Old Reflections

Steven Cokeng — What I Learnt in the Monastery

I was first invited by one of our family friends, Lolita Lutanco, to join a meditation class in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery in 2004. I was then 20 years old, and wanted very much to study Chinese culture and practices, like kung fu, qigong, wushu and the like. Knowing that there would be monks in the temple, I was very excited to take a glimpse. Upon checking it out, the volunteers of Ocean Sky informed me that they were only offering meditation classes, which was perfectly fine with me since I really wanted to be involved in activities related to Chinese culture.

When I started my first meditation class, I found out that the monks were also teaching Buddhism as part of the curriculum. I was a college student back then, and had a lot of spare time; so I was able to quickly complete the beginners’ class followed by the intermediate class, then the advance class, and finally the sutra classes. I have also decided to repeat the classes once I was done with the levels. I really don’t know what kept me going to study in all those classes repeatedly. All I can say is I am really happy that I have completed them all.

In the process, I learned a lot of Buddhist teachings like the Four Noble Truths, Eight Fold Path, Twelve-fold Causal Chain, Six Paramitas, the Heart Sutra, the Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, and the Surangama Sutra. I also understood the true meaning behind the putting up and burning of yellow and red tablets as part of our offerings. There are also many teachings that can help improve the way we think and act in our daily lives, which greatly enhance our personality in order to achieve our goals in life.

One of the basic teachings I can share is the law of causality. The logical equation goes like this: Cause + Condition = Effect. This means that for an effect to occur, it needs both causes and conditions to be present to get what you want. For example, I wanted to study Chinese culture, but there were no schools that taught meditation. So how could I learn then? I had the cause in mind to study, but no condition or no school for me to enroll in. In the end, it took a long time before I was able to study meditation and Buddhism.

I am really thankful for what Ocean Sky has taught me through the years. As a sign of gratitude, I make it to a point to help out in the monastery. Currently, I volunteer as an acolyte and work to make sure things go well during ceremonies. I am also responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the Chan Hall. By helping out in the monastery, I realized that there is actually plenty of work to be done in order to complete a single ceremony. A lot of preparations are needed like putting up the liturgy stands, preparing the censers and the tablet stands, arranging the tablets, arranging the meditation mats and many more things.

In helping out at the monastery, I realized I am applying what I’ve learned from the meditation classes. When working with fellow volunteers, I soon notice other people’s shortcomings. With this, I can cultivate by accepting their faults, and have longer patience. I not only learned tolerance but soon, I became a team player, and worked well together to accomplish everyone’s goal, which is to help the monastery and let more people learn about Buddhism.

Lastly, let me share with you my favorite quotation regarding how one should regard his past, present and future: “If you want to know your past, look at who you are now. If you want to know your future, look at what you are doing now.”

Mary Tan — Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts

Early on, I had heard a Dharma Master explain the contents of the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts; I refused to take them earlier for fear I might break them and fall into the evil destinies. But in 2008, in support of a friend who wanted to receive the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts, the two of us went to Chung Tai.

For me, receiving the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts is a blessing, and an important event. As one of the Sutras states: “When sentient beings receive the Buddhist precepts, they ascend to the Buddha’s level; reaching this level of great enlightenment is truly becoming Buddha’s disciple.” On the path to enlightenment, taking the Precepts sows the correct causes for Buddhahood; each succeeding lifetime will lead to becoming a Buddha. On the way to Bodhi, remember the reminders set by the three aspects of the pure precepts; always cease evil and cultivate good, and enlighten sentient beings. Only in the future can one reap the pure and bright merits of the Precepts, forever be liberated, and attain the level of the Buddha.

I am still a beginner on the bodhisattva path, and still have many things to improve on. Before receiving the Precepts, I was never vigilant, always giving rise to evil thoughts and doing evil actions, never detecting my faults. Now that I am constantly reminded of the Precepts, I can now repent for my wrong actions right away. In this way, I slowly attain clarity and pureness of mind and increase my good affinity and karma, allowing me to move forward bravely on the bodhisattva path.

Sally Sy — I Am Happier and More At Peace

When I first stepped into Ocean Sky Chan Monastery many years ago, the first Abbot then convinced me to attend the meditation classes. Out of curiosity, I attended the class without expecting anything in particular.

At that time, I faced many challenges in my life; challenges that came one after the other. Some were just incredibly painful that I could not accept what was happening. I became so disappointed and angry, and eventually, my health gave way and I ended up with a life threatening disease.

Although I have been here for a long time, it took me a while before I actually started to reflect on the teachings of Buddhism and apply them to my life. From Abbess Master Jianshu’s Dharma talks, I have developed a deeper understanding of Buddhism. Now I have learned to let go, accept the flow of events, and face reality. Ever since I learned that everything is conditional, I am no longer emotionally affected by external events. I feel more open-minded, and try to look at things from different perspectives. I am more aware of my “self-nature.”

Besides this, I try to be more aware of cause and effect. I try to be as tolerant as possible—when I see people doing bad deeds and accumulating bad karma, I feel compassion instead of frustration. This reminds me to not only avoid committing the same mistake as them, but to improve myself as much as possible. Whenever I think of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” I ask myself, “Others may go to hell; do I also want to go with them?” Whenever I feel a negative thought about to rise, I try to change it into a positive thought, or at least a neutral one.

As a result of all these, my anger has diminished, and I am more in control of myself. I am happier and more at peace, and my health has improved a lot. I have realized that all the things I have lost, tangible or intangible, are “impermanent.” As a result, I am gradually regaining my original peace and bliss.

My Dharma name is Chuan Man (傳滿). It means fullness; abundance; completeness. I had been man-man (滿滿, full and complete) all my life, but I was not aware of it. Because of my newfound awareness, I have also begun to realize that aside from being “man-man” (full) in the worldly sense; I also possess the inherent Buddha Nature in me.

Marita Yu — Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts

Upon much encouragement and prodding from former Abbess Master Jianding, I took the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts in Chung Tai in October of 2011.

Originally, I was awed and apprehensive. I thought how could a person as old as I was, with many deeply rooted bad habits, dare be a bodhisattva? But Jianding Shifu corrected my thinking. She said that a disciple of Buddha should follow in his footsteps, and learn from his great vow of compassion. She added that after taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts, a person will be even more ready to detect the three poisons in his/her mind— greed, anger, and ignorance. After much thought and finally deciding that knowledge and practice have to go hand in hand, I sent my application.

Initially, however, from among the group of applicants from the Philippines, only my application was rejected. Master Jianding advised me to pray and make vows everyday. I was puzzled and bewildered by this turn of events. Did this mean I was not determined enough? Did I still have doubts? But I still followed Shifu’s advice; I prayed before Buddha, and made vows. Finally, my application was accepted. Shifu said I shouldn’t stop, but should still continue to make vows everyday, so that this mind that vowed to support the Dharma, shall never regress.

In Chung Tai, I was so moved when I saw so many foreign and local seekers of Lay Bodhisattva Precepts, who were all truly earnest in wanting to follow in the Buddha’s Path to nirvana. What was most unforgettable was the ceremony when we “offer our flesh/body to Buddha” by letting it be burned with incense. Many people were frightened, as I was. But when the crucial moment came, I was able to conquer my self-attachment and extended my arm wholeheartedly. From the first to the third burning, I literally felt the great vow of compassion of Buddha, he who fed the eagle with his limb. What then is this little pain compared to that!

Lay Bodhisattva preceptees serve as models for others to emulate; we should at all times contemplate the actions of our body, speech, and mind. However, bad habits are difficult to eradicate. But by being mindful of my speech and actions, even when a transgression is committed, I know that I should repent and reform; letting go of self-attachment, I should be humble and gentle. Most important is to be vegetarian, and adapt the “Four Tenets of Chung Tai” in my daily life. Furthermore, I should continue to make great vows, “to seek the Buddha Path, and to liberate all sentient beings.” By practicing the bodhisattva way, I can eventually attain Buddhahood.

In times of adversity, however, I still find it hard to completely let go. Now I know that I must first learn to let go; only after that can I benefit myself while helping others. This is a point that I have to work on.

As for the other trivial irritations in daily life, they have become minor happenings for me. I just have to be tolerant, and look from the other person’s point of view, then I will naturally become relaxed and flexible. But I still have to work on my mind of compassion.

Abbess Master Jianshu often teaches us in class that it is because our mind is filled with the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance, plus attachments and bad habits, that we need to take the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts. If we are so perfect, then we might as well be the Buddha! I now know that taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts is the true path to take for Buddha’s disciples.

I now have to acknowledge and repay the compassion and kindness of the Three Jewels with diligent practice so that we can uplift ourselves!

Raceli Domingo — Tremendous Appreciation

More than two years into meditation, I have tremendous appreciation for its fruits—in terms of health, sharpness, stillness of mind, and balanced emotions. There were moments when my patience was put to the test, but thankfully I had awareness, so I came out level headed.

From the time I learned and took meditation by heart, I converted all my activities as meditation exercises that sometimes I was amazed how I managed to do more than I expected. My smiles have always been genuine. Through the years I have been like this, regardless of my life’s circumstances. I could always feel that a pure kind of divine joy is being poured into my Being that brings a more serene smile on my lips.

I hope, pray and look forward to experiencing Samadhi, all the days of my life.

Ocean Sky, through the kind invitation of the former Abbess Jianding, also gave me the opportunity to nurture the minds of little children. I am so touched, deeply humbled and so grateful for the opportunity and trust bestowed upon me and my son. I take this task by heart and very seriously, knowing that we are molding the personality and establishing the mindset of a future generation.

Thus, I meticulously prepare the games and lessons assigned to me because I want to give the children the maximum benefit they could get from the Bodhi Star classes. It does not matter if they understood it today or not, what I know is that the Bodhi seeds are planted in their minds and someday, somehow, when the conditions are ripe, these will blossom and bear fruits.

I strongly believe and uphold the values being taught in Ocean Sky, which are founded on the 10 Virtues of the Bodhi Stars—Respect, Compassion, Harmony, Sincerity, Faith, Diligence, Meditation, Wisdom, Thankfulness and Bodhi. If all can honestly and truthfully cultivate these virtues, regardless of age, this world will indeed be a better place to live in.

From the bottom of my heart, I earnestly thank Grand Master Wei Chueh for planting the Bodhi seed in the Philippines, the Abbess and all the Masters of Ocean Sky for the genuine love, devotion, compassion and guidance to enlighten and awaken the laity to take on the Bodhi Path, and most importantly for believing strongly in the Buddha Nature in each one of us. AMITOFO!

Mari-Len Inoncillo — Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts

As a practicing Buddhist, it is not easy to apply the Five Precepts in our daily lives; how much more to take its formal vow!

Upon learning from the Dharma Masters that taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts is a great opportunity to amend past mistakes, I was convinced. On their part, they assured me of their support, to encourage me and sustain my vow. So, off to Chung Tai we went to take it.

During the ceremony, as a profound symbol of our vows, three cone-shaped incenses were burnt on our upper forearm; it symbolizes how the body was the censer, and the Precepts, the fragrant offering of incense.

In preparation, we were immersed in real-life examples of the practice of Lay Bodhisattva Precepts; we experienced the monastic life, practiced compassion and tolerance, discarded all our possessions and released all our attachments. The discipline included a certain way of thinking and acting. Having nothing, I realized that I only have myself to offer Buddha.

The mere thought of being burnt scared me, but I found strength in knowing that I was making a supreme offering of myself. Surprisingly, there was no pain and I was overflowing with joy and became teary-eyed.

Coming home, I was a changed person. I knew the challenges that await me outside the monastery wall, but compassion and tolerance are the keys. Becoming vegetarian while other members of the household were not, also posed a test of will power and perseverance. Thus, I cook my own food or run to Ocean Sky.

That was a year ago, and now I am in a happier state than ever before, knowing that my vows kept me from harming other sentient beings. Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts entails great responsibilities, but I intend to uphold them forever. Receiving it was a privilege; I knew in my mind that I was making the ultimate offering to the Buddha and to all sentient beings.

Nelson Tan — We All Possess a Mind of a Buddha

I grew up as a Catholic. I was 12 years old when I first heard about Buddhism. It was not until my son Ivan graduated from high school and expressed interest in Philosophy as his course in college, that I took studying Buddhism seriously. I started to read about the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. My interest progressed from that point, so my son and I searched for a Buddhist monastery and found Ocean Sky Chan Monastery in San Juan. We joined the beginners’ meditation class in September of 2011. After completing the intermediate meditation class this past January, we became more involved in Ocean Sky’s activities. I was even made coordinator of our class.

My son and I felt a big change in ourselves after finishing both the Beginners’ and Intermediate classes. We gained a greater understanding about the Buddha’s teachings and being compassionate to all sentient beings. We are now more aware and mindful of our thoughts, words, and actions. We are also more able to detect which is ethical, honorable and righteous and discard which is corrupt, immoral, and unfair. The biggest change in our lives is when we understood what true nature is, and how to liberate ourselves from all misapprehensions and delusions by way of the Four Noble Truths. It is really an irrefutable fact that our deluded mind is the main obstacle to our enlightenment. The indispensable Dharma teachings of our Great Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha will put us on the right path towards freeing our minds from suffering and erroneous views.

My advice for new students is to be diligent and study, learn, and apply the teachings of Buddha in their everyday life. Practice meditation daily and focus on the present moment so that you can be awake, mindful and aware of your thoughts, words, and deeds every moment.

In this way, the mind will be pure, and you will do good deeds and have right thoughts, and will eliminate bad karma. I also want to remind them that one of our main duties is to enlighten all sentient beings who deserve all our everlasting compassion, love and affection.

We all possess a mind of a Buddha. Sooner or later we will all reach Buddhahood through diligent practice. We just need to get rid of all the pollution that clouds our mind from reaching perfect enlightenment. But how do we do it? By looking inwards and meditating deeply. And from daily meditation, we can finally control our mind to be still and focused, which is Zen.

Debby Ang — Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts

I’m really happy to come to Ocean Sky. Apart from the delicious vegetarian food, what’s important are Shifu’s Zen stories and parables during the ceremonies and Zen classes. These make me truly understand that planting bad karmic seeds will lead to bad karmic fruits. Because of this, I do not want to retrogress.

When I listened to other Dharma lectures before, all of them usually discussed cause and effect, and the principles for being a good person. However, it was only in Ocean Sky’s Zen classes that I heard the deeper meaning of the Dharma. Even if my understanding is limited, and I cannot comprehend the Abbess’ profound teachings, I still believe I will understand them one day.

Last year in October I took the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts. The Dharma Master gave me the Dharma name “Chuan En” (which means gratitude in English), and this filled me with unspeakable Dharma Joy, always reminding me of thankfulness, to be diligent, and improve many aspects of cultivation. Thanks to the cultivation in Ocean Sky, the Shifus’ and lay peoples’ care, I can now totally reform and change for the better. Accomplishing this, only then can I say that the Dharma Masters’ efforts have not been wasted.

There are four conditions that are hard to attain: to be born in a country with Buddhist teachings; to have a human body, to encounter the Buddha Way, and to meet good teachers. If we do not take advantage of these things before our eyes, that would be a shame. I treasure my affinity with Ocean Sky, and am grateful to Chung Tai who sent us a very wise Abbess, who teaches us and makes us tread the true way to Buddhahood. This is what all the lay followers of Ocean Sky feel in their hearts.

Josephine Cortes — Ocean Sky and I

I came to Ocean Sky Chan Monastery on September 9, 2007, to fill in for a helper who took a two week vacation in her hometown. When the helper found out she was pregnant, Gina Quidlat presented me to Ms. Evelyn Chan and Abbess Jianyong as her regular replacement.

From the time I started working in the monastery, Master Jianyong also asked me to attend meditation classes in between my chores. In fact, during a Completion Ceremony, many people were surprised that I was able to complete at all.

I learned about Samsara, the causes of suffering, why life happens as it does. Once, I let Master Jianyong read a medical test result that showed a cyst in my ovary. The Abbess advised me to drink auspicious water before going to the doctor the next time. I prayed for positive results. At the clinic, the doctor examined me and told me that it was not a cyst; my ovary was alright and there was nothing to worry about. I shared this great news with the Shifu Jianyong and we were both overjoyed.

I find some time for meditation. I have visited Chung Tai Monastery twice. I was very happy to have joined the August celebration with the Tour of the Bodhi Mind. I also enjoyed the scenic places. There, in Taiwan, I could not recall even a single problem. I have been helping in the kitchen and have never gotten tired.

I would want newcomers to attend classes, to learn and maximize whatever the Shifus share. They have concern for every sentient being and look after every detail. They are good guides towards attainment of perfection.

Kennedy Tuazon — My First Taste of the Seven-Day Chan Meditation Retreat

Towards the end of the bitter, cold January in Taiwan, I had my first taste of the Seven-Day Chan Meditation Retreat. I immediately observed how systematic the procedures were while the activities were all carried out in a peaceful and orderly manner.

The level of experience was a notch higher as I did a lot of bowing and listened to the penetrating and hair-raising chanting and beating of drums. I can also attribute my experience to my being one with the whole Sangha. I witnessed and appreciated the entry and exit formation of about 1,000 pious looking people, all wearing black robes.

The formal lunch was done with contemplative demeanor as we were taught finer ways of eating from start to finish. Each time you bring food to your mouth, you think deeply of your blessings, the value of the food, the efforts put into its preparation, thus, not one bit should be wasted.

Every sitting meditation for me meant I had to tolerate back and leg pains. I noticed that whenever I began to relax, one of my feet would ache or when I would eventually just give up, the bell would be struck in less than a minute or so, signaling the end of the session.

The Dharma Masters reminded us that our minds must remain still and empty, devoid of delusions and other thoughts. The Grand Master warned us to disregard the various phenomena that may occur during meditation as well as to keep in mind that Zen is about getting rid of the three poisons above all else.

On the other hand, while some practitioners openly complain about the pain, the Abbot emphasized that the purpose of the seven-day meditation sessions was to basically train the Buddha Mind which comes in many names but refers to only one and the same concept—the Buddha Nature. And the lotus position can be developed through practice and can keep the body upright and stable. He explained that Nirvana or enlightenment does not happen suddenly like a strike of lighting, but may manifest through constant cultivation.

In conclusion, I have a renewed appreciation for disciplined and structured inner introspection and self awareness method and I will recommend the Chan-7 Retreat to all serious Zen practitioners for it will solidify your practice.

Jen Yamut — Cherish Every Moment

I read somewhere that there is an old man in each of us; that we tend to lose sight of our instincts but in each of us is an unforgotten wisdom stored up within. I wrote this bit in one of my reflections. Like a metaphor on how I see our true nature—obscured but always present.

My encounter with Buddhism began with a thought about wanting to become a Buddhist. How that thought crossed my mind I do not know but sometimes it’s the little twists in life that create the most impact.

I once asked a Master whether Buddhism was a religion or a philosophy. She said that to her, it is simply her way of life. I look back at the years past and realized she had driven her point succinctly. In principle, we learn from the Masters, then try to put into practice what we have learned; in reality though, it is easier said than done. I think what is important is that we persevere in our practice, because Buddhism, like the Dharma doors, presents itself to us in different ways with unlimited possibilities but the opportunity may not always be there. Like the Shifus always say: “cherish every moment!” Amitofo.

Benjamin Manalese — A Calm and Tranquil Mind

The Seven-Day Meditation Retreat enables one to acquire a calm and tranquil mind.

When I joined the first time, everything was so new to me. For example, we had to enter the Chan hall when the bell struck; or when we used the toilet, we had to remove the black robe. Or, the formal meal was eaten in silence, and many more. We were also doing everything according to schedule that sometimes I could hardly catch up. Even the unfamiliar accent of the Grand Master when he gave his Dharma Talk was difficult to understand.

I have since joined the Chan-7 two more times. On the third time, I was more comfortable, I had improved a lot. As I got familiar with the routine, I could relatively understand what was going on around me. My mind had become calmer and my body more relaxed.

Thus, I could easily participate in the activities right from the first incense. What was obscure before was now clearer in my mind. I came to savor every dish that was provided during the formal meal.

Despite my progress, I noticed that I was not as attentive or as compliant as during my first seven-day retreat. Because everything was familiar, I became careless and unmindful. This is one area where I feel remorseful and wish to rectify.

I encourage everyone to experience the Seven-Day Meditation and enjoy the benefits of Chan cultivation. Should you have any queries, I will sincerely and gladly do my best to help you.

Gina Quidlat — Tolerance and Patience

My first encounter with Ocean Sky was when my boss, Ms. Evelyn Chan, and I were visiting her daughter at the building across the monastery, which looked more like a restaurant than a temple. After that first meeting with the two Shifus, we started bringing food regularly to the monastery.

When the Shifus asked Ms. Evelyn to assist in preparing the food, I began to help out in the kitchen together with others, including Ms. Pin Pin, who also came over to help. I was asked to cook vegetarian food and I prepared simple vegetable dishes, because I was not yet used to cooking vegetarian. Now, I am no longer scared how my cooking would turn out, if it would turn out palatable or not!

I joined the Beginners’ Class which I completed with former Abbess Master Jianyong. As a volunteer, I would accompany Ms. Evelyn in bringing the Shifus where they wanted to go. Later, I was also assigned to buy fruits and flowers.

Through the years in the monastery, I learned tolerance and patience as I worked harmoniously with others. I also learned how to be a team player, with the intention of helping with my best efforts. Even during my vacation leave, I find myself always thinking how the monastery is being maintained. Because of this, there are less and less vacations and more of the monastery for me. THE MONASTERY IS NOW LIKE SECOND HOME!

Lolita Lutanco — Who’s Drinking the Tea?

“So who’s drinking the tea?” The Conducting Master (the Abbot) thrust the question at us at the start of 2009’s spring Seven-Day Meditation Retreat—an assignment that we had to contemplate on, in my second attempt to find the Bodhi Mind.

My first Chan-7 in 2007 was beset by sleepiness, excruciating pain in the legs, and non-stop thoughts. To say the least, the whole experience was dismal, at the same time, traumatic. I remember asking myself in the middle of that retreat, “What have I gotten myself into?”

2009’s Chan-7 seemed like it was going to proceed the same way, only this time, no more sleepiness. I made sure that I followed the Grandmaster’s, Abbot’s and Vice Abbot’s Dharma talks to the letter, for they served as the foundation of the whole retreat and the backbone of my practice. Their words of wisdom guided, encouraged and helped me stay on the right track. The Conducting Master emphasized the breath counting method followed by the Middle Way Reality method.

So, every sitting period, I would religiously count my exhalation; often defeated by the pain in my legs, or sidetracked by busy thoughts. Finally, on the 4th day, during the 8am sitting, after counting breaths for some time, it suddenly hit me!—an aura of calmness descended upon me; my whole being became so still, but my mind was very lucid and clear—no ripples of thoughts, no traffic of ideas and having full awareness of the sounds and movements around me. Sitting there was just so natural that I did not even mind the numbness in my legs. THAT was the start of several “good incenses” of sitting, so to speak.

I am eternally grateful to all the people who made my Chan-7 experience so meaningful—to all the volunteers who toiled behind the scenes, making sure that our retreat was so orderly and comfortable; to all the supervising masters who were so patient and hardworking; to all the masters in the kitchen, for the timely sustenance; to the Abbot and Vice Abbot, for their words of wisdom; and to the Grandmaster, for his vision and compassion.

So, who’s drinking the tea? At the end of seven days of backbreaking sitting, I guess it’s easy to answer—it is this PURE MIND that’s drinking the tea. To fully realize this pure mind, I will have to let go of so many attachments, cravings, and delusions in order to come to rest on this pure mind, this thing called Bodhi or Nirvana. Now, the real work begins.

Christopher Val Vargas — Empty Myself

I am 25 years old and have a great future as a violinist. I could have had anything I wanted; instead, I vowed to become a monk. Exposed to Buddhist practices since I was 17 due to influences from friends, I progressed to deeper forms of Buddhism in 2009. I once assisted a Thai Theravada monk who was assigned to the Philippines. With him, I felt a certain kind of peace. Eventually we parted ways, but I kept wondering what made me feel peaceful and focused at the time. It was in 2010 when I was invited by Celia Cacdac to visit and join Ocean Sky activities. I declined at first, because it was far from where I lived and would require long trips. The next year, she and her children went to Chung Tai Monastery in Taiwan. I was supposed to take a trip to another temple, but changed my mind because Celia invited me to join them for the trip. In Chung Tai, I accompanied Maybelle (Celia’s daughter) on the violin, when she sang during Chung Tai’s 10th anniversary celebration. After the trip, it dawned on me that I cannot be a violinist forever. Finally, I decided that I wanted to become a monk, and told Abbess Master Jianding that I wanted to leave home-life. She advised me to finish all the meditation classes first.

From then on, I was able to practice what I know better. With the permission of Abbess Master Jianshu, I reflected on how monastic life would be, and became more serious and sincere in my practice with her guidance. I hope to become a novice in Chung Tai Monastery.

The most important lesson from the Buddhist classes I took in Ocean Sky was how to empty myself. I learned detachment from worldly possessions. Now I understand the true meaning of life. I have found my true nature. I understand the law of causality and dependent origination. I learned how to appreciate and accept conditions as they come, and how to be a good person, practicing good thoughts and doing good deeds.

Ocean Sky is the best place to get to know oneself and realize one’s true nature. Despite having to let go of a chance to pursue a Master’s degree in Music in the U.S., I feel no regrets.

Pedro Cesar C. Ramboanga, Jr. — It has Changed My Life

I discovered Ocean Sky Chan Monastery through a flyer on free meditation class, distributed at the Tai Bun coffee shop, which is just around the corner. Emphasis is on the word “free, no expenses.” I thought that since it was free, I might as well see how a monastery taught meditation.

At first, I really felt like a stranger here, because I am neither a Buddhist nor Filipino Chinese, and because I could not understand their language. Perhaps beginners do feel insecure, or afraid to open up. It was only the Dharma Masters Jianqiang, Jianyin, Jianjun, and of course Abbess Jianshu, with their smiling faces and the ever helpful receptionists on duty like Lolita, Grace and Ben who made life easy for me.

This was the first time I attended a formal class in meditation. Just imagine doing it inside a Buddhist monastery! All along, my idea of a monastery was an enclosed compound with hundreds of priests and nuns. But then, in Ocean Sky, we only have four.

I also joined the Mandarin Class every Sunday. That way, I could understand what the others are talking about in Chinese. But mind you, I was a poor Mandarin student. I was just learning to read the Chinese pinyin and to count.

My three months here at Ocean Sky is one experience I cannot forget. It has changed my life. The lectures on Buddhism have rekindled the aspect of our relationship with our fellowmen and our standards of morality.

Christianity’s Golden rule—do not do unto others, what you do not want others to do unto you—really reminds me of the Four Tenets of Chung Tai: “ To our elders be respectful; To our juniors be kind; With all humanity be harmonious; In all endeavors be true.” The Five Precepts are also similar to Christianity’s Ten Commandments.

The Four Noble Truths about suffering and how to eradicate suffering with the Eightfold Path are topics which really needed more understanding. More so, when we encountered the Buddhist concepts of emptiness, dependent origination, no-self, causality, karma: good karma and bad karma, reincarnation, etc., the more I needed serious thinking. Sutras say:

If you want to know what you have done in the past, just look at what is happening in this life. If you want to know what will happen in the future, just look at what is being done in this life.

I never knew this free meditation class would lead me to more serious thinking about life. It rekindles in me the thirst for knowledge and more information. My new found activity has led me to keep borrowing books from the monastery’s library and keep surfing the net for things I cannot understand. I still have to a lot more to learn. Last, but not the least, I have turned vegetarian. I am now changing my life style, thanks to our Abbess and other Dharma Masters, and to Ocean Sky Chan Monastery.

Celia Cacdac — My Deepest Gratitude

Knowledge without practice is not enough for one to attain enlightenment. I realized that when I changed how I view things. Each situation became clearer in my mind. I could understand myself and everything around me better. Now, whenever an unfavourable situation comes my way, I accept it gladly, just as I do with a favourable situation. I look at these situations positively. Whenever I fall into delusions, I always remind myself to reflect inward, to look at my mind and find out where it’s coming from. It’s very important for me to always keep my awareness, to remind myself to accept my own mistakes instead of blaming others. I realized that there’s no one who could change me but myself.

To transcend any situation, we should use a compassionate heart instead of being judgemental. I learned that everything comes from our mind whether good or bad. Our actions are the manifestation of our thoughts. We need to use our mind for discernment. We have to think mindfully. With this practice of being mindful, we create good karma and prevent bad karma.

I see difficult situations as opportunities for me to practice what I’ve learned from the Buddha’s teachings taught by our Dharma Masters. When things come my way, I observe the principle of causality and follow the Eightfold Path.

My deepest gratitude to Ocean Sky Chan Monastery for giving us the lectures. I know everything has a purpose, nothing happens by accident. We can be the masters of our own minds.

Veronica V. Dacillo — Advocacies and Buddhism

I have been relatively consistent in attending classes here at Ocean Sky Chan Monastery (OSCM), but I discovered that I am not a diligent student. I have not been practicing meditation at all (except during classes), not done extra reading, nor attended half-day retreats or any other ceremonies, nor have I formally volunteered in any activity here.

My standard reason is that I have no extra time. In my experience, I should have been a dropout by this time. Yet, week after week I look forward to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Then, I would sit enthralled at Abbess’ Dharma talks about compassion without the passion, vegetarianism, compassion contemplation where one wishes one’s enemies good fortune, and attaining samatha and vipassana.

When Lally, my friend, was sidelined as coordinator this semester, I had no choice but to fill in her shoes. I’m sure I made hilarious mistakes as my focus was now divided between listening and concentrating on Abbess’ words and fumbling with the hand bell and the protocols. But time has a way of easing up these difficulties.

I am confused. More than half of my life has been spent on advocacies. While I think that is the bodhisattva nature in me, my limited knowledge of Buddhist teachings has spawned questions like can advocacies and Buddhism go along together? Underneath all the questions is the fact that I have held for the longest time a different worldview which has shaped my life radically. This worldview has similar observations of phenomena with the teachings of Buddhism, yet both come up with diametrically opposing conclusions!

So, I think these are the reasons on what’s holding me back to fully embrace Buddha’s teachings. But I am only a beginner here, not even a year into studying Buddhism. This reflection on my experiences here helped me see where I am now and how to proceed from there. This means I am really practicing meditation. I want to pursue studying here and at the same time cultivate my Buddha Nature and become a member of this community. Amitofo!

Anifrid Espinola — I Learnt How to Forgive and Let Go

After some months of practice now, I realize how much Buddhism has affected my life and made me a more peaceful, serene person much more capable of dealing with life and all its obstacles.

I managed to gain further insights on Buddhism and try new experiences. I learnt how to forgive and let go, to be mindful, how to clear the thoughts in my mind and how to make peace with everything. I also made a number of new friends here in the monastery. I am a much more kind, compassionate and happy person because of that! Not only my thoughts and ways have changed but also my lifestyle. I come to the monastery during weekends and to volunteer some works regardless of the difficulties on my way here.

I can’t imagine anything more rewarding or fulfilling. Our journey doesn’t end on this ceremony but it’s the beginning of our journey to enlightenment.

I would like to sincerely thank the Dharma Masters for their tireless effort in teaching us the Buddhist path, the method of cultivating our mind and the spiritual development leading to deep insight into the true nature of life.

Amitofo!

Randy Villanueva — A Deeper Understanding of My Real Purpose in Life

In May 2012, I came to attend my first Zen class in order to learn meditation and how to control my mind. But was control necessary? My answer was a resounding “YES,” as my unruly mind kept manufacturing mostly negative and painful stories which made me suffer. It had so fed my fear, anger, guilt, greed, frustrations, and doubts that I felt the need to switch it off fast.

As the old saying goes, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Our mind is so powerful that it can make or break us. Trying to keep it still was not easy either, with its resistance to change. Nevertheless, I persevered. Putting my faith and focus on my Buddha Nature, I fairly overcame its stubbornness.

I have come to appreciate the Abbess’ Dharma talks as she explained the Buddha’s teachings in the most simple and compassionate way, making it easier to understand. The Law of Karma and Causality made me realize my present situation and to take responsibility for all my actions. Now, I am more conscious as I try to perfect my dealings with my fellow men and sentient beings. It opened my mind to the deeper understanding of my real purpose in life.

The lessons on suffering and liberation were an eye-opener. I realized that we are our own enemies as we keep ourselves bound by the preconditions of the material world or our society at large, while in truth we are really free. And we can only call ourselves categorically free if we follow the Enlightened Path, both in theory and most importantly in practice. There is no other way.

As we anchor ourselves on the Buddha’s teachings and take our refuge in the Three Jewels—The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha—we must become the Path. As stated in an ancient scripture, “In order to tread the Path, One must become the Path Itself.”

Finally, To the Venerable Wei Chueh, the Abbess, the Masters and all the volunteers, for the heartfelt compassion and sincerest dedication to enlighten all sentient beings and those who come your way—Thank you beyond words.

Amitofo!

Ronnie Go — Embracing Buddhism the Second Time Around

Well, I was raised up in a Daoist/Buddhist family although we really didn’t have the right understanding of what it was about. We were just like the normal guys out there who go to visit the temples, pray to Buddha to give us good fortune and good health. In return, we would make some donations, light some incense, and then make some food and flower offerings. This was how I was exposed to Buddhism during my early childhood.

Then I was baptized as a Catholic during my early childhood, and gained more understanding of the Christian faith when I started doing Bible studies when I was in high school.

I was a very ego-centric person. But, after Ocean Sky Chan Monastery reintroduced me to Buddhism and a few years of Buddhist study, I think I have toned down a big chunk of that ego. Before, I used to blame others for all the bad things that happened in my life. Sometimes, I thought it was just simply God’s will. But when good things happened—I took all the credits. After attending Buddhism classes at Ocean Sky, I now know that it’s the Law of Karma at work. We simply reap what we sow. We have to take responsibility for each action we take.

I think I was changed by my involvement in the activities here at Ocean Sky. I was very impatient before, but now I have improved a lot. I now know that there is a time for everything and that patience brings out the desired results.

When I got sick with gallstones in 2010, I encountered so much pain that I thought it was going to be my last night here on earth. I called out to all the saints, Boddhisatvas and even Buddhas to ease my pain. But all to no avail. During those moments, every second lasted as long as half-a-day. It was like going through hell. Time froze. Out of desperation, I decided to let go.

It was then that I realized that everything in this world is of no importance to me. Unexpectedly, after letting go, the pain became much more bearable. After almost three weeks in the hospital, I had a new perspective of life. I was no longer the old Ronnie that always wanted to take full control of everything. The “me” in me had decreased considerably. I already knew that I am not the master of the universe. I am just a tiny speck in the dust of life.

Somebody once said that Buddhism can accommodate all religions. I believe that. Anyone who studies it can greatly enhance his understanding of his own religion. I gained a deeper understanding of the Christian Bible after taking up Buddhism classes at Ocean Sky.

Tricia Denise C. Zafra — Compassion and Peace of Mind

I first enrolled in the beginners’ class last year but failed to complete the course due to conflicts in schedule. This time, the timing was so perfect for me to re-enter the monastery when the beginners’ class was opened on a weekday, and I had just broken up from a relationship three months prior.

It was as if the entire universe conspired to have me back in Ocean Sky again, to let me mend my wounds under the guidance of Buddhist wisdom and to finish the course.

Looking back, I’ve realized that what matters most is not what was lost from my relationship, but what has been left for me to nurture. Taking Buddhism classes and practising meditation aided my recovery. The lectures were theories that I could apply to my emotional problems. It goes with the saying that “you easily learn your lessons when you are going through difficulties.”

With enough compassion and peace of mind, anger and bitterness naturally disappears. The need to talk about your anger is diminished.

I have grown so much in the past three months and learned to seek wisdom from those who truly possess it.

The past three formative months moulded my character to become a better individual.

Raphael Cardel Tinga Domingo — Just Like a Sunny Spring Morning

My mom, Raceli, came here first in January 2010. On her second visit, she brought us along to share with us her wonderful discovery. I was 17 going on 18. At first, I was hesitant to participate. Sitting meditation was difficult to bear, I could feel the pain and during lectures, I found the voice of the former Abbess Jianyong so musical that more often than not, I fell asleep. To avoid further embarrassment, I excused myself from coming and went on with my regular life while my mother and little sister Caitlyn continued on.

As a teenager and at the age of puberty, I am also searching for my place under the sun and trying to prove something to myself. The transition from childhood to a young adult is sometimes confusing. The answers to my questions seem to be so remote that even my mother’s guidance would not register in my mind. Then, in the middle of the same year, I decided to come back to Ocean Sky to listen to the lectures and do meditation, because my mother would often (without fail) share with us what she learned every week and told me that life’s answers are all here.

I even became an Assistant Teacher through the gentle invitation of the former Abbess Jianding and I took that responsibility very seriously. I had fun interacting with the Bodhi Stars that at times they also confide to me. I appreciate the warm and sincere kindness of Master Jianyin and later Master Jianjun, the gracious Master Jianqiang. Our beloved current Abbess Jianshu has a very big heart and is full of wisdom. I had a precious rare chance to talk to her and by just being in her presence made me feel everything is alright and in order. She made herself available to everybody that even children had a grand time talking to her.

One of the biggest factors that opened my eyes and mind as well as lighted my path was when I talked to the former Abbess Jianyong. She talked to me about the sacrifices and rewards particularly of a mother. That was my big “AHA! Moment.” Suddenly, I could see that the giant door in my mind burst open! I quickly flashed back to all the lectures when Shifu talked about karma, the three poisons and attachments. It gave me a wake-up call and all of a sudden everything seemed to be very bright and very clear, like a fresh and sunny spring morning. I am a new man!

Matt Baluyos — The Heart of a Volunteer

I have been here in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery for almost a year now. At the start of our advanced class, I was asked to be the class coordinator. I was very reluctant to accept it, not sure if I would be able to give my time. I was also asked if I wanted to try to volunteer as a Bodhi Star assistant teacher (AT). Then, knowing that the Mandarin class would also be on Sunday, I thought, “why not also sign-up?”

All those commitments, plus the fact that I just got a new job and had other side projects, would have been a very crazy idea back then.

But being here now for the completion ceremony, I could say these past three months have been the most fulfilling so far in my journey here at Ocean Sky.

The experience has taught me to be grateful to all the volunteers that give their time, effort, and talent to the monastery. Before, I didn’t really mind the volunteers that much. I was just satisfied to receive. Being a volunteer opened my mind and heart to be grateful and appreciative to all the people that make Ocean Sky run.

As a new volunteer, I felt humbled and learned patience especially from the elder volunteers. Whether it’s teaching the Bodhi Star kids or playing the Wooden Fish during the Heart Sutra or teaching Mandarin, the volunteers are very good and very patient with the juniors. Thank you!

Lastly, by becoming a volunteer, I have felt closer to the people at the monastery. The volunteers, the students, the other coordinators, kids, Shifus, they have become friends and family. I hope to be with them more in the next decade of Ocean Sky.

I have only been with Ocean Sky for less than a year. But without a doubt, I will definitely continue to support the monastery as I go along my journey. Amitofo!

Myrna Suangco — Ocean Sky and My Husband

My husband, Mario Suangco† and I were both seekers of truth. We have been to different religious groups looking for our identity, mission, and the true meaning of life.

Mario was first introduced to Buddhism in 2003 at the Universal Wisdom Foundation, from where he found out about Ocean Sky. At that time, Ocean Sky was just new. He attended the evening class and discussed things with the Abbot, talking about different subjects and aspects of Buddhism. Mario was always close with the previous Abbot, and was in constant communication with him even after his term in the Philippines ended.

Ocean Sky Chan Monastery transformed Mario into a better person. Through his meditation classes, chanting of mantras, and recitation of sutras, he got the answers he was seeking for. His faith became even deeper. He became humbler, and more appreciative, and grateful. He was calmer, more forgiving and kinder to everyone, especially our children. He recited the Heart Sutra and meditated everyday. He became more detached from material things. He also ate less meat afterwards, him being a bodybuilding advocate who was so used to a protein-rich diet filled with meat.

Mario had always been a helpful and trustworthy friend to his classmates, business partners, and co-workers. Every time someone asked for his help, he would go the extra mile to assist without expecting anything in return. Even during our family’s financial crisis, he still used his free time to do volunteer work and attend classes in Ocean Sky. He was present in every activity and even pitched in on short notice for other volunteers who could not come. He never complained of hardships or indifference. Mario often told me that he loved to be at Ocean Sky because it was where he found peace and joy in volunteering.

If he has a bigger and more important role to accomplish in his next life, I think he has prepared himself well for it.

Life and Time are the world’s two best teachers. Life teaches us to make good use of time, and time teaches us the value of life.

He will always be in my heart.

To a great friend and husband, and father to our children, Mario, peace be with you.

Amitofo.

Lualhati O. Abainza — My Daily Source of Strength and Stability

I came to Ocean Sky at a time when I was thinking of what to do with my life. But before that, there were some areas in my life that I needed to put back on the right track, to put in order. I was aware that my inner self was going to be my source of strength and stability before starting anything new. I started taking important steps to do this and things seemed to do well until I faced the biggest and most difficult task: learning to forgive. Yes, I sought help but it seemed that the pain would remain forever in my heart. That was my state of being before I entered Ocean Sky.

Since the first session, Zen meditation became my daily source of strength and stability. The lectures clarified what areas in my life needed some attention and became a source of deep reflection for change. I became more alert, more positive in my thinking and feelings. And yes, the emotional pain that made it difficult for me to forgive has started to lighten up. My mind became more alert, even my own son noticed moments of distraction are now gone. Creativity and enthusiasm have come back, and I am really happier now.

In my three months of study, there were two high points that I would like to share with you. While I gained many benefits from the classes, the next step was to explore the other activities offered at Ocean Sky. On February 12, I attended the half-day retreat. Since this was my first time to attend the activity, I carefully followed the instructions and made sure that I stayed silent. While standing before the formal meal, as we silently said our vows, a subtle, gentle, yet powerful feeling of self- respect embraced my whole being. Then I became aware that I have not respected the sentient beings in the way that I was experiencing at that moment. I was moved to tears. I silently made a vow not to eat anything that is killed. When craving to eat meat comes, as it had been a habit for many years, I just go back to this powerful experience. This also brought healing to my broken relationships in the past, the return of my self- respect and my respect for them.

Another high point happened in the next half-day retreat in March 25, 2012. I realized that each and every activity that we were doing then, the chanting, prostration, the silences, and the meals are done with sacredness. That made me aware of the kind of life we have outside Ocean Sky, that everything we have, material resources, relationships, skills, time, our very life is sacred and have to be treated as such.

My being here is not an accident. It was meant to be. The new learning and realizations, and putting them into practice will be easier while being in this supportive community, the Sangha.

Louie Inoncillo — OSCM and Family

It was in 2008 when my wife started attending the meditation classes in Ocean Sky. I had just been laid off from work and was devastated. My life had no concrete direction and was just making ends meet with a little savings. The little business that I started wasn’t making enough to support my family. But I still held on. My wife was busy going to her meditation class and taking care of our only daughter. After almost a year, our business was not doing well, no matter how hard I struggled and worked.

Each time we met during dinner, my wife would start meals by silently making an offering to the Three Jewels which I didn’t understand. She then kept talking about meditation. On weekends, she would even take our daughter to the monastery to join the kids’ class. They seemed very happy, and it didn’t really bother me. My faith in the Catholic Church had deepened when Mari-Len battled cancer for two years and was finally cleared. I prayed the rosary everyday and devoted time to the Black Nazarene of Quiapo (a Christian saint popular in the Philippines). Mari-Len’s study of Buddhism in Ocean Sky didn’t really interest me, as long as we were able to go to Mass on Sundays. But somewhere at the back of my mind, I was confused as to why my wife was dividing her time between two religions.

Then, things started to pick up at work. When I told my wife about the good days, she would simply reply that it was good karma. By this time, she was doing a lot of volunteer work in the monastery. Most of the time, she helped out in decorating and even became a receptionist. She said that the good business of ours was a result of merits obtained through meditation and service. For me, it was just coincidence.

Then one day, I received a call from my former boss to go work for him again. When I told Mari-Len the good news, my wife simply replied: “Now do you believe me?” It suddenly made sense. Immediately she offered for me to be a benefactor in a ceremony in Ocean Sky. It was a repentance ceremony and lasted for about four hours. The chanting was in Chinese, and I was bored. But the food was so delicious. All the Dharma Masters and lay people were kind and accommodating.

One thing that I couldn’t forget was how former Abbess Master Jianyong welcomed me with such warmth, that I finally understood why my wife so enjoyed her time in Ocean Sky. I also met the president, Albert Tan, who told me about the benefits of learning Buddhism and how it had changed his life. That was a new beginning for me. I started attending classes and learned about the teachings of Buddha which I applied to my everyday life.

Life has never been the same again since we adapted Buddhism into our family life. Then things got better when our business started to expand. With much gratitude, we continue to support Ocean Sky in our little ways. We know that challenges will still come our way, but we shall be able to cope because we understand that everything is impermanent. We know we will be safe as long as we have Buddhism and Ocean Sky behind us.

Justin Abainza — The Wisdom I Gained

I started here as a reluctant volunteer this past summer. I admit that my first time working here surprised me because of the hectic schedule, but every muscle ache was worth it after the 5-day Bodhi Star Summer Camp. Who wouldn’t be inspired when you see fellow volunteers working tirelessly, uncomplaining, but still grateful for their chance to serve? It was also my first time to hear lessons from a Buddhist monastery, so together with the children I listened to every lesson taught, and the wisdom I gained was enough to last a lifetime.

The nuns of Ocean Sky are the epitome of their teachings. They are the reason why I keep coming back here. Every second that I observe and work with them is a moment of learning. They offer a wealth of knowledge, asking for nothing in return. It’s like having an Olympic gold medalist as your personal trainer, or your grandparent opening your eyes to the joys of living.

I was tasked to teach Wushu to the kids that summer camp. From then on, everyone has been fondly calling me a Wushu Master, even if I am still just memorizing San Lu (a basic form), when at this age, I should be doing Chang Quan (a more advanced form). The amount of recognition I have experienced here is truly heartwarming. Everyone’s help and talent is very much appreciated here, no matter how small one contributes. Plus the food is endless.

I will gladly take the Five Precepts formally as soon as the opportunity arises. Not because of the food, not because of the recognition, not because of the exotic cultural experience, but because for once in my life, my purpose has become clear, my values have been confirmed, and my beliefs have been rectified. I could not have come to Ocean Sky Chan Monastery at a better time. Buddha has shown me the vast and true nature of things and I will continue to learn what I can while I can.

Ivan Tan — True Happiness Through Fundamentals

Among the things I learned from the classes was non-attachment. It was emphasized throughout the teachings as a basic cause of suffering. Another is to be compassionate to all beings. In the cycle of Samsara, it is important for us to help others alleviate suffering through this simple practice. Great changes occurred to me through my involvement, and I am able to practice in real life what was taught by the Abbess. I now deal with others by reflecting and contemplating on the teachings. There are a lot more things which were taught to us, but the biggest transformation in me was that I became more compassionate towards beings. In understanding that we all suffer, and that we cannot be complacent watching others suffer more, compassion with genuine intention is essential and should be practiced at all times. This is one of the greatest things that I learned in Buddhism. I also learned that external objects are also impermanent, thus they cannot provide us true happiness. Since we are so used to finding our source of happiness in external objects, we forget to watch our actions and thoughts. True happiness can be realized through non-attachment and mastery of the mind by practicing meditation and study of Buddhism. We must continue to practice, as we go forth on our way to liberation.

It may be difficult at first to accept the teachings of Buddha, but my advice to newcomers would be for them to always keep an open mind, and to always reflect and apply the teachings in one’s life.

Edward Chua — What I have learned from Chan meditation

We all have our reasons for attending the beginners’ meditation classes here in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery. I geared myself not to expect anything and wholeheartedly immersed myself in understanding what Chan meditation is all about.

What have I learned and gained from Chan (Zen) meditation? I have yet to start regularly practicing meditation and yet, I have already felt that one, my concentration and reasoning have improved a little; and two, I sleep more soundly now and my blood pressure is lower. But this is not the main reason why we do Chan meditation. We meditate to see things as they really are. My meditation experience is very personal and what I can share is indescribable in words. I would say that the path to awakening and enlightenment is both easy and hard depending on one’s frame of mind, determination and persistence to learn. At the end of the day, meditation helps us to become more compassionate and wiser.

The Four Noble Truths to me is a very profound teaching and not easy to comprehend. The first one is the hardest to accept and realize but once accepted, you’d be on the road to enlightenment. Understanding the First Noble Truth may take a lifetime of examination and an attitude of awareness and alertness over a long period of time. I may say truthfully and frankly that I have yet to digest the First Noble Truth, to absorb it in my mind and heart. Chan meditation is a way of understanding this Noble Truth.

The Eightfold Path to me is a way of life. Intellectual understanding of the Eightfold Path is inadequate. Reflection is a must on these teachings. We have to consider what they really mean. Reflective understanding and acting should be a way of life.

Over the course of 12 weeks, there was a gradual change of attitude and outlook in my view towards life in general and people in particular. I have learned to accept things as they are, to be careful with my words and actions, to realize the cause and effect of words and actions upon others and its consequences, to be more compassionate towards others and to be a little bit more patient with people and situations. The change is neither transformational nor sudden but gradual. Contentment is my objective and enlightenment in any degree is the final goal.

With the adept assistance of Ocean Sky Chan Monastery’s Abbess, Shifus and Dharma brothers, we all hope to learn and understand, and be on the right path to enlightenment.

Wilhelmina S. Orozco — Nothing Fixed, Everything Changing

Buddhist ceremonies affect all our senses: smell— incense is burnt as an offering to the Buddha; hearing—chanting goes on the whole time; sight— candles on small goblets are lit as offerings; touch—the blankets, mats and cushion for sitting down during meditation are soft to the skin; and taste—vegetarian food is served after the ceremony.

Every encounter of mine at Ocean Sky is a lesson on being and becoming. My being is strengthened as I learn to focus on the more important matters that I have to attend to, instead of running helter-skelter, trying to search which activity or which item is more important to be confronted for the day. Because of the presence of very helpful Shifus, and volunteers, my being is now undergoing a healthy development.

In particular, my artistic bent was given a healthy outlet when I volunteered to facilitate drama classes for the Bodhi youth. The youths were so eager to learn about expressing themselves through acting. At the same time, they also learn meditation and Buddhist etiquette from Shifu Jianqiang

Now, “becoming” is the regeneration of hope in myself, and in communities—the meditation group in the Monastery, as well as in the place where I live —where now I feel relaxed and related in a humane, not obligatory, way of being a citizen of this country (a highly political view of issues of relationships), and of the world. As a human being, I hope that everyone can make a difference in this planet, so that it can be a peaceful and harmonious place for everyone, all sentient beings, including animals and plants.

Cristina D. Manejero — My Change After Joining Ocean Sky

Whenever I tell people I’m having meditation classes here in Ocean Sky, the usual response I get is “Why?” I give out many reasons such as to be able to have a clear mind without attachments, but many of them don’t understand. It is really hard to answer this question because a person needs to actually be here to hear and understand the lessons to feel that the real question is not why, but why not.

Before coming to the temple, I cannot say that my attitude had been very pleasant. I was moody and easily got stressed. I was not mindful of other sentient beings, either I ignored their suffering and sometimes I even added to their suffering. I was aware that my attitude was bad, but I found no reason to change it. When my friends asked me to come to Ocean Sky, I realized the need to change my life for the better.

After two semesters here in Ocean Sky, I have learned many things: the purpose of being mindful and how it can help everyone to escape the cycle of rebirth. It has changed my outlook in life. I have learned to take care and tolerate other sentient beings. I don’t look down on others but help them improve their lives. Helping others attain our common goal is satisfying not because this might attain some good karma in the future but because it is heartwarming to see their smiles. These are just some of the things I was missing out by acting selfishly in the past.

I have also learned that everything happens due to karma. All bad things are caused by my bad actions and all good things are due to my good actions. So whatever happens in my life, I just accept it because all of it was due to my past deeds. Accepting everything and thinking that they are impermanent prevents me from doing further harm to others and to myself as well. Still sometimes, I forget and return to my old ways, but I try to do everything one step at a time. I cannot change overnight, but with practice, I can slowly be a person that might someday be able to do what I have not yet done in my past life and be enlightened.

I am so thankful that I had the chance to be here and had finished two classes in Ocean Sky. The first step to be a better person is to realize one’s wrongdoings. The lessons in Ocean Sky can help in realizing them. After realizing them, one should make sure not to repeat them. The practice does not end today with this completion exercise but must continue onwards and must be applied in my life. I also hope that we could all stay here and learn more because there is no end in learning. Even if we think we have known everything, there are still many things out there that we are not aware of. Let’s all help each other in attaining our common goal. Amitofo!

Beatriz Monteza — Meditation–A Journey into My Inner Life

I came to know about Ocean Sky Chan Monastery because of an ad in a newspaper. I was clueless of its existence. I only wanted to learn Zen meditation, a fascination that I had as a Catholic novice long ago.

As a mature adult, I continue to nourish my spiritual life. This is why meditation has become a need for me. It is my vehicle for the journey into my inner life. This inward quest is life-changing; it is a day-to-day commitment, a responsibility that only I can do. It is an awareness, a conscious nurturing of the mind. I yearn for a world that considers the need for an inner change. For me, it is necessary and urgent.

The changes in my inner life were indeed radical. Being radical made the changes thorough and complete. If I have a healthy, authentic inner life, then I would know how to serve others with compassion. It is a clear path and I choose to walk on this path.

Being in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery is like coming home to continue the life I had started long ago. I would like to express my profound gratitude to the Abbess for enlightening me. “Why did it take me so long?” was my question to her. “It’s your karma.” she replied.

Caitlyn Domingo — How I Joined Bodhi Star Class

I have been here in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery for more than 2 years now.

The first Sunday that I saw my mom all dressed up going somewhere without us, I asked her if I could come. She told me that she would still have to find out if I could be allowed. Upon coming home, she gave me the good news that kids like me are most welcome, so I looked forward to my first visit and experience the place she visited. The truth was I didn’t have the slightest idea where I would be going.

When I arrived at Ocean Sky, I was overwhelmed and very shy and didn’t want my mom to be out of my sight, so I told her “I am never coming back. Period!”

Every Saturday morning, I would pretend to be asleep. My mom didn’t buy all my tricks and whining. She had her way and forced me to attend the Bodhi Star classes, even if it meant carrying me to the van. According to my mom, she strongly and faithfully believed that Buddhism would be very good for my life. The truth was I didn’t know what she was talking about at that time.

As a compromise, I asked her to become an AT, so that I could see and be with her every time, to which she obliged. I was surprised that she was good at inventing games for children.

I became more relaxed as I personally experienced the warmth, sincerity and kindness of all the Shifus and the sweetness of Teacher Marita and Teacher Lolita in particular, most especially the compassionate and subtle mentoring of the former Abbess Jianding, as Bodhi Star Adviser then. With her most warm and reassuring smile, I felt very secure; but of course I love all the ATs and all the volunteers.

After more than 2 years, I truly and really do understand what my mom meant. Now, at age 10, I feel that I totally understand what Buddhism is all about. I realize that we have to take care of our thoughts because everything starts with our thoughts.

As I attended the beginners’ and intermediate classes, I learned the deeper reason why we have to calm our minds and the importance of meditation which we routinely do in the Bodhi Star classes.

I have observed that there are many similarities between the Catholic and Buddhist teachings and that makes me even happier, because I am not torn apart. They complement each other.

Whenever there are activities and ceremonies at the monastery, I always happily volunteer to come along. Although this time around, if we came in late, it’s because I really overslept. It’s not intentional anymore. When I would surprisedly tell her “Mom, we’re late!”. She would calmly say “I know…”

Having said so many things, it’s just the tip of the iceberg or a drop in the vast ocean, because I know that many beautiful things are still bound to unfold with the passing of time in our study here in Ocean Sky.

To our elders here, we know that what matters to you, the most, is that, your love, dedication and sacrifices do bear beautiful fruits in the Bodhi Stars’ lives.

Ofelia A. Santos — Vegetarianism and Compassion

Vegetarianism is a challenge for everyone, especially for us Filipinos who are used to eating lots of tasty and rich foods that satisfy both palate and stomach.

As a vegetarian since the age of 17, I knew spiritual aspirants find the practice as both challenging and rewarding. I started to be a vegetarian upon the prodding of a medical doctor who asked me to try it for better meditation. This was difficult because our family would eat together during meals. I learned how to cook my own food the moment I decided to be vegetarian. I also stopped cooking dishes with garlic and onions. I stuck to the practice as I experienced the positive effects of vegetarianism on my meditation and spirituality. More than just being a health fad, vegetarianism became a basic component of my lifestyle. On the first month, my diet was meat-free as I discarded pork, beef, poultry and all meats that I used to eat with my family. Then, I let go of all seafood including shrimps, lobsters, and crabs, which were my favorite. The last to go that turned me full, strict vegetarian were eggs, even though they were easy to cook.

Using the food cycle as one reason for eating other life forms, the meat industry continually raises animals primarily as a source of food, and often times kills them with cruelty. In Buddhism, “compassion to all sentient beings” is emphasized and supports the precept of No Killing. The Sixth Patriarch Huineng, in his deep respect for life, would free animals from their nets after they were caught by the hunters. To have freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth, one must be free from any motivation of harming and killing. When we value life, not only our own but everyone else’s, then we can truly meditate and appreciate the essence of life.

Beau dela Cruz-Live in the present

Beau dela Cruz

Before I came to Ocean Sky, my understanding of different religions, except Catholicism, had only been through text, research, and analysis. Only two months ago was I able to immerse myself in a new religion, that being Zen Buddhism. At first, I thought that Buddhism might be a cult, or even something else. But through Shifus’ instructions and my meditation, I arrived at the conclusion that Buddhism is the search of the “True Mind.”

As for my personal experience, I found myself lost after my honorable discharge from the Philippine Marines, and my abruptly suspending Flying School for a year. I was a recluse during that time, dealing with daily and hourly suffering. I simply became an urban hermit, avoiding social and even family contact. I finally reached out to a hypnotherapist three months ago. I thought maybe I should immerse myself in the promise of liberation through disciplined Buddhist practices. Through the internet, I found Ocean Sky.

Let me share what I learned from the lessons in the monastery. One, Buddhism is both thoughtfulness and thoughtlessness, and thus, is empty. Second, attachment is a cause of suffering. After a long ride in the desert, we must also let our camel go. Third, meditation is not only done by sitting down or walking around clockwise. It is also done in every present thing we do. Whether we breathe, jog, swim, or swing a sword like the samurai or even in anything we do, we can meditate simultaneously. Lastly, one cannot regret or miss the past. This is because we have no control over the past. One cannot also be worried or anxious of the future. This is because we cannot plan for all known and unknown circumstances we will come across. What we can only do is excel, appreciate, focus on, and live in the present.

For all of this help, kindness, and the generosity of knowledge and charity, I thank you dearest Abbess, Shifus, and all those who keep coming to and supporting Ocean Sky. It is with great gratitude and humility that you have already guided me this far.