Not This, Not That ~ THE LAST LINK IS CUT

I had no onward ticket, but there were no discount fares, and the cheapest I could get was with Kuwaiti Airlines, but it was a hefty sum. Nor was it a very comfortable flight. We had to transit via Kuwait, and spend several hours there before flying on. I was glad to get to K.L. Bee Huat was waiting for me, and on the way to the temple, he picked up someone who would become the best translator I’d ever had in Malaysia, Wong Ching Wei, better than the most well-known translators there, but he wasn’t yet well-known for his abilities.

In Penang, I visited Amigo and his family, and was sad to learn that his wife had been in and out of hospital with breast-cancer; the prognosis was not good. I gave him my hand-phone number, and told him to call if they needed me, but he didn’t. I went over to the East Coast, and in Kuantan found that two weeks earlier, Tan Ngoh Yong had passed away, asking, on his death-bed, for monks; I was sorry that I’d not been there to render him some assistance. I decided to return to Penang as soon as I could, and so, after completing my trip up the East Coast, I did so.

I called Amigo when I got there, to ask about his wife. He told me the hospital had discharged her, unable to do anything else for her. She was at home on oxygen and morphine. I said I would come the next morning, and when I got there, found her propped up on a bed downstairs, with oxygen cylinders beside her. She was still conscious, but very weak and unable to say much; she’d asked for the oxygen and morphine to be discon-nected, although she must have been in great pain. Sonny and his family were there, but Eddie hadn’t yet come. I sat beside her bed and held her hand; she knew I was there and squeezed my hand in return. I called for a moist face-towel and concen-trated over it, then gave it to Amigo to wipe her forehead with. Sonny was giving her water from a pipette. A family-friend came while I was there, and sat beside the bed, holding her hand and speaking kindly to her.

When Eddie arrived, I called them all to control their grief, as their wife and mother was going, and they could only help her by thinking with one mind and sending positive thoughts. I exhorted them to think of all the good times they’d spent with her, and all the sacrifices she’d made on their behalf, all she had done for them, suffering with them when they were sick or sad or in dan-ger. Such is the love of a mother for her children, I said, that when her child is sick, she actually suffers more than it, even though she’s not sick herself, and would willingly take upon her-self the sickness of the child if it could be free of it, but this she cannot do. She suffered giving birth, suffered through the grow-ing years and the years of uncertainty; truly, the love of a mother for her children is long-suffering.

They all cried as I spoke, and then I left and returned to my place. Shortly afterwards, Amigo called to say she had gone, peacefully, and her last words had been, “Mana Abhinyana?” (“Where’s Abhinyana?”) I was glad that I’d got back just in time to see her and help her in her hour of need.

The family requested me to perform the funeral-service. On the appointed day, someone picked me up and also picked up Luang Pau, who was in MBMC at the time. Before we got to the house, referring to my vegetarianism, he said that I should eat meat that day. I didn’t bother replying. He’d also been close to the family, and they’d asked him to do the chanting, as he was good at that, whereas my chanting was (and still is) rudimentary; I’d not learned much more of that after becoming a monk, be-cause I wasn’t impressed with what it was used for. I was there to give the Dharma-talk.

Chanting, talk and lunch over, the coffin was carried outside and placed on trestles on the road before being put into the hearse; there was a small table at the foot of it for offerings like flowers, fruit, candles and incense, but there was no burning of joss-papers and such that are usually part of a Chinese funeral; they had deliberately kept it simple. Even so, Luang Pau stood at one side, speaking in Hokkien (their dialect) ridiculing their offerings as superstitious. I was amazed at his bad manners, and thought how insensitive he was!

At the crematorium, out of respect, people were placing their last sticks of incense in a pot at the foot of the coffin. I stood be-side it, with Luang Pau behind me, and decided I also wanted to offer one to someone who had always been kind to me, but as I moved to do so, Luang Pau tugged my robe, as if to say that monks don’t offer incense to lay-people. Slowly turning, I looked him in the eye in such a way that he could not help understand that if he continued, I would let him pull the robe off my shoulder. He let go, and I offered my incense, thinking as I did so, “Well; the last link has been severed. I will not see him again.”

Once again, I made a big trip to give talks, and went to many places I’d never been before. And, while making this round, did my longest-ever fast of almost a month (I’d fasted for varying pe-riods before ~ a week, two weeks, and so on ~ and felt good at the end of it. I even went to Kuching again, and this time, asked them to select a panel of people to interview me on stage before the audience as something new, but they were not flexible enough and didn’t comply. That was the last time I went there.

I bought a second-hand laptop from someone who wanted a newer one, and of course, it took me quite a while to learn how to use it; it came with a second-hand printer, too.

Charles, in K.L. ~ who I mentioned before ~ was from a wealthy family and had set up a small temple an hour or so outside the city in the middle of a rubber-estate and gathered a group of fol-lowers. He invited me to give talks there on a number of occa-sions, until I finally realized he was only using me. In the mean-time, he introduced me to a Tibetan trader named Kalu he’d be-come close to. Kalu was soon to return to Nepal, where he lived with his family.

One day, having lunch in a restaurant in K.L. with a group of people, a lady who I’d never met before asked me, “Are you happier now as a monk than you were before?” I don’t know why she asked this question, and suppose most people would as-sume that I am happier as a monk. I thought about it for a few moments before replying,

“Well, actually, no, I’m not. I don’t mean that I’m unhappy now ~ sometimes I am, and sometimes I’m not ~ but before I became aware of Dharma, I lived a carefree ~ or rather, careless ~ life, thinking primarily of myself, and not doing a very good job of that, either. When my eyes were opened, however, I couldn’t live like that any more, but had to become more responsible, considering the rights and feelings of others, and not just my own. Life became harder. But at the same time, I found some-thing more important than personal happiness: Joy. And joy is a quality that lifts you up, like a balloon, and enables you to see things from a different viewpoint, enables you to look at the problems and difficulties of life in a different way, to see through and beyond them, as it were. If we make happiness ~ certainly, personal happiness ~ our goal in life, not only will it evade us, but we will suffer more as a result. Give up the frantic search for happiness, and let it find you (actually, it does, quite often).

As we go along this Path, we often find that life doesn’t become easier but harder; the way of self-improvement is as if we are climbing a mountain; to fall down is easy, while to climb is hard. This is not the only thing we find, however; at the same time, we find that we grow correspondingly stronger, and are able not only to carry our own burdens, but to reach out to others now and then, and help them with theirs.

In April, I flew back to Adelaide, and could see two female cus-toms-officers, waiting, like vultures, to tear into me; it was in their eyes; they wanted blood, and would have found something to tax me on, even if I’d not had my laptop. They charged me $150 on it, and would probably have taxed me on the printer, too, had I not said it came with the laptop.

After some time at Gawler, I returned to Melbourne to stay in a caravan at the back of Trung’s house; he’d written to invite me, but it turned out he hadn’t really cleared it with his dad, who was not very pleased with the idea. Anyway, I spent six cold weeks there ~ it was winter ~ before going to Sydney, to be met by Baker Vo and his family and conveyed to their new home. I was amazed! They were living in a mansion with a swimming-pool! No more ramshackle quarters for them! They had done so well in their bakery that they’d taken over a second one; I asked them what they were putting in their bread! They took me to visit the huge new Chinese temple at Wollongong, one of the many that Ven. Hsing Yun had established all over the world. This one ~ Tien Hao ~ was reported to have cost between 50 to 60 million Australian dollars. Needless to say, it was magnificent, but was already being run as a business, with charges for everything; they had to recoup their outlay.

Back, then, to Adelaide, to keep an eye on mum while Sheila and Frank made an extended visit to their daughter in Brisbane. They intended to sell up in Adelaide and move to Queensland to be near her. I should have recognized that mum was already failing at this time, but only saw this when I looked back later. She’d become incontinent, but was ashamed to tell anyone of this and tried to hide it; she never wanted to cause trouble to anyone. I set about cleaning up around the place, ready for it to be put on the market as soon as Frank had managed to sell his business, a car-wrecker’s yard; it took me four days to mow the extensive lawns and roadside verges, and they were amazed when they returned; it had added value to it. Ah, but while they were away, Frank, struck by chest-pains, had to be hospitalized and a stent inserted into one of his almost-blocked arteries. Sheila was really shaken, as if she’d never thought anything could happen to them; she was quite unprepared, having no workable philosophy of life.

I must try to weave in something of the ongoing sad saga of Tran Cong Nam here. His wife and remaining daughter had joined him in L.A., and I thought everything would be alright with him now. Several years later, his daughter had married; Mr. Nam was fond of his new son-in-law, and very happy for his daughter, but just one month after the wedding, her husband died of a heart-attack. More suffering for this poor man.

Back in Melbourne, I told of my intention to go to India again, and Trung, Phong and Loi signed up to go with me. I left before them in October to make another trip in Malaysia and flew out to K.L., agreeing to meet them in Kathmandu the next month.

While in Malaysia this time, I had dizzy-spells, with the room spinning around me. I didn’t know the cause, and still don’t, but guess they were symptoms of diabetes. I went to a Chinese physician ~ a quack, though I didn’t know this until afterwards ~ who didn’t diagnose what was wrong, but merely gave me some ginseng-extract, which was of no use at all. Fortunately, the diz-ziness passed, but it was quite uncomfortable while it lasted.

I made a brief visit to Singapore, where I spent a couple of days with Freddy Khong, who’d disrobed years before and had a wife and two sons and a successful carpet-business. He drove me back over the Causeway to Skudai, where I spent a while with some Buddhist students, and with them watched the handover of Hong Kong to China on TV. I was a bit surprised when one of them excitedly said, “Yeah, we got it back!” We? Although ethnic Chinese, he had been born and brought up in Malaysia, and probably wasn’t aware that he was thinking racially, and I won-dered where his loyalties lay. Damn lucky he didn’t live through the madness of the Cultural Revolution!

In the Nineteenth Century, Victor Hugo, French Poet and Novelist, 1802 - 1885 wrote:

"In the Twentieth Century, war will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, hatred will be dead, frontier boundaries will be dead, dogmas will be dead; Man will live. He will possess something higher than all these ~ a great country, the whole earth, and a great hope, the whole heaven."

Alas, if only that dream had come true! As it was, the 20th Century was the bloodiest of them all, and the 21st got off to a bad start. But we should not lose hope, and should still strive, you and I, for a better world.

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