Hi, just to share… as I was just reading the sutra that you [Shen Shi’an] have translated into English from Chinese, I felt a strong sense of gratitude towards your great kindness in teaching us the truth of the Pure Land teachings. It is your continuous and untiring patience in stressing to us the importance of Pure Land, and on how it is important for us at this time and age to take the safest route that is so beautiful and inspiring and so joyful. I am deeply touched as in the past, I have faced countless obstacles in my personal life and practice. I am finally tasting the fruits of my practice after so many years of difficulties. My heart is beginning to open up and I see the path of Dharma gently beginning to unfold. I feel more at ease with myself and have deeper inner peace and happiness.
I started practising Buddhism with a Vajrayana centre in 1990 after attending the Dharma sessions in a university every week. It was a very very tough path for me. I struggled as I had so many mental afflictions and obstacles in my mind. I needed healing and help very badly. The focus in Vajrayana is Bodhicitta – helping others and aspiring to become a Bodhisattva oneself. Although I agree that this is also true for all Mahayana teachings (including Pure Land teachings), how was I to even think of helping others when I was so desperate for help myself? I was solely relying on self-power for those long hard years. In addition, Vajrayana (as I encountered then) was difficult for me to understand and practise. However, I stayed faithfully with the practice until 2001. [There are Pure Land teachings in Vajrayana Buddhism too, though they were not encountered then.]
I had my first schizophrenic attack in 1995 a year after I got my degree, and had slight peace since – till 1999. At the end of that year, I went for a month long retreat in Nepal. As mentioned, all the prior years of ‘practice’ gave me little peace of mind and happiness. I struggled throughout the retreat with painful mental states. From 2000 till 2006, I had multiple relapses each year, and was hospitalised numerous times. [For how mindfulness of Buddha can benefit those with schizophrenia, see http://purelanders.com/2012/06/25/how-to-handle-jealousy-worry-other-defilements-with-mindfulness-of-buddha]
In 2003, I had enough of suffering and followed a Buddhist psychotherapist to Australia to take a course in holistic counselling, and to take time and space aside to heal myself. During one of the sessions, we did claywork therapy and it brought me to recall a childhood experience which caused my illness to happen. I had seen my father abusing my mother when I was 10 years old, and it felt as though he was attacking me. Even before I was born, my parents fought frequently. My earliest memory was as a baby in my mother’s arms, while they were having a fight. As a child, I was fearful all the time and had high levels of stress. In order to divert my attention from the tense and hostile environment, I threw myself into my studies and worked very hard to get good grades.
After my return from Australia in 2004, I continued to search for a method of practice that suits me. I had already stopped all my Vajrayana practice then. It was a very difficult decision to make as I was afraid I would be creating huge amounts of negative karma after taken a handful of initiations. I was also afraid of shortening my guru’s life. Thank goodness, I did stop. If not, I may have ended up in a mental hospital for good (not because of the teachings, but because I was not capable enough for them). I spent sometime at home with my parents upon my return. They still have arguments once in a while, though they have toned down a lot.
In 2005, a Dharma friend brought me to meet his teacher at a Zen centre. That’s how I started Zen practice. I was willing to give it a try as the master was very kind and offered a place for me to stay and practise. I spent one year at a branch overseas Zen centre but it was not conducive for me as the master was available only for three months there, with the rest of the year elsewhere. On top of the fact that there was no teacher to guide me, the centre had only a few fellow practitioners staying there. It was again a struggle to keep my mind concentrated on meditation due to the lack of support. I finally had a relapse while I was there, and was forbidden to continue staying as I disrupted everyone during the retreat, even scolding the master in my confusion.
I then returned to Singapore and started working part-time, sometimes staying with my parents in Ipoh and at other times in Singapore with a close friend. Gradually, I started full-time work towards the end of 2006. During one of my relapses, I heard the words that Amitabha Buddha was the ‘greatest Buddha’. I ‘heard’ unseen beings around me speaking, and intuitively received this message. During my relapses, I sense that there are Bodhisattvas trying to help and guide me. I thought at that time that it could mean that he has the greatest compassion and wisdom. I told a teacher this before, and he said it could be that I knew this from a past life though I did not understand its meaning. [Actually, all Buddhas are equally and infinitely compassionate and wise, though all Buddhas also encourage beings in their worlds to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land.]
This gave me the idea that perhaps I should try Pure Land practice. Thus, during the time when I was not working in 2006, I spent some time every day going to a Buddhist centre to chant Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha). I found the practice suitable for me as it was much simpler [yet still profound], and all along, I love to chant, regardless of the language the chanting is in. However, the temple was not conducive for me as I did not understand the Mandarin Dharma talks well. Thus, I did not learn the actual method of practice, and neither was there any support from fellow practitioners there as they were mainly old aunties and uncles who spoke dialect or Mandarin.
When I happened to go to a Buddhist bookshop at the beginning of 2007, I found out about the Amitabha Buddha Pure Land teachings that you were conducting in English (through a flyer). I was so happy that I immediately signed up for the class. The rest you know. Although I still had a relapse in June 2008 after 2 years without a relapse, I am positive that with practice, my mind can eventually heal. Now, I am waiting for the conditions to ripen for me to spend more time in retreat. I will be patient as I need an environment that is very conducive for my healing and practice. [The most conducive place is Pure Land!]
Thank you very much, Amituofo.
Panna (Real name protected for privacy)