Interview with Shen Shi’an
This is a little dated, from November 2007, but am reposting here for linking in this same site to my updated biodata at http://moonpointer.com/new/2011/05/about-shen-shian If there are new readers, may you be inspired by it in some small way at least, to be a Dharma worker or volunteer :-] Thank you for reading. Amituofo
Chat with Shen Shi’an [as featured in CASonline and May 2008's issue of For You (Information) in Mandarin]
Q: What inspired you to be a full-time Dharma worker?
A: The Dharma itself is the inspiration for Dharma work! The Dharma is so wonderful that it ought to be shared. And since there is so much of the Dharma to share with so many, I chose Dharma work to be my vocation in life. I believe that true rejoice in the Dharma should overflow to sharing of the joy of the Dharma with others, using as many skilful means as possible. As the relevance of the Dharma is always timely, it is always urgent too. The Dharma is so interesting that in contrast, I still find it “boring” to work in fields not directly connected to it. Of course, the Dharma can also be learnt and shared elsewhere in many creative ways.
Q: What are some inspirational experiences as a Dharma practitioner?
A: There are so many inspirational experiences that it is difficult to share them all. There are three main kinds of Dharma inspirations which resonate with me. The first is from glimpsing the reality of aspects of the Dharma – be it “accidentally” or via systematic practice (e.g. meditation, chanting, living the Dharma in everyday life). The second is from witnessing or learning how the Dharma has inspired fellow Buddhists and great teachers to put the Dharma into action to benefit many. The third is from receiving compliments from Dharma friends and strangers, who share with me on how I’d further connected them to the Dharma. Knowing what I’m doing is inspiring others inspires me to keep me going.
Q: What are the central principles in your life?
A: I practise living by this quote from Stonepeace – “If there is but one great precept, it is to harm none – in any way. If there is but one great vow, it is to help all – in every way.” This happens to be the essence of the Bodhisattva spirit too. Of course, being unenlightened, I have yet to perfect this – but the spirit of the Bodhisattva precepts/vows as the perfect standard to meet keeps me going, to never turn away in bad faith from suffering – be it mine or others, to always stretch the practice of compassion and wisdom. I’m still a novice in this.
Part of the way I ensure I practise the above is via my vegan and green way of life – to never choose to support the exploitation of the sentient beings and the environment – by not choosing to consume or use any animal products (e.g. meat, milk, cheese, eggs, honey, leather, gelatine…) and other products deemed harmful to the planet. I also try to share the vegetarian/vegan/green cause as much as I can, along with other worthy causes. As the Buddha taught, life is interdependent. The more deeply you look at these causes, the more you will realise how they are intricately interconnected. The weakest link in the otherwise harmonious web of life is often ourselves.
In the midst of practising the avoiding of doing evil and the doing of good, it is important to practise purification of the mind, to have a main focus of practice, to clearly know what one wishes to spiritually accomplish before or by the end of this life. Though I continually learn from aspects of the three Buddhist traditions, my goal is to secure birth in Pure Land – to learn directly from a Buddha, and to return to Samsara thereafter, but while doing what I can to make this world a Pure Land here and now – such as by advocating the above causes, and by sharing the Dharma by writing and teaching.
Q: How did you encountered the master who touched you most spiritually?
A: Though I did not encounter the historical Buddha in person (unless I did in a forgotten past life), the Buddha is the master who transformed my life the most. My first encounter with the Buddha was catching sight of his smiling image as a kid – in the form of a small statue sitting on the top of my fridge at home. Every morning, I would eat breakfast while looking at him. His smile was perfect – it had both compassion and wisdom – though I couldn’t identify these qualities with it then. Despite changes in my mood, the coming and going of good and bad times, the smile was always there, always assuring, always kindly, always understanding, always appropriate.
I did not know who he was, but I wondered what he discovered, and I knew I wanted to be like him. Years later, when I came across books in a public library about Buddhism, I realised who the statue represented and delved into his wonderful teachings. This later led to encounters with many other inspiring teachers. As I am perfectionist in outlook, I take only the Buddha(s) as my perfect teacher(s). However, I see aspects of the Buddha’s perfect compassion and wisdom being exemplified in various ways through the teachings and actions of many masters and laypeople.
Q: What are some of the obstacles in your spiritual journey?
A: The worst obstacle was when I was 16 years old. Out of the blue, I lost confidence in almost everything and contemplated suicide. I still can’t explain what caused the depression – but as I believe in the reality of cause and effect, I believe I thoroughly deserved it. It was a very humbling experience, reminding me of the fact that huge karmic obstacles can suddenly manifest in our lives. This makes it urgent to dilute our negative karma by doing more good, and to realise greater wisdom on how to deal with various other obstacles in life.
As such, I would think the biggest obstacle for anyone’s spiritual journey is actually self-created – it is oneself’s lack of diligence in practising and mastering the Dharma – for if one is diligent enough, even the largest of obstacles would not be perceived as an obstacle, but merely as a challenge to improve one’s practice. While we might feel like giving up in the face of some seemingly insurmountable obstacles, sometimes we just need to be patient… and wait for the conditions to change. Of course, this is not before doing your best to create the right conditions. Unless your goal is unrealistic, it helps to remember that no obstacle is permanent.
Q: What can you share about being the editor of a major Buddhist e-newsletter?
A: I started TDE-Weekly (www.TheDailyEnlightenment.com) in 1997 as a hobby. As the name suggests, it was a daily affair. The idea was to share at least one Dharma article a day. All readers’ contributions were welcomed – but they had to be original – about an affirming experience of practising the Dharma in everyday life. Back then, the term “mailing list” or “e-newsletter” wasn’t popular yet. I simply cc-ed the articles to more and more friends. At one point, I decided that mass-mailing was an effective way of spreading news of Buddhist events, and added a section to the newsletter for it. Subsequently, more sections were added. Afraid that readers might feel overwhelmed, it became a weekly e-newsletter, though still with the aim of encouraging readers to seek “enlightenment” on a daily basis, and not just during retreats.
An e-newsletter is like the many hands of Guanyin Bodhisattva, able to extend in many directions simultaneously and instantaneously with the Dharma. (Okay, it does depends on the server speed!) Disseminating the Dharma online has a tremendous multiplying effect. I still find this amazing. The satisfaction from hearing thanks from readers is very motivating. Another heartening aspect of running the e-newsletter is knowing that I’m helping to link readers to Dharma work, which I found near impossible to find years ago.
I make it a point to present the Dharma the way I see it – challenging yet practical, vibrant yet solemn, intriguing yet insightful, and always utterly refreshing. I hope these elements have been consistent in my writing for TDE-Weekly. Being easily bored, I’m committed to writing that which I myself would find interesting not just to read once, but to re-read. I also do my best to write in a universal context, in living language, with minimal reference to differences of race, culture, gender, age, occupation and location. Writing as shapeshifting ghost, I hope readers can read reflections of they and their friends within the articles.
Q: What advice do you have for our readers?
A: My advice is to find that one “single thing” you wish to do with your life, that you would die content from accomplishing, and to just do it. This is your life’s mission, which deserves your whole life’s work. Of course, this should be in line with the Dharma, and lead to the perfecting of compassion and wisdom, in one way or another, to benefit more than just yourself. And when you have doubts in the Dharma, you should wholeheartedly seek to resolve it – because it is neither fair to yourself nor the Dharma that you forgo the precious Dharma simply because you have some uncertainties about it. It is also important to be humble, to open one’s heart and mind to taste the essence of the Dharma found within all Buddhist traditions, for you will never know what precious nectar of the Dharma you had missed if you never try. Written for an article a while ago, here is my above-mentioned “single thing” -
“If there was a single thing I would look back in total gladness on my deathbed, it would be having not given up my search for a Buddhist job in 1997, which helped to some extent, to ignite a chain reaction of creating more steady and sustained full-time Dharma propagation efforts. I sincerely believe that if our intentions are good, and if they are in line with the Dharma, we will be blessed by the wish-fulfilling power of the Triple Gem to realise them. Much gratitude too, to the present Abbot, for his support. Never be afraid to step into the unknown, as long as your intentions are pure and worthy. Working in a Buddhist organisation is my first job and I never looked back, because there was clearly nothing else more worth doing to me.
I feel blessed, blessed, blessed… that I’m able to enjoy what I do, to do what I enjoy, to be able to contribute in whatever little ways I can. There is so much more to be done to share the incomparable teachings of the Buddha to the masses, that there is not a moment to idle. Whatever Buddhist community we are in, we need more full-time Buddhist workers (and volunteers), and we need more Buddhist organisations to offer opportunities for all aspiring Buddhist workers (and volunteers). Afterall, Dharma propagation should be the heart of every Buddhist organisation’s purpose of existence! Let us strive on with diligence, to actualise and share the perfect Dharma. May we serve to be perfect and be perfect to serve.”
My personal mission now is to always enhance my Dharma understanding and practice, so as to better live and share the Dharma to benefit more. To conclude, here is my favourite quote by Stonepeace to share. In a way, it encompasses the essence of how we should all live -
Because everything changes from moment to moment,
we should treasure everything in this moment.
Because everything changes from moment to moment,
we should not be attached to anything in this moment.
About Shen Shi’an: Shi’an was one of the founding members of the Dharma Propagation Division of Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (www.kmspks.org) in 1997, with experience in Dharma event management, initiating youth activities and purchasing for its bookshop project (www.AwarenessPlace.com). Currently, he heads the monastery’s Web and Library Departments. He is the founder-editor of www.TheDailyEnlightenment.com, a Buddhist e-newsletter with 28,000 international members, the editor of “Be a Lamp Upon Yourself” and “The Daily Enlightenment (Book 1 & 2)” and an editor-writer for the monastery’s “Awaken” magazine. To date, he has written some 2,000 articles to share the Dharma.
He frequently conducts Buddhist discussions for youth, and teaches in Singapore Buddhist Federation’s (SBF) English Dharma Class. He also writes for SBF’s magazine “Nanyang Buddhist” and www.BuddhistChannel.tv (an international Buddhist news network). He has also represented Buddhist points of view during IRO, NACLI, NHB, SPF, SAF, NHG and ACM events. He also runs www.moonpointer.com, which is a personal Buddhist blog project that hopes to promote the community sharing of Buddhism via writing. He is also a movie critic, keen to share aspects of the Buddha’s teachings through the silver screen.
佛法工作者的心声 (译者：兰儿、圆会 )
佛法工作者的心声 — 访佛教网站 www.TheDailyEnlightenment.com 创办人兼主编沈时安 (Shen Shi’an)
记者：bb@CAS of Thousand Arm Chenrezig
我常用 Stonepeace 的“法语”做为生活的原则。比如：
1997年我因为兴趣的关系，成立了《每日一觉》网站 wwww.TheDailyEnlightenment.com 和《每日一觉》电子报。顾名思义，就是希望每日与他人分享至少一则佛法文章。网站也欢迎读者来稿，但内容必须是原创的，分享他们如何在生活中落实佛法。当时“电子报”尚未普遍，我只是以电脑抄送给很多朋友。有一天我发现“邮件群发”在传达佛教活动讯息方面很有效率，我就增加一版，然后再增加其他版。因为担心读者负荷不来，就改为每周推出，但宗旨还是以鼓励读者每日摄取开悟的养分，而不是等到闭关才修。
为了好好地落实佛法、分享佛法来利益更多人，我现在的使命是加深对佛法的了解和实践。我以 Stonepeace 的一段话作为总结，其中收录了如何生活的精髓。
● 《每日一觉》网站 www.TheDailyEnlightenment.com 创办人 兼主编，其电子报读者流量为2万8000人次
● 曾在IRO, NACLI, NHB, SPF and ACM等诸多场合发表佛教 观点
● 佛总《南洋佛教》杂志和《佛教频道》网站 www.BuddhistChannel.tv 撰稿人
● 负责佛教个人部落格《指月》网站 www.moonpointer.com ，以文字分享佛法