought in Japan’s famed electronics center, AkiHabara, when I was attending a two-month training in Japan, courtesy of Japan International Cooperation Agency, aka JICA, in early 1985.

Japan was the first foreign country I visited, discounting Singapore a trip to which does not qualify as “crossing the ocean”, as the locals liked to taunt those going overseas. It was also the first time I was on an international flight. My stay in Japan also marked the first time I ever visited a World Expo, then held in Tsukuba. As event unfolded later on, I, together with my family, also made it to the subsequent one a year later, this time in Vancouver, Canada. But I digressed.

Then from the analog sound the journey of music moved on to the digital format of today. Midi, MP3, wma, and what have you, played on a computer, through a set of Altec Lansing speakers, like I was listening to Kissing Goodbye by Jacky Cheung just now, one of my wife's favorite vocal singers.

While I love listening to music, I’m not as feverishly engaged in this hobby as others who are best described as aficionados, spending big bucks on the best sound set money can buy. I believe in moderation, in all aspects of life. So Rhapsody it is, right now it’s a whistling tune of Ritchie Ren’s Heart Too Soft

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Our desktop has been getting weirder since I last ranted about it here. For some time, we found a way to "cheat" the computer: by opening the notepad, typing some texts, and not saving it when prompted by a dialog box because if the gullible were to click "Yes", the computer would shut off automaticlaly. So this went on for a while. Then lately, it has decided to close its mind just out of the blue in spite of the trick.

Just like a mutating virus (or bateria?), this computer is able to outsmart the human (a dumb one perhaps?) by adaptation. And I'm at my wit's end. So this morning I decided enough is enough, and unplugged it's lifeline. Good riddance, I said to myself.

Being a decisive man than I'm, I left for a local Staples store at 10.00am, the opening time today. Purpose: to shop for a new PC of course. Actually, the first thing in the morning I did was to compare PC prizes among the brochures that came with the Sunday papers: Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, and Dell (for some reason there was no brochure from CompUSA and Circuit City).

And I gravitated toward Staples for a couple of reasons: No hassle from having to submit $200/= rebates, and there's a store nearby. After I took pain to compare apples with apples down to the Processor type, Ram size, Harddisk size, and even whether it's the Basic or the Premium version of MS Vista, I note that price-wise they are all comparable. So Staples it is, despite the $50 e-rebate (but this is just a few clicks away based on my previous experience in purchasing a SLR camera for my duaghter).

I stepped out of the Staples store, lugging two boxes (one for the 17" LCD monitor that comes packaged), and reached home at 10.30am. Opening the boxes, unwrapping the plastic covers, and doing the necessary connections, I have everything where it should be by 10.50am. Switching on and letting the computer configuration run on automatic mode, I was on the Net by 11.15am. And this is the first blog from my new Compaq Presario SR5130NX, at a nifty $450/= after the e-rebate.

Now my erstwhile blogging companion is also a Compaq. One would have thought after this somewhat unpleasant experience, I would have opted for another name brand. But before its light went out, this Compaq had given me a near uninterrupted service of more than three and a half years. That ought to count for something. So Compa/HP it is.