5 important lessons I learnt from Jen Chen Buddhism

By Max Koh (许育诚)

Cows can fly; lions eat grass; the sun rises from the west; GST and ERP prices fall drastically in Singapore…

And Max writing an article on Buddhism. WHAT?!

Those are things that you would pretty much group into the same category.

In other words, it’s impossible for them to happen.

So why am I here writing an article on Buddhism?

To be honest, I don’t even know the answer why.

Here I am, 10.43am on a Sunday morning, 3rd May 2015… Having a slight jolt of inspiration to share my learning lessons on Buddhism.

Even I’m in an absolute state of shock that I’m choosing to spend my free time doing this.

Hold on, let me quickly take 3 deep breaths to calm myself down:






Oops, sorry. I overshot and miscounted.

This state of shock has impaired my ability to count properly.

Alright! Jokes aside…

I’m writing this article now because I’ve been deeply inspired by several of Reverend Chen Ming-An’s (陈明安老师) talks over the last few days.

And, also from reading several of his books (which in my opinion, should be read by anyone who wants to know how Buddhism can be applied in practical life).

You know, I’m really the last person I expect to be writing this.

All my life…

I have been the most rude, arrogant, blasphemous, and un-religious person I’ve ever known!

I eat too much. I sleep too much. I stole. I bullied others…

And I lose all sense of my awareness and self-control when I come across durians or barbecued pork.

Somehow, perhaps the Buddhist Dharma has given me some “new lease of life”… shaped my thinking in certain positive ways… and taught me some really valuable lessons that made me question my old behaviors and habits.

Hence, it makes me inspired to share some of these lessons… however small they are.

Do take note that I am in no way a wise sage, nor am I a highly cultivated person.

Have a meal with me at the dinner table, and you’ll know this to be true when you see the chicken bones lying all over the table after I finish.

In terms of Buddhist cultivation and level of wisdom, I would probably rank first in the class…

If you start counting from the last person.

But still, I have decided to share some of my lessons and realizations. They are far from perfect, and probably prone to a humongous ton of mistakes and errors.

I am just a complete beginner when it comes to Buddhism and cultivation, but I hope this sharing can serve to inspire others in some ways.


The 5 Lessons from Jen Chen Buddhism (Humanity Vehicle Buddhism) That Impacted Me The Most

Lesson 1: A man’s worth is not measured by his worldly achievements (wealth, status, fame, possessions), but instead by the amount of value, impact, and contribution he adds to others.

不要自己有多少, 而是要自己能为别人付出和奉献多少


This is one of the most impactful lessons that hit me straight in the gut when I first heard it said by Reverend Chen Ming-An.

As a young person living in a fast-paced “pressure-cooker” environment that is Singapore, I became brain-washed and influenced from a young age that…

True “success” = money, wealth, status, power.

I started to benchmark myself according to those superficial factors mentioned above, and wanted to do better than my peers in these areas.

My whole mind was occupied with plans to get rich, achieve recognition, and prove to others that I was more “successful” than them.

And while I did enjoy some small business successes that gave me the thrill, exhilaration, and bragging rights for some time…

It didn’t last long. And I was constantly chasing the next bigger ambition and “shiny object”, without truly feeling happy inside.

It was an absolute torture, and I felt miserable pursuing these things. But I couldn’t think of an alternative, because this was what “success” meant to me at that time.

I obsessed day and night over money, and couldn’t really sleep well

These thoughts of achieving superficial success consumed me, and I become selfish and cold towards my own friends and family.

It’s only after being exposed several times to Reverend Chen Ming-An’s talks and books, that I realized…

The absolute stupidity and foolishness of my actions!

I was endlessly trading my time and energy for material wealth and power – things which have a limited “shelf-life” and would expire when I die.

These are things which I cannot take away with me, even if I burn them all, mix with water, and drink it up. But yet, here I was spending so much of my life pursuing them.

Instead, I should be investing my time and energy in non-tangible assets like:

Developing my wisdom

Cultivating my blessings

Nurturing good affinity with people around me.

These intangible assets are things which I can take away with me… and use them lifetime after lifetime to not only benefit myself, but others as well.

Isn’t that a much wiser investment that gives me better and more “profitable” returns in the long-term?

Reverend Chen Ming-An: “Invest in intangible assets (无形资产) that will bring you infinite positive pay-offs in the long-term “

Plus, even in the short-term (in this life), these non-tangible investments would actually:

make me feel happier…

because my enhanced wisdom and blessings would allow me to contribute to society and positively impact the people around me.

That gives my life so much more meaning, purpose, and intrinsic happiness that isn’t derived from some external source i.e. money, fame.

Thus, I realized, from both a short-term and long-term logical perspective…

It makes so much more “economical” sense to invest in these non-tangible assets, because the returns I get are worth so much more than my original investment!

(*Pardon me. I’m trying to make this look as practical as possible for you to understand, hence the logical and monetary way of explaining).

Since that realization, I’ve lived my life according to much more meaningful measures of “success” – impact and contribution, and…

I feel so much happier and carefree this way!

No longer do I feel pressured to constantly need to earn more and prove my worth to others.

I live my life according to my own standards and yardsticks, and the quality of my life and relationships has took a 180 degree positive turn since.

Of course, I am not denying the fact that…

Money is still important and necessary for us to function in society!

However, the mindset of how we approach this is the differential factor.

Rather than be miserable trying so hard to earn more and own more…

Why not spend more of my time and energy pursuing activities which add value to others too?

In this way, I don’t need to get stressed up trying to amass more wealth, status, or gain recognition from others for my achievements.

This mindset shift makes me feel a lot more at ease, liberated, and happy J

And being happy… while also developing some wisdom, cultivating blessings, and making a positive impact on people around me at the same time? Hmmm…

Now that sounds like so much a better deal as compared to working my butt off trying to achieve some form of superficial success that will not last permanently.


Lesson 2: Good or bad, happy or sad, all things are impermanent

I first came across this concept when I read Venerable Master Shen-Kai’s English version of “Teacup is not a Teacup” book.

I mean, to be honest, some part of us already knows this to be true.

The concept of impermanence is something we probably have heard before, and it’s nothing exceptionally new or refreshing.

However, the eye-opening lightbulb-popping moment for me was when…

I actually thought about this concept from the perspective of Buddhism!

Instead of just viewing this concept on the surface, I analyzed and contemplate about it deeper. And I realized, all forms of pleasure, happiness, joy, and excitement that I experience in this life are impermanent.

To put it more bluntly, they are merely “illusions” that will pass with time.

Same thing goes for all forms of hardship, setbacks, tough situations, challenges, sorrow, depression, and despair… They too will pass with time and conditions.

The learning lesson I got here was:

All things in life are ever-changing and always evolving, according to the time, conditions and circumstances.

Nothing stays the same. So that means, my future is being created by what I do, in this very moment, right NOW.

That gives me hope and optimism when I’m facing the tough and difficult challenges…

And also keeps me humble and grounded when I’m experiencing the most exhilarating and exciting success.

It makes me realize that even if I’m experiencing a crappy situation and feel helpless, thinking that I will be stuck in this way forever…

It will eventually pass to become better.

So, I should not give up so easily. I should persist, take action, and put in effort to create a better future for myself.

In times of happiness, joy, and success… It makes me realize that I should not become arrogant, proud, or get too lost in this great feeling that I become complacent.

Because this short-term success will also pass and eventually die down.

Hence, I should not get too comfortable with myself, and I should continue to stay humble, work hard, and continually seek to improve.

In a nutshell, regardless of good or bad, happy or sad, I realize that these feelings will eventually pass, so I view things from a more neutral perspective.

This allows me to continue to focus and put effort into the work I need to do, without getting too carried away by my emotions.

To sum up this point on impermanence of all things in life, here’s a short saying from Venerable Master Shen-Kai that I remember coming across when I was just a young little kid, more than a decade ago:

Of course, back then as a young greedy 9 year-old boy who only cared about macdonalds and fried chicken, I only understood the first sentence.

It’s only after thinking deeper about this concept of impermanence recently, that I really understood its true meaning – all things in life are impermanent, so make the best (and meaningful) use of whatever you have in this very moment!


Lesson 3: Awareness should be directed inwards, not outwards

In Humanity Vehicle Buddhism (Jen Chen Buddhism), huge emphasis has been place on the word “”, which also means pure awareness, or Buddha.

Day in, day out, when we see fellow Jen Chen Buddhists, we say the phrase “Be with Buddha”, which also means to constantly maintain pure awareness at all times.

And then I realized a huge mistake that I was making all this while.

Being a Jen Chen Buddhist and having this concept of “awareness” drilled into me since a young age, I unknowingly used it in the wrong manner.

Instead of directing the awareness inwards to observe myself and catch my own weaknesses and flaws…

I was using my so-called “awareness” to judge people, spot their imperfections and mistakes, and become critical of their faults.

I unknowingly become more critical and judgmental of people, thinking that my cultivating of awareness has allowed me to become more sharp and aware of things.

In reality, I was totally on the wrong course.

All my awareness was directed outwards, and when I saw people make stupid mistakes or do foolish actions, I would criticize them silently in my head, saying that these people lacked awareness in doing things.

Little did I realize, the biggest and most unaware person in the room, was myself!

And I think this ties in very nicely with what Reverend Chen Ming-An sometimes says. We, as human beings, go about our daily life with an invisible ruler in our hands.

Some of us have bigger and longer rulers than others, because we are just more judgmental and critical by nature.

However, little did we realize that even though we spend so much time and mental energy measuring others, we fail to measure ourselves.

We use the ruler on others, but never on ourselves.

This is a simple concept that most of us have probably been taught when we were young, on not to judge others.

But I feel it’s important to highlight because as Jen Chen Buddhists, we are drilled with this concept of pure awareness more strongly than other non-practitioners.

Hence, we may unknowingly use this awareness in the wrong way (i.e. to judge and criticize others), instead of using it for the correct purpose – to reflect on our actions and mistakes, and improve ourselves.

I was a victim of that for a long time, and until today, I still forget that sometimes, thinking my awareness is so sharp that I can spot people’s flaws. What a fool I am!



This point is to serve as a reminder for myself, and also to share with you guys the importance of directing your awareness inwards, not outwards.


Lesson 4: We are NOT our thoughts

“I can’t stop thinking about food. I’m just a glutton by nature”

“I can’t stop thinking about money. I must be a greedy person”

“I just can’t stop thinking about him/her. I’m madly in love and I feel so helpless”

Sounds familiar?

These are thoughts the average person would at least have some experience with.

Many people think that our thoughts are part of who we are, and are a natural process of being human.

They think it’s a process that cannot be controlled, because thinking occurs randomly and continually in humans.

I used to feel this way as well. I used to think that my thoughts make up who I am, and I didn’t have any power to control my mind.

How helpless this felt!

That’s why much of my thinking is left on autopilot, and thoughts just keep popping up one after another.

After learning more about pure awareness and the dynamic of our mind from Humanity Vehicle Buddhism (Jen Chen Buddhism), I realized that the opposite is actually true.

While we may not have the power to control the thoughts that pop up randomly in our head, BUT…

We have the power to watch those thoughts and control how we use our minds.

While I’m no expert at this, and I’m still an absolute beginner when it comes to watching my thoughts, but this concept has been absolutely mind-blowing for me.

Understanding the fact that my mind is just a tool that I can use when I need, and put it away when I don’t need it (instead of letting it control me and dictate my actions unknowingly) has been enlightening!

The fact that I am NOT my thoughts has made me realize that I have so much more power over my mind than I thought I had.

Instead of letting my thoughts run on autopilot and following them around like a blind man, I realized that…

There is actually a higher power beyond our ordinary mind.

And that is our pure awareness.

With pure awareness, we are able to observe our mind clearly and be mindful of every single thought.

In other words, I have power to control my mind and my thoughts, instead of letting it control me unconsciously.

Of course, this is still something I’m trying to actively learn and practise, and I’m far from perfect when it comes to watching my thoughts.

Every so often, I’m probably letting my thoughts take me on a “wonderland journey” for hours on end, before I even realize it.

Hopefully this learning lesson serves to inspire you in some way, and also serves as a reminder for me to be more observant of my mind.

So the next time you catch yourself thinking incessantly about something or someone (and it makes you feel frustrated), remember that…

You are NOT your thoughts.

Use your awareness to detach yourself from your non-stop thinking, and watch your thoughts calmly and neutrally from the perspective of a 3rd-party observer.

Good or bad, happy or sad… just watch it neutrally without judgment.

No analyzing, no biasedness towards it. Just watch and observe it, without being moved.

You will realize that you become a lot less emotionally attached and are more liberated from these thoughts…

Because you are now the observer, not the participant.

There are many people who are definitely much better at explaining this than I am. Please feel free to approach the respective Missionaries and Venerables on this, for they can guide you much better than myself.


Lesson 5: Our life’s outcome is a result of our unconscious habits

Too often, we see someone else achieve success in a certain area, and we attribute it to things like talent, hard work, focus, dedication, and maybe some luck.

While this is true and there is nothing wrong with this, I feel that many of us fail to see something else beyond the surface:

The importance of building consistent and positive habits.

In Humanity Vehicle Buddhism (Jen Chen Buddhism), the word “habitual tendency” () is used often, because it is said that our unconscious habits can either cause us to suffer or gain happiness, even when we don’t know it.

Hence, this made me realize that many of the outcomes we are experiencing in our own lives right now, are actually the accumulation of a certain action done over a period of time…

Not one time, not two times, not three times…

BUT many, many times, repeatedly!

For example:

Someone who’s overweight and at risk of heart disease might blame his family’s poor genetics that caused him to be like that.

He/she might say: “my grandma, my mom, and my sister all have heart disease and are overweight. So it’s not my fault that I’m overweight too”.

But if he/she takes a closer look at their daily habits, more often than not, they’ll realize that they probably didn’t become fat overnight.

It’s NOT because of eating the fried chicken yesterday evening that made them fat.

It was an accumulation of repetitive, day-in day-out overeating and unhealthy habits that built up to become the result they see today.

When we view our life’s results from the perspective of our habits…

Not only do we become more aware of our everyday actions and decisions, but we also learn to take responsibility for the current results in our life now.

Rather than blaming it on some factor we cannot control (luck, fate, poor genetics, karma etc.)…

We take responsibility and develop the correct actions/habits to help us reach the outcome we want.

This puts you in the driver’s seat, and is so much more empowering than just blaming someone else for your current circumstances.

Same thing for someone who is good at meditation or cultivation!

Many of us look at such people in awe and amazement, wishing we could be like them.

We might even say that these people have planted strong virtuous roots in their past lives, that’s why it comes a lot easier for them. And hence, we console ourselves with that excuse.

While this may be true, I am still of the belief that nothing comes without consistent, day-in day out persistence.

This person has probably adopted a positive habit where they cultivated and practised repeatedly and tirelessly, either in this life or some previous lives.

Thus, they are able to reap the fruits of their labor and enjoy the success they currently have.

And this was such a liberating concept for me, because I realized that:

If I want to create certain positive outcomes in my life (i.e. I want to become more healthy; I want to become more serious in my cultivation)…

 I can actually start small by first focusing on the simple little habits that I do everyday.

Rather than be daunted and overwhelmed by huge goals (i.e. I want to lose 10kg in the next 6 months; I want to be able to meditate for 1 hour without being distracted)…

We’re able to start with easy and manageable habits (i.e. exercise for just 15 minutes a day, meditate for just 10 minutes a day)

This prevents us from being demoralized when we don’t reach those unrealistic goals we set for ourselves…

It prevents us from feeling overwhelmed and intimidated by those huge goals (which can cause procrastination and excuses)…

And it encourages us by creating positive momentum and motivation, as we do those simple habits daily and start making small progress.

“The river cuts through the rock not by its power, but by consistent ‘day in, day out’ persistence.”

******* End of learning lessons *********


I would like to say a few things before I end this article:

1) I apologize for the long, messy, and unstructured article.

This is my first time writing an article on Buddhism, and so I am trying to share as much of my honest thoughts as possible. Hence, some parts may seem a little messy, please do pardon me.

2) I am not a spiritual or religious teacher, and my understanding of Buddhism is really just surface level. Please don’t see me as a teacher or anything of that sort.

My writings in this article are more of a personal sharing, to remind myself, share with others my thoughts and lessons, and hopefully inspire some people in small ways.

They are not meant to enforce anything or any mindsets. I lack the wisdom and the foresight to be able to do that.

3) Most importantly, these learning lessons and realizations above would not have been possible without the compassionate and wise teachings of the Buddha, Venerable Master Shen-Kai, Reverend Chen Ming-An, the Jen Chen Venerables and Missionaries who were kind enough to share the Buddhist Dharma with me.

Sometimes when I sit down alone and think about it, I am just touched and amazed at how Buddhism and the Dharma alone can change people’s mindsets and lives so drastically and positively.

I am grateful to be able to encounter the proper way of Buddhism and practise in this life.

All these realizations I wrote in this article above would never have been possible without the guidance, mentorship, and teachings of these wise and respectable Buddhist practitioners.

The credit of everything you read here goes fully and 100% to them, for I am just a student who was lucky enough to have heard and learnt the Dharma from them.

All the very best to everyone and May Buddha be with you.