Not This, Not That ~ TO OZ AGAIN

In November, I flew out to Singapore, where I got a tourist-visa for Australia, then went to Perth, spending three weeks with Tinh Giac in the temple; they organized just one talk for me while I was there. Next stop was Adelaide, where I spent some time in the Vietnamese temple before Sheila came to pick me up and take me home with her. During the time I’d been away, our parents had moved to live alongside of them in their own self-contained ‘granny-flat’. Mum had become unwell ~ she’d diagnosed herself as having bowel-cancer, but it wasn’t so; what she’d really had we never ascertained ~ and felt too isolated out at Moonta; there were pros and cons about this move, but they couldn’t have gone on living there much longer, so it really was for the best; and poor old Gran had died several years before. It was nice to stay with them for a while; it was quiet, nothing was expected of me, and I was able to relax and ‘let my hair down’.

Back at the temple, my Dharma-talks were well-received, especially because people there seldom had a chance to listen to a talk; the resident monk never gave any himself, and maybe because of this, he began to resent me, and somehow got the strange idea ~ I was informed about this after I’d left Adelaide by some-one close to him ~ that I was out to take over his temple. To this, I responded: “Well, he made two mistakes. Firstly, he thought of the temple as his own private property, when it belongs to the whole Buddhist community and not to any individual; and secondly, he thought I wanted his prison.” I am often asked if I have my own temple, and I usually reply that I don’t, nor do I want one, and that if I had a temple of my own, I wouldn’t be free to say what I feel should be said, but would have to say things to please people in order to get their support; truth is not popular, nor is it a big money-earner. If I wanted a temple of my own, I could have had ten or fifteen in different countries. No thanks!

While I was in Adelaide, someone from Melbourne called ~ a person named Nguyen Thanh Liem, I’d met briefly in Manila in ’79 when he’d just arrived by boat, and was staying in the Jose Fabella Center. He’d heard I was in Adelaide, and requested me to come to Melbourne, and offered to send me a plane-ticket, saying he would organize talks for me. I accepted, and he met me at the airport. On the way to the temple where I was to stay, he lost no time in excitedly telling me of the talk he’d arranged for me in a large hall he’d rented for that purpose the next Sunday, saying he’d announced it in the Vietnamese press, and expected about 800 people to attend. How he’d dreamed up this figure I don’t know, but I was to see that he was capable of all kinds of crazy things. He came to collect me from Chua Quang Minh ~ the small house-temple in the western suburbs ~ to take me for my talk. When we got to the venue, however, we found it locked and no-one there, and he had to look for the caretaker for the key. Eventually, only about fifty people turned up, and we were ‘lost’ in that large hall, where Liem had hung ‘Welcome’ banners over the stage. He’d also arranged a talk for me in the other Viet-namese temple on the far side of the city for the following Sun-day, but it was no more successful than had been the first.

On my first day in Melbourne, I ran into Pham Thanh Hung, who had not long before been resettled in Australia from VRC.

I had tracked down Ray Seibel, having lost contact with him some years before, and through an old address was able to get his current one and phone-number ~ in Melbourne! I called and spoke with him, and he came to take me over to his place. We had lots to talk about over dinner, for which Judith had made an egg-pie dish. Now, I’d not eaten eggs for years, but partook of it, not knowing how it would affect me. Next day, I was producing a gas so potent that when the cook brought lunch to my room, her face changed color, and she looked under the bed and chairs thinking the cat had brought in a dead rat or something. Deeply embarrassed, and ashamed to say, I let the cat get the blame, saying that it did sometimes come in through my open window! Since then, I’ve always tried to tell people who wished to invite me for food that my vegetarianism includes eggs, except if they are in cake, when I can’t take them out; somewhat hypocritical of me, you might say, but then, we are all hypocrites in some ways; none of us live exactly by what we say, but do and say things that contradict our philosophies; long ago, I recognized this about myself; nor is it because we want to be or try to be; it’s just part of our stage of evolution.

I came to know of the case of a young guy who had been hospi-talized for a minor operation on his ear in 1984, but the opera-tion had gone wrong and his brain was starved of oxygen, with the horrifying result that he was left disabled, unable to do any-thing for himself, or even to speak. Why this terrible thing befell Tai ~ for such was his name ~ we can’t say, and must be careful not to casually and callously dismiss it as ‘his karma’, as if we know, for we really do not know. What we do know, however, is that he didn't want or try to be like that; it happened to him; one day he was young, healthy, and handsome, with everything go-ing for him, and the next day, his life had changed forever, and he’d become a prisoner in his body, wanting both to live and to die, but caught between and unable to do either.

Two years later, his case came to the notice of a lady named Jacquie, who responded to his needs, and not only went every day to take care of him as normally only a mother would, but contended with the hospital authorities until they finally but reluc-tantly agreed to pay ongoing care-costs; this was no minor victory, as the hospital had denied responsibility for negligence. Jacquie's loving care for Tai touched many people, and caused some to remark that they must have had some strong bond from a previous life. I can't say much about that, but was full of admi-ration for her tireless efforts with Tai. He responded so well to her that he even made an attempt to write short notes to her, the first of which, though hard to read, of course, said: "Chet roi," which is Vietnamese for ‘Dead already,’ probably meaning that he was as good as dead, and, therefore, there was no point in taking care of him. This didn’t deter Jacquie, however, and for seven long years until he died, she bestowed her love and care on him, and the Vietnamese that she had previously learned came in very useful in facilitating communication with him.

Liem drove me to the airport, with his wife and small daughter, Diana. While I was checking-in, this little girl wandered off alone. It caused a panic, and I was so scared. We had to make an an-nouncement on the P.A. system, but it was quite a while before she was found down by the departure gates! This child was as hyper-active as a hurricane!

Now, here, my memory fails again. All I remember is that I stayed in several places, including Chua Phap Bao and Chua Phuoc Hue, but not in what order. During my talk in Chua Phap Bao, although people were interested and wanted to listen, the abbot, Thich Bao Lac, rang the bell to cut me off, as it was near lunch-time; this was so rude, and had never happened to me anywhere before.

Like in Los Angeles, there was rivalry and acrimony between these two temples, and instead of subsiding over the years, it became worse.

I met someone I’d known in VRC: Vo Tan Hong and his family were living in a small flat; he and his wife were sewing for up to sixteen hours a day in order to stay afloat. They would later get into the bakery-business. I’ll refer to him hereafter as Baker Vo.

Liem had arranged for me to stay with a friend of his in Sydney, Minh Quang, another ex-monk like himself. He lived with his wife and young son in a small flat, where he wanted me to watch videos ~ a 12-tape series about Kwan Yin, in Chinese, dubbed into Vietnamese, which I found extremely boring ~ just like Giac Luong’s video about the Buddha in San Jose.

I bumped into Tam Dao, from VRC. He was a follower of Cao Dai ~ a Vietnamese religion comprising elements of the major world religions and other things beside; he lived in the house that served as a temple for their activities. Many Cao Dai-ists are vegetarians, and I always got on alright with them.

From Sydney I went to Brisbane, to be met by Le Bang, who had been with me in Bataan; he took me to one of the temples. There, I met Tran Van Hoa, who had worked in the dental-clinic at VRC, and had studied in this field since arriving in Australia in ’82; the first thing he did upon meeting me was to look at my teeth, and asked me to ‘open wide.’ “You need a partial den-ture,” he said; “I’ll make you one.” So he took an impression of my teeth and made the denture. He then took me to his home for a fitting, and forced it in ~ it had sharp wires sticking out on it ~ hurting my gums. Afterwards, I ate with it in, but it was hard-going. It was impossible to wear.

During my stay in Brisbane, the monk from the temple where I was staying arranged to take me to the Chenrezig Institute at Eudlo, a Tibetan center that had been established mainly by the efforts of an Aussie doctor ~ Nick Ribush ~ and his wife, Marie, who had become monk and nun, and who I’d met at Kopan in ’74; they were not at Chenrezig at the time.

Returning to Sydney, I went to Canberra to stay for a while with Thich Quang Ba, who arranged a talk for me in the Uni; he also drove me around Canberra, but was such an erratic driver that I said, “Look here, I don’t mind visiting people in hospital, but don’t take me to stay there!” He was well-known for his driving. Back in Sydney, I flew out to Singapore before my Aussie visa expired, and again went back to the Phils for some months.

Enlightenment is like the moment of death: when it comes, it is always instantaneous, but the process leading up to it is gradual; in fact, we spend our entire lives building up to it — no, more: the moment we are born, we begin to die, for death is not something separate from life, but part of it; it might even be said that living is dying — the wheel turns, and the life-force runs out.

The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.

~ Theodore Isaac Rubin, U.S. Psychiatrist & Author, 1923 ~

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