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.

Related Articles:
http://moonpointer.com/index.php?itemid=2332

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

毕业后就选择在佛教团体工作的沈时安,十年来全心全意投入全职弘法的工作。是什么力量推动着他,并且陪伴着他走过这一路来的风风雨雨?

是什么激励你成为全职的佛教工作者?

佛法本身就是我为法服务的泉源。因为佛法是多么的殊胜,值得同许多人分享,所以我选择以为法服务,作为我终身的职业。因为佛法与生活的关联是即时,且急迫的,所以我认为从佛法获得的欣喜,必需通过越多善巧的方式同他人分享越好。也因为佛法是如此有趣,所以我觉得在与佛法无直接关连的领域里工作是相当枯燥的。

身为一个修行者,您曾历经哪些鼓舞人心的经验?

鼓舞人心的经验很多,无法一一道尽。有三种经验曾让我产生共鸣:

一、当我对佛法的实相有惊鸿一瞥的感觉时,这也许是在偶然或系统性的修持如禅修、诵经、在生活中实践佛法时体会到。
二、亲见佛法如何激励同修或大师把信念转为行动,让更多人受惠。
三、得到佛友和陌生人的正面回馈——了解自己如何成为他们与佛法之间的桥梁,知道自己的工作能够激励别人,是推动我继续向前的泉源。

请问什么是您的人生座右铭?

我常用 Stonepeace 的“法语”做为生活的原则。比如:

“若只持一大戒,勿以任何方式伤害任何众生。
若只发一大愿,请以一切方式帮助一切众生。”

这也是菩萨精神的本质。当然,我在这方面还是新手,做得还不够完美,因为我还未开悟。但我会以菩萨的持戒和发愿作为完美的标准,鞭策自己前进,绝不会因自己或他人的苦难而舍弃,并且努力不懈的修持慈悲与智慧。

我以持素和环保作为实现生活原则的方法之一。我选择不食用或购买任何动物产品(如肉类、乳制品、蜂蜜、皮革、吉肋丁…)和其他对地球有害的产品,以表示不会支持那些剝削众生和破坏生态环境的活动。除此以外,我也尽力分享持素、环保等其他值得支持的生活方式。佛陀教导我们,生命是相互依存的,越是了解因果缘起,就越明了他们之间密切的关联性。在和谐的生命网中,最微脆的环节往往是我们人类。

在止恶行善的修持中,我们需要学习净化自己的心,清楚修持的重点,以及在这一期生命结束之前或结束时,修持上所要达成的目标。虽然我持续向佛教三大传承学习,但是我的目标是往生净土——直接向佛陀学习,然后回到娑婆世界。但在那之前,我将全力支持以上正面的理想和通过写作、教学来分享佛法,让这个世界迈向人间净土。

您是如何遇见最让您感动的善知识?

虽然我不曾亲自遇见过历史中的佛陀,佛陀却是改变我生命最重要的善知识。我第一次和他相遇是在小时候,当时我看到家中摆在冰箱上的一尊佛像的笑容。每天早上我吃早餐都会看着他。他有圆满的笑容,散发着慈悲和智慧,虽然当时我并不知道这就是佛陀的特质。尽管我的情绪会改变,遇到顺境和逆境,佛陀总是面带微笑,让人感到心安、亲切和蔼,他是善解人意和贴切的。

我不晓得他是谁,但对他感到好奇,也渴望跟他一样。数年后,当我在图书馆接触到佛教书籍时,我才知道那尊像代表的是谁,然后开始研究他的教导。这也促成我和其他善知识相遇。虽然我只依止佛陀为尊师,但我却在许多大师和居士的教导和他们个人修持中,看到佛陀圆满的慈悲和智慧的传扬。

谈谈您修持过程中的逆境

我在十六岁那年面临人生最大的逆境。我突然对几乎一切失去了信心,甚至想自杀。我至今仍然无法理解那时为何会感到忧郁,但是,我相信因果,因此认为那完全是我应承受的果报。那次的经验提醒我,重大的业障随时有可能忽然现前,所以我们迫切地需要累积更多的善行,让恶业的力量减退,并开启更大的智慧来面对人生的种种逆境。

因此,我认为修持上的任何成长,最大的障碍其实是来自自己——自己对佛法的掌握和实践不够精进。因为如果自己够精进,再大逆境,也不过是挑战而已,决不足以形成障碍。面对一些看似无法超越的逆境,我们可能想要放弃,其实有时我们只需要耐心地等待情况改变就够了。当然,在这之前,我们必须全心全力创造好的因缘。除非我们的理想是不切实际的,否则,没有任何逆境是永恒的,记住这点会有帮助。

身为佛教主要电子刊物的编辑,您有何感想?

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。

对我来说,电子报就如同观世音菩萨的多支手臂,能向四面八方同时且即时地发送佛法的讯息。上网发布佛法讯息效果非常大,令我觉得不可思议。发行电子报给我最大的满足感,除了来自读者的感恩回馈,还有获知自己正在帮忙建立读者与弘法工作之间的桥梁,弘法工作在以前几乎是没有的。

我会刻意用自己了解佛法的方式来表达它——佛法即具挑战又不失实际,活泼又不失庄严,引人好奇又不失洞察力,且总是令人心旷神怡。我希望《每日一觉》电子报的内容能符合这些元素。由于自己不喜欢苦闷,我习惯写些自己可重读多次,且还是趣味盎然的文章。我也尽力用现代语言写一些具全球性、不分种族、文化、性别、职业和国家的文章。我希望读者能在文章内找到他们和他们朋友的影子。

您对我们的读者有何建议?

你可以找出自己这一生中最想做的一件事,一件死而无憾的事,然后全心全力去做。这就是你的使命,值得你用一辈子的时间去完成。当然,这事必须是如法的,能圆满你的慈悲和智慧,自利利他。如果你对佛法有疑虑时,你必须全心全意寻求解决之道——因为如果你因疑虑而放弃佛法,那对你和佛法都不公平。你也必须学习谦卑,打开心怀和思维去感受所有佛教传承的佛法精髓。如果你不尝试,你就永远不晓得你错失了怎样的甘露法雨。

以下是我曾经发表过关于我最“死而无憾”的某一件事的文章。

“如果要在死前的回顾一件值得我欣慰的事,那就是在1997年我不曾放弃寻找一份佛教工作的梦想。因为自己的坚持,所以有机会帮忙推展一连串较稳定和有持续性的全职弘法工作。同时也万分感恩光明山广声法师的慈悲。我深信如果动机是善的和如法的,三宝将帮助我们实现梦想。只要服务的动机纯正且有益他人,请不要害怕踏出第一步。在佛教团体工作是我第一份工作,我决不后悔,因为对我来说,没有比这个更值得做的事。

对于能够享受我所做的事;去做我所喜欢的事,并以任何微不足道的方式作出奉献,我感到幸福…。关于佛陀的教导,要和广大众生分享的实在太多了,一刻也不能松懈。无论我们来自哪个佛教社区,我们都需要更多全职的佛教工作者(和志工),同时也需要更多佛教团体为所有胸怀大志的佛教工作者(和志工)提供服务的机会。毕竟,弘扬佛法应该是所有佛教团体成立的目的。让我们以精进不懈,来落实和分享完美的佛法。希望我们为佛教提供完善的服务,也以完美人格来服务大众。”

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。

“因为一切事物时时在变化,应当珍惜此时的一切事物。
因为一切事物时时在变化,不应执著此时的任何事物。”

关于沈时安

● 光明山普觉禅寺弘法部于1997年成立的组员之一
● 曾负责策划活动、发起青年团活动、为光明坊书店进行采购
● 目前是该寺网络组主管
● 《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
● 《点亮心灯》、《每日一觉》选集第一、二册的编辑
● 光明山普觉禅寺《普觉》季刊编辑兼撰稿人
● 曾发表分享佛法的文章约2千篇
● 经常为青年主持佛法讨论会
● 在新加坡佛教总会(佛总)教授英语佛学班
● 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
● 透过电影分享佛法的影评人