The Urban Dharma Newsletter - March, 2010

In This Issue: Bro. Chan Khoon San and his work

1. Interview with a Community Icon Bro. Chan Khoon San / Nalanda .org
2. “Introductory Course in Buddhism” (Buddhism Course) by Bro. Chan Khoon San
3. Buddhist Pilgrimage / New Edition 2009 by Bro. Chan Khoon San
4. “Slide Show / Four Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage in India in PDF” by Bro. Chan Khoon San, Malaysia 2009



This newsletter is a special one… I received a small package from Malaysia a few days ago, in the package, two books and a CD filled with PDF files.

The books “Buddhism Course” an updated version of an “Introductory Course in Buddhism” and “Buddhist Pilgrimage / New Edition 2009” by Bro. Chan Khoon San.

The CD contained the PDF files of both books and a PDF slide show of “The Four Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage in India.”

In the letter that came with the books and CD Bro. Chan writes; “I came across your website (Urban Dharma) while looking for a place to deposit my books in an e-library so that they will be free-of-charge to the public.”

After doing a quick read of the books and watching the slide show, I must say it is an honor to add them to Urban Dharma. What a wonderful gift Bro. Chan has given the Buddhist world.

Please find the time to visit the web pages I’ve put together for his books, watch the slide show, read and download the PDF files and share them with friends and family.


Peace… Kusala

“The Gift of Dhamma Excels all Gifts.”

1. Interview with a Community Icon Bro. Chan Khoon San / Nalanda .org


Mr. Chan Khoon San is a regular Dhamma Speaker based in Klang, Selangor. He is well-known for taking pilgrims to visit the Buddhist holy places in India and Nepal annually. The following is a transcript of Community Journal’s interview with this Malaysian Buddhist icon through e-mail.

What led you to Buddhism? Was there a defining moment or event, which resulted in the active pursuit of the Dhamma? Could you share that experience with us?

I shall answer these three questions together as they are related. The most tragic event in my life was the death of my mother in 1949 when I was barely eight years old. It left a deep and lasting impression in my mind and changed my outlook of life. At that time I could hardly understand or accept why such a thing happened to me. Left on my own, I grew up to be fiercely independent and distrustful of the world. My father was a Confucian and he never prayed to anything except his ancestors. Being educated in a Christian school, I learnt a great deal about Christianity and was inclined towards Christian values. I even scored a distinction in Bible Knowledge in the Cambridge exams in 1958!

My early impression of Buddhism was based on what I saw at the temples. In Penang, the most famous Buddhist temples were the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Pitt Street and the Kek Lok Si Temple in Ayer Itam. People would flock there during Chinese New Year and religious festivals to pray for good luck and prosperity. At other times, devotees would go there to pray for success in their businesses or children’s exams, or the recovery of a sick relative or simply out of devotion. They would light candles, joss sticks, oil lamps, and burn paper offerings, creating a lot of smoke and causing one’s eyes to smart and water. Sometimes I would see a monk or nun chanting in Chinese. They appeared very aloof and people kept their distance from them. There were so many idols around, each with a different name and role. It gave me the impression that Buddhism was a religion of idolaters!

I got a scholarship to undergo teacher training in England in 1961. I returned home in 1964 and started teaching in a Malay school in Province Wellesley. In 1967, I entered the University of Malaya, studied hard and graduated with an Honours degree in Chemistry. From 1971 till retirement in 1996, I worked as a Senior Research Chemist in the oil palm industry. It was a very satisfying job, full of challenges and rewards, and I have no regrets. In this comfort zone I live heedlessly until 1986.

One night in 1986, I was seriously injured in an attack during a drinking party. To my family and friends, it was just plain bad luck, doing the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I struggled to recover from the injury, I started to ask myself where all the bad luck really came from. Instantly, I realized that it came from myself due to my violent temper. The only way to change my luck was to change myself! This is easier said than done. But I had no choice. Change for the better or face more bad luck! It was a moment of reckoning and prompted me to search for a religion that is rational, teaches right living and self-control.

My first contact with Buddhism was through free publications, mostly on Theravada Buddhism, which I found to be rational and systematic. Later I joined the nearby Klang & Coast Buddhist Association (KCBA). Its members are mostly Chinese-educated and follow Mahayana tradition, but a small number of English-educated members follow the Theravada tradition. There I met Bro. Chan Chin Wah who proved to be a good friend indeed and encouraged me to take up Vipassana meditation seriously in addition to studying the Buddha’s Teachings. So I started to attend meditation retreats twice a year, about 10-days duration each. Later, I increased the duration to a month.

In 1995, I was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries in the heart and had to undergo open-heart surgery. The thought of a major heart operation and possibility of death was very frightening. During the two weeks prior to the operation, my mind was full of worries and remorse, but I managed to keep calm through Vipassana meditation and the memories of my first Buddhist Pilgrimage in 1991, which helped to strengthen my faith. It really worked! I did not suffer any hallucination from the anaesthetics. When I awoke more than 36 hours after the operation, the first thing I became aware of, was the mind saying: “I’m alive!”

It was a new lease of life and gave me a deep sense of religious urgency (samvega). I told myself that I would be satisfied if I could live another ten years practising Vipassana meditation intensively. Fortunately, I met the Most Venerable Chanmyay Sayadaw during a retreat at KCBA after my operation and he suggested that I should practise at least 3 months at the Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Centre in Yangon. I followed his advice and went to Myanmar after my retirement in 1996. I found that the technique taught there requires a lot of patience, which I really lacked. I learnt that there is no short cut in Vipassana meditation and one needs to put in a lot of time and effort to progress.

Your book “Buddhism Course” is well received by students of the Dhamma. What inspired you to undertake the task of writing this comprehensive work?

I met Bro. Leong Yok Kee (now known as Jinavamsa) in 1998. He had read some of the articles that I had published and suggested that I should compile them into a book, which he undertook to publish. From 1999 to 2001, over 5000 copies of the book were printed under the title “Introductory Course in Buddhism”. A friend in Penang told me that he found the subjects so clearly explained that he recommended the book to a young Christian student who wanted to know what Buddhism is all about so that she can write an essay in her degree course.

In 2002, I was invited to conduct the weekly sutta class at SJBA. It gave me an opportunity to study the Buddha’s Teaching directly from the suttas and spend more time checking the various references and commentaries. That was when I decided to upgrade the Introductory Course to a higher level by providing more details and new articles about the Buddha’s Teaching as well as the history of its preservation, propagation and perpetuation. The compilation of ‘Buddhism Course’ was a labour of love, and a source of joy and inspiration.

Currently do you have any plans for a follow-up title?

At the moment I am busy editing and enlarging the book ‘Buddhist Pilgrimage’ to inspire more Buddhists to perform a pilgrimage at least once in their life. I hope to publish the new revised edition in 2009. It will have more articles describing the shrines along the Buddhist circuit and the great personalities responsible for the Buddhist Revival in India today.

Any particular reason for the choice of topic or area for the forthcoming publication?

The book ‘Buddhist Pilgrimage’ is in great demand by pilgrims. Every few years, I do a reprint and update with descriptions of new shrines along the route as well as fresh articles and information connected with the holy sites. I also add group photos of the latest pilgrims so that it becomes a memento for them to keep and refresh their memory. You can read more about these and other interesting articles in my new book next year.

What is the impact of the Dhamma on your life?

Since 1996, I have practised diligently every year for 2 to 3 months at the Chanmyay Yeiktha Centre in Hmawbi, about an hour’s drive from Yangon. I like to practise in Hmawbi because it has a lot of shady trees, clean drinking water and food, and very helpful teachers. It is like my second home. I have made a lot of Dhamma friends and found true happiness through the practice of the Buddha’s Teaching. You can say that I have made peace with myself so I can live in peace with the world. This is the impact of the Dhamma on my life.

Recently, one of my meditation teachers, Sayadaw U Indaka, suggested that I should practise Metta to develop a more-friendly attitude to others. So I took up Metta meditation and found that it helps me to live at ease and create a caring attitude, which is very useful, especially in my relationship with my sutta class members. From my experience, Dhamma teachers need to practise both Vipassana and Metta meditation to develop understanding and friendliness.

We understand that you are actively pursuing the study and practice of meditation in Myanmar. What motivates you for such commitment and devotion?

To me, the main attraction of Buddhism is that one can actually verify the Buddha’s Teaching of the Four Noble Truths in this very life through the practice of Vipassana meditation. Here is a noble teaching that I can really practise to redeem myself after all the years of performing unwholesome actions. Vipassana meditation really works if you enter a retreat without expecting results. This is easier said than done! How not to expect results, especially when we have sacrificed our precious annual leave to come to the retreat? Also, it is difficult to sustain the practice without results, as our interest will wane.

Here is a skilful means that I apply when I go to Hmawbi for my retreat every year. After honouring the Buddha by visiting and reverencing the holy shrines in India, it is now time to honour the Buddha by practising the Dhamma. I go into retreat with this objective in mind and it is enough to sustain my practice. Results become secondary. You should try this every time you sit and practise meditation. Dedicate your practice in honour of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, your parents and teachers too. It will arouse your faith and devotion, which will bring mental purity and sustain your practice. So you can see that honouring the Buddha by practising the Dhamma is the cause and the result will follow!

We also understand that you lead pilgrimages to India. What do you derive most from these pilgrimages?

Organizing the Buddhist Pilgrimage is one of the highlights of my life. It gives me a lot of joy to bring fellow Buddhists to the Eight Great Places of Pilgrimage to honour the Blessed One. Even though I have gone round the Buddhist circuit more than ten times, I still feel the religious excitement every time I embark on this journey of faith and devotion. Firstly, I look forward to the fellowship with the new pilgrims. Most of them join the group through the recommendations of their friends who had gone with me previously. Secondly, I get to see many familiar faces in India, namely, the local tour agent, guides and the venerable monks in the various monasteries. Thirdly, the travel agent gives a free place to the organizer, which I offer to one of the monks from Chanmyay Meditation Centre. They were my brothers who helped me when I was a bhikkhu in 1996 and 1998, and I can now show my gratitude to them.

There is no place on earth that can boast such powerful objects of faith than those one gets to see and worship at the Eight Great Places of Pilgrimage. In fact, the sights of these holy shrines impact so deeply in the mind that the pilgrim will always remember them with joy and reverence for years to come. A pilgrimage is especially beneficial to the older folks. Why? As we grow older, we become weak and suffer all kinds of illnesses more often. This is a condition for sorrow and despair to arise leading to depression. In fact, I encourage members to persuade their aged parents or relatives to join in the pilgrimage. Their slower movement is not a burden because they need not follow the able-bodied pilgrims to see every shrine; just the main shrines will do, where they can take the Three Refuges and Five Precepts, and perform dana with devotion and a clear, happy mind. From personal experience, the memories of all the wholesome things done during a pilgrimage are some of the best sources of inspiration and joy in life. In times of sickness, fear and worry, or depression, one can easily dispel these negative mental states by rejoicing in one’s wholesome actions during the pilgrimage.

What have you accomplished and what more do you wish to accomplish?

It’s more than twenty years since I followed the Buddha’s Teaching. Those who knew me then say that I have made a 180-degree turn. My wife says that I have improved ‘only a little bit’ compared to the old self. My daughters are more complimentary and say that they are proud of the things that I have done since becoming a committed Buddhist. Personally I think that I have done as much as I could. I still wish to help and advise others, whether they are old friends or new acquaintances who are keen to learn the Buddha’s Teachings and practise Vipassana or Metta meditation. Finally, I really wish that my two daughters will become committed Buddhists one day when the time is right.

Could you share with us your insight on ‘Selflessness in Service for Mankind’ from the Buddhist perspective?

To me, “Selflessness in Service” would mean putting the interest of others above our own interest. Buddha has taught that a living being consists of physical and mental aggregates that are impermanent, suffering and non-self. It is the idea of a self or ‘atta’ that is the cause of suffering. As we are not Arahants, we still have the idea of self. But when we put others’ interest above our own interest, that idea is absent. This is what is meant by ‘selflessness’.

The perfect example of such ‘selflessless’ is the Bodhisatta’s aspiration to Buddha-hood. He could have attained Arahantship had he wanted to but he postponed his enlightenment because he placed the interest of a suffering humanity above his own interest. He aspired to become a Samma-Sambuddha so that he could help mankind to end their suffering. In this, he was prompted by great compassion (maha karuna), an immense sympathy for all beings without discrimination, as sufferers in samsara. To achieve the goal, he had to bear personal suffering in samsara for a long duration of time. But compassion alone is not sufficient to fulfil his objective. He must possess the skill and wisdom in developing the Ten Perfections (parami), which are the basic means and support for attainment of Omniscience in order to deliver beings out of samsara.

It is not easy to be a Bodhisatta, but one can serve others to the best of one’s ability with the Bodhisatta attitude. For lesser mortals like you and I, the Buddha has prescribed certain guidelines to follow in order to succeed in any undertaking, whether secular or spiritual. It is called ‘Iddhipadas’ or the Four Bases of Success. First is ‘chanda’ or desire, in this case a genuine desire to serve mankind. Second is ‘citta’ the willpower or endurance. Third is ‘viriya’ the energy or effort. Fourth is ‘vimamsa’ the knowledge, skill or know-how. When these four factors are founded on compassion, supported by compassion, they become the engine to drive those acts of ‘Selflessness in Service of Mankind’.

From a Buddhist perspective, those who wish to practise ‘Selflessness in Service of Mankind’ should take the Bodhisatta as the role model by developing the skill and wisdom in ways and means to serve others selflessly. Mind is the forerunner of all states. It was the Bodhisatta’s pure intention that led to his aspiration to Buddha-hood and fulfilment. Although we cannot always act selflessly like the Bodhisatta, we should always try to cultivate this altruistic mind of ‘Selflessness in Service to Mankind’ and act accordingly whenever we can.

2. “Introductory Course in Buddhism” (Buddhism Course) by Bro. Chan Khoon San


Over the last few years, several readers have indicated to me that the articles in the Introductory Course in Buddhism were too brief and should be expanded to provide more details. This new book entitled “Buddhism Course” is a carefully researched and upgraded version. It contains 17 chapters dealing with most of the relevant topics on Buddhism, such as: Life of the Buddha, Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path, Dependent Origin, Law of Kamma, Death and Rebirth, Five Destinations, World Cycles when Buddhas Appear, Ten Bases of Meritorious Action, Buddhist Vipassana Meditation, Recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and the Three Baskets (Tipitaka) in Buddhism.

In this book, reference material from various has been utilized to provide readers with some new interesting articles on Buddhism. “Death and Rebirth” describes the modes of death and objects presented to the mind before death such as the five visions of a dying person followed by the modes of birth. “Five Destinations (Pancagati)” describes in detail the Thirty-one Planes of Existence or planes of rebirth recognized in Buddhist Cosmology. “World Cycles When Buddhas Appear” describes the conditions for the rare appearance of a Buddha as well as the perfections (parami) that an aspirant has to practise to achieve the status of Pacceka Buddha and Maha Arahant. “Recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha” describes in detail the Nine Supreme Virtue of the Buddha, the Six Virtues of the Dhamma and the Nine Virtues of the Sangha, respectively. Understanding of the virtues of the Triple Gem is a condition for success in the practice of the meditation of Mindfulness of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

“Three Baskets (Tipitaka) in Buddhism” is the longest article containing 50 pages chronicling the history of how the Pali Canon was preserved over the last 2500 years of its existence through the Buddhist Councils, starting from the Council of Rajagaha three months after Parinibbana to the Sixth Council in Yangon 2500 years later in 1956. Although a bit lengthy, the author decided to publish it in this book to enable the reader to know, understand and appreciate the crucial role of the Sangha in the preservation, propagation and perpetuation of the Buddha Sasana.

Many articles have been expanded with detailed explanatory notes added, notably in Chapter I – Life of the Buddha, Chapter IV Dependent Origination and Chapter XII – “Transference of Merits to Departed Relatives”.

The compilation of this book was a labour of love and a source of joy. It is hoped that readers will find pleasure in reading the articles and benefit from them.

3. Buddhist Pilgrimage / New Edition 2009 by Bro. Chan Khoon San


This is the third edition of ‘‘Buddhist Pilgrimage’ since it was first published in 2002. It comes with a new cover design and contains many new topics and fresh information on several Buddhist sites. An error concerning the religious history of the Matha Kuar shrine in Kushinagar has been rectified. Since 2002, the author has re-visited the Buddhist circuit seven times and travelled to many new Buddhist heritage sites, notably the Ananda Stupa in Hajipur; Pava near Kusinara; Lauriya Nandangarh in northern Bihar; Kosambi in Allahabad; Ramagama and Devadaha in Nepal; Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh; the Ajanta Caves in Ajanta; and Diksha Bhumi in Nagpur, Maharashtra. A chance remark he heard about the Buddha’s alms bowl still existing in Afghanistan prompted the author to carry out a research of its whereabouts after the Buddha had donated it to the Licchavis before his Parinibbana. The result is a new article entitled ‘The Journey of the Buddha’s Alms Bowl’ in PART III, 5, page 153. Among the colour plates, I have included some rare Buddhist sites in Northern Pakistan. Although the light of Dhamma no longer shines in that country, yet it possesses some of the most beautiful Buddhist relics from its glorious past. Sadly, many of them were destroyed by the Talibans who overran the Swat Valley in 2007 e.g. Jehanabad Buddha carved on rock and Gandharan sculptures in Swat Museum.

The idea of a pilgrimage originated from the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago! Before he passed into Mahaparinibbana, the Buddha advised pious disciples to visit four holy places the sight of which will arouse faith and religious urgency after He was gone, namely: Lumbini, Buddhagaya, Sarnath and Kusinara. The pious disciple should visit these places and look upon them with feelings of reverence, reflecting on the particular event of the Buddha’s life connected with each place. Since the Mahaparinibbana of the Buddha, these four shrines of Buddhism have become the focal points for pious disciples to rally around and seek inspiration. By the time of King Asoka, four more places, namely: Savatthi, Sankasia, Rajagaha and Vesali, that were closely associated with the Buddha and scenes of His principal miracles, were added to the pilgrimage itinerary. Together, they make the Eight Great Places of Pilgrimage.

The aim of this book is to share my experience and knowledge with fellow Buddhists about the benefits of undertaking a pilgrimage to the Eight Great Places with the correct mental attitude. In Buddhism, understanding plays the key role in one’s spiritual progress. So, for the intending pilgrim, it is imperative to understand that a pilgrimage is essentially a spiritual journey in veneration of the Blessed One. This act of veneration purifies one’s thoughts, speech and action and through it, many noble qualities can be developed.

Part I of this book discusses these mental aspects. A book on Buddhist Pilgrimage would not be complete without reference to the famous pilgrims of old, namely: King Asoka and the Chinese pilgrims, whose faith and fortitude are an inspiration to all who follow their footsteps. The downfall of Buddhism and the devastation of Buddhist shrines at the end of the 12th century AD followed by six centuries of oblivion, which was the darkest period of Buddhism are retold in this book. Finally, the restoration of the Buddhist shrines and the revival of Buddhism in India are described to enable the reader to appreciate the efforts of the great men who have dedicated their lives to this noble cause. In particular, the invaluable contributions of four great pioneers, namely: Sir Alexander Cunningham, Anagarika Dharmapala, Venerable Sayadaw U Chandramani of Kushinagar and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar are described in their biographies.

Parts II & III of this book trace the history and religious significance of each of the Eight Great Places and the objects of interest that can be found there. Part IV describes other important shrines along the pilgrimage route that pilgrims should also visit if there is sufficient time. A notable example is Sanchi. Although the Buddha did not visit Sanchi, it is a very important Buddhist centre because relics of the Chief Disciples and the Arahants of the Third Buddhist Council responsible for propagating the Buddha Sasana beyond the borders of India were discovered there. In fact, Ven. Mahinda who founded the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka, stayed one month at Sanchi in a vihara built by his mother Devi, before embarking on his Dhamma mission to the island.

The Third Buddhist Council was held around 250 BC in Pataliputta (Patna). The Most Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa was instrumental in convening the Third Council and despatching Dhamma missions to various parts of the Indian sub-continent, Sri Lanka and Burma to propagate the Dhamma. Thanks to his wisdom and foresight, when Buddhism disappeared from India after the Muslim conquest during the twelfth century AD, the light of the Dhamma still shone brightly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other Theravada countries where the Sasana had been founded. Today we are witnessing a new phenomenon whereby monks from other Buddhist countries are returning to India to revive the Buddha Sasana in its country of origin! Pilgrims who stop at Patna should visit the Kumhrar Park, which is believed to be the site of Asokarama, venue of the Third Council.

Interestingly, an account in the Mahavamsa written during the fifth century AD says that the President of the Third Council Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa was a Brahma-god named Tissa in his previous existence. At the time of the Second Council, the Arahants, foreseeing danger to the religion in the future, approached him for help as his lifespan in the Brahma realm was coming to an end. He consented to be born in the world of men in order to prevent the downfall of the Buddha's religion. Subsequent events appear to confirm the prophecy of the Arahants of the Second Council. An account of the life of Ven. Moggaliputta Tissa and his role in spreading the Buddha Sasana to various parts of the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and Burma is given on Page 148.

Part V of this book provides information on travelling around the Buddhist circuit, road distances, maps showing the locations of the shrines and the pilgrimage groups organized by the author from 1991-2008. A pilgrimage to the Eight Great Places is one of the happiest and most fulfilling moments of one’s life and makes one realize how fortunate it is to be able to travel there and gaze upon these ancient sacred shrines. There is no place on earth that has more powerful and inspiring objects of faith than those one gets to see and worship at the Eight Places of Pilgrimage. In fact, the sights of these holy shrines create such a deep and lasting impact in the mind that the pilgrim will always remember them with joy and reverence for years to come. It is hoped that this book will be useful to intending pilgrims and encourage more Buddhists to undertake the pilgrimage so that they too, can benefit from the journey of piety and faith.

4. “Slide Show / Four Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage in India in PDF” by Bro. Chan Khoon San, Malaysia 2009



1. Introduction 1 - 3
2. Lumbini 4 - 15
3. Buddhagaya 16 - 36
4. Sarnath 34 - 48
5. Kusinara 49


The idea of a pilgrimage came from the Buddha himself over 2500 years ago! In answer to Ven. Ananda’s concern that the monks would no longer be able to see the Buddha and pay their respects after his Parinibbana, Buddha advised pious disciples to visit Four Places, the sight of which will inspire faith (saddha) and religious urgency (samvega) after He was gone. These places are called Samvejaniya-thana in Pali or places that arouse awareness and apprehension of impermanence. What are the Four Places?

LUMBII: “Here the Tathagata was born! This, Ananda, is a place that a pious disciple should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.”

BUDDHAGAYA: “Here the Tathagata attained the unexcelled Supreme Enlightenment! This, Ananda, is a place that a pious disciple should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.”

SARATH: “Here the Tathagata set rolling the Wheel of Dhamma! This, Ananda, is a place that a pious disciple should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.”

KUSIARA: “Here the Tathagata passed away into Parinibbana. This, Ananda, is a place that a pious disciple should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.”

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