Boleh Tahan ~ INTRODUCTION
ALTHOUGH I WRITE mainly
for Buddhists, it is not exclusively so and is more
about Universal Dharma—that is, things that
apply to everyone and everything—than just Buddhism.
But a word of warning, before I go further:
This book will not suit everyone. If you are content
with your religion—with the form, traditions,
ceremonies, superstitions, and the comfort that may
be derived from these things—please read no
further, as you might only be disturbed. If, however,
these things fail to satisfy you, and you want something
more than externalia, I invite you to proceed. My
purpose in this book—as in all my books—is
to challenge people to investigate, and not be content
with what they’ve been taught.
If you are searching for the Pearl of Great
Price, you may be interested to know that pearls are
formed in response to the irritation caused by particles
of grit in an oyster shell. To overcome this irritation,
the oyster secretes layer upon layer of a substance
called nacre around the grit, and the result is a
I consider myself to be like a particle of
grit in an oyster shell. My purpose is to irritate,
disturb and stimulate people into thinking, into finding
or creating a pearl within themselves.
But many people don’t want to be disturbed,
and are content to remain as they are, living on the
material level; preferring what they’ve been
taught or told to finding out for themselves, they
resent any effort to get them to think about things.
Because of unwillingness to think and question, therefore,
religion has degenerated from a living experience
and a means of discovery into a thing of belief and
Superstition finds fertile soil in religion,
and thrives mightily therein. But there is less excuse
for it in Buddhism than for other religions, because
Buddhism states very clearly that we shouldn’t
simply believe and follow blindly, but should investigate
and strive to know.
In this book, although I have aimed strong
words at superstition, I must express my gratitude
to it, because it helps us to understand. How can
we know what is right if we do not know what is wrong
first? Even superstition and ignorance are useful,
S.E. Asia is going through an economic crisis
as I write this, and countless people are suffering.
Some, not knowing how to cope with their changed situation,
already gave up and committed suicide; one man even
killed his wife and children so that he would not
die alone! In times like these we need to apply Dharma
in our lives, to be able to say Boleh Tahan! This
is a Malay expression, which means Can Stand or Can
Bear. We should recall that we have not always lived
on the crest of a wave, and that there were many times
before—were there not?—when we were down
in the trough, but we survived anyway; and what we
have done before, we can do again. Hold on, therefore,
it will pass!
It was the Buddha’s way, when visiting
the sick—either monks, nuns or lay-people—to
ask: “Are you bearing up? Can you stand your
pain?” He encouraged them to face their difficulties
with fortitude, knowing, from His own experience,
that they had the capacity to do this. He didn’t
expect them to be supermen, but urged them to go beyond
what they thought were their limits, and find what
was needed in their own minds. It’s surprising
what we can do, if we have to!
See how the lotus grows: rooted in mud, it
comes up through dirty water, but stands pure and
unstained above it. Without mud, the lotus cannot
grow; such are the conditions necessary for its growth.
And shall we grow otherwise?
If we are ignorant and suffering, remember
this: nothing comes from nothing. Stainless steel
is made from iron-ore; without iron-ore (ignorance)
we cannot make stainless steel (wisdom). You see,
there is something good about ignorance and suffering,
after all. It depends upon how we look at it.
Not understanding how everything comes and
goes, when we gain something, we feel good, and when
we lose something, we feel bad. We adapt very easily
from not-having to having, but not so easily from
having to not-having. In many ways, we are much more
fortunate than our ancestors; indeed, not so long
ago, houses didn’t have running water or electricity
and all the things powered by it. Although we find
it hard to imagine how people managed without everything
we take for granted, they did, and did so quite well;
in fact, they were probably happier, in their simplicity,
than we are in our complexity!
We have been living in a fool’s paradise,
thinking the good times would last forever. And now
that things have come tumbling down we suffer. But
if we can collect ourselves and take a clear look
at what is happening, we might be able to find treasures
of a different kind: inner resources that will help
us to deal with all kinds of adversity.
Times of adversity are times when we can
get a good look at ourselves, which we seldom have—no,
don’t want to do—when times are good.
Our principles are put to the stress-test: how far
will we bend before we break? How far will we go before
we say: “No, enough; I’m not going any
further!” It is at times when we are thrown
back on ourselves that we find true the old saying:
Necessity is the Mother of Invention. And it’s
exciting, too, because we find that we’ve been
expending too much energy on flying high, when we
could have managed with much less. And who was it
all for? Not really for ourselves, but more to impress
others by; uncertain of ourselves, and seeking reassurance
from others, we actually live more for them than we
do for ourselves, ridiculous as it may sound!
Some people commit suicide not because they
find life too hard to bear, but because they do not
get what they want from it; living self-centeredly,
when life doesn’t bring what they want when
they want it, they simply give up. Their desires,
their looking, prevents them from seeing what they’ve
The Dharma provides us with the means to
help people—some people, at least. If anyone
reading this book would like to talk to me about anything,
I invite them to contact me at the address given.
Don’t simply give up and throw away your treasure
just because you have not found what you want; try
to look at things in a different way; try to discover
what you have and are! Remember the words Boleh Tahan