Not This, Not That ~ BITS AND PIECES

While I was in India, I got a letter from Sheila, telling that mum was back in Australia; things had not worked out in England. She’d gone to see Jim almost as soon as she’d got there, but he was in hospital, with gangrene, and although their initial meeting was cordial, they’d been living with images of each other that were out of date by over 50 years. His daughter instant disliked her, thinking she was a gold-digger, and turned Jim against her. Needless to say, mum was bitterly disappointed, and decided to return to Australia, with all the hassle that involved, as she’d had her pension made payable to her in England, and had nothing to go back to; her granny-flat had been emptied. Back she went, and had to start all over again; lots of trouble for Sheila.

I’d also received a letter from someone in Malaysia telling me she’d met a person I’d long been looking for: Teoh Bee Huat, someone I’d met in Taiping in ’73. She’d given me his address and phone-number in K.L., and so upon landing there, I called and asked if he could pick me up. He did, and it was good to see him again after such a long time. He was unable to take me to his home to stay for lack of space, so drove me to Wong’s, where I stayed for a while until I noticed a funny atmosphere, and asked him, “What’s wrong?”

”I think you know,” he said.

“Well, I have an idea, but don’t want to say in case it’s wrong.”

“It’s my wife,” he said, “she thinks I’m neglecting her for you.”

“Oh, if it’s like that, I’ll leave and go to stay in the temple again,” I said. So he drove me there, and when I saw him again, he told me he had said to his wife: “If you’re not happy with me, you can go!” If only she had! I’m sure he regretted marrying this woman, as she was petulant, possessive and jealous, and really not what he deserved. By this time, however, they had a little daughter; the knot was firmly tied.

He visited me often while I was in K.L., taking me out for lunch in Indian restaurants and so on; he was fond of Indian food, too.

I made contact with Yeap Tor Hor in Penang, who invited me to go there for a while. I accepted, and he met me off the bus after the trip from K.L. This was the first of many times I would meet him, and he was always very kind, arranging talks for me, taking me wherever I needed to go, bringing me to my favored restau-rants (I was lucky that he also liked Indian food), and generously supporting me in the printing of my books.

I visited the Brickfield’s Vihara in K.L., and Dhammananda said to me, “We got your letter.”

“What letter?” I said, “I didn’t write to you.”

“Yes you did,” he said, “I’ll show you it.”

I wondered if I was losing my mind. As soon as I saw it, how-ever, even without reading it, I knew it wasn’t mine, because I don’t write like that, with just a few lines at the top of the page, and the rest blank; I space mine out. The name on it, though, was ‘Abhinyano,’ and it was from Melbourne. The name was dif-ferent from mine by just the last letter.

At this time, too, I got an anonymous letter from a woman in Melbourne, saying that she’d got my address from one of my books, and telling of her problems with her husband. Well, I couldn’t reply, of course, as she hadn’t given an address either. I forgot about it for a while.

After 16 years, I was to meet Luang Pau again. Hearing he was in K.L., teaching in a meditation-centre, I went to visit him, but not having a number, couldn’t call before going, so he was a bit surprised. He’d disrobed since we last met; I don’t know why, and when people started to tell me, I stopped them, saying I did not want to know. It was good to see him looking well, dressed in white as an eight-preceptor, but even then, he could not resist commenting on my dress. I didn’t say anything about his, but wondered what he’d learned from all his years as a monk and meditation-teacher. I said goodbye, but worse was to come.

As usual, I gave many talks in Malaysia before returning to Mel-bourne, to stay in Dull Moon for what would be the last time. I hadn’t been there long, when an Aussie monk, accompanied by a woman, came to see me. This was Abhinyano, and I was later to learn that the woman with him ~ Betty ~ was the one who had written to me anonymously. He was living in a caravan in her back-garden, but perhaps I should explain a little about how he came to be there.

He was from Melbourne, and had ordained in a monastery in Perth, if I’m not mistaken, but had made himself unpopular there, and had been shipped off to another monastery in Eng-land. Here, again, he was out of place. While there, he met a woman named Jean, who, learning he wanted to return to Mel-bourne but didn’t know where he would stay when he got there (his family were not very sympathetic towards him), she ar-ranged for him to stay with her friend Betty and her husband, Charles, neither of whom were Buddhists as such. How to get back to Australia, though, without money? Well, it seemed that one of the monks there had a spare ticket to Taiwan, and some-how transferred it to his name, so off to Taiwan he went, but without knowing anyone there. Arriving, with nowhere to stay, he went to a hotel, and began going out with his alms-bowl in a nearby market, and received so much this way, that he was not only able to cover his costs there, but also accumulated a sub-stantial sum within two months, before returning to Australia. Now, this was an anomaly, as he otherwise refused to even touch money, let alone use it, making it difficult for those who supported him; also, he insisted upon food being served to him, and when Betty and Charles went anywhere, she had to ask one of the neighbors to come in and serve him the food that she’d left in the freezer for him; the neighbor probably thought he was nuts; what purpose did it serve?

He imagined himself as a meditation-teacher, and perhaps be-cause of his short stature, felt the need to prove himself and be recognized. Anyway, he decided to do a retreat, and persuaded Betty to do it, too, but he must have pushed her so hard that she cracked, and an argument with Charles ensued, during which he hit her and she bit him, and when the monk ~ I’ll refer to him as Tony, which was the name he later reverted to using ~ inter-vened, Charles promptly ordered him to leave. But where could he go? I came in at this juncture and arranged for him to stay in a Vietnamese temple, but even here, he tried to assert himself.

The story is more complicated than this. Betty had been married twice, and had a daughter by her first marriage, but no children with Charles. I don’t know how far into the second marriage it was that she discovered that Charles had been having sex with the daughter (from when she was just 12-years old!), and when she became pregnant, he sent her for an abortion! Betty was devastated when she found out, and why the heck she contin-ued living with the ratbag ~ though not cohabiting; she told me she’d not lived with him as wife and husband for many years ~ I can’t imagine. Then Tony came into the picture, and stayed there for two or three years before being kicked out.

His stay in the Vietnamese temple wasn’t long before he went to Malaysia, trying to do what I’d been doing there, but again, he upset people so much that he practically became a fugitive, and his behavior had its repercussions on me because of the almost-identical name. He went to Taiwan again, and apparently, while there, had asked Betty to marry him, and she had accepted, so he returned to Melbourne. At this point I discontinued writing to Betty, so I don’t know if he disrobed in Taiwan or in Melbourne.

Back to Dull Moon, where I was feeling frustrated, as my hands were tied. I would have plastered the walls and windows with Dharma-posters in various languages, so that people might read and get something to think about when they came, instead of leaving empty, but my ideas were not appreciated, and while I’d given about seventy talks during my recent trip in Malaysia, over the months I was in DM this time, I gave only seven, and those were to uni-students who came in for this.

One day, when I was feeling a bit down, an Aussie lady stopped by and was brought through to me, as no-one else could answer her questions. We had a nice conversation, and I told her I felt better and that she’d made my day. “I’ve made your day?” she said, “You’ve made my life!” Apparently, she’d been feeling much more depressed than I had. She offered me $50!

One evening, someone came and asked me to visit his aged mother in a nearby nursing-home. Of course, I went, and sat quietly beside her bed. There was no point in saying anything, as she was in a coma and couldn’t understand English anyway. I asked the son for a moist face-towel, and concentrated on it for a while, then told him to wipe his mother’s face with it. When he did so, her mouth ~ which had been open for some days ~ closed. That night, he got a call to say she’d gone, peacefully.

During this stay in DM, I visited a Chinese family who lived near the temple, and on their living-room wall was a large picture of storks perched on a pine-tree. Now, storks, to Chinese people, signify long-life (like lots of other people, they are very con-cerned with living as long as possible; the quantity of life is often more important than the quality). I told the family that the artist who’d painted this picture was painting only from an idea and not from direct observation. “How do you know?” they asked.

“Because storks habitually perch in the same place, and there are no droppings on the limb, as there would have been if the artist had painted from observation,” I said. “A camera doesn’t pick and choose like this, but leaves nothing out, faithfully re-cording just what is there.”

This brought to mind what I’d been thinking about perspective. We know from young, without being told or taught, that people and things in the distance are not as small as they appear to be; in fact, we know many things that we’ve never been taught, or we soon learn them. Centuries ago ~ as we can tell from pre-Renaissance paintings ~ although people knew what we know about people and things in the distance, artists didn’t understand about perspective, or didn’t incorporate it into their paintings. Giotto, an Italian artist of the 13th - 14th centuries, was among the first to begin painting people in a less-flat way than had previ-ously been the custom, but even he showed parallel lines ~ as in tiled floors ~ remaining parallel instead of converging inwards to give the impression of distance. He was painting from ideas rather than direct observation. Now, it’s important to understand this when we set out to follow Dharma, as we must learn to see things as are they are instead of as we would like them to be; we must learn to put aside our preferences, recognizing them as the cause of many problems, and try to discover what is right or wrong rather than thinking in terms of who is right or wrong.

An Aussie guy came to DM one day, to collect a large Buddha-image he’d stored there. Seeing me, he said, “I’m a Pratchekkha Buddha” (according to the scriptures, there are two kinds of Buddhas: one, like Gotama, who devotes his life to teaching, and another who doesn’t teach; he is known as a ‘Silent Bud-dha.’) “Oh,” I said, unimpressed, “One of those, are you? Go on, get your Buddha!” Our capacity to delude ourselves is seemingly without limits. These nuts do quite a lot of harm to Buddhism.

One of the Malaysian students who attended some of my talks in BM, by the name of Lee Yong Chern, introduced his parents to me when they came to visit him, and his father asked me if I’d like to visit his hometown, Kuching, in East Malaysia. I told him that if I were invited, I would go; I’d never been to East Malaysia ~ Sarawak and Sabah ~ not knowing anyone there. He said he would speak to the committee of the Kuching Buddhist Society where he and his wife were members. I later got a letter from them inviting me to visit and give talks there.

Having left the land of my birth many years ago to travel around the world, I am a stranger there, and know countries like India and Malaysia much better than I do England. The place where I was born and grew up, however, was really quite beautiful, be-ing in the countryside, and for many years, feeling the urge to trace my roots, I’d wanted to go back for a visit. This was my purpose when I left Australia in January ’95, but first, I made an-other trip in Malaysia, and even went to Thailand to pay a brief visit to Dhammaviro and Khemadassi in their mountain-hermitage near Phang-nga. Another German monk had joined them, so now they were three. It was good to see them again, but they were having problems with some Thai monks who had come to reside at the monastery in front of the canyon, and al-though Dhammaviro was senior in rank, he was still a foreigner. The Thais had turned the local people against the Germans by spreading false rumors about them, and their food-supply dried up. Fortunately, a school-teacher-couple from Phang-nga had become firm supporters, and visited them regularly, bringing enough food to last until their next visit. Eventually, however, they had to move away and settle somewhere else.

Back in Malaysia, I had to go into damage-control mode in sev-eral places because of Bhikkhu Hye, the person I’d met in Kuan-tan in ’78, and who’d gone to California to become a monk in the City of Ten-Thousand Buddhas. We’d kept in touch over the years, but gradually, he had become disillusioned with the place and saw things he didn’t like. He decided to return to Malaysia, but was told he would have to disrobe first. When he refused, they forcibly disrobed him, which made him very angry. He re-turned to Malaysia violently anti-Mahayana, and went to Thai-land to take Theravada ordination. Then he began to rampage up and down Malaysia denouncing Kwan Yin and saying there was no such being, upsetting lots of people who believe implic-itly in Kwan Yin; he also turned on vegetarianism.

I went to see him in Penang, where he was staying in a Chinese temple, and told him that although I understood how he felt (I didn’t remind him I’d been against him going to California in the first place), he shouldn’t expect other people to think as he did. If the Buddha didn’t agree with something of the prevailing culture, instead of rejecting it, He turned it around and gave it a different meaning, as He did with the Hindu gods; if He’d denied their ex-istence, people would have been offended and might not have listened to Him. Instead, He used a ‘skillful means’, and said that yes, there are gods, and that they are protectors of the Dharma. In this way, He incorporated the Hindu gods into His system, and thereby didn’t alienate people. How wise He was. Bhikkhu Hye obviously didn’t agree with what I said, as he continued his campaign. Some people are impressed because, during his talks and in his writings, he often quotes from the scriptures, but this is mere parrotry ~ and not of his own experience. He is con-vinced that because a thing is found in the scriptures, it must therefore be true. From a passage in the sutras, which tells that when Sakka-Devaraja (king of the gods), was being chased in his chariot by demons, he almost crashed into a grove of trees in which a colony of garudas were perched, he had come to be-lieve that there were animals in heaven. But since when has anything in the scriptures constituted proof of anything? Unless and until we have experienced a thing by and for ourselves, we are not in a position to say it’s true.

News reached me that Jagaro, who had ordained in Bangkok in 1972, had disrobed, sending shock-waves through the Buddhist community of Australia. He’d been the abbot of a monastery in Perth for many years. My reaction to this was, well, it’s his life, and up to him to decide what he’s going to do with it; we take no life-long vows, and may disrobe whenever we wish to, if that’s what we want. We’d last met in Perth in 1986, and since then, I’d read some of his writings, and found them remarkably open.

I accepted the invitation from Kuching Buddhist Association, and before going, was requested to give talks on four consecutive evenings, with set topics. Now, normally, I don’t plan my talks, but speak impromptu according to the situation. This time, how-ever, I complied, and the first talk went so well that I wondered how I’d be able to follow it up, and expected smaller audiences. I was surprised, therefore, when even more people turned up for the second talk, and this one went equally well, as did the third and fourth. But I was not too pleased that the English-speaking group that had invited me made no provision for translation into Chinese, and so any non-English speakers who might have been interested had no chance. Nor did they make an effort to arrange talks for me in other temples or Buddhist societies in Kuching, but kept me just to themselves.

"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters com-pared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen."
~ Henry David Thoreau, American Philosopher, 1817 - 1862 ~

Indeed. We may travel the world-wide but must still come back to ourselves in the end, to find what can only be found inside.

“Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” ~ Swedish proverb ~

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