Venerable Ben Si on “How to Listen to the Teachings?”
This year’s Christmas on 25th December was not a rest day for Venerable Ben Si of BW Monastery, who gave an English discourse to some 140 members at the Monastery’s Citiraya Centre. His discourse was divided into two sections, namely Venerable’s own personal experience and life of the Sangha community in Canada and how to pursue the Teachings using translations of Master Jih-Chang’s commentary on the Lamrim text.
Venerable started the discourse with pre-lesson recitation. He then gave a brief introduction of himself, sharing with everyone his journey of learning the Lamrim in BW Monastery (BWM) since 2006, ordained here in 2014, and took his Bikku precepts in 2015. He then further went on to Taiwan and Canada for his Sangha training. He hoped that his discourse would inspire more members to learn the Lamrim better, through listening to Master Jih-Chang’s commentary.
Sharing of Sangha’s Life in Prince Edward Island, Canada
Prince Edward Island (PEI) is located on the eastern coast of Canada, with a size of 5,620 km2 and a population of about 150,000 residents. This is approximately the size of Pasir Ris in Singapore.
Venerable Ben Si left for PEI in May 2015 under the kind arrangement of Venerable Jing Yuan, and with two other newly-ordained Singaporean monks. They stayed at the new Buddhist college on the island where currently 1,000 Sangha resided and are divided into four major groups of Bikkus and Bikinis of Taiwan and China respectively. This is slightly less than the 1,895 residents of Montague, the biggest town on the east of Canada. The future Monastery here is Chuan Deng Monastery. This is a school of learning for monks all over the world for Buddhist studies especially “The Five Great Treatise”. It is Teacher’s plan to make this into a village of learning for both Sangha and laity complete with hotels, shopping etc. At the moment, building of the Sangha dormitory has started. The Monastery and Lecture Hall, with a capacity for 2,000 people are also under construction.
Teacher also places great emphasis on the building of relationships with the islanders. Activities such as Open-House at the Monastery, concerts, multi-cultural festivals and regular soup kitchen sessions where the Sangha serve the locals, are held. English is extremely important in Canada and it is the main language medium to help spread Dharma to the locals. A video showcasing a day in the life of the novice monks was then played for the audience.
Learning Lamrim Through Listening to Master’s Commentary
Venerable explained that there are currently three printed books of Master Jih-Chang’s commentary of the Lamrim. They are:
- Book 1: Atisha and the Greatness of the Teaching
- Book 2: Chapter 3 of Lamrim – How to Listen to and Explain the Teachings
- Book 5: Human Life of Leisure and Opportunity
The translations of Master’s commentary started as a big project in 2013 with students from Singapore, Hong Kong, US and Taiwan taking part in it. Translated works were vetted by a team from US for English readability. Venerable also shared with all the QR codes for downloading these works. He also explained the format of these translated commentaries and mentioned that the Singapore team further added the MP3 numbers eg. 9A, the exact timing of the Lamrim text quoted, volume and reference page of the Chinese commentary.
Venerable said that the entire Lamrim text consisted of four main sections as seen in the outline of the text. Lamrim is an explanation of the Prajnaparamita sutra which is not easy to understand. Master Atisha wrote a concise text of this using the stages of the path as a teaching to later student-disciples and Master Tsong Khapa further elaborated on it. Master Jih-Chang then further explained each phrase of the text and Teacher too elaborated on Master’s discourse. This was done so students could better understand the text at our level.
There were two questions raised by Venerable during the discourse. They were –
- Why did Master Tsong Khapa placed ‘Chapter 3’ of the Lamrim as such an important chapter on the outline? ‘Chapter 3’ referred to ‘How to Listen to and Explain the Teachings’;
- Why do we need to contemplate?
To answer the above, Venerable showed everyone the importance of Master’s explanation to Master Tsong Khapa’s Lamrim text, by playing a section of Master’s commentary, on how to listen and a summary of ‘Chapter 3’. Then he showed the equivalent English translations as well.
Master explained that listening to a Dharma text such as Lamrim was not just an intellectual understanding. He hoped that Dharma followers can integrate these texts to become our body, speech and mind. In order to do that, listeners have to prepare before listening. Master further elaborated on these points by giving examples to illustrate the importance of listening well. Therefore, listening is very important. If prepared well, it can help transform the mind.
Venerable Ben Si explained that Master’s explanation was not separated from the Lamrim text. In conclusion, he hoped that the discourse would motivate all to listen to Master’s discourses and to get a copy of the books on English translations of Master’s commentary.
Reported by Lee Huiling