The Perfect Freedom

By Marcelo V. Manuel

I found Ocean Sky Chan Monastery through the internet. I got interested in studying Zen meditation not because it was free, but because I was searching for perfect answers to my questions: 1. What is true happiness? 2. Who am I?

After attending beginners’ class, intermediate class, and now I am in the advance meditation class. I have learned so many things, which also led to changes in many of my bad habits. For example: 1. I have stopped smoking. From 3 packs a day, I have now totally quit. 2. I have learned to control my anger. 3. I have learned to adopt the attitude of being just an observer.
4. I have improved to become compassionate towards all sentient beings, especially the animals and insects. Why insects and animals? It is because they need the most attention and understanding from us. 5. I try to become vegetarian. It is not because it is good for the health, but because it is part of being compassionate towards sentient beings.

These are just some of the things that have changed in me. And it is all because of attending classes here in Ocean Sky and listening to the Dharma talks of Shifu. Essentially, it is because of my Zen meditation practice.

I remember Shifu once asked me why I wanted to study meditation. My answer was to find my true mind. (Which is connected to my question of who am I?) Now, if Shifu were to ask me again, my answer would be: “I just want to practice and to calm my mind. I do not care what I attain, because wanting to attain something is already a desire.”

Right now, I have a feeling that I am close to finding my true self. The important thing is for me to be true to myself and to the people I encounter, to accept my status in life and how I look like, and to learn to be contented and not to be materialistic. Now, I can relate all my actions to Zen. For example, the travel time between my house and Ocean Sky is 3 hours coming and another 3 hours going back. I consider the journey as part of my Zen practice.

I try to meditate in a natural setting, where there are only trees and birds around me; in my room in the morning and before I go to sleep; and in places where there are a lot of people moving around, I hear the noise but still, my mind is calm. Each time I meditate, I feel blessed because I always receive the greatest gift—silence is the greatest gift for me.

Ocean Sky Chan Monastery is the safest and most peaceful place for me. I always demanded freedom, but I do not actually need to join these rallies to demand freedom, because deep inside my true mind, I can achieve the perfect freedom through the help of Zen meditation. There is only one rule to follow: Focus and mind my own breath.

I have received important merits since coming to Ocean Sky. I have gained new friends, fresh points of views, and the awareness in understanding all sentient beings. To answer my first question about the true happiness of people, I think for many of them, their happiness is from obtaining valuable things like money, wealth, etc. But for me, true happiness is to live in silence and have no attachment. For now, I still cannot do it; maybe in my next life.

To answer my second question, who am I, I am not sure yet who I am. What I know for now is that I am a Buddhist deep inside. I am thankful to be a practitioner and a part of Ocean Sky Chan Monastery. It is a great blessing to have all the Shifus as my teachers. To all the Shifus, staff and volunteers, thank you very much.


By Betty Lim

I was born and raised in a Filipino-Chinese family. L​ike others in the Philippines, I was baptized a Catholic in my schooldays, and immediately worked after graduation. Although I did ac​company​ my parents to visit and pay respect in Buddhist temples​ every weekend, at that time, I could not differentiate between the three Buddha statues in the main hall from Guanyin Bodhisattva which I heard M​om often mentioned.

In 2013, Dad passed away, and two years later followed by my Mom. W​e followed the burial service in Buddhist way out of the respect for my parents. ​During the 49 days of mourning, we chanted Amitabh​a S​utra which I found interesting yet difficult to understand.​T​hat was when I decided to attend classes in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery.

After decades of living with and taking care of my parents, their sudden departure drove me to feel deep sorrow, anxieties, hatred, and frustration.​ I felt life had become meaningless and subsequently lost my purpose. Luckily,​ at that time, I had just started my classes learning​ Buddhism in Ocean Sky.​

​U​nder the compassionate guidance, ​comfort and care of the​ Dharma Masters,​ I learned​ about impermanence in this world.​ I also realized​ that apart from being grateful to my dear parents who brought me into this world and raised me, I also have an ultimate important duty: to make offerings to and respect my Dharma P​arents, i.e., the Three Jewels, and ​to support and protect Buddhist temples​.

My four years of study in Ocean Sky, such as joining meditation classes​, chanting sutras, cultivations, and attending ceremonies and so forth, have resulted to a big turning point in my life. My impatient hot temper has tamed and cooled down thro​ugh​ the practice of calm mind taught in classes​. I used to be intolerant​, unforgiving ​and ​uncompromising. Little by little, the teachings of compassion ​in class have​ made me learn to forgive, understand and tolerate others. I realize the best way to get rid of sufferings is to let go of all hatred, greed and all kind of emotions and attachments.

In fact, my relatives and friends are so surprised to see the big change in me, even more astonished​ to find I am now introspective, ​self-repentant and non-complaining! I have taken the Three Refuges​ and Five Precepts, and at the end of 2016, I also took the Lay ​Bodhisattva P​recepts​. Lay Bodhisatt​va P​recepts, as guided by Dharma ​Masters, are observed ​not only to keep pure precepts, but also to ​benefit others as well as myself. I am now able to extend my concern to my relatives, friends and even the Dharma brothers whom I barely know, and ​to comfort and offer help especially to the sick and the departed ones. Our compassionate Dharma Masters intentionally arrange schedules for volunteer works in the temple for everyone to take turns in cultivating merits and wisdom​. I am lucky to be one of them. In the process of forming good affinity with others​, I can feel true ​happiness within me in helping others.​ Alt​hough I never expect anything in return, surprisingly, the incredible merits have just bounced back to me! The more friends and less enemies means lots of relaxation and joys in life! ​

It is indeed difficult for me to reverse my decades-long bad habits. Given the bad influences in this ​sinful and suffering world, every time I am faced with unfavorable incident, I would be stricken with a bad thought. However, I would constantly remind myself that I have to apply the Buddha’s teachings of compassion, tolerance, and ​​forgiveness, and to look at myself, to examine my actions, to feel remorseful and to repent. Thereafter, I would immediately switch to good thoughts.

I still find it difficult to let go of my attachment and love for my departed parents who had sacrificed their whole life for me. However, I have confidence that in the process of learning Buddhism, I will be able to overcome and let go gradually​.

It is indeed the best merit in this life to become a Zen disciple, and I would like to express my deepest gratitude to our dear Founding Patriarch Grand Master Wei Chu​eh, who had devoted and contributed his life to building a very solemn and pure Chung Tai Chan Monastery, a perfect place for meditation and​ cultivation. Also to all Dharma Masters for their untiring efforts in preaching and teaching us. I have nothing to repay them, except to stay diligent in my study of Buddhism, forming greater affinity with all sentient beings,​ and strictly keeping all precepts and supporting Buddhist temples!


A Special Way to Celebrate Birthdays

By Michella Cacdac

As a little girl, I grew up not having many friends because my parents were very protective of us. To my surprise, every time it was my birthday, there would be kids whom I didn’t know coming to our house. They were just random poor kids whom Mom would see around the neighborhood. At that time, I was unfamiliar with the message, but Mom was already introducing the value of charity to me and my younger siblings. She invited the children over for us to spend our birthdays with and to share our little blessings.

During the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the early 1990’s, Dad was busy saving lives of civilians who were greatly affected by the calamity. He personally rescued people who were endangered by lahar (like lava). We almost lost our Dad during those rescue operations. On the other hand, Mom and the rest of the family were busy packing and distributing relief goods for the victims. We couldn’t afford so much then, but I remembered being able to help as many people as we can with whatever means we had.

It was in 2007 when we began attending meditation classes in Ocean Sky. One of the teachings that continues to inspire our family is that of charity. We knew what charity was like growing up as we had many occasions to be exposed to it, but we didn’t really understand its true essence. After studying it thoroughly in the temple, we now celebrate our birthdays with our chosen charities, which we regularly visit as a family.

Dad started doing several medical and dental missions together with men and women under his command. Mom’s focus is more on students, since her birthday falls in June during opening of classes. We reached out to indigenous children of Tarlac, Zambales, Aurora provinces, and in depressed areas like Payatas, etc. Most of these places were in far-flung provinces. Sometimes, we would be warned by high officials that the places we planned to visit were remote and unsafe, but for us, what mattered was our intention to help. We do things out of goodwill and have not entertained fear.

These children had public schools and teachers, but they didn’t have school supplies, bags, slippers and other basic things which were needed in school. As a result, most of them were persuaded by their parents to quit school, and just help in working for sustenance. They are actually perfect candidates for recruitment to rebel groups when they grow up due to lack of education and understanding. From 200 kids in our list, they have now increased to almost 800 from different areas of Tarlac, Pamangga and Payatas.  We saw how much the children were eager to learn, yet they didn’t have the means.

Our family always felt that no matter how limited our resources were, we still wanted to share more. It only requires time and little effort to reach out to these children, paving the way for great changes in their lives. We are thankful to these children and the other charities we visit, such as Home for the Aged, and minors who are rape victims by incest, etc. Visiting them constantly gives us opportunities to help. Starting with just our family, we now have more friends joining us in our mission; people who just dedicate their time to help us distribute the goods. Now, some of them are also replicating what we have done in their own little ways. Even people who worked under Dad’s command had opportunities to join us in these events. Many of them were overwhelmed with the joy that they brought to the less fortunate, just by simply talking and listening to them.

There were times I would prepare their meals, then my sister would sing for them, and we would interact with them. For the elderly, we were sad that each time we visited, some names would be stricken from the list since they had already passed away. This truly is a good way of learning non-attachment. I still cry sometimes but as time passed, I’ve learned to be stronger.

My daughter, 13 years old Keisha, regularly sets aside things that she does not use anymore. When Christmas time comes, she gives them away to different charity institutions that we visit. One time, she gave me an old dress to give to a girl named Precious. Precious was born with mental and physical abnormalities and was abandoned by her mother because it was an unwanted pregnancy. After long months of waiting, finally it was time for us to visit these abandoned children. I brought the dress that Keisha wanted to give to Precious. I was so excited to see the kids and as I was going around, I noticed that Precious was missing. Thinking that she was just transferred to another room, I asked the caregivers. They told me that she died just a couple of months before I arrived. My heart was really crushed, but I had to remind myself about Buddha’s teaching of impermanence.

I value all the things taught by Ocean Sky. Most importantly, as a family, we try to “walk the talk.” We give value to the teachings by practicing what we learned. As time passes and more lessons learned, I know that charity needs constant practice to attain “mastery” level. We are still far from becoming “enlightened,” but these experiences give the Buddhist teachings more meaning, and lets us experience small enlightenments along the way. It also helps us to be grounded and to stay dedicated in reaching out to our brothers and sisters in need.

The learning doesn’t stop. I’m truly grateful to Buddha, to our Grandmaster, Shifus, my parents, and to all Dharma brothers for being my great teachers. Thank you for paving the path that gives me true joy and peace. I consider myself blessed for having these opportunities to learn, to be surrounded by people who share the same goals in being selfless and unattached to mundane standards. The only life I know is the life I have in the present. I am trying my best to live it right by following the Buddhist teachings despite the challenges and imperfections of my daily life.


Pay It Forward

by Domingo, Roychelle Camilah

Ocean Sky Chan Monastery was introduced to me by my mother. At the beginning, my mother would literally force me to go. Despite this, I was still able to finish beginners’ and intermediate meditation classes without understanding what was being taught. Everything changed after I graduated from college. There were questions lingering in my mind. I told myself, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot. I’ll go with my Mom to Ocean Sky with an open mind and I will not have any thought or judgment.” And I did go. I remember I came during the last day of summer camp. At first, it still felt weird because it was all new to me. Surprisingly, when some volunteers and my sister’s co-volunteers talked to me, it felt different. They talked to me as if I’d been coming to the monastery for as long as my Mom, sister, and brother did. The experience changed my perception of Ocean Sky. From that day onwards, many wonderful things have changed in me.

With that simple gesture of making others feel welcomed, it definitely had a big effect on newcomers like me and our perception of Ocean Sky. A lamp was lighted through that act of kindness and warmth that I received from the people.

Volunteering for me is a way of giving back, to say “thank you,” and to share and spread the teachings that I learned in the monastery. I encountered different tasks and different people every time I do volunteer work.  It challenges me as a person and in my practice. But it doesn’t bother me. In everything that I do, I definitely learn something new. The teachings don’t end after listening to the Dharma talks, the lessons also need to be applied.

“To love all that you do and consider it as part of your life can make work easier and happier for you.” This was one of the many teachings that struck me the most. It changed how I feel towards my work. There is no easy job if you are just there for the wrong reasons and it will not help you in any way. Every day you wake up just to wait for the day to end because for some reason, you did not find complete happiness in your work, from the people around you, and even in your life. But when you do things because it is your life and you enjoy every bit of it, no matter how tired you are, whether physically or emotionally, you will always find joy and fulfillment in it. There is this feeling of great joy in me whenever I see other people happy because I am able to help them.

However, sometimes it is not only happiness we bring to other people. I know I am not perfect nor can I please all the people; but it does not stop me from helping other people as much as I’ve also benefited from them. These people may not know how they’ve affected my life whether negative or positive. I still would like to thank and say sorry to them in as many ways that I possibly can. As a cultivator, there are still many things that I need to learn and for sure, my learning never ends.

Right now, a single thought is in my mind, “Pay it forward.” The single light that I am holding is not enough to dispel the darkness we are encountering. But if I share that light, the brightness around me would keep expanding and become even brighter. This will not only help myself, it will also benefit others.