Against The Stream ~ NOBODY'S MONKEY
ALTHOUGH I WAS TAUGHT
to respect age, I respect arrogance in no-one, regardless
There are many different kinds of people
in the world. Going around from place to place to
give talks, I meet not only many kind and friendly
people, but inevitably— I guess — quite
a few rude ones, too; the rude people make the kind
ones stand out in contrast, and vice versa. Some people
are rude deliberately, and others without intending
to be, just because they know no better.
Usually, I try to bite my tongue and say
nothing when I encounter rude people, but at times,
I feel something must be said for their sakes, because
somewhere down the road, we all have to learn, and
to explain why it is improper to be rude may be an
act of compassion. And why is it improper to be rude?
Simply because it limits us, and we do not like others
to be rude to us, so should try not to be rude to
others; it’s not hard to understand this, is
A few years ago, in a Malaysian town, I
met an old wind-bag whose fondest pastime was wagging
his tongue and showing people how much he knew. I
met him several times over the years, and each time,
he tried to ‘ear-jack’ me. He wasn’t
interested in learning anything, and had forgotten—
if he had ever known to begin with— that he
had two ears and one mouth, instead of the other way
Finally, tired of him talking down at me
and showing off his intellectual understanding of
the Dharma, I refused to talk with him any more, despite
his several requests. My time is better spent with
people who sincerely want to learn something, and
in the absence of such, I must think a bit of myself;
I also need rest, among other things, and am not—
just because I’m a monk— public property.
I’m willing to serve and go places where most
other monks probably would not go (and have a track-record
to prove this), if I think I might help someone understand
something, but I am not a servant, and will not be
treated as such!
I was asked to speak in that town again
recently, and when I arrived there, was told he was
boycotting me and would not attend my talks, and that
if I wanted him to come, I must ask him to. I said:
"Tell him not to hold his breath waiting for
me to ask him, as that will never happen!" He
didn’t come, but I didn’t mind; in fact,
I wish he had boycotted me during my previous visits,
for he obviously got nothing from me then. I began
my talk by asking the audience if they had come to
see me or to learn something of the Dharma. They said—
as I hoped they would— that they were there
for the Dharma. "Then we may profitably proceed",
I said. "The speaker, his personality and history,
may be disregarded; what is important— or what
should or might be— is what he says, and to
ascertain this, you have to listen carefully and use
your discrimination, instead of merely believing.
Don’t come here for my sake and think you are
doing me a favor, but for your own sakes. Obviously,
I think I have something important to say, otherwise
I wouldn’t say it, but that doesn’t automatically
make it important to you; only you can decide if it
is or not".
If Old Windbag thought he was doing me a
favor by attending my talks, he actually did me one
by staying away! His loss (he might have gained something
if his mind had been more open) was my gain: he was
off my back!
In late ‘97, I made a speaking-tour
of East Malaysia. After my talks in Sandakan, the
chairman of the Buddhist Society there openly told
me that he had earlier asked someone in K.L. to send
him a tape of one of my talks there (to see if I were
‘suitable’ for his group; apparently,
this was his ‘standard procedure’; he’d
already screened or censored me in advance). He was
a bit embarrassed when I said: "Well, I’m
glad I passed your test". I later wrote to ask
if he issued certificates of approval, and if so,
would he send me one. I’m still waiting.
For some time, I have felt the need for
something to be said about the arrangement of Dharma-talks.
It is really a shame that it needs to be said at all.
But because I have not heard or read of anyone else
saying it, I will say it, knowing, as I do so, that
some people will not like it. Well, too bad.
There are several conditions, all of which
concern respect for the Dharma, and which really must
be there, otherwise there is no point in organizing
Dharma-talks. The purpose of a Dharma-talk is to lead
people towards enlightenment; therefore, it should
not be treated lightly, as a mere formality.
The President or Chairman of the organization
should not be merely a rich person who has hijacked
the position, but should be qualified for it by understanding
and caring about the Dharma. He should set a personal
example to those who elected him by attending Dharma-talks;
the fact that this seldom happens shows the need for
improvement. Usually only when a high-ranking or famous
monk is to speak, can the presidents be seen. They
obviously think the speaker is more important than
the Dharma This should not be the case. We speak of
the Dharma as a Jewel: the Dharma-Jewel. We must understand
and treat it as such, not as Dharma-rubbish!
Punctuality is a quality to be cultivated
as part of one’s Dharma-practice. A Dharma-talk
should start at the stated time and not take second-place
to TV programs, as this demeans the Dharma. If people
are unwilling to make the effort to come on time,
it shows they are not interested. People manage to
get to work on time or go to the movies before the
film starts, so why the laxity regarding Dharma-talks?
It is a habit that can and should be broken.
An usher should be appointed to show people
to their seats and see they are seated and ready before
the speaker is invited to the front; the speaker should
not have to wait for the audience. Then, while he
is speaking, the audience should listen and not talk
among themselves, get up, wander around or go out.
Some people get up and leave when they do not get
the ‘fairy-tales’ they expect in a talk,
thus depriving themselves of any possibility to learn
anything. Many people consider it meritorious just
to attend a talk, but not necessary to listen. Merely
attending is not enough; people should listen and
try to understand. If they don’t want to listen
but insist on talking among themselves, instead of
‘making merit’ by attending, they will
only make demerit. It would therefore be better to
stay at home, as not only is their talking disrespectful,
but it disturbs others and prevents them hearing.
There will be time for them to speak after the talk,
when it is opened for questions and answers.
Mobile-phones should be switched off during
a talk so as not to cause interruptions; the workaday
mind should be left outside with the shoes.
Concerning the customary offerings made
to speakers by Buddhist Societies: Firstly, a price
cannot be put on the Dharma, so offerings are not
a form of payment, but a token of appreciation. It
seems, however, that offerings are often made on the
basis of a speaker’s rank, fame and so on, with
different amounts being offered to different persons
for the same service. This is incorrect. There should
be equal treatment. Whatever is offered to one should
be offered to all; there should be no discrimination
on the basis of personality. Monks who perform ceremonies
should not be offered more than those who teach Dharma,
as this is very disrespectful towards Dharma, and
therefore harmful to those who practice it.
If I play the role of The Devil’s
Advocate, it is because someone must. Without a political
opposition-party to speak out, we would see much more
abuse of power than we do; it is therefore a healthy
and necessary thing. I am not asking anything other
than equal treatment— no more and no less—
but merely trying to correct some of the discrepancies
I have observed. I am in a position to do this, too,
as I have no temple of my own to take care of. If
I had, I would not be free to say what I think should
be said, but would have to say things to please people,
in order to get their support. The Dharma would then
be compromised, and that would be everyone’s