Not This, Not That ~ EUROPA

In Brussels, I took a train to reach the historic town of Kleve, in Germany, and checked into a hotel before going to the Catholic hospital where Bobby was confined. Entering her room, I was shocked to find her emaciated and almost bald from the treatment she’d been through, but there was a smile on her face as our eyes met; it had been twelve years since the last time. Her daughter, Rebecca ~ who I’d not met before ~ was with her, together with her boyfriend, but Sean hadn’t bothered to come, even though he was living at the time in Sweden and had been informed of her condition.

The hospital authorities, knowing I’d come so far to see her, and was staying in a hotel, offered me a room for a nominal sum, and with vegetarian food, too, so I could be near her. I gladly accepted and moved in, spending much of the time at Bobby’s bedside. As the days passed, however, and the realization that she hadn’t much longer set in, her forced cheerfulness faded and she became snappy whenever I tried to turn her thoughts towards Dharma. She’d been a Buddhist for many years, but hadn’t bothered to go very deeply into the teachings; she’d spent her time focusing on her pet project, ‘Save the Whales' instead, and so, at the end, when she really needed help, and help was there, she was unable to use it. I left after five days with her, not knowing how much longer she’d linger, and went to stay with Kiet ~ an ex-monk who’d been in PRPC in ’81 ~ in an-other town, leaving his phone-number with Rebecca. She called me several days later to tell me her mother had gone. Rebecca had her mother’s body cremated, and scattered her ashes in the North Sea.

Kiet and his wife had settled into their new life alright, and treated me well during my short stay, and took me to a Buddhist ceremony in a large hall where ~ you guessed it ~ I met more people from Bataan, and a monk who’d come down from Hannover to conduct the ceremony ~ Thich Nhu Dien. Learning that I intended to go on to Denmark and Norway to visit refugees there, he invited me to go back with him and spend some time in his temple, as I’d need to pass through Hannover anyway. After the ceremony, therefore, we picked up my baggage and off we went; it snowed on the way as we drove through the night. Nothing much happened during my stay there, and I was soon on a train to Nyborg in Denmark, having called my old friend, Pete, to tell him the time of my arrival some hours later. (He’d moved to Nyborg from Middlefart years before). We were pleased to see each other after so many years, and had so many things to talk about; he took me to visit his father, who’d married again after Pete’s mum had died; he seemed quite happy with his new wife, who regaled us with coffee and cakes. We also visited his younger brother and sister, both of whom had their own families.

From Nyborg, I went to Frederikshavn, to catch a ferry across the Kattegat to Oslo. I bought my ticket and located my cabin deep in the bowels of the ship. It was an overnight trip, and the sea was quite rough; I was a bit nervous as the ship pitched and rolled with the swell, but we reached there safely, and I was greeted on the dock by Khang (who had been my most-able translator in Bataan two years before), Hanh, with whom I would stay, and several other people. It was already cold, being mid-November, and during the two weeks I spent there, it dropped to well below zero.

Hanh had been there, with her young son and daughter, since ’83, having been rejected for resettlement in the US while they were in the Camp, as the US embassy claimed she had been a VC-supporter in Vietnam and had even kept a ‘safe-house’ for them in Saigon ~ a claim she strongly denied, but to no avail. Finally, just as she was becoming desperate, she was accepted for resettlement in Norway. She often went to the temples in Bataan to seek comfort there, and was now in a position to offer me shelter. (Her husband was later to rejoin her from Vietnam, but not long after that, alas, she suffered a stroke from which she never recovered, leaving her partially paralyzed and in great pain. I continued to keep in touch with her over the years, but her short replies became fewer and less, and her kids ~ adults by now, and surely conversant with email ~ never bothered to contact me on her behalf. Poor Hanh!)

Khang, with his brilliant intellect, was already fluent in Norwe-gian, and well on his way with his medical studies; before long became a doctor and won national acclaim. He escorted me by train to Bergen on the west coast, to talk to the Vietnamese Buddhists; he translated for me. But he was a poor correspon-dent ~ like many Vietnamese ~ and I had no contact with him since then, much as I would have liked.

While there, I was told of something that had happened not long before ~ something that, with a little foresight, could have been avoided. A Vietnamese had died, and his family had a swastika engraved upon his tombstone. Now, this symbol, to Vietnamese Buddhists ~ as it is to people of various religions in Asia ~ is auspicious, else why would they have put it on the tomb-stone? Many Vietnamese and Chinese Buddhists also wear small gold swastikas, or have it tattooed on their arms. Having asked a number of people wearing this symbol as to its meaning, how-ever, I found that few knew. Apparently, it originated in ancient Persia, about 3,500 years ago, predating Buddhism by 1000 years, and whichever way it is used in Asia ~ clockwise or anti-clockwise ~ it symbolizes Safety, Well-Being, or Happiness. The word comes from the Sanskrit, svasti. However, while in Asia, the swastika always symbolizes something good, in the West, because Hitler adopted it, it is regarded as a symbol of evil. Very few Westerners know of its ancient origin and meaning.

Norway, like many other countries, suffered under the occupying forces of Nazi Germany during WW2. So, when Norwegians saw the Swastika on the Vietnamese tombstone in a public cemetery, the memories of Nazi terror rushed to the surface, and there was an uproar. At first, the Vietnamese did not know what the fuss was about, as they say the way the Buddhists use the swastika ~ clockwise ~ is different from the way Hitler used it ~ anticlockwise. Well, this might be so to them, but most West-erners are not aware of the difference, and so it was in Norway. Anger flared, and the Vietnamese had to explain and apologize publicly, and remove the mark from the stone.

There have been incidents regarding this symbol in the US, too, and so, because I didn’t want to see the Vietnamese in trouble or danger, a number of times, I tried to explain that it is inadvis-able to use this symbol anymore, as it causes misunderstand-ing. And it’s not the only symbol we may use; there is the Lotus, or the Dharma-Wheel, too. In this, as in all things, we should be practical, as it is impossible to explain to everyone that the Bud-dhist swastika is different from the Nazi swastika ~ impossible! And not only might using it lead to trouble, but may hamper our efforts to propagate Dharma in the West; some people, who might otherwise be sympathetic, would only feel alienated by the presence of swastika signs in temples. It is we who must under-stand, bend and adapt on this point, not others. If the Vietnam-ese and Chinese Buddhists continue using this symbol in the West, they will only invite trouble and be to blame for the conse-quences. This is my well-meant advice, meant to preserve, pre-vent and protect, to bring about a little of the quality that the Swastika originally symbolized: Safety and Well-Being.

From Oslo, I went by train and ferry to Copenhagen, where I got another train back to Nyborg, to stay with Pete again, but hadn’t been there long when I got a call from someone in Copenhagen requesting me to return there and stay at his home in order to meet a few people. I consented, needing little excuse to revisit what used to be one of my favorite cities, even though it was winter. So, saying goodbye to Pete for the last time, back I went, to be met at the train-station and conducted to his home. After some time, he asked if I was hungry. Of course, I was, after the journey of some hours, so I said, “Well, yes, I am.”

He then said, “Er,….are you vegetarian?” which was a strange question; he should have known, dressed as I was; he had been a Buddhist for many years and was a disciple of Thich Tam Chau, one of the senior-most prominent Vietnamese monks in the West. Again, I said, “Yes, I am.”

“Then I’ll ask my mother to prepare something for you.” After a while, he called me to eat, and I sat down to bread-and-cheese. Now, this was quite alright for me, as it had been my staple-diet years before, but it became a bit monotonous, as this is what I was served for every meal during my 3 days’ stay there.

I was not sad to leave and return to Germany, where I’d ar-ranged to visit Jo-Jo and his family. He met me off the train and took me to his home, where he showed me souvenirs from the time we camped on Darwin beach together in ’71. It was really good to see him again; he had a nice wife and kids. When it came time for me to move on again, like a grasshopper, he got me a ticket to Kiet’s town, and I stayed with him again. Several ex-Bataanites came to visit me there, until one of Kiet’s friends came and said he would soon be driving to Paris, and offered me a ride if I wanted to go with him. Of course, I accepted, and was soon over the border of France and on to the City of Light. Now, although I’d passed through Paris twice in the ‘60’s, I’d never stopped there, and was happy to have an opportunity to see something of what was to become another of my favorite cit-ies. I was dropped at Chua Khanh Anh, the abbot of which ~ Thich Minh Tam ~ I’d met several times in the US; he received me kindly, and arranged a talk for me in the temple the following Sunday, and in the meantime had one of his young monks to drive me around and show me some of the sights.

I was very pleased about this, and greatly enjoyed visiting Notre Dame Cathedral, where, although it was winter and very cold, it was instant meditation! The atmosphere is so profound in such places, as though the very stones have absorbed, like batteries, the devotion and piety of the faithful over the centuries. We went up the Eiffel Tower and almost got blown off the top by the strong winds. On, from there, through the Arc de Triomphe, to the Church of Sacre Coeur at Montmartre, and the next day ~ as we had by then run out of time ~ to Versailles, the Palace of the Sun King, Louis XIV, the construction of which, with its vast symmetrical gardens, had practically bankrupted France in the 17th century. We spent hours wandering through the salons and mirrored halls, admiring the marble, the furniture, the tapestries, statuary and paintings ~ including the huge canvas of Napoleon crowning himself Emperor ~ and then, quite overcome by it all, headed back to the temple for food, having long grown hungry. I’d enjoyed it all immensely, but sadly regretted being unable to see more of Paris; alas, there was no time to visit the Louvre.

My talk went well, and the next day, I got a train to Calais and crossed the Channel again after so many years. Another train brought me to London, getting through which was no less a pain than it always used to be for me, especially with heavy baggage on the Underground at rush-hour! Finally, I was on a crowded train to Crewe, only two hours away. There, I got a taxi and gave the driver Glen’s address, but he said he didn’t know it, so I told him it was near the hospital, unaware that the hospital I’d known had been demolished years before ~ I’d not been back in Eng-land since 1970, remember ~ and a new one built some miles away; consequently, this is where we went in search of Glen’s street, but it wasn’t there, of course, and it was only after driving around for quite a while and several inquiries that we found it, and I had to pay a whopping fare!

Now, mum and dad were visiting from Australia again, although they shouldn’t have come in winter, as their blood was thinner from years in Oz, and they were unable to stand the cold.

Harold drove me to Burwardsley, and as we came up into the village, I saw someone leaning on the gate of a farm-house where I used to know the people. I didn’t recognize him, but asked Harold to stop the car anyway, and went over to him. He saw me coming, dressed in my robes, but expressed no sur-prise. I asked him: “Are you one of the Bensons?”

“Maybe,” he said.
“Are you Philip Benson?”
“Yep,” he said, seemingly unconcerned, as if he saw Buddhist monks every day of his life.
“Do you know me?” I asked.
“Well, you should do,” I said, “as I went to school with you for 10 years.”
“Where did you live?” he said.
“Up near the pub.”
“Oh, bloody hell,” he said, “Mike Houghton,” and called his wife: “Sandra, Sandra, come and see who’s here!” ~ a girl from the same village.

Here was this guy, living in the house he’d been born in, never having gone very far, and I come along as a Buddhist monk, having been all over the world! But it was too much for him, and he couldn’t comprehend; he didn’t ask me anything, nor did he invite me in for a cup of tea, but just kept me standing there for a while, until we drove on up the village. He did, however, alert some others that I was there, and I met several people I had known long ago because of this.

The house where I was born had gone ~ almost without a trace ~ demolished long ago (it was so old that to renovate and mod-ernize it would have cost too much); the garden was like a jun-gle. I was born and lived there? Not much remained apart from a tree I used to climb, an oak gate-post ~ still solid ~ set firmly in the ground by my dad, a lilac-bush that my mother had planted, and a few moss-covered stones in a garden-wall.

Of course, I stopped by to visit Mr. Ravenscroft, but found him old and shrunken, and so senile that he could not remember me. But I could remember him, and thank him, personally, for help-ing me understand something, and that was the important thing. I left feeling lucky to have seen him again.

Glen called the local newspaper, which sent someone out to in-terview me; his report, together with a photo, was duly pub-lished, and at least one person recognized me when he saw it.

Then, I called an old friend ~ Stan, the guy who had said, years before, that he wished he could do what I was doing ~ and said to him: “Three guesses ~ who’s this?” He answered, “Well, it isn’t Santa Claus, that’s for sure!” I gave him a clue, and he guessed correctly, surprised to hear my voice again. He came to see me the next day, and later, took me to see other old work-mates before taking me home to meet his wife, Jean, who I’d met briefly before they married. They had three children, two girls and a boy, the youngest, who was then about 5 years old.

Now, I’d kept in touch with Hien’s mother and sister after they’d returned to England from Atlanta, and spoken with them on the phone; they were living in Cardiff in South Wales, and invited me to visit them, so I did, when I left Crewe in January, ‘86. I’d never been to Cardiff before ~ and indeed, had seen very little of the UK at all, and knew countries like Malaysia and India much bet-ter than I did the land of my birth; this was a great pity, really, as it is a beautiful land, steeped in history ~ and they showed me around somewhat; I especially enjoyed visiting the castle, which was well-preserved. They also took me to Bath, the famous spa-city dating back to Roman times, but unfortunately, the spa itself was closed for renovations at the time.

These kindly people sent me on by train, and I went to visit Adrian and Tony who were both teaching at a privately-funded establishment for newly-arrived refugees outside London called The Ockenden Venture, and after a few days there, Adrian took me to London by train to meet Muriel, and we stayed in her flat for 2 days, during which she showed us something of London; again, I was sorry I didn’t stay longer in order to see more, but it was winter, and Knoxey had booked me on an Aeroflot flight to Singapore, as I’d asked her to do before coming to London; she drove me to Heathrow airport.

It was the first time I had flown Aeroflop, and hopefully, will be the last; the cabin-attendants were a surly bunch, and a request for even a glass of water seemed too much for them. We flew via Moscow to change planes, and getting through Immigration there, even though we were going no further than the transit-lounge, was quite an ordeal; again, no smiles or warmth. And, because there was a snow-storm raging outside, the ongoing-flight was delayed, so we had to wait in that gloomy hall for some hours until the runway was clear enough for take-off. Nor was it a direct flight from there to Singapore, but via New Delhi, where I watched the great red orb of the sun rise from the hazy horizon, reminding me so much of the dewy and cool but soon-to-warm-up Indian mornings.

What a difference between the wintry climate of England and the steamy heat of Singapore! Although I spent many years in the tropics, I never got used to that climate, and the older I get, the harder I find it to take; it is just something I have to endure; I cer-tainly don’t enjoy it when I am constantly sweating!

In Phor Kark See, I met an Australian monk named Dhammika, who’d been there some months. He was busy giving talks all over the place, and was already well-known as a good speaker and prolific writer. He wasn’t vegetarian, however, and it came to a point when two younger monks, who’d somehow got them-selves into positions they shouldn’t have had, made up their minds to get him. An opportunity arose when they saw someone bringing take-away food for him, and suspecting it wasn’t vege-tarian, followed them to his room, demanding to search it, and found prawns in his food ~ as they’d expected and hoped for. This nasty pair ordered him to leave the temple forthwith, but he shouldn’t have had such food brought in for him; that was his mistake. He moved into a flat that some of his supporters rented for him, and was there for some time before moving again, this time into a flat over a Buddhist center known as the Buddhist Library. I kept in touch with him for some years after this, and even stayed with him a couple of times, but he was a hard person to be with, as am I (and I’m the first to admit this).

I made preparations to visit the large Vietnamese Refugee-Camp on Galang Island in Indonesia. To reach this, I had to take a fast passenger launch from Singapore, first to Batam Island ~ the port-of-entry to that part of Indonesia known as Riau, which is notorious as a pirate-lair. At Batam, I went through Immigra-tion before going on to another island, Tanjung Pinang, where I put up in a Chinese temple. One of the monks ~ who I’d earlier met in Singapore, and who’d invited me there ~ helped me to get permission to visit Galang, but this wasn’t easy, and proba-bly involved the exchange of ‘coffee-money’. Once I’d got per-mission, he went with me by a UNHCR boat to Galang, taking me to a temple on a hill that he’d assisted the refugees to estab-lish; it was named Chua Quan Am, and we had lunch there be-fore walking from Galang One (the area where this temple was situated), to Galang Two, where there was another recently-built temple called Chua Quang Minh. I was to lodge here during my stay on the island. Between Galang 1 and Galang 2, we passed what was euphemistically called Galang 3 ~ the cemetery where any refugees who’d died there ~ not a few ~ were buried.

The monk returned to Tanjung Pinang, while I stayed in Quang Minh temple for the 5 days of my permit. There were several monks in that temple, and I was made reasonably comfortable.

Talks were hastily arranged for me, and every night I spoke in either Quang Minh or Quan Am temple to large audiences, with someone translating. During my talks in Quang Minh, I noticed two white butterflies fluttering around inside, night after night, and thought it strange, as butterflies are not nocturnal. Then I was told that some months before, two sisters who’d been raped when pirates attacked their boat, were so traumatized, that upon being brought to Galang, had hung themselves on a large tree near the temple. At this, I recalled hearing of a Vietnamese be-lief that the consciousness, mind or spirit of deceased people sometimes takes the form of butterflies in order to appear to the living. During my talk that evening, I spoke about this, and asked the audience to join me in sending positive thoughts to any enti-ties that might be in the vicinity, and wishing them peace and freedom from fear and anxiety. The next morning, I found one of the butterflies dead on the temple floor.

Now, to fast-forward a little, a similar incident took place later that year in PRPC: One day, a woman came to the temple with her young son and told me she’d recently received news that her husband had died in Vietnam, and whenever she made of-ferings on her makeshift altar for him, a large butterfly would set-tle on her son’s shoulder, making them both rather scared. I told her they had no need to fear, as butterflies never hurt anyone, and that it was a good sign, maybe from her husband trying to assure her he was alright, and that when the butterfly appeared again, they should focus their minds and send strong thoughts of love to him through it, telling him “Let go, and go on your way, and may you be well and safe, brave and strong, and if we have enough affinity, we will meet again.” She followed my advice, and the next time she saw me, said that the butterfly had ceased coming.

If anyone can help a dead person in any way, who would be more qualified to do it than his or her own family members? If we demystify the ceremonies that are performed for the dead and cease to look upon them as sacred traditions, we might un-derstand their purpose and what lies behind them.

If, as all religions claim, life does not die at the body’s death, if something immaterial survives and continues ~ soul, spirit, con-sciousness, mind, call it what you like ~ how would it be possible to help? Surely, food, drink, clothes, flowers, money and other offerings are of no use but are just symbols, tokens of respect, love and concern for the safety and well-being of the deceased.

Recent research has revealed many cases of people being de-clared clinically dead, but after some time, returning to life, tell-ing of how it felt to be dead. Such accounts, from people of vari-ous cultural and religious backgrounds, tally to a remarkable de-gree. Many told of being aware of what was going on around their just-vacated bodies from their own outside viewpoint; they recounted, in accurate detail, what doctors, nurses, and others said and did in their efforts to resuscitate the body, of the grief of relatives, etc. But, although the ‘dead person’ could hear and see all that was going on, he / she / it could not communicate with the living in any way; it was strictly one-way. (See Life After Life by Dr. J.D. Moody, and other books on the subject).

From this, it seems that the ‘dead’ can be contacted, but ~ as far as this particular type of research has extended ~ on a speak-ing-to rather than a speaking-with basis. It is not known, how-ever, for how long this one-way channel of communication is open, nor if it is open in the case of all dead people; it might be for just a short period, while the spirit or consciousness is in the immediate vicinity of its corpse and before it passes on to other dimensions; of that, I’m not qualified to speak, as I have only personal opinions and not verifiable facts. Some religions tell of an ‘intermediate’ period between the death of the body and re-embodiment or rebirth; some say this can last as long as 49 days (49 being 7 x 7, and to many, 7 was/is a mystical number for some reason or other, though there is no objective evidence to support this, any more than there is for 13 being regarded as an unlucky number; it is probably just an old superstition, given weight by people’s hopes and fears). Others believe the inter-mediate period can last for hundreds of years as we reckon time on this side of death, and others say that rebirth takes place immediately upon bodily death. On this point there is no con-sensus and it is best to keep open minds, without forming any conclusions, as nobody knows and neither can it be proved one way or the other. We are concerned here with how to help the dead ~ if this is possible ~ not with metaphysical speculation.

Let’s suppose that a just-deceased family-member or friend is still ‘within range’ of us: what can we do to help? We cannot pull him back to his abandoned vehicle, and it is worse than useless to try, for that might ‘tear him apart’ between staying and con-tinuing on the way he must go; we can impede as well as expe-dite his passage, and so should know how to go about the latter.

If we love someone, we want him/her to be happy, not sad; if we saw him sad we would be sad, too, and try to cheer him up and encourage him to overcome his sadness, would we not? So, suppose the deceased could see his family and friends sad and grieving over his death: would he not also feel sad about that? By grief, we cannot help a ‘dead’ person; in fact, our grief might only intensify his uncertainty over his new and unfamiliar condi-tion. So, the best way the living might help the dead (who are not really dead, but just in a different dimension or frequency, having left behind their physical forms), is not to be sad and mourn, but to send positive thoughts ~ and even spoken words; there is no harm in that ~ of love and encouragement, bidding the dead person be strong and to go on with his journey, as there is no point in ‘hanging around’. This ‘transmission’ (like a radio broadcast), would be best done in surroundings where the deceased lived and was happy, and no-one is better qualified to do this than his immediate family members or close friends. Why should we consider anyone more qualified than these? There is no need to call in outsiders or ‘professionals,’ with whom the dead had little or no contact, outsiders who might not really care about the welfare of the ‘dead,’ and to whom it’s ‘just another’. Moreover, it isn’t necessary to spend anything on the ‘send-off’; it wouldn’t be disrespectful on the part of the relatives to do things by themselves without spending lots of money. Fear of what others might think and say if the family does not comply with tradition impels people to spend money that sometimes they cannot afford. Would this please or help the deceased?

Long before I saw the movie, “Ghost” ~ starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopie Goldberg, and which became proba-bly my favorite movie ~ I had said that this is how it happens; some people die so suddenly and unexpectedly that they don’t realize they’re dead; they can see and hear everything here, but cannot be seen or heard by anyone except people with a special sense of clairvoyance or something of that kind. Now, to be in that state, not understanding what’s happened, and trying to communicate with people they can see and hear but getting no response, must be a most miserable condition; just think how it is to be ‘sent to Coventry’ in this world, by people around us, even for only an hour or a day: not a pleasant feeling at all! And this, I think, is the rationale behind the funeral ceremonies per-formed for the dead ~ or should be. That movie strengthened my conviction that this is so. I recommend watching it with this idea in mind; it makes a lot of sense; it would be interesting to know of the research that went into the making of this film.

In the obituary columns of the newspapers we can sometimes read: ‘No flowers, please; instead, donations in the name of the deceased may be made to cancer-research [or similar cause]’. This shows more understanding and is certainly of more use; also, if the deceased was of a charitable nature while alive, and could observe such donations being made in his memory, he would probably feel happy thereby, and that might cause him to be released, mentally, from any miserable condition he might be in ~ or rise above it ~ for joy makes the mind buoyant and light.

Following tradition, some Chinese burn paper houses, paper cars, and other things made of paper, such as token bank-notes ~ hell-money ~ in the naïve belief that their departed ones will receive these things in real form on ‘the other side’. What a quaint idea, and also, what a waste of money, as such are far from cheap, produced as they are by people who depend for their living on the superstitions of others who ask no questions or who are afraid to go against the traditions of their ancestors. But such practices are rather incongruous now, and should be quietly left behind, like the old-style Chinese coffins, which are rarely seen now. There are much better uses for money than that! In short: DO IT YOURSELF!

Now, wondering how I ever managed to reach such a ‘ripe old age’, I think more and more of my own demise, and the funeral, if any, that will follow; it cannot be far away, at the most.

I carry a note in my passport with the following text:


Since I found Dharma some years ago, I have tried to serve others in various ways. I would like to continue to be useful even in death, and so, wherever I die, I wish my body to be used for medical research and/or organ transplants.

To date, and as far as I know, my kidneys, liver and heart are functioning well, and might be useful.

I was diagnosed with diabetes in ’98, and must confess that my control of it is not very good; because of this, I could no longer donate blood.

My bronchial-system has also been weak for many years, ren-dering me susceptible to coughs lasting months that respond only to antibiotics; in 1991, such a cough developed into pneu-monia.

I have been free from headaches, but have had sharp nervous pains in my feet, probably from nerve-damage caused by the diabetes. For many years, a pinched nerve in my right hand has caused permanent semi-numbness in my little finger and the finger next to it, and that half of the palm; there is also pain there at times.

There is no need to consult my next of kin about this my deci-sion, as I am a monk and have no wife, children or other de-pendents to consider.

At one point, I hesitated about it because of the widely-held be-lief that the body should not be disturbed for several days after death, in order for the spirit or consciousness to disengage and complete the process of leaving the body. But I decided to go ahead with the idea for my body to be used for medical research and ‘spare parts’; I don’t want it to take up space needed by the living (by burial), nor to cause pollution in the atmosphere (by cremation). If it is not used for medical research and spare parts, next in line of preference would be sea-burial, to become food for fish, but since there is little likelihood that this would be al-lowed, nor burial at the foot of a tree, to nourish its roots, the next alternative would be cremation, but in the most economical way possible, and the ashes scattered at sea or somewhere on land, not kept anywhere to cause bother to anyone. A cardboard coffin ~ such as is now coming into use in the West ~ or simply a shroud like Hindus use, is all that is needed.

I do not want a ceremony, with monks, priests, drums, bells, lots of smoke and so on, as I don’t believe in such and am in fact against them! If I die in a place where I have friends, I’d like a few selected songs to be played in my memory, as they have Dharma content, and were meaningful to me, and I have tried to live by their spirit; also, some readings from the scriptures. In my baggage is a cassette-tape that I made some years ago; this should be played at my funeral, so I can do it myself. There is no need for anything other than this. Oh, and no flowers; leave them growing where they are. Anyone wishing to make a dona-tion in my name may do so for the purpose of printing Dharma-books to help someone understand something.

Back to Galang: I quite enjoyed my stay there before returning to Singapore and going on to Kuala Lumpur where someone had arranged for me to stay in a temple by the name of Tham Wah Wan. This had originally been set up many years before as a place where visiting monks could stay, and was run by a mid-dle-aged lady who people called Ah Ko. This was to become my base in K.L. for the next 15 years. I was to discover later on that Ah Ko had a junkie-nephew, who, on a pretext that no-one knew, extorted money from her in huge amounts ~ many thousands of Malaysian Ringgit, maybe hundreds of thousands, if rumor could be believed! ~ until she had nothing left, and be-came distraught; he almost drove her mad.

I met Wong Chap Kin, who I’d known in Malacca in the old days; since then he’d started his own business installing fire-fighting equipment. He was an easy-going guy, and still single. He would do anything for me; nothing was too much trouble for him.

From there, I traveled up to Bangkok, to fly out to Hong Kong to visit the Camps again, and spent a month there. Since my first visit, two years before, Saddhaloka had continued to visit the refugees on a regular basis, carrying with him two large bags of Chinese medicine; he became a familiar sight, lugging these around, sweating under their weight in hot weather. He consid-ered himself a Chinese physician, and treated any refugee who showed signs of illness (I even came in for it myself!) Mdm Leung told me of the time a baby had fever, and there he was, working on its pressure-points while the baby howled piteously.

During this trip to Hong Kong I rode for the first time on a hover-craft and a hydrofoil. I also visited Macau again. Mdm Leung took me everywhere and had herself become quite well-known to the refugees while I was away; they called her ‘Ba Leung’ (Mother Leung). I was glad that at least two Buddhists had shown their concern for the boat-people.

It is just two hours from Hong Kong to Manila. This time, how-ever, I didn’t go to Seng Guan See, nor would I ever go there again, but stayed with Tomas and Avelina for a few days before going out to Bataan. There, I found a Vietnamese monk named Van Dum in charge of Chua Van Hanh (as they’d renamed the lower temple), but it was very dirty and dilapidated. The toilet-hut was a see-through wreck, and the toilet-bowl so filthy that I had to buy scouring-powder and a brush and clean it before I could use it! Then, before leaving for Palawan, I told Van Dum that unless another toilet was constructed while I was away, I would not stay there anymore. And, to impress upon him that I meant this, I called some people to help me dig a pit in another part of the compound, and expected them to make another toilet there before I returned.

Several weeks later, when I returned from Palawan, I found that, instead of building a new toilet, they’d merely patched up the old one, using sheets of plywood taken from somewhere else; they obviously thought this was good enough; they had no idea of what would happen to the plywood when the monsoon came, as it did shortly afterwards: the hut disintegrated! So, again, the toi-let became unusable.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
~ Anonymous ~

< Previous  -   Next>

Home  -   Against The Stream  -   As It Is  -   Because I Care  -   Behind The Mask  -   Boleh Tahan -   Just A Thought -   Let Me See  -   Lotus Petals  -   Not This, Not That  -   Parting Shots  -   Ripples Following Ripples  -   So Many Roads  -   This, Too, Will Pass  -   Wait A Minute!  -   Your Questions, My Answers  -   Download  -   Funeral  -   Links  -   Contact