Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – February 1st, 2019
For Chinese New Year, the Chinese people in the mainland or overseas around the world have a gathering of family and relatives. There are likely no less than 500 to 600 million Chinese people travelling around this period. This is part of the Chinese culture. The Thai people have Songkran, where relatives gather together, and for the Christians it is likely Christmas Day.
When the relatives gather together they recollect their elders that have passed away. The living children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren remember the times in the past when they used to have happiness and warmth when they were all still together. But now that their elders have passed away, the descendants recollect them and the goodness that they have received from them.
And here, what should we do when they have already passed away? We should make merit on their behalf. To show respect and pay reverence to those who have been good to us is a blessing of our life. And this is even better if we respect them with mindfulness and wisdom as well, not just respecting them simply out of tradition. We think that in the past, when they were still alive, what things had they taught and advised us? Since we were a child they taught us, they advised us in things that were for our benefit, and they stopped us from doing the things that were bad to do.
We recollect their goodness and their teachings and advice, and we should think, how much of it have we followed? How can we practice it? We have to do better than last year. This is respect and homage. If we respect and homage, and do it wishing for blessings to have only growth and prosperity, it gives us strength of mind and some benefit. But the highest benefit comes from putting it into practice.
Since the time of our grandfather and grandmother, they had a lot of patience in their study and work. We learn about it and follow them. Then their goodness is with us. And we won’t forget them. They taught us to have goodness, to have patience, to overcome difficulties, and to put forth effort. Doing this then we will have success in our life from following their example.
But sometimes in some families, it’s not all good. The mother and father may not be the best examples, but the children must have their own mindfulness and wisdom to change, grow and possibly become better than their parents.
But don’t give up on improving oneself and one’s situation. We should see that one’s success will come from strength of mind and strength of effort and perseverance. The people who will overcome suffering and poverty in the world must have effort. The ones who will attain to noble virtue and goodness in Dhamma practice have effort. So success will arise because of effort and perseverance.
So have respect for one’s elders so that one can get their advice, follow it, and apply it to one’s life. And following the tradition of giving out red money envelopes to one’s relatives and to workers that have been working and sacrificing all year, one’s mind will have metta and compassion. So we will gain the benefit of respecting and paying homage to our elders and ancestors that have passed away by thinking of the goodness that they have done, and we make merit on their behalf.
We pay homage to our mother and father, all our relatives and good friends come together, and we support our wife and kids to have happiness, then these all are blessings of our life. We have morality and goodness. We also respect the devas. We respect the devas because they have the good qualities of moral shame and fear of wrongdoing. They have these two qualities, so they are a deva – their minds are higher than humans. Their minds have loving kindness and compassion, helping others too. We respect and raise our hands to the devas. We think of them.
We can see that the Chinese people in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Vietnam – they do business and it prospers. And one cause of this is because they have honesty. When I was a child I went to Chinatown with a friend who was of Chinese ethnicity. And this friend ordered some goods from one of his older brothers. He ordered some goods and they sent the goods to him, without any invoice or proof of purchase. I was wondering how he could just order with only his word. He said that here they used honesty, having trust in each other. This is being truthful. And it relates to the second moral precept of not stealing, not cheating others, once we speak something, we mean it. If we borrow goods, then the day we have said we will give it back, then we have to give it back that day.
When we have truthfulness, we have morality – we don’t cheat or trick others. In Chinatown, whoever cheats others, whoever doesn’t practice truthfulness, then in Chinatown no one will associate with them. They can’t do business in Chinatown. Their bad name will be spread to others. You can see the importance of vitue and the power it has.
All through the year they won’t stop working, but during Chinese New Year they will stop for sure and they will make merit and help support Buddhism. The Chinese people tend to have a lot of strong faith. Whether building a monastery in Thailand or in the West, it usually must have the great faith from the Chinese people. I give my anumodana. May all the Chinese people have growth, prosperity, good fortune, good luck, good health, strength and success in all aspects in world and in the Dhamma. For those who aren’t of Chinese origin, during this period of Chinese New Year, may you also all have good luck and good fortune. May the monks have progress with their Dhamma practice. And may the novices have growth and progress in their Dhamma studies, as well as their Dhamma practice. May all the laypeople have happiness and meet with success in this year and in the future.
Questions and Answers:
Question 1: If someone ordains as a novice or a monk, then comes to teach Dhamma to his parents and his father ordains as a monk, is this a good way to repay their parents?
Question 2: During Chinese New Year, when one pays respects to ones deceased elders and ancestors, there is a tradition of burning paper money and other things. Can you explain?
Luang Por Anan: This cultural tradition that focuses on burning paper money and gold to give to one’s ancestors – I believe many people just do it because their parents or grandparents do it.
But the tradition comes from the Tang Dynasty when the Emperor was sick and near death, the country was in a lot of hardship and suffering.
This Emperor was very sick, near death, and his mind was going to different realms of existence. Then he told the prime minister to tell the public to burn paper money and gold to give to other beings in other worlds. Later on the Emperor was able to overcome his sickness. And so this tradition has been followed since then.
This tradition is actually quite beneficial because it makes people believe in life after death, that there are other realms of existence after death like heaven and hell, and the cycle of birth and death. Then those people will do good deeds and avoid doing evil. This gets rid of the belief that when one dies then there’s nothing at all.
Maybe in this generation instead they have to burn Samsung phones and iPhones so that the ancestors can use those social media apps in order to talk to the living?
Layman: Yes there are people doing this. In Singapore there’s a shop that I went to that sells technology made of paper like the latest tablets, the latest Samsung phones, the iPhone, there’s also a hygiene set that includes paper shower gel, shampoo, face wash, a condominium, TV, Bentley sports car, and more.
Luang Por Anan: There is the story of a woman that died when she was around 30 years old. After her death her uncle that was a monk had a dream where he talked with her by telephone. Later on the uncle talked with the woman’s mother about the dream, and his surprise that the talk had been by telephone. Then the mother of the woman got astonished and told the uncle that the woman had being buried with her cellphone.
Question 3: Angulimala killed 999 people, what past actions (kamma) had these people done to receive this result?
Luang Por Anan: In the past there were 1000 people in the sea after a shipwreck. A giant turtle helped them get to an island. After that the people were hungry and killed the turtle to eat. Just one person from the 1000 didn’t participate in this – this was the future moher of Angulimala in his last life, which is why she was spared from being killed by Angulimala. The 999 people that took part in the killing of the innocent turtle were the victims of Angulimala in this birth.
Question 4: I have a question about the precept of refraining from eating after midday. If someone is in a situation where he has problems and has to eat after the allowable time, does this count as breaking the precept?
Luang Por Anan: In special circumstances, like being sick, someone can take porridge, broth, or honey. But if someone breaks his precepts and this becomes a habit, one needs to reflect first if you are able to get by without having to break your precept.
Question 5: If someone is on eight precepts or more, where one cannot listen to music, and someone else puts music on and he ends up listening to it without wanting to, does it count as breaking the precept?
Luang Por Anan: There is no breaking of the precept, because there is no intention. One doesn’t want to listen. But if it takes a long time you can cover the ears, or, if it lasts the whole day, it is better to go away, distract yourself with another activity, or just patiently endure it.
You need to be careful because it can be a danger for your life as a novice making you think about disrobing. Can you do your chant loud enough to fight with it?
-Luang Por Anan: Good. I understand. When I was a young monk, there was a party happening near the monastery, and the problem was that I really liked the music that was being played. I had to recite a lot of Buddho and do a lot of walking meditation to not be taken away by the music. I understand how you feel, this can be a problem.
Question 6: How much is it important to keep the 8 precepts?
Luang Por Anan: If someone has strength one can uphold the 8 precepts once a week, or on the weekends, but, if not, upholding the 5 precepts is good.
Question 7: If our ancestors die, how can we know where they are reborn?
Luang Por Anan: If they died then we will not know where they were reborn, they may even be reborn as our children and we don’t know it.
But we can think and recollect them, and we are respecting the virtue and all the goodness that they’ve done towards us and this is actually still in our hearts.
Question 8: In a sutta the Buddha talks about burning food for dead relatives. Does it work?
Luang Por Anan: Certain types of hungry ghosts that have almost finished their bad kamma are able to receive offerings to them. In a sutta there is the history of King Bimbisara, where the Buddha teaches him to dedicate his merit to his dead relatives. But better than just offering them food is to dedicate merit to them.