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Monday, September 30, 2002
Movie Dharma Review : eXistenZ


The time is now 4.20am- I just finished watching the show on my notebook. I scribbled down some interesting conversation from the movie. Thought of writing this before bed. (Don't feel like sleeping because I disappointed a friend badly. Guilt trip to the movies at home. Am sending this review to her- though she told me more than once she hates the word "existential"- which appears here a few times!)

"Set in the near-future, eXistenZ depicts a society in which game designers are worshipped as superstars and players can organically enter inside the games. At the centre of the story is Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose latest games system eXistenZ taps so deeply into its users' fears and desires that it blurs the boundaries between reality and escapism." -From the back VCD sleeve. (eXistenZ won the Berlin Silver Bear Prize in 1999)

"eXistenZ" is a movie that screened shortly after "The Matrix". There are some parellel themes on the questioning of what is illusion and what is (virtual) reality. Here are some quotes which relate to this samsaric eXistenZ of ours. The dialogue that I find interesting happens to be very existential in nature.

Allegra: You have to play the game to find out why you're playing the game.
Zeph comments: Now that's a lot like life; that's life-like! Life is essentially meaningless- till a/the meaning is found.

Dasinator (Is that how it's spelt?): Who sent you?
Ted Pikul (Jude Law): It doesn't matter who sent us. We're here- that's all that matters.
Zeph comments: Thus the Buddha tells us not to hanker on the past (lives).

Allegra: Don't panic- it's just a game.
Zeph comments: Don't panic- life is just a game; an illusion too, of sorts.

Pikul (on speaking unlike his usual self in the game): That wasn't me- that was my game character.
Zeph comments: That wasn't me- that was my pre-programmed alter ego- my past karmic habitual forces reacting by default! Lame excuse!

Pikul (about the game environment): Everything is so dirty, absurd, grotesque!
Zeph comments: Pure mind; pureland. Even a game world is samsara as long as we are samsaric.

Pikul (about the game storyline): I think there is an element of psychosis involved here!
Allegra: Yes- that's a great sign.
Zeph comments: Congrats to waking up to the first noble truth!

Allegra (on ejecting from the game): So how does it feel? Your real life that you came back to?
Pikul: It feels completely unreal... I'm not sure. I'm not sure here at all. This feels like a game to me.
Zeph comments: Like Zhuangzi's story of waking up after dreaming he was a butterfly, after which he said he doesn't know whether he is now a butterfly dreaming it's a man!

Pikul: I don't want to be here!
Allegra: Come on Pikul! You've just got a bad case of first-time user anxiety.
Pikul: I don't like it here. I don't know what's going on. We're both stumbling around together in this unformed world with its rules and objectives largely unknown, seemingly inexplicable or possibly non-existent. We're always on the verge of being killed by forces we don't understand.
Allegra: Sounds like my game alright!
Pikul: If it's a game, it isn't going to be easy to market!
Allegra: But it is a game everybody's playing already.
Zeph comments: Existential blues for Pikul- feeling like a new-(re)born babe in the game which is still Samsara! Samsara is a game that doesn't need much hard marketing- we are all fools for it- playing it this very moment!

Security Guard (about to be shot by Pikul at end of movie): Tell me the truth- are we still in the game?
Zeph comments: Yes we are! To win this game, realize non-self and exit from life and death. This last liner from the movie set Pikul and Allegra frowning. I remember leaving the theatre after watching The Matrix wondering if I am in the Matrix too. I shrugged the question away. But of course I am in it! The Matrix, of... no prizes for getting it right... Samsara!

What Should Others Do?

Q: If we are here to save all living beings, what are all living beings here for?
A: To save each other! That is the best choice!
Q: What other choices do we have?
Q: Well... Other choices include-

1. To harm each other.
2. To harm each other sometimes and to save each other sometimes!
3. To do neither!

Wednesday, September 25, 2002
Have Fun Making Mistakes

My toddler nephew Ryan, who is slightly over a year old, can't call me ("Gu" in Teochew dialect, which means uncle) properly, try as he might for quite some time. When he tries, he make a sound like "Bliii !" I see him making his lips go crooked, straining hard in concentration. But after the wrong sound comes out, he grins and giggles, and I laugh, giving him a pat on the head.
Why can't we have fun making mistakes? I don't mean to purposely make mistakes of course. As long as we have tried our best in each moment, that is enough. Even when we fail, we can simply have a hearty laugh at our silliness and try again. No need to feel bad at all! We give up on ourselves when we have not learnt to readily forgive ourselves. This is the first major lesson I learnt from my Bodhisattva nephew!


An addition to the NNN formula (see entry below titled "NNN") for writing, as inspired by Sophie is SSS- stands for "Short, Sharp & Sweet". You might wonder- some of these articles aren't very short. Well, they are concise! That's the real meaning of "short, sharp and sweet"! It so happens that the message in the particular article is longer; it doesn't mean it is long-winded simply because it looks long! Don't judge by appearances; but by substance!

Movie Dharma Review : The Matrix

See on news of the upcoming 2003 sequels to "The Matrix", "Matrix Reloaded" and "Matrix Revolutions". Here's another one of the numerous Dharma parellels discovered by Hong and me. There is a scene where Neo got ejected from being hooked up in the gooey substance in the Matrix. He was washed out, drained from the system. This made us relate to him being a stream-winner entering the stream! The yucky stuff was external defilements that were rid off, allowing his Buddha-nature to come forth! This is just an additional observation to some seven pages of other parellel observations I noted when the movie was first screened! I'll put it up online somewhere in time. Haha.

Movie Dharma Review : Groundhog Day

See for a fantastic review on one of the best movies ever made in our time- Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray finds himself caught in a time-warp where he wakes up each morning to to morning before on Groundhog Day (See the link on what this day is about). At first, he feels frustration at being "trapped" in what he saw to be a senseless cycle. But he gradually realises that he is still free each day to change his mind on how to life this "same" day anew with different choices. Towards the end, he realises that he wasn't really trapped at all!

This is interesting. Groundhog day is a micro version of rebirth! It is likened to being caught in the cycle of birth and death. We are in a certain sense trapped, yet free- to free ourselves, to attain True Happiness, instead of fretting and resigning to "fate". Every day then, is a fresh Groundhog day- a fresh chance to stop repeating, and to make up for the mistakes we made yesterday.

Pureland Vs Defiled Land

How can we deserve to see or be reborn in a Pureland,
if we physically exploit and defile this very land we live in?
To guarantee rebirth in Pureland,
begin purifying this land,
with our mental and physical efforts.
This has been a Green Dharma Message.

Mindfulness Bell Ringing

Invitation of the Bell to Sound

Listen, listen,
this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.
Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearers awaken from unmindfulness
and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.
(in-breath) Listen, listen...
(out-breath) This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.

This is a way to bring peace and quiet into being within yourself
so that you may transmit this peace to everyone around you.

-Thich Nhat Hanh
My handphone gave off a chime I never heard before on the stroke of midnight- the very first minute of my birthday a few days ago. I was bewildered for a while, before realising I set it on a reminder ring mode almost a year ago- to herald the passing of another year in my life, and the arrival of another. It reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh's verse on the Mindfulness Bell, which is invited to sound every fiftteen minutes in Plum Village, to remind everyone to return to mindfulness of the moment. It's a nice coincidence that the gentle handphone alarm sounded like a bell too. If the Mindfulness Bell is to bring one to reflect on the micro-moment, the handphone bell brought me to reflect on all the moments I'd been through so far and to speculate on all the moments to come. But of course, all these happened in the same micro-moment of now. After I switched off the ringing, I chanted Amituofo ten times. From this moment onwards, may I be as aware of each moment as I can be.

Stock-Taking Life

Sophie: How's the spiritual stock-taking coming along, birthday boy? Wait till you hit __, then you will know what is major stock-taking!
Zephie: Stock-taking now is clearing physical and mental garbage from my life. Tomorrow I sort out what's leftover, and decide what stocks are missing.
I don't have to wait till I'm __ to do major stock-taking! Don't we all live in the end of our days? Taking the best care of every moment without losing sight of impending death is major stock-taking well done.

Home Sweet Home

Inspired by Lynn's SMS sent when she reaches home:

Om my love!
Ah my love!
Hum my love!

Om Sweet Hum!

Om Ah Hum!
"AH" is a dzogchen mantra.
"OM" and "HUM" are used to punctuate many mantras.
"OM AH HUM" is a chant to relax and open the mind, among other uses.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Be Semi-Retired Now!

When one is retired, does one really have nothing truly wothwhile to do? Or is there something that one should seriously do, especially if one hasn't began yet? I'm taking about spiritual cultivation. Some retirees cannot seem to stand the idea of not working, and rush back to work though they can "enjoy" their golden sunset years. I think this is sad. It seems like a case of not being able or willing to face oneself spiritually nakedly. It seems like a refusal or failing to realise that there is a higher purpose in life other than to keep busy and feel purposeful in a mundane way.

How will you spend your last years? Aha! Trick question. We do not know when our last years are due to the unpredictability of life. So what should we do? Live in a semi-retired mode now! By retirement here, I take it to mean renunciation from greed, hatred and ignorance and being caught up in busy worldly matters, so as to be able to find time for in-depth spiritual cultivation. But how can we sever ourselves from worldly matters now when we have to work and survive? We can't- unless we are doing Dharma work or are studying in a Buddhist institute. That is why I used the term "semi-retired mode." Once again, not in the conventional sense. Semi-retired in the sense that we are ready to let everything go instantly when we have to! Death can strike any time! Being in this mode while not forsaking our full worldly responsibilities to work, family and all, a certain freedom is already achieved now!

Two Bodhi Leaves have Fallen

Sandy: Recently, a Bodhi leaf fell in front of me when I was doing prayers to an open-air Buddha. This is the second time in my life. Like the very first time it happened, I am unemployed and very ill. Would anyone be able to share a little about Bodhi leaves that had fallen in their lives?

Zeph: Hi Sandy, this is what I think. Falling Bodhi leaves are just like any other falling leaves- the natural law of impermanence at work. But what makes a falling Bodhi leaf more special is that it should serve to AWAKEN us to the truth of change (impermanence), since the Buddha awakened under the Bodhi tree, since "Bodhi" means "awakening".

But please don't understand this only negatively. Since you are ill, it does not imply you will fall like the leaf due to impermanence. It can also mean you will get well. Change can happens both ways- for better or for worse. You did get well after the first time a Bodhi leaf fell before you when you were ill- things changed for the better, did they not? This second time round, will things change for the better? There is perhaps no guarantee- but what is guaranteed is that there will be change to your situation. May you be strong and brave to actively make any decisions to change your situation for the better. And may you be strong and brave spiritually to accept any inevitable changes that may come.

What does impermanence teach us? Not to simply be unattached to life and what is precious in life, but to treasure the transiency of life in each and every moment, which will not return- to make the most of NOW.

Sometimes it is funny that we keep praying to the Buddha for good health, forgetting this simple truth that no matter how good our health will be, it will come to pass one day. How can the Buddha keep us alive forever, as long as we have our own unresolved life and death karma to deal with by ourselves? Let us pray instead, that the Buddha guides us to learn whatever we should in the moment, be we in good or not so good health. Perhaps the falling Bodhi leaf is already a teaching from Him? Why not?

So much said, maybe the falling leaf had no particular meaning. It might just be a falling leaf :-]

May you be well and happy :-]
May you have a speedy recovery.

Taking the Bodhisattva Vow

To take the Bodhisattva Vow
is to set the resolution
to minimise the harming of all sentient beings in any way
and to maximise the helping of all sentient beings in every way possible.
It might sound like an impossible task, but it is not.
In any moment, you can only do so much- to help all beings.
So just do as much as you can in each moment,
while trying your best to increase your ability to do more in future moments.

If you feel that you should take the Bodhisattva Vow,
there is no reason you should not at least TRY to.
Be a Bodhisattva on trial and see how it goes!
You can go on trying as long as you need,
before you truly take the Bodhisattva Vow!

And what do you know?
Even this trying your best during your trial-and-error
is already the beginning of your Bodhisattva career,
only without the Vow!
This is likened to not needing marriage vows to pronounce love and commitment!

The ritual of taking the Vow solemnises, formalises.
Go through it to verify your willingness to commit.
But commitment does not have to begin only from there.
It can begin now!
TRY to be a Bodhisattva!

What Kind of Taxi Driver are You?

We are taxi-drivers of life.
We have to work to stay alive.
We have to clock the time and mileage to make a living.

We can choose to fret the job
and be guilty of driving our passengers slowly in a roundabout way,
to clock the time and mileage to make the dough.
We bluff our way through day in and out,
making enemies of strangers (who lose their patience),
spreading ill-will.
It's a lose-lose situation for the driver and passengers.

Or we can choose to work happily
and drive our passengers briskly in the shortest way possible,
to clock the same time and mileage to make the same dough,
while ferrying more passengers than the unhappy driver (since we drive briskly).
We make an honest living,
making friends of strangers (who are happy with our service),
spreading good-will.
It's a win-win situation for the driver and passengers.

What kind of taxi-driver are you?
In life, you are not just the driver;
you are the passenger in the driver seat.
You create the cause and experience the effect.
You drive yourself.
You drive your life.
How are you driving?
Where is it getting you to?
Are you on the freeway to Enlightenment or the highway to hell?

Let Go & Get Free

Dharma practice is about learning to let go.
True freedom is to be truly free of everything mental and physical.
It is the relinquishment of mind and matter, form and formlessness.
It is the letting go of entire worlds, transcendence of the universe itself.
How do you let go of the physical?
By letting go of the mental- since mind rules over matter.
When you let go of your Greed, Hatred and Ignorance in your mind,
what can tempt, disgust or delude you in the world?
Once you are totally unbound, space and time cannot hold you.
To be able to truly save the universe, you have to be free of the universe itself.
To be able to free the imprisoned, you have to be free of the prison.

Monday, September 23, 2002
In the Nick of Time

Here's something related to the entry on "Reverse Psychology on Seeking Birth in Pureland". About two weeks ago, I was meditating when I found myself keep falling asleep. The first few time I kind of let it be... meaning that once I wake up, I carry on meditating without any self-blame or any other hassle. But as time got nearer to the end of the session, I got a little panicky. Running through my mind was the thought, "Darn it, I'd better meditate properly! Time's running out!" And surprisingly, every time I jolted out of the subsequent micro-sleep periods, I become incredibly refreshed and entered a calm and clear concentrated state of mind within seconds. (However, I got complacent and fell asleep again later!)

I can relate this to one's last moments. In the nick of time, if one knows that he is running out of time, he might snap into a state of clarity. But this has to do with habit too. It will be much easier and more automatic for a regular meditator. I write this to refute the idea that it is always very hard to have a good state of mind while dying. The reverse can be true; the nearer to death the easier it is! But the more inconsistent your regular practice is, the harder it will be!

One Thought at a Time

According to the Buddha, you can only have one thought at a time, even though each thought-moment is fleetingly fast- fast enough to trick you into thinking you are capable of having two thoughts simltaneously. This can be verified through watching the rising and falling of your thoughts in Vipassana (insight) meditation. The speed of thought is about 76 times faster than the speed of light! The Buddha never taught two, or three-pointedness meditation; He only taught one-pointedness meditation. We can only concentrate at one point at a time effectively- just as a magnifying glass can only focus sunlight to a single point. If we can have two thoughts at a time, the significance of the Pureland teaching of chanting single-mindedly with an unscattered mind becomes meaningless. It would mean we can entertain thoughts of attachment while chanting Amituofo and yet still be reborn in Pureland! What practice do we need then? Chanting, like meditation, should be a practice to concentrate the mind, so as to sharpen it to be penetrative enough to see the reality of the Three Universal Characteristics.

It is not efficient in terms of time and effort to "multi-task", to chant and work or listen at the same time. For example, while you think that you are simultaneously chanting-listening to someone speak in each moment, what's happening is that you are chanting in one moment and listening in the next. You are dividing your concentration by half for each task! This does not do "justice" to the chanting or listening- as each task is only performed half-heartedly. Just when you think you are being hardworking, you are actually lowering your efficiency by more than half for each task- as there will be losses of concentration due to straying off of the mind!

Then is multi-tasking really possible? Yes- but not in the sense of having two thoughts at the same time. Think of a hand holding a ball as a task. This is one task. Think of another hand holding another one too. This is task two. Some tasks such as these can be done together without the need to concentrate with much effort. Not fantastic enough as an example of multi-tasking? Someone throws in the third ball... and you begin juggling. This is still one thought at a time at work. Juggling is a series of hand-eye coordination steps, and the mind functions one thought at a time to ensure the balls are kept in the air such that one ball can only be held at a time in any one hand.

At this point, you might ask- if such a complicated action as juggling can be done, why can't we practise chanting and something else at the same time? The answer has already been given- spiritual practice should be done nothing less than wholeheartedly. This is the true meaning of Right Effort, and in terms of meditation and chanting, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration too. Unless we are doing something mechanical, such as walking in an "auto-pilot mode", chanting should not be coupled with tasks such as listening- since listening should be an active process of receiving, processing and returning information! ((It is okay to listen to one's own chanting during chanting, but not so to something else.)

Prepare Now for Later

Although last minute things should be avoided,
they should be prepared for.
Afterall, the most important event in our life is a last minute thing which cannot be avoided-
how well we die-
which is closely connected to
how well we live here and now!

Unchanging Change

Zeph: Since everything is changing such that we cannot take steady refuge in anything,
we can only take refuge in the acceptance of change-
this is taking refuge in the truth of Anicca (constant change of mind and matter).
This truth is the quintessence of the Three Universal Characteristics, of the Dharma.
Uen: Isn't it comforting to know that everything changes?
When the time comes for you to go,
there is nothing permanent for you to cling to.
Just walk away in ease with no worries :>


My new formula for writing- NNN- stands for (e)Nlightening aNd (e)Ntertaining. Haha.

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