Parting Shots ~ Contributions from
THE KENNI-JI JOURNALS *
August 17th, 2006
The sounds coming from the room next to my office
have been constant for the past 5 years. Every few
minutes one can hear the word “BLAST!”
followed by howls of laughter; every now and then,
a “DAMMIT!” comes through. You might think
that words like this shouldn’t come from a ‘man
of the cloth’, but he is human after all! All
these words are actually aimed at his lap-top computer
~ or as he affectionately calls it, a lap-dog. His
battles with the lap-dog have been numerous and the
outcome is usually a standard, “BLAST”
or “DAMMIT”. He needs his lap-dog to communicate
with his public. D.V. and I call him the E-Monk!
The usage of those words has increased in the past
few days as we are preparing for his 60th Birthday
tomorrow. Is he just getting grouchy in his old age?
Can’t be! Must be what we are preparing for
his birthday celebrations ~ yet another book launch
plus a small slide-show. I must say he is rather prolific.
This wandering monk has been to so many places and
touched the lives of so many that the books he has
written thus far, does not begin to scratch the surface
of his life. Does he actually have enough time to
complete his life story in book form? Time will tell.
I suppose he would have completed more books by
now if he didn’t have a constant stream of visitors
knocking on his door. Always welcoming and always
with a smile on his face. I sometimes wonder if all
these visitors come because of him or because of his
robe and what it represents. I must admit I cannot
understand the customs involved when meeting him.
Hands together, as in prayer, and a slight bow greets
him. Must be the differences in our religions that
makes me ignorant. I never do that when greeting him
daily. I don’t mean any disrespect. I want to
treat him as a friend and I am glad he treats me as
one as well. He usually replies my greeting with a
‘Hello, Old Fella’.
“Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”, He has broken
into one of his favourite songs again. This is my
cue to go and see what
is bothering him. For 5 years he has been trying to
grasp the Microsoft Word program in his computer.
For 5 years I’ve been showing him what to do.
For 5 years, there seems to be a straight tunnel from
one ear to the other. Whatever I tell or show him,
his head will nod, and he’ll say “Ahh::So”,
but I know this fella! He will ask the same thing
again, probably tomorrow. But he is my friend and
I will do the same thing again. When he starts playing
the Monty Python song “Always Look On The Bright
Side Of Life”, I know that he has given up his
struggles with the lap-dog for the day. Boys will
be boys and even though he is a Monk, he is still
a boy and he will have his toys! He is a gadget-freak
and loves all types of gadgets. But, I swear he has
10 thumbs on his hands because he takes so long to
master all the gadgets he has. From mobile-phones
to digital voice-recorders, his “thumbs”
seem to struggle with all the tiny buttons. The manuals
will be on my desk for me to read and then explain
to him what’s going on. Then it’s back
to “Ahh:.So” and its ‘Groundhog
Day’ for me,
We are almost finished with the preparations for
his Big Day. He has personally signed and hand-written
Thank-You messages on about 200 books for distribution
during the birthday-celebrations. Right on cue, another
of his catch phrases is heard. “Am I Hungry
Or What?” to which I usually reply “Or
What?” Just my way of saying, you are not hungry,
just ‘or what’. But I know he is hungry.
The diabetes he’s been carrying with him all
this while makes his system run like clock-work. After
his Vegemite sandwich and hot coffee, it will be ‘koon’
time (meaning nap). His Hokkien is quite good. He
offers me some Vegemite. I decline; yet again I tell
him it is rubbish that tastes like salted card-board.
Before he says anything I say no, I’ve not eaten
salted card-board before! It’s been like this
for 5 years, we always have these humorous jousting
games. He has a delightful sense of humor and is always
looking for a laugh.
This will be my chance to complete his slide show.
His nap will last about an hour, so that means an
hour free of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”.
This is the 10th and final version of the slide-show
I am doing! I thought the previous nine were quite
good but he is quite a perfectionist and like everything
in life, nothing can ever be said to be complete.
Just like his latest book, it went through about 5
reprints for some correction or other. There’s
always room for improvement and always a work in progress.
He is very straight-forward and if he sees something
wrong, he will tell it to you direct. No mincing of
words. If it’s for your own good, he will tell
you and not sweep anything under the carpet.
The celebrations tomorrow will be at DV’s
condominium. Maggie, DV’s sister, will be in
charge of the catering and it looks like all is going
according to plan. Almost 200 people are expected.
It’s almost time for me to pack my stuff and
call it a day. He wakes up just in time to watch me
leave for the day. “Good Bye, Old Fella, Have
a good koon”, I hear. I wave to him and smile.
August 18th, 2006
It’s Reverend Abhinyana’s 60th Birthday
today. I must say he is looking good for a 60-year-old
relic but one can see that the struggles he has had
with diabetes has made him shed some weight over the
years. However his wardrobe needs a change! Always
with the same brown robes which remind me of a Jedi
Master in the Star Wars movies. I wonder where he
keeps his Light Saber! But he certainly has the force
with him. And this morning I am greeted with this
Force of an almighty whiff of durians emanating from
his office. I enter and wish him the standard “Many
Happy Returns” greeting and said “I see
you had durians for Brekky this morning”. He
says “How did you know?” I told him to
belch out the window next time. He roars with laughter.
I sit on the Seat of Power, DV’s chair which
we have fondly renamed and we have a short chat about
anything and nothing. This would be my standard routine
for the past 5 years. Throughout the years many topics
have been covered by us from ‘Lord of the Rings’
to World Affairs to his preferred Damselfly screen-saver!!
Both of us like movies and most of the time we talk
This morning he needed an additional battery for
his Voice recorder. So we wait for a while and then
walk out to my friendly neighborhood computer-shop.
I like walking with him, crossing the road is so much
easier, people just seem to stop and give way and
as we pass them, the standard hands-together and head-bow
is offered. Perhaps I should wear this robe when trying
to cross a busy road next time. Nah! It won’t
work, the bald look is definitely not for me. I am
so used to seeing him in his robes that to see him
without the robes is like saying pigs can fly. This
happened when I was asked to fetch him from the airport,
returning from one of his many trips. A casual pair
of slacks and a shirt, was all he had on. It was a
difficult time searching him out. I found him thanks
to his bald head, which stuck out like a sore thumb.
On the way back to Malacca from the airport, we chatted
the whole way through and when we reached D.V.’s
place there was a power failure and the automatic
gate would not open. Then another sight I thought
I would never see: A Monk jumping over the fence!
Sounds like a restaurant menu, but literally he did
that. He climbed over the gate and got in. I sometimes
wonder what he wouldn’t do. It appears that
anything he puts his mind up to do, he will achieve.
When we get back to the office, DV was in his Seat
of Power and we have a short meeting concerning the
celebrations at night. After the meeting, the news
is broken to us. He says that he is ready to stop
wandering. He has had a very ‘Hock-ky’
life (Hokkien meaning lucky, I think) and he is ready
to move on to something better than life. He had planned
it from the start. After tonight, he will leave Malacca
for ever and move to Dogmandu (His more-appropriate
name for Kathmandu, because of the many barking dogs
there) for the remainder of his life. He asked us
not to mention it to anyone until he has announced
it himself. This man from the UK who migrated to Australia
but has his heart in Malacca finally wants to leave
so his soul can finally rest in its spiritual home,
the Himalayas. He has been there before and I can
understand, where else in the world can there be a
more peaceful and serene place than the Himalayas.
He says he feels that his time is almost near and
just wants to disappear into the sunset. How very
John Wayne of him! He spends the rest of the morning
sending out his final email messages telling the world
about his decision on this fateful day.
More work for me to do pertaining to the night’s
celebrations. Maggie has plans for a big poster to
be done to mark the occasion. The plan: To make a
collage of pictures of himself in a frame with Dragon
motifs. He added the words “60 Trips around
the Sun, and still going strong”. He has this
gift with words but his favorite pastime is giving
people nick-names and creating cryptic acronyms. It
took me some while to figure out what on earth ‘BWFWE?’
stood for at the end of most of his emails. I have
been Kenni-Ji for a while now and DV has sometimes
been referred to as His-Gohliness. If I had to write
down every thing he re-named, I would need a larger
journal! I remember once he taught me a mantra knowing
very well I wouldn’t take it seriously. His
way of teaching me a lesson was to make me sing out
“Owa-Tana-Sayam”. You figure it out! This
is our private joke.
The celebrations at night went very well. Ample
food and whilst people ate, they were entertained
by the slide show I prepared. It ran for about 40
minutes and contained pictures of his travels and
his favourite music. Mostly Hippie music, I thought,
and way before my time. The show was like an episode
of National Geographic. Places and People, that most
of us will not see in person. Then he gave a talk
which had to be translated. He becomes the person
everybody wants to see, a Monk. No more humor and
playing with words. I wonder how much was lost in
translation because sometimes the Translator spoke
more than him! The food was alright, some meatshaped
vegetables that even tasted like meat and fish! If
people wanted to be vegetarians why did they sometimes
shape vege like meat? Didn’t matter to me, I
was hungry and ate it all up. I went home satisfied
that I did a good job.
August 19th, 2006
This would be my final entry date for the Kenni-Ji
journals. Without him, I am just not Kenni-Ji anymore.
Today he rides off into the sunset. This would be
the last time I see him. The good-byes were unemotional.
After he left for the airport, I felt I didn’t
say a memorable Goodbye to him. So I texted a final
message to my friend:-
“May you LIVE as long as you like and
LIKE as long as you live”.
He has left behind his beloved lap-dog.
There will be no more emails from him.
What will life be like without him?
He disappears into the Departure Room.
I am selfish and filled with sadness.
Be happy because this is the way he wants it.
Malacca on the seashore will always have his heart.
His soul belongs to the Mountains.
It is his spiritual home.
I will miss him. BLAST, DAMMIT and GOODBYE,
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
on Kenni-Ji’s Contribution:-
* And who might this Kenni-Ji be, you might wonder?
Well, I’ll tell you, and extend this missive
will become enlarged in doing so:
Well, I first went to Malacca on my 30th birthday,
18th August 1976, and on that special day, met Goh
Hock Guan, a scion of the Goh family. Somehow ~ in
English, we call it ‘affinity’, but it
doesn’t have the weight of feeling that the
Chinese ‘yuen phan’ has ~ we became close
after that meeting. Ah Guan later became my student,
officially ~ by his mother’s urgings (she was
a dedicated Buddhist, but communication between us
difficult, as she spoke no English, and my Chinese
is non-existent, in spite of Kenni-Ji saying that
I speak the dialect of Hokkien pretty well ~ by him
Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels of, (1), the Buddha,
(2), His Teachings, and (3), Anyone who has attained
some degree of Enlightenment as a result of realizing
His teachings. On that occasion, I gave him a Buddhist
nomde- plume, Dharmavira, which is Pali, meaning,
‘Hero of Dharma’. This was later shortened
to D.V. He and his family have supported me generously
and unstintingly since then, and I followed his changing
Needless to say, he also came in for several other
names from me over the years. I had to do something
with his family-name, Goh’; it was just too
tempting, and because his work often took him out
‘into the field’, as it were ~ ‘field-work’
~ I used to address my letters to him, ‘Goh.
Going, Gone’, causing mirth among office-staff.
And, because he was/and is an avid golfer, his golfing-buddies
were further amused when his name morphed again, and
became, Goh, Going, Golf!
When his father passed over in 2000, D.V. took over
as head of the family business, with employees coming
and going. I don’t recall exactly when Kenni-Ji
came as the increasingly-needed book-keeper, but of
course it needed me to bestow upon him that handle,
as his parents didn’t call him that. They called
him Kenneth Hugh Low, or something like that, and
it took me quite a while, over my comings and goings,
to get sufficiently used to him ~ by no means easy
because of his sarcasm and cynicism ~ before I ventured
to give him the first of several nick-names, Kenny-G
being the first, but because he didn’t have
a saxophone, it wasn’t long before it metamorphed
into Kenni-Ji, as did Gandhi’s into Gandhi-Ji,
‘Ji’ in India being an honorific affixed
to the name of someone highly respected.
It wasn’t, as he said, that the sounds from
my work-area were constant, except when I was there
between trips, Malacca being my base in Malaysia.
D.V. reserved a room for me above his shop, and I
would stay there alone, when everyone else had gone
home at the end of their working day. He also allowed
me a desk in his air-conditioned office, where I could
work comfortably. Kenni-ji’s office was in the
next room, so he could hear me if I spoke above a
Although we got on quite well, and he was almost-always
ready and willing to assist me with what I needed,
which was quite often, I must humbly confess that
I wasn’t aware of how he thought of me as expressed
in what he wrote as his contribution towards “PARTING
SHOTS”, and was/am deeply touched. He is not
a Buddhist, as such, but describes himself, if anything,
as Catholic, but I have no problem with that, because
there he was, helping me, without letting names get
in the way, just like D.V.’s wife, Joan, of
Portuguese extraction, who was always kind and helpful
towards me since I met her soon after they married
in early ’84.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The following is the article
Venerable Thích Thông Pháp has
contributed towards my last book, "PARTING SHOTS".
words and lines which I have underlined are mine,
corrections or additions.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Today we hear a lot about degrees of separation.
This term refers to the interconnectedness of human
relationships and indicates that we are all much closer
than we imagine, stuck in our illusion of separateness.
People who live in Adelaide are constantly confronted
with very narrow degrees of separation. It is not
unusual to discover that a perfect stranger knows
numbers of people you know or grew up a street away
from you or went to the same church that you did fifty-three
years ago when you were a tiny little boy. My connection
with Venerable Abhinyana is one of those stories and
it began in 1967.
In 1967 I was fifteen and doing my Intermediate
(now called year 10) at Woodville High School. I was
Salarino in the school's production of the Merchant
of Venice. Portia was played by someone a couple of
years older than me called Sue Goldsworthy. All of
the third year boys looked up to Sue as she seemed
so much more mature than us and had a beauty that
was luminescent with a warm smile and a hearty laugh.
She was the perfect choice for Portia as was the choice
of Shylock and, dare I say it, Salarino. Mine was
a bit part but I was in enough scenes that meant that
by the time all of the rehearsals were finished, I
knew the play off by heart which served me very well
in the exams.
In any case, Sue Goldsworthy impressed herself on
me strongly. Some ten years later my partner at the
time introduced me to two friends, Don and Sue Elliot
who at that time lived at Clarendon. Sue was doing
a master's degree at Flinders University studying
Balinese dance and its influence on the French danseur,
Artaud. Imagine my surprise when I met Sue Elliot
and discovered that it was really Sue Goldsworthy.
Sue had become a Buddhist and knew a couple of monks
one of whom was Venerable Khantipalo who in 1980 became
my first dharma-teacher. Sue never talked to me much
about Buddhism but she let me live in her house in
Clarendon in 1979 and her shrine room impressed itself
on my mind strongly which had already begun to incline
towards the Dharma after working with another luminous
Buddhist woman called Jennifer Leumann (aka Pony)
and studying a little with a dharma-group and at Sturt
Sue went to Bali in 1979 and I have never seen her
again though friends have kept me in touch with her
life a little. At some stage before she departed she
told me the story of how she came to Buddhism. She
had become very unwell somewhere in South-East-Asia.
One morning she awoke in bed in hospital and saw a
western monk in robes standing next to her. He gave
her a book called "You Are Responsible"
which, she told me, she never read but she took the
title to heart. Fortunately, she recovered.
More than twenty years went by and I attended a
dharma-talk by a Venerable Abhinyana organised by
some Vietnamese Australians in Enfield. I don't remember
much of what he said except that he exhorted us to
be responsible for our own lives, just as Sue Elliot
had been many years before. I do remember asking him
whether he was a Theravada or a Mahayana monk due
to the combination of his robes. He answered that
he was not attached to either school and I was put
in mind of a saying by Ayya Khema who had also been
my teacher: "Greater Vehicle, lesser Vehicle;
all vehicles will be towed away at the owner's expense."
At that time I was also considering becoming a monk
so I made an appointment to visit him the next day
and ask his advice ~ after all, he too was a westerner.
The next morning I arrived at the home of a Sri
Lankan lady and Venerable Abhinyana came in, very
calmly and quietly. I sat with him for a short period,
asked my questions which I have forgotten and listened
with due respect to his answers. His answer was a
typical Abhinyana-answer: a layperson can do anything
a monk or nun can do.
(I prefer to put it ~ and do put it ~ this way: 'There
is nothing that a monk (or nun) can do that a lay-person
cannot do, if she or he wants to do it). I noted his
response but went ahead over the next few years anyway
to become ordained. He also invited me to his dharma-talk
later in the day and mentioned the names of a few
Australians who would attend including Sue Elliot.
Snap! He was the monk who stood by her hospital bed
so many years before.
Venerable Abhinyana was invited to a temple to hear
a grandmaster give a dharma-talk about a year later
and I recognised him there. I spoke to him and he
asked me if I would ask the monk in the temple if
he could stay there. I did ask the monk and for a
couple of reasons, which I think were lacking in substance
and hospitality, he said no. I felt very sad about
that and made a commitment that if I became a monk
and had the opportunity to do so, I would offer Venerable
Abhinyana my hospitality.
I did become a monk and last year, 2007, when I
attended the Kathina ceremony at the Sri Lankan temple
in Athelstone, I met a Chinese Australian lady called
Chau Yenha. After a very short time she mentioned
Venerable Abhinyana, another western monk, to me,
asking if I knew him. I told her that I'd met him
on a couple of occasions and I also told her of my
commitment to offering hospitality to him. I asked
her if she would let him know when next she was in
touch with him. A week later Venerable Abhinyana had
arrived at my front door with Chau Yenha and so he
stayed a week while further tests were being done
on the cancer of the esophagus cancer he'd been diagnosed
with in Malaysia.
That week was very special for me. We talked a lot
which was very precious for two reasons: he is a very
experienced western bhikkhu, which meant a lot to
me as a western monk. Furthermore he stood for being
his own kind of monk ~ not being too moulded by a
tradition or forced into anything by other people's
piety. I too hold these values and it was very important
to hear them from another monk. We talked and talked
very openly and I felt greatly blessed. I subsequently
read his three autobiographical books and got to understand
him even more deeply.
Venerable Abhinyana has convinced me that to be
a Buddhist monk does not mean giving up on being the
best of myself, the person that I am, and that it
is necessary to live my life in a way that makes sense
to me rather than one that fits any ecclesiastical
mould. I am very sorry that he currently experiences
so much pain and illness and I will not be philosophical
and Buddhist about his passing when it comes. I will
lose a valuable dharma-brother and we will all lose
a valuable dharma-teacher. Such things are rare treasures
and not to be taken for granted.
P.S. when I was staying in a monastery in the USA
in 2004-5 I found a book in the library called "You
are Responsible". It's all a circle game and
there really are only two-hundred people in the world.
One day you will have met them all.
By Venerable Thích Thông Pháp
Article by Lien Phan
March 2008, California
I would like to tell something of my story, as it’s
important to me, and might be to some others.
My sister and I escaped South Vietnam by boat in
1986. Living life as refugees was miserable as we
hardly had any food or water for almost a week at
sea. There was also so much uncertainty in our lives
then and for that one week at sea; we feared for our
lives. We were two of the many socalled “Boat-People”
that were escaping hard times and an even harder Governmental
regime. Even on the verge of despair, our religious
beliefs remained strong. When we were finally rescued,
by an Oil-Rig Boat, we were very grateful to have
the opportunity to start a new life. We started our
new lives as refugees in the Galang Refugee camp on
a small island in Indonesia, near to Singapore, in
June 1986. Though the fear subsided, our uncertainty
remained as to our eventual future.
The Refugee Camp was divided into two sections,
Galang 1 and Galang 2. Galang 1 would be our home
for the foreseeable future, alongside countless others
in the same situation as us. We were all waiting to
be screened and interviewed by the US Government before
being granted resettlement permits. There was a Buddhist
temple in Galang 1 called “Chua Quan Am”
and I visited this temple as often as I could. I was
hoping to find a religious teacher, a monk, who could
give me religious guidance in my hour of need. I didn’t
find one at the time as I didn’t stay in Galang
1 for long. After only one month, my sister and I
were accepted by the US, thanks in part to the documents
that we had carried with us from Vietnam. This quick
approval surprised us.
We were then transferred to Galang 2, where cultural
and orientation courses were run for those accepted
for resettlement. These courses were usually held
for three months before refugees were allowed to depart
for their approved destinations. We felt lucky and
were very grateful.
My joy was short-lived however, as a series of bad
luck befell me. In a compulsory health exam, it was
discovered that I had contracted Tuberculosis (TB).
I had to undergo TB treatment for a minimum of six
months. This meant that I could not go to the US until
after this 6-month period of medication had ended.
I was depressed by the news. The medication was strong
and the dosage tired my body. Everyone that was accepted
to the US wanted to leave the refugee camp as soon
as possible but they now had to wait for me. I blamed
myself for this delay in the resettlement process.
Then another misfortune happened. Someone sent an
anonymous letter to the US delegation accusing me
of providing false information during my interview.
It could have been anyone, perhaps it was jealousy
by someone who had been waiting for the resettlement
approval longer than us. I was fearful again that
the possible investigation might delay my resettlement
to the US, or I might even be denied a permit for
US resettlement. Who knew that I would fall victim
to the ugly nature of people, after all the hardship
I had to endure? I was in despair but I consoled myself
by thinking that if I was rejected by the US, I could
go to Canada instead. However, Canadian resettlement
rules stated that TB patients had to undergo a two
years or longer course of TB treatment before they
could resettle in Canada. Just thinking about the
two years TB treatment made me scared. Who would want
to stay in the Refugee camps for two more years? In
the meantime, the others that were approved for resettlement
had left the Camp for better lives. Maybe it was divine
intervention that I stayed behind due to my illness.
If not I would never have met him.
During that time, I heard that there was a Western
Buddhist monk who sometimes visited the Galang camp.
His name was Thay Abhinyana. He came in August 1986
and he was big and tall. My English was not good at
the time and my understanding of Buddhist teachings
was very limited. In Vietnam, before I became a Refugee,
Buddhist monks were not allowed to preach to lay-people
in temples. They were only allowed to chant. They
were also denied opportunities to gather people in
large groups to preach to them by silent Government-rulings.
I had never met a Buddhist Monk like him before.
Thay Abhinyana gave Dharma-talks in the temple of
Galang 1 (Chua Quan Am) and Galang 2 (Chua Kim Quang).
He attended the Buddhist ceremonies with us. When
he walked during the temple ceremonies, my sister
and I noticed that his steps were quite different
from other monks. My sister said he walked so beautifully.
We could see one step after another, gently, slowly
placed on the floor, from the heel to toe. His movement
was also gentle and light despite his large frame
and his eyes always looking downwards. It was really
nice and calming to watch him walk like that in the
ceremonies. We didn’t know then that the beauty
in his steps came from his mind. He had deliberately
focused his mind in his walk. Many years later, I
tried to practice this “walking meditation”.
It took me 3 days just to try focusing my mind on
the steps. It helped, when I am unable to concentrate,
to try and remember his walking posture. His walking
style reminds me to be mindful of my own posture and
to live my life in the present. I learned that the
present is all we have. Happiness comes when the mind
stays within the body. This sounds simple but is so
difficult to acquire.
In Thay Abhinyana, I had found my religious teacher.
He taught me the virtue of donation. In one of his
Dharma-talks, he encouraged us to do good deeds. He
spoke about donating food to monks who went around
for alms. He said “... do not be shy,
when you want to do something good, you should just
do it. Why are you shy about doing good deeds?”
The word “shy” has remained in my mind
ever since. I asked myself why I was so shy before
when I wanted to donate. One time in Vietnam, I saw
a monk out on almsround. I wanted to give him something,
but I was so shy and afraid to approach. I followed
him on my bicycle for a while before finding the courage
to place some money in his almsbowl. I had no food
with me at the time. I felt so happy after that because
I managed not only to conquer my fear and shyness
but to also do a good deed. I didn’t know then
that donating is the first virtue for lay people to
practice in Buddhism.
Thay Abhinyana sometimes went around the camp with
young men asking for alms to encourage the people
in the camp to practice donating. The young men’s
usual reward was the food received from these trips.
Thay Abhinyana once wrote to me this
verse from the Buddha:-
Take refuge in yourself,
Take yourself as an island
Take Dharma as your refuge:
I liked it a lot because of its poetic beauty, but
didn't really understand its meaning or how to practice
it. I didn’t know it at the time but he had
taught me an important lesson on how to live ones’
life. When I look back at my life as a refugee all
those years ago, it was not a happy time for me. I
was scared and my heart was filled with fear. In time,
however, I’ve matured and I have slowly begun
to understand his teaching and its practices. I am
thankful for his lessons.
Also in the refugee camp, Thay Abhinyana wrote “fortunate,
indeed, it is to “co duyen” (good karma)
with the Buddha’s way, for this is a way based
upon Fact, and not upon belief, superstition or fear”.
It took me many years to understand this important
Dharma introduction. I appreciate so much for his
dharma teaching in my early life.
I did not spend much time with Thay Abhinyana as
his stay in the Galang Refugee Camp was short. I remember
it well because it was during my most uncertain and
unhappy time and he had helped me through this period.
I did not meet up with him again until 10 years later,
during his short visit to California. My cousin and
I had lunch with Thay then he left, continuing his
trip in the US. I knew he wouldn’t stay long
because of his ongoing, wandering life, spreading
Buddhism, helping the desperate, the suffering and
The news of his illness hit me hard. I was saddened.
He is a part of my past, my refugee-life, my present
and I thought he will be part of my future as well.
I have lived through news of my parent’s friends
or relatives passing away. More recently I have heard
of friends and relatives of my generation passing
away. Now I learn that Thay Abhinyana is fighting
for his life with this illness. I know my journey
will end one day soon. My generation will all soon
arrive at the end of their journey. Everybody will
walk on the same path, sooner or later. What remains
is their spirit, the imprints that a person leaves
in the minds of other people. Thay Abhinyana has left
his imprints in my mind.
Even until today, Thay Abhinyana is still teaching
his Dharma lessons, ignoring his ailment. Still carrying
on despite the terrible pain his body is suffering.
His mind, however, is still very sharp, remembering
even the years he met people in the refugee camps.
I don’t know how he can still remember the thousands
of people in different Refugee Camps from Hong Kong,
Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore but
I am grateful for his wonderful memory for remembering
Even through his pain, his metta (loving kindness),
is so strong that he continues to send out emails
telling us of his situation. He is still giving Dharma-comments
on our daily life or on what we have said, giving
us his thoughts or giving Dharma-talks to people.
Only people with good hearts, good mindfulness can
have a clear mind even at the end of their time. He
is a good person.
His Dharma-teachings and advice to “continue
living”, has left its mark on me, spiritually.
Looking back all those years ago, I now know that
he was my spiritual life-saver. Reading through his
books, I can see that he is a fearless person, speaking
truths from the heart without fear or favours. He
shows his feelings, emotions and humor openly without
hiding. I have nothing bad to say about his character.
It’s just him, Thay Abhinyana.
He has lived his life to the fullest. How about
me? I ask myself.
Article by Ngoc Pham
A STORY OF VRC
One afternoon in the Refugee Camp of VRC, Palawan,
Philippines, as I walked from the main entrance toward
the temple on the left-hand side, I saw a western
monk. I was surprised since it was the first time
that I had ever seen a western monk. Suddenly, into
my mind came some words from a Buddhist book that
I had chanted many times but I didn't really understand
the meaning. That sentence was "Sac bat di khong,
khong bat di sac, sac tuc thi khong, khong tuc thi
sac". I decided to ask this monk what it meant.
I approached him, saluted, and asked him if he could
explain the meaning of the sentence. But he only pointed
to a nearby flower and said in Vietnamese, I don't
remember the exact words, but something like "Here
today, gone tomorrow" and then left. I was standing
there, even more confused, trying to figure out the
meaning and was surprised by the simple, direct, "make
me think" explanation of the monk. Somehow, I
liked the way he explained the Dharma and that encouraged
me to listen to his talks at the temple very often.
During my stay in VRC, I was lucky that Thay Abhinyana
came to visit the camp. Everytime he came, it was
always a surprise for me and I was happy because the
temple was more active with people who came to visit
Thay, and listen to his Dharma-talks.
There was more activity at night in the camp when
the moon was full. Most of us were happy on those
nights because the camp was lit by the gentle-bright
light of the moon. The moon was round and bright against
a clear dark blue sky, we hardly saw clouds on those
nights, if there were any, they appeared white. The
temple's representative would organize chanting and
Dharma-talks on the nights of the full-moon. Everything
seemed brighter under the light of the full-moon,
we could see the red color of the flowers on Bougainvillea
bushes which grew as a fence in front of the temple.
We could hear the peaceful sound of the ocean and
the gentle breeze blowing through the leaves of the
palm-trees. When Thay gave talks, he sat on the floor
of the assembly-hall and we gathered in the yard before
the hall to listen and the translator translated his
words into Vietnamese. His talks were in English but
he also added Vietnamese words to help us to understand
better; that made the talks more interesting, meaningful
and fun. Some of us asked questions and Thay answered
them in a fun way that made us all laugh. I was to
interpret his talks many times. His teachings were
so clear and simple, it was as clear as the moon light
above and went straight inside me. I will always remember
those moments. When the talks were over, we gathered
around him to ask questions until he retired for the
night. As we walked back to our huts in the cool breeze,
the moon light seemed even brighter.
During his stay in VRC, Thay was working with a
group of young people to carry and move rocks under
trees to make tables and seats. On the rocks, they
put a thin layer of cement in which Thay wrote Dharma-sentences.
Palawan island is very warm and sunny in the daytime.
The "rock" tables and seats looked very
nice, very natural under the trees. While I took a
break or relaxed on the seats in the cool shadows,
I used to read the Dharma teaching on the rocks and
thought about the meaning and about life ... .Those
"rock" tables were in every zone in the
camp. I don't know if they are still there.
Sometimes in the early morning, Thay taught us meditation
on the airport-runway which ran beside the camp. I
still remember the cool breeze from the ocean on the
runway. As the sun started to rise above the horizon
of the ocean, Thay lead us to the runway and taught
us how to meditate. We sat down on the cement runway,
facing the ocean and listened to Thay explain how
to concentrate on our breathing. It is so peaceful
for me to remember those mornings. When the sun had
risen a little more and it was getting a bit too sunny
and warm, we said goodbye and went back to do our
On one occasion, Thay asked me to translate his
very first book "Keys For Refugees". I was
a bit scared to accept this offer because at that
time my English was not very good. I told him so but
Thay still insisted and encouraged me to start the
translation. Each time, Thay gave me a paragraph of
the English version and I translated it into Vietnamese.
When I didn't understand the meaning, I asked Thay
and continued the translation. At the beginning, it
was a bit hard for me, but soon I became addicted
to it. Now when I read the book again, I realize that
the translation was not perfect. I worked on the translation
day and night, sunny days as well as rainy days, in
any place when I had the mood to do so besides doing
other volunteer work in the camp. I have learned more
about the Dharma than I ever realize there was to
know. After about a month, the draft was completed.
I reviewed it many times and told Thay that it was
ready to publish. Quang and his friend, Hoang, volunteered
to help Thay prepare the cover and type the material
onto "roneo" paper. Luckily, I found some
friends whom agreed to donate paper and time to print
the pages. Then we arranged the printed pages in order.
Thay put on the covers and stitched each book by hand.
It took us a couple of weeks to finish all the books.
Thay chose a Bhuddhist ceremony day to present the
books to friends in the camp. As we used to help other
Buddhists cook for this same occasion, we planned
to prepare a vegetarian lunch and invite everyone
to come. I don't remember who gave us the money for
the food. I remember that I had asked a friend, Mr.
Phuoc, who was working in the Social group (Ban Xa~
Hoi^.) to lend us three big pans to cook. One for
the soup, one for the vegetarian stir-fry and one
for another dish. We also made the tofu-paste by hand
the night before because we didn't have tofu for the
dishes. Early next morning, we gathered at the temple
and prepared the food. Many of my friends, the girls
from the Unaccompanied- Minors house and the Buddhist
Youth group came to help. The Buddhist Youth group
helped to carry wood to make the fire for cooking,
and brought water for us. They put the tables together
in the biggest hall in the temple, and when our guests
came, we served the vegetarian meal. Thay then presented
the books and distributed them to the guests. I was
quite exhausted after working late the night before,
I retired early after the lunch and came back to the
temple in the evening and the next day to organize
the clean-up and to return the equipment we had borrowed.
About ten days later, Thay went to another place for
a long time and I didn't meet him again before my
I still keep two copies of the "Keys For Refugees"
that Thay had given us, one for my family and one
for me. I still keep the Vietnamese translated draft
of the book as a souvenir of my work. Looking back
at that time, I realize that Thay would find any occasion
to transfer the Dharma to us in any way that he could.
Thay had brought the Light of Dharma and hope to many
refugees, including me. Thay had reminded me of the
capability of changing my pattern of thoughts, which
was, at that time, full of confusion and worry of
the uncertain future, as well as fear remaining from
the dangerous and terrible escape that I was trying
to forget. Thay reminded me that care and loving kindness
are there for me to cultivate and to make them grow
in me by helping other people. So for me, I consider
the whole time working on the book like being in one
of Thay's meditation sessions. The light in me salutes
the light in Thay and in anyone who reads the book.
I thank Thay for sharing the light with me during
my stay in VRC.
Article by Chau Yen Ha
Another Person’s point-of-view
I met Thay Abhinyana on the 8th of September 2004.
I was outside my GP's surgery waiting for my turn
and found a book entitled: "Because I Care".
Fate seemed to have led me to 'Taking A Stand'
in this book ~ an article on vegetarianism. I completely
agreed with his views. I myself am a vegetarian, not
because I’ve taken Bodhisattva Precepts or am
trying to make merit. I’m doing it for the sake
of the animals; I was vegetarian even before I called
myself a Buddhist. I am not proud of being a vegetarian,
but I believe that animals have rights too, that should
be respected. People have told me this opinion is
naïve and ignorant and that Buddhists may eat
meat as long as they do not see, hear, or suspect
that the animals, fish or fowl were killed especially
for them. In 'Taking A Stand', it states
clearly the animal-killer-consumer-buyer cycle of
the meat-eating habit. The author put my thoughts
into words. I continued to read, pondering with amazement
and awe that someone else had such odd thinking as
I did. The similarities between my opinions and Thay's
teaching are beyond comprehension. The simplicity
and practicality are perfect descriptions for his
teachings. At the time I couldn't let go of the book
in my hand so I took it inside the room with me. The
first thing I asked the doctor was not what was wrong
with me but if I could borrow his book. He kindly
lent it to me. After I had my turn I went back to
my car, forgot about my fever and headache. I continued
reading it outside the surgery. I said to myself this
is such a good book. Most of the Buddhist books I
came across are either dry or hard to read but not
this one. The words Thay uses are humorous and simple.
I also have similar perspectives as Thay's in the
article "Do It Yourself". I also
wish my dead body had some sort of use for someone.
I see body as a dress. If someone needs a button and
if I have it then please take it since I am dead and
have no need for it. Yet on the contrary I am reluctant
to give my body away as many have told me that I should
not let others disturb my body for at least eight
hours after I am dead. When I think back if I am willing
to do it why am I worried about my spirit or consciousness.
I have not regretted registering myself as an organ-donor.
I have asked not to have a funeral service but I have
requested before I die, my son and daughter to play
Canon by Pachelbel as a duet in violin and piano for
me. I have asked my children and husband not to bother
collecting my ashes after cremation. I don't have
a damn to care for my ashes and of course no ceremony
because I also don't believe in it. I want to die
in peace rather than all the noises around me. I told
my children to love me with all their heart now whilst
I am alive so that tears will not need to be shed
when I am dead. I apply this rule to my own parents.
After reading “Because I Care”,
I wanted to find out whether there could be an opportunity
to communicate and know the author. So I searched
on the Internet and found the Universal Dharma website.
I downloaded another book called "Against
the Stream". Once again I was thrilled and
found the 'Hinayana and Mahayana' article
interesting. Back in the year 2001, I attended a Mid-Autumn
Festival at a Chinese temple. One man from the temple
asked me did I belong to Hinayana or Mahayana? At
that time my answer was I don't want to be any. Back
then I didn't even know the true meaning of these
terms but I felt as a Buddhist I ought to be as one
~ not this nor that. When I read Thay's book "Against
the Stream" and from what Dr Le Cong told me
about this monk's dress code, I was simply amazed.
I told myself at least someone had the same idea as
mine. The trouble here is people ~ so-called Mahayanists
talk about selflessness, big wishes, big compassion,
big...etc but act like a Hinayana ~ so selfish and
discriminate of others. To me, just the 'big'
talk is not good enough! I feel so sorry for the Theravada
Sangha being called Hinayana and how they have been
treated in the Chinese temple. That is why I abolished
my 'Mahayana' Buddhist name and requested to have
a Pali-Buddhist name from Thay in 2005.
The article ~ “What is a Temple?”
~ makes me laugh endlessly and to reflect which category
I fall into. I go to three local temples. Here are
the three categories I fall into:
"To some, it is a place where they can
get something 'free' – This applies
to temple 1 that I attend from time to time to get
their beautiful free vegetarian food;
"To some, it is a school, where they
can learn something useful to apply in their lives
outside." - This applies to temple 2
which I attend weekly to get some Dharmateachings.
"To some, it is a place to seek solitude
and solace, away from the problems and pressures of
home and work." - This applies to temple
3 which I attend 3 or 4 times per year to release
I just couldn't believe that Thay's observation
on people was so accurate.
The more I got into Thay's books, the more I was
in love with his teachings. Although at that time
(2004) I hadn't met Thay face-to-face, his understanding
of Dharma and his teachings astounded me. They were
simple and easy to understand. His books were filled
with hidden treasures. I wrote to Thay on the 10th
of September 2004 and from then on I have corresponding
with him by email ever since.
I read Thay's 'What's it all about' (in
"Wait A Minute") about someone
bowing to a cushion for showing respect to the support
given by the cushion during his meditation. I told
my sister about Thay's viewpoint on this and the toilet-seat.
I thought this was so funny and completely agreed
with Thay, but she found it quite offensive because
we’ve also been taught to bow to a cushion.
I have found so many ridiculous rules within the Chinese
temple I attend. Rules for walking, eating, talking,
putting flowers in the vase, not allow to sneeze/cough/fart
inside the main temple hall and even when chanting
in a particular beat people have to put their hand
in particular position. Why? Sometimes I want to ask
people who can say they never sneeze/cough/fart. (fart
~ in an science article 'Silent but deadly' ~ it stated
that the average healthy person passes-wind somewhere
between 7-14 times a day.) These things are hard to
control, especially when we have consumed lentils
or beans. I am not interested in the forms and practices
of Buddhism. I only desire to learn its essence.
In “Let Me See”, I was confronted
with many inspiring phrases for my daily life. Initially,
I made them into bookmarks for myself. When people
saw them and liked them so much, I started making
them in bulk and distributed them to people who were
When I got to “Boleh Tahan”,
in ‘Gallipoli’, I learned that
"Hate is not overcome by hate; only
by Love is Hate overcome." I searched
further on the topic of Gallipoli on the internet
and found that the event was very interesting. The
story itself is humorous and filled with Dharma-teachings.
In this article, I have not only learnt the dharma
side of things, I have also discovered 'Thunder-Eggs'.
I didn't wait for a thunder-egg from Thay, instead
I went to get some for myself. I studied the stone
in detail. From my first contact with the rock, I
could see what my mum also had to say ~ to not judge
people from their appearance, but I knew that there
was a meaning deeper than what she had said. So I
went back to consult “Boleh Tahan” and
wrote to Thay. He gave me the answer: "What
we are looking for is not outside of ourselves."
I couldn't understand this at the beginning but as
I go further on the Dharma-path I could see it clearly.
From then on I have given out my Thunder-Egg’s
and Thay's to people. My thunder-eggs are from Queensland
and Thay's are from Ajanta Caves, in India. Not all
people got the message when they received it but with
some simple explanations, they could see the meaning
of the 'egg'. Because of this, some of my friends
called Thay my 'stone-teacher’.
There were several occasions people commented that
Thay Abhinyana's teachings were so basic and ordinary.
I said the beauty of it is its simplicity and ordinariness
and that we should know all these. Buddha's teachings
are very basic but we as humans make it so difficult.
I don't want anything fancy and difficult. So when
it comes to simple Dharma-talk, people think the speaker
knows nothing in Dharma. Like Thay said that if anything
is free, people might think it is worthless good.
I told people that whoever made that comment, it's
very difficult to give a basic simple Dharma talk.
It's much easier to give a technical and fancy Dharma
talk by quoting this sutra and that sutra, using Pali
or Sanskrit words. I think I can do it myself. Give
me sometime to prepare a talk by researching a topic
then presenting it. It's a piece of cake! But NOT
a basic Dharma talk. That I need to have a greater
understanding or experience it myself to be able to
give this talk. I am not expecting to watch a magic
show during a Dharma-talk. As I could see all his
teachings are based on our daily life ~ it's so down
to earth ~ that's why I accept and like them (for
example, Cleaning-up Australia). To me what makes
Dharma useful and important is if and only if we can
use it in our life ~ not something that is impractical.
I found most of the Buddhist texts very dry and
difficult to understand but I never found Thay's books
like this. I can read and re-read his books again
and again, and still find something interesting in
Another ordinary teaching from Thay is to keep our
environment beautiful. Not only did he participate
in Clean-up Australia Day, I and my family have been
involved in this activity for a number of years and
will continue to take part in this event. There is
a most recent event that warms up my heart. I went
to India in December 2007 with my son and sister.
We were at the Nirvana Temple in Kushinagar, where
litter cluttered the surroundings. One of our leader
~ a nun ~ suggested we should do something about it.
So we started to clean up the front park. The Indians
at the temple thought we were mad but a man from a
pilgrimage-group came and asked what we were doing.
We told him we are cleaning up the place. When we
finished the front park, we left the temple. While
waiting for our vehicle to come, we saw 40-50 people
from that group cleaning up other parks. I was in
tears when I saw this ripple effect. I told my son
this is the effect from good actions. Imagine the
effect of bad acts; I simply cannot comprehend the
Some people told me they got disappointed with some
monks. I told them I went through that stage and now
I don't feel disappointed anymore. I told them one
way they can avoid this negative feeling is to look
at people's positives rather than negatives. This
does not only apply to monks but to all people. I
have to thank Thay for this. Thay has let me understand
this completely. It is Thay who took away the veil
of a monk and let me examine it close enough to see
the truth ~ I see that a monk also needs to eat, poo
and sleep ~ he is simply a human being. Thankyou Thay!
I know no monk in this world will dare let me lift
this veil to see who is behind this ~ except him!
Because of this I have built up my tolerance, understanding,
love and respect for all the monks, nuns and others.
When Thay stayed in my house in 2005, I saw him
eat plain yoghurt. I don't like yoghurt myself, especially
the plain stuff. I saw him eat his yoghurt pleasantly.
I asked him: "Do you like yoghurt?" His
answer was: "No, I don't like it.
It doesn't have to be nice, and I don't have to like
it." What a strange answer and
it took me sometime to understand the deep meaning
of it. Thay often made me reflect on things happen
around me and made me understand impermanence and
the void ~ Sunnyata ~ of things. He is the one who
doesn't mind to give Dharma over the Internet. I am
a very busy person as I am a mother of two kids, full-time
housewife, full-time worker and two parents to look
after. I can't go to the temple all the time to get
some decent Dharma-teachings except from the Internet.
I am working in a job that allows me to access Internet
at least 8 hours per day. Thay is the only one willing
to coach me on my way of my Dharma-path. I am so fortunate
to have met Thay and gotten so much from him. I often
think what have I done to deserve all these good fortunes?
How come I am so lucky to have a Thay so close to
me and show me my way.
I enjoy receiving Thay's emails. Through his emails
I can learn from his personality and the way he deals
with things. When he was in the Himalayas, he usually
told me the places he visited. I kept all his details
and mapped them on my maps. It was fun for me during
my boring lunchtime. I have learnt quite a lot regarding
the history, places, people and cultures of the places
Thay visited. Sometimes I went to the places before
him (via the Internet of course!) and told him what
that place could offer. When I read "So Many
Roads", I 'followed' him trekking through Europe,
India and Nepal. Some places I had not even heard
about but the Internet allowed to me search on and
understand the places he mentions in his books.
From his emails through our close-to-4-years corresponding,
I collected all his teachings through our conversations
into a word document. I read it from time to time
and share them with my kids. This is my special book
from Thay that contains teachings tailor-made for
me with my own problems. I treasure every single bit
of teachings from Thay. The biggest lesson Thay has
taught me is how to face death and understand it.
Thay faces death without fear and the main thing is
he accepts his bodily condition. Accepting rather
than denying death is very important in our mind as
a Buddhist. Through Thay's "octopus" (the
name he used to call his cancer) I have learnt a deeper
level of impermanence and the Four Noble Truths. Thay
appears to me as a very brave person and he still
continues to give Dharma-talks to people who need
it even in his great pain.
Article by Sailesh
When time Stood Still
The following article is about my first meeting with
Bhante (the Venerable Abhinyana). Anything ascribed
to him is italicised and reproduced to the best of
my recollection. The balance is my reflection on Bhante’s
thoughts. It is not the purpose of this article to
outline Bhante’s teachings. Bhante has written
many books from which these may be read.
My purpose is to relate an encounter with him, which
lasted approximately one (1) hour. Indeed it was my
first encounter with him. I have not met anyone else
who delivered so much to me in such a short space
It would not be possible for me to relate the significance
of this meeting without first describing my preceding
frame of mind and beliefs. Indeed, it is my firm belief
that all effective teaching is essentially a dialogue
between teacher and student.
My reflections which follow each observation by
Bhante during the course of the meeting are a mixture
of thoughts and realizations which I may have had
at the time or which occurred to me not long after
this first meeting in 2005.
How the meeting came about and my frame
of mind at this time.
Sitting at my desk in my office, I try to concentrate
on my work. The mind is distracted by a feeling of
general unease. As to what was specifically bothering
me, I do not recall.
Chunna my colleague walks in to my office to ask
a question that I can no longer remember. For reasons
that I now do not recall, Chunna says “Sailesh,
I've got a monk in my house”. I do recall feeling
puzzled and my quizzical stare must have conveyed
this to Chunna, who says 'Bhante, Bhante’. ‘
Funny chap, Chunna ' I think to myself.
Chunna goes on to explain that his mother is hosting
a visiting monk, whom she has known for many years.
Then, for reasons which will always remain a mystery
to me, I say “if you have a monk in your house,
I want to see him. I want to ask him questions”.
I expect Chunna to make up reasons why I can't see
the monk in an attempt to spare his mother the embarrassment
of having me cross-examine her monk. Chunna does no
such thing and says “yeah, yeah Sailesh. I'll
talk to my mum and arrange it.”
For the next few days, I rack my brain formulating
questions for the monk. I am told by Chunna, that
the monk's name is Abhinyana, and that he is a Pom
(Englishman). “Well Abhinyana, we can't scientifically
prove reincarnation so why do you believe it?”
and “What is the meaning of life - and please
don't say Nirvana?”.
I imagine a bald thin old man, draped in the robes
of the Theravada. After all Chunna is Sri Lankan,
so any monk in his house must follow the southern
Buddhist tradition. I imagine a wrinkled face, with
wisdom furrows on the forehead. I imagine being told
in a gentle voice affecting a subtle sub continental
accent “you must meditate; meditation is very
good for you; sit cross - legged, back straight and
focus on your breathing - meditate, concentrate”
and various other stock phrases and prescriptions
of the eastern monkish profession. I begin to weary
a little. I feel some disappointment before the experience.
But arrangements have been made and monk aside,
I am not about to trifle with Chunna’s mother's
plans. Her name is Villani. After all, I started all
this or did I? “Have the experience Sailesh,
what have you to lose?”.
I did not seek out the company of this monk with
a journey of a thousand miles through forests, swamps
and steep mountain passes. I just sat there at my
desk in my law office and asked, and I was given.
I am humbled and grateful.
Life is never a steady journey, perhaps not always
a bumpy ride either, but never really steady. The
mind sets a goal and drives the human machine towards
it, but in this relentlessness neither mind nor goal
ever meet although goal is a creation of the mind.
The goal is always one step ahead of mind and ever-changing.
The mind too is ever-changing along with its bodily
machine. The nature of desire is not to be satisfied.
Change, by its very nature and definition, is unsettling.
Change perhaps is the only constant.
Formulating the questions
What was I doing consulting a monk? I fully accept
the notion of religion being the opiate of the masses.
I see the institution of the priesthood as being founded
upon the ignorance of the masses and essentially an
exploitative institution, although I accept that many
people enter the clergy with sincere motivations.
I hold God to be no more than a figment of the human
imagination. I am comforted somewhat by the thought
that Buddhism does not have a creator god. However,
it looks too much like religion.
Chunna had said some days earlier that this monk
would give me a blessing, if I requested it. Perhaps
if it gets too awkward, I will ask for a blessing
to close the session. The blessing itself will not
do my atheistic pride any injury, as it will almost
certainly be in a language I do not understand and
I do not think the monk will bother to translate it
into English. I do not think the monk will take offence
if I do not kneel before him. After all, I am not
even a Buddhist, so there would be little or no expectation
for me to behave like one.
Despite these reservations why did I feel strangely
My mind had been like an unregistered dog the last
few months, going wherever it pleased, feeding on
whatever it pleased -- whenever it pleased. Amidst
the joy of my family and friends and situation in
life generally, why did I feel (with increasing frequency)
a deep sense of unease and fear at there being no
meaning. All this effort will end in nothing? Joys
are one thing; they require no justification. But
what of the pain, stress, sadness and misery. A high
price to pay for ultimate extinction. It does not
make sense. Surely struggle must lead to something
My rational mind says we exist, and then we cease
to exist. Everything in between is simply, lived.
Another part of my mind fears extinction and craves
a kind of immortality, which will not separate me
from my loved ones. I call it Fear Mind. This part
of my mind wants a ' Heaven ', which will be the replication
of life lived on earth minus all suffering (at least,
all major suffering). The reward for all my struggles.
This heaven then would need something like a god to
create it and to provide the connection and coherence
of meaning with earthly life. Would it not be wonderful
to have the unshakeable belief of the fanatic? What
certainty? There would be no room for doubt, and I
would live happily ever after. This fear mind is of
course completely blind to the horror of the notion
of an existence without end (and without renewal).
I believe that people crave religion principally
out of fear. We don’t want to die, even when
we die. We do not want our loved ones to die. We do
not want to be separated from our loved ones. The
thought of extinction is repugnant. We don’t
want to suffer and we don’t want our loved ones
to suffer. However, when we do suffer we want to believe
that we can call upon divine intervention by prayer
to alleviate this suffering. At the very least we
want to believe that this suffering is not in vain
and will lead to something good, if not here, then
in the hereafter. This is understandable. Who am I
to find fault with someone who has just lost a young
child in horrific circumstances and finds some comfort
in religion. The question is whether a belief system
inspired by fear is healthy and productive of a good
life. A second question is whether it is possible
for people touched by scientific enlightenment to
genuinely hold fantastical religious beliefs.
It is my observation that religion produces fear.
You may go to your god for comfort but he invariably
lays down injunctions that you cannot live up to and
then threatens to punish you, unless you make amends
in the form of offerings to him or gifts for his priests.
Indeed there are numerous god – fearing folk
and I do not think they do themselves or the world
Many of these god – fearing (or god –
loving folk, to be a little kinder) folk have been
to school and have been fortunate enough to come into
contact with science. They know for instance that
there is neither heaven in the sky nor hell in the
deep recesses of the earth (just magma). Instead of
rejecting these notions, their fear causes them to
justify their belief in interesting ways. There are
those for instance who, embarrassed at the woeful
lack of evidence, will tell you that heaven and hell
are spiritual (rather than physical) realms, and therefore
not the concern of science and philosophical enquiry.
The more intelligent and cunning ones will tell you
that not everything should be taken literally and
that there is a mystical or poetic truth underlying
religious narratives, injunctions, symbols and practices.
There are those who do not even bother to reason anymore.
They just decide to live on a different psychological
plane. Just look at all the educated people who still
believe that the earth was created 6000 years ago
or those who still expect the Goddess Lakhsmi to shower
them with wealth. These are not people without some
scientific education. Then, of course, there are those
completely untouched by science. The fear, superstition
and suffering that plague their lives are there for
everyone to see.
This is all driven by fear. Let us get this straight
once and for all. Religion is driven by fear, the
same primitive fear that would have helped our early
human ancestors in escaping the sabre – tooth
tiger or kept them huddled in the safety of caves
during an electric storm and therefore aided their
survival. Fear in its purest form is fear of the unknown.
Fear drove the creation of religious explanations
as a coping mechanism for humanity. If I am going
to be terrified, it is at least a comfort to me that
this electric storm is caused by a grumpy old god
(say Thor) in a bad mood banging the firmament with
his big hammer. At least now I can do something to
make him a little less grumpy, say by means of an
offering or sacrifice. I’ll go to the priest.
But the temporary relief I get comes at a price. This
same fear lingers today. Indeed I do not think that
it is as much a question of banishing fear once and
for all from all humanity as finding ways to deal
with the fear. Humanity would cease to exist without
fear. If you had no fear, you would, at a whim, jump
in front of that big truck that passes your house
as entertainment for your wife and kids (who also
would have no fear).
In my own mind there is tension between the Fear
Mind (craving for god, heaven, religious comfort,
universal meaning) and the scientific outlook. When
Fear Mind seems to win, I feel like a sell out. Someone
who is perversely denying the evidence of my ears
and eyes. When science is in the ascendant, I feel
fearful and a certain meaninglessness for science
cannot furnish me with a cosmic truth providing comfort
and sense of meaning for all suffering.
When I was 15 years old (now 40), I used to love
running long distances. The discussion that I have
outlined above was even then playing in my mind and
has since like a tape recorder on automatic replay.
Even as I was running thoughts on the subject would
enter my head and then depart. Of course my formulation
of the subject was then somewhat more primitive. I
don’t quite understand how it happened but one
day I was at about the 5 km mark; when quite suddenly,
I felt acutely that “this was it. No God. Just
this”. The very next moment I saw the image
of the Buddha in my mind. Then my mind went blank
and I kept running feeling very rotten and devoid
of meaning. Now, there is nothing mystical about this.
I knew something of Buddhism by this stage and that
the Buddha was not a god but a man. Something deep
within the hidden recesses of my mind must have thought
“how lousy, this is it?” and then “how
remarkable, a religion without God, what possibility”.
Then for the next many many years I did not take
a burning interest in Buddhism. I read the novel Siddhartha
by Herman Hesse. I started reading Science and philosophy
with a fury. I then started reading works by the Dalai
Lama. I would recommend to anyone works by Richard
Dawkins. It was against this background that I met
I wanted to ask him about reincarnation because
it was the one doctrine associated with Buddhist philosophy
which I had great difficulty with.
When I looked at Buddhists, there seemed to be so
much emphasis on performing meritorious activities
in the hope of having a better or higher birth. Yet
there was just no scientific evidence for it. People
would seem to pray to the Buddha image and monks in
the hope good fortune here and in the next life.
I wanted to ask Bhante about reincarnation because
so much activity seems to be driven by the hope for
a better or higher rebirth. In a sense, I did not
care very much what the Buddha had said about this
subject, I wanted to know what a contemporary Buddhist
thought about it.
Maybe it was the Fear Mind, which led to the invention
of the notion of reincarnation. Perhaps at some point
of our history someone could no longer accept the
Heaven idea but with fear mind still exerting its
powerful influence, decided to invent the idea of
the immortal soul recycled into bodies, but not forever
(this is pure speculation on my part as to the origin
of the idea, but it does not really matter how it
originated). To hell with heaven if you can have reincarnation!
Yet this turned out to be no more than a smokescreen
for the heaven idea. There is invariably a final “resting
place” for these souls whether it is called
Nirvana or union with Brahman or goes by any other
name. As with the Heaven idea, the utility of this
idea of reincarnation was to placate fear mind and
give comfort to the bereaved. Perhaps reincarnation
suits those who very understandably dislike the idea
of roasting in hell for eternity. Maybe in such individuals,
the fear mind is so frightened by the Hell idea that
it flees its necessary counterpart, the Heaven idea
(for there can be no heaven without hell; heaven is
beholden to hell and god to Satan). At least with
the reincarnation idea, if you fall, you can rise
again. In that sense reincarnation would appear to
be a more effective tool for assuaging fear (as it
takes hell and suffering for eternity if you transgress
out of the equation).
Questions for the Monk
Thus it was that I resolved to ask the monk for his
view on the subject of reincarnation and the seemingly
related question of deep feeling of fear of no meaning
slowly eating away at my insides causing existential
angst, not expecting much more than an answer requiring
faith. I would also end up asking a few other questions.
I arrive at Villani's home somewhat nervous not knowing
what to expect from the monk. That day I did not meet
a religious man, although he was in robes; not in
the robes of the Theravada but in Chinese robes that
I had frequently encountered while growing up in Singapore
particularly in the vicinity of Chinese temples. I
met a man who introduced himself briefly and proceeded
to ask about me. We had much more in common than I
The historical Buddha
We spoke of the Buddha as a man. We imagined him together
as a man walking the villages of Northern India within
a 200 km radius of my ancestral homeland. Bhante had
even written a book about it. We spoke of Bodhgaya,
Sarnath and Kushinagar. This was important for me
as it set the stage for a dialogue with Bhante based
firmly upon the experience of a human being; just
a man of flesh and blood, like you and me, who experienced
and espoused the doctrine of the primacy of human
effort. I do not think Siddharta ever claimed supernatural
or magical powers nor did he paint for his followers
the picture of a fantastical hereafter. I recall Bhante
saying that in his travels he had encountered people
who thought Siddharta was 20 feet tall and a bhagwan
or a demigod and in this day and age. It surprised
him that there could be so much ignorance.
Now it is true that Siddharta, having experienced
and perceived (what he perceived is for each one of
us to discover with the help of the body of knowledge
originated by Siddharta and indeed the sum of all
human knowledge), could have only expressed his truths
and teachings in the idiom and language of the day.
Remember Siddharta was a mere human and it would have
been highly unlikely that he would or could have rejected
all the prevailing ideas of the day. The idea of starting
with a “clean slate” in the world of ideas
is impossibility. Ideas are built upon other ideas,
either through reasoned affirmation, development,
modification or rejection (indeed ideas can also be
perpetuated or arise through a blind and uncritical
acceptance and development of prevailing ideas and
dogma and through downright fabrication). Ideas do
not emanate from a vacuum. Something cannot arise
from nothing. Siddharta was no prophet or agent of
revelation. He was an observer of phenomena, a philosopher
and a teacher; a practitioner, a participant in the
dynamicity of the Universe. In his teachings, Siddharta
spoke as a man of his times. His relevance endures
because he invited people to think and to test all
ideas against the available evidence and experience.
He would have promoted an attitude (of critical thought).
Thankfully, this attitude is still honoured within
some sections of the global Buddhist family. It is
certainly to be found in the contemporary scientific
My scientific disposition and the complete absence
of proof leads me to reject the notion of reincarnation.
I cannot suspend critical thought. Bearing in mind
that this was my first encounter with Bhante his response
to this question was going to be of utmost importance.
No one can convince me that the notion of reincarnation
is scientific because there is simply no credible
evidence. If someone appears sincere in their belief
that they have experienced memories of a past life,
there are other plausible explanations. The human
brain has extraordinary capacity for configuring,
sometimes unrelated, bits of information into something
coherent, which can then appear like a past life memory.
The brain can imbibe information subconsciously and
then bring it to the fore as fresh information, giving
the appearance of suddenly knowing something which
one could not have possibly known. Actively looking
for characteristics and character traits in a living
person which resemble those of a dead person and from
there concluding that a reincarnation has occurred
is no more than wishful thinking. You will see what
you wish to see. Thus encouraged with the Bhante’s
down to earth view of Siddharta, I broached the topic
Bhante was careful and considered in his response:
“there are so many things that we
do not know. Sometimes we feel a particular way”.
I recall him saying that although he was born in
the United Kingdom, for as long as he could remember,
he had a strong affinity for India. Why? How? Something
made him feel this way and eventually drew him to
India. When he travelled through India he felt, in
his words, “Look what they have done to my India”,
referring to the human and environmental devastation
wrought by greed. He did not say that he was an Indian
in a past life.
I was moved. He was articulating a feeling, much
as a poet. Could this notion of “reincarnation”
be something other than just the mechanistic migration
of a soul into a body? Could we be thinking, feeling,
evolving into a greater understanding of a certain
fluidity of form and substance? I am Sailesh the Indian
(as defined by reference to my history and circumstances).
I am also Sailesh the Australian lawyer who dreams
in English. Perhaps if I minimised the notion of “Sailesh”,
I would be getting somewhere. Everything changes,
cause and effect; life and the Universe is a process.
Nothing stands still. To think that we have incarnated,
that is, become embodied, at any given point in time
is an illusion. A process, by definition, cannot be
embodied. Reincarnation or continuous incarnation
is illusory. But to think of fixed forms is also illusory.
However, just as I feel as if I exist in a somewhat
fixed embodiment of Sailesh, I may also at times feel
that I have existed in the past (perhaps in a past
life) in a somewhat fixed embodiment of a cat. The
notion of “Sailesh the Indian” is as absurd
as the notion of “Sailesh the Cat”. Looking
at it like this, I begin to wonder why I was making
a fuss about reincarnation.
Bhante said: “Something does not
need to be true to be useful.”
Sometime later my father was to liken this to the
lines of latitude. The line of the equator is purely
imaginary but it is an indispensable fiction for the
purpose of navigation.
Bhante asked me to imagine that every sentient being
in the world has been at some point in the past related
to me, perhaps as my mother or sister. Could I then
treat them badly? Would this, say purely mental exercise,
not assist me in generating compassion towards all
sentient beings? At the time I felt that it might.
I have now tried it and it works. It’s effectiveness
though increases with practice, as with all exercises
designed to produce an outcome.
Significantly for me, Bhante was not pushing rebirth
and reincarnation as conventionally understood as
gospel or scientific truth. He considers that the
notion has its utility in navigating our relationships
and connection with other sentient beings and perhaps
we should leave it there for now.
Then I asked the Bhante about meditation.
When you take the sum total of all human fears and
struggles and the seemingly insurmountable difficulty
of grasping the truth (whatever this is, if it exists
at all – maybe people are too desperate for
it to exist) which will lay to rest all these fears
and confusions (other than death), in your desperation
you start to look for quick fix solutions. Intoxication
is quite a good very short-term solution. I like my
single malt Scotch whisky. Belief in God and refuge
in religiosity is possibly a longer term solution.
This is no longer an option for me given my scientific
outlook. Some people engage in work or take up hobbies
as distractions. I work fairly hard and enjoy reading
as a hobby.
This is all very understandable.
Why would you want to keep looking at unpleasantness
all the time? Better just to turn away from all the
drudgery and unpleasantness and distract the mind
with something pleasant. The problem is that distractions
cannot yield answers. The hollowness and fear and
confusion comes back to haunt you time and again.
Some feel this more acutely than others.
You can be perfectly happy in all other respects.
Like me, you could have kind parents, loving siblings,
a loving and beautiful wife, good friends and the
loveliest daughter in the universe -- and the moment
your mind wavers from these blessings and falls upon
dark things, a profound empty meaninglessness seeps
into the depths of your being. One minute, you are
on top of the world, the next, in the ditch. Up and
down or maybe, what goes up must come down and conversely,
if something is down, it is only so relative to a
Maybe this is a psychological phenomenon, even a
psychiatric one. I might be mad. Whatever the phenomenon,
I had chanced upon meditation as quite an effective
relief. For years, I followed the breath in and I
followed the breath out. It had a tremendously beneficial
effect on me. The practice calmed my mind and increased
concentration. I was in greater control of my emotions.
I began to think that perhaps meditation was the
means to enlightenment. After all it was claimed that
the Buddha meditated under the Bo tree and attained
enlightenment. My understanding of enlightenment was
to be in possession of the whole truth of the universe,
which was out there somewhere (or deep inside somewhere).
I took it on faith that there was a truth out there
(or deep inside), or somewhere beyond the grasp of
scientific or philosophic enquiry and methods which
would reveal all, heal all and make me at one with
everything. I believe many people think this way.
After a while and after some sober thinking, this
so-called search for truth by meditation began to
resemble heaven craving. I then tried meditating with
no expectation. I failed. There is no activity without
expectation. The least I would expect was a calmed
mind. Not that there is anything wrong with meditating
or expecting one's mind to be calmed. I tried mindfulness
meditation. Sit still with no expectation and watch
the thoughts as they come and go. Do not try to control
your mind. Just be mindful. Watch how thoughts emerge
and disappear. Then there is stillness. This was far
Bhante’s response to meditation, very nearly
threw me off my chair: “Meditation
is not something that you do, it is something that
It made sense. There are clearly many types of meditative
practice. All very beneficial in training the mind
and to be encouraged. But they are practices, like
an archer you practise hard so that you can shoot
straight. But you can’t be engaged in these
practices all your waking hours.
Bhante alerted me to the fact that there is an all
– encompassing attitude that can be cultivated.
An attitude which remains in place all of your waking
hours. This attitude is one of balance with your environment,
one of mindfulness in all actions and interpretations
of phenomena; an attitude which tends towards the
equalization of the “I” with all else.
I cannot really describe it fully but I can imagine
it and feel it and live it. It is really very easy.
When you have this attitude, you cease to feel sorry
for yourself. You try to see things as they really
are. You engage in analysis, feel energised but guard
against the excesses and distortions of a manic state
or the possible intellectual distortion of a depressed
state. If you are down, you pull yourself up and if
you are up, you enjoy it for what it is but guard
against being hurled into a violent delusional excitement.
At the core of it is scientific and rational inquiry
and reflection and a willingness to be open so that
life can stream into you and indeed you and life gradually
become one and the same thing. I can go on, but I
Later I was to listen to many more of Bhante’s
dhamma talks. His message is in his books and he has
Bhante must have sensed my inner loneliness when
he said “Ask yourself, if you have
got here this morning without the help of others.
Who made your breakfast (I had eaten 5 chapattis at
my mother’s house that day) ........We are never
This is pure logic. We did not make ourselves. We
are the creation (or creative process) of many hands.
Next time you go to one of your dhamma talks in your
new shirt or skirt, spare a thought for the poor female
worker in the Chinese factory who is bleeding and
sweating her life away for a pittance so that you
can look good. Don’t forget the genius who invented
the light bulb so that you have the light to illuminate
your favourite monk and congregation. Be thankful.
In a later Dhamma talk Bhante said: “turn
on the dhamma tap and it flows”
I believe that the flow is the mindful perception
and analysis (and articulation) of phenomena, that
is, mediation upon phenomena. It is natural to humans
but we seem to suppress it in favour of laziness and
lethargy. We want to be spoon – fed, by politicians,
churches, philosophers, the Buddha (through no fault
of his) etc. We have no time because there are other
more important matters like buying things and showing
off. Even when all basic needs are met in a reasonable
fashion (which is important), we are not satisfied
and work ourselves to death. You know what I mean.
But reflection and reasoning and mindfulness are
natural human gifts. Our ancestors engaged in it after
their own fashion. It has been present in every human
community without exception. It is through the collective
reflection and mindfulness (or its opposite) of all
preceding generations that you are where you are.
This ability is neutral as it is natural. You can
deploy it for the human good as you define it. But
please be mindful and careful in the way you define
What we are talking about here is the mindful embrace
of human effort as the way for us humans. Don’t
turn the dhamma tap off and dumb down. Turn it on,
and let it flow.
The Bhante asked me if I could speak Malay, which
I could given that I grew up in Singapore where it
is quite widely spoken. We exchanged a few words in
Malay. Then he asked me if I understood the meaning
of “Boleh Tahan”. I translated it correctly
as “Can stand” or “Can withstand”.
This phrase is a favourite with Bhante as it so aptly
communicates a very basic human quality that is often
overlooked. We humans have amazing resilience as part
of our genetic inheritance. We can cope with most
things that are hurled at us from the left field;
otherwise we would not be alive. Imagine if we wilted
like a rose flower at the slightest insult or injury
or hunger or thirst. I would not be writing this if
I could not stand the glare of my computer. This is
basic stuff, indeed trite. But how many people remind
themselves of this innate strength. Of course, I have
often heard myself and others say “be strong,
be strong etc” but usually this attempt to command
the self to be strong comes too late. In any event
it is an attempt to will the self into strength instantly
at the time of need.
Bhante’s “Boleh Tahan” if I understand
correctly, is a reminder that the human constitution
has this ability. We do not command the air to enter
our lungs when we need to breathe. We do not command
our lungs to breathe. It comes naturally. When we
are mindful of breath, we breathe mindfully.
Similarly, when Bhante says “Boleh
Tahan”, he is mindful of an unpleasant
situation (seeing it for what it is) and he is mindful
of this human capacity for resilience. “Boleh
Tahan” is his mindful reminder that the situation
will change, it will pass, and he can withstand it.
In doing so, he does not struggle and therefore suffering
Try it some time with a simple experiment. Eat some
really hot chilli (it has to be painfully hot). You
will be in pain. Don’t have a drink. Then be
mindful of the pain and look at it as if somewhat
removed from it. Be mindful of it. The sensation of
pain does not go away altogether but the pain is somewhat
diminished. You will feel calmer and better able to
withstand. Now remind yourself “Boleh Tahan”.
In time, the pain will cease. This is a basic human
ability, which I think could be applied to suffering
of a greater magnitude.
Bhante reinforced this point by recalling an event
which he had witnessed as a child. He had seen a blade
of grass breaking through concrete, the grass persisting
as its imprisoning concrete parched and cracked from
its exposure to the elements finally breaking free.
A testimony to the life force and to the inevitable
decay of all things, even the seemingly powerful and
You now have the benefit of my view on religion. I
did not communicate this to Bhante at our first meeting.
I do recall saying to him that I was beginning to
feel somewhat depleted of meaning and religion no
longer did it for me (or something to that effect).
I certainly did not launch a tirade against religion
or priests or monks.
Just as we were ready to part company, Bhante complained
about the excessive reverence for monks displayed
by some people. He appeared a little frustrated that
some people were simply missing the point of his teachings.
I felt like I had met a long lost friend.
I was moved enough to ask for a blessing, which he
gave. I did not understand a word of it (I think it
was in Pali), but felt good at the good thoughts and
wishes this man must be sending me. He sprinkled some
water, which felt fresh against my skin like morning
dew. I felt energised and replete with confidence.
Before I left Bhante went to his room and brought
a gift for me in the form of a small rock. There was
a slice of tape, which appeared to bind it. He then
said “open it”. I felt perplexed thinking
he was asking me to break the rock or tempting me
to an impossibility, perhaps to make a point of some
great importance. As I pulled on the rock it came
apart easily. It was hollow inside and its two parts
had been held together by tape. In its hollow, twinkled
the particles of silica like so many gems.
You never know until you look but first you must rid
yourself of preconceived ideas. You may be pleasantly
surprised at what you find.
He then gave me a saying that he had
composed. It was printed on a card and it read:
There is no way or means
by which we can get to where we already are
I will leave you with that thought.
Article by Teresa Tong
I met Rev Abhinyana in early 2005 in Chau Yen Ha’s
house, where he was giving one of his Dharma talks.
I went with my husband Paul, a Catholic. Yen Ha said
to me, “Rev. Abhinyana is different and your
husband will like the talk.” I felt excited
to meet an English/Australian monk. His Dharmatalk
was not difficult to understand and was easily related
to our lives. Yen Ha was correct, not only did Paul
enjoy Rev Abhinyana’s talks but he also started
reading his books.
I started sending emails to Rev Abhinyana in May
2005, mainly to release my frustrations at work and
other personal issues. He gave me a stone via Yen
Ha and he provided me with the confidence to complete
my University studies and he also made me look at
life in a different way. The following are a few quotes
from his emails to me in 2005 that I wish to share:
- 1. Dharma is not religion ~ something
only for special days and places like temples ~
but is life, and we cannot get away from it; it
is omnipresent, not local. Some people are so attached
to temples that they do not see this. You should
resume your studies, but keep the Dharma in the
back of your mind while doing so. Moreover, Dharma
is something more to be experienced than studied.
You know something about 'Wu Chang' (Impermanence),
for example, don't you? However can you avoid this
or get away from it? It is simply life. And it not
only concerns what we call 'good', but what we also
call 'bad', what we call 'right' and what we call
'wrong'. There are not two lifes ~ one life in the
temple and another life outside, but just one. Have
more confidence in yourself, and don't get drawn
into a competition with others, worrying in case
they get there first.
- Any teacher worth his salt will help people
to understand that anyone and anything is a teacher
if one knows how to learn.
- We are often misunderstood by others,
and this is often hard to take. However, while we
cannot make others understand us ~ some people will
misunderstand us whatever we do, as they seem to
want to misunderstand ~ we can try to understand
them, and actually, when we learn something of Dharma,
the responsibility to understand others is more
with us than with others to understand us; they
might not know even the little that we know about
- Always, we should try to put ourselves
in others' positions, in order to get a different
view of things, whereas if we see things from only
our own point-ofview, we will only get a two-dimensional
picture, like a photograph, and life is not like
that at all, but multidimensional. What are others
saying? Is there a possibility that their views
are valid? In this, as in everything, we should
try to find out what is right or wrong, not who
is right/wrong. Too often, we see things in a very
personal light, equating right and wrong with people,
and this is wrong. No-one is always right and no-one
is always wrong.
- While we should always listen to others,
we should also check what they say and ask ourselves
if it is true and useful to us or not. Sometimes,
other people know better than we do, but not all
the time. We should listen to our hearts, and if
we make a wrong decision based thereon, should accept
it and learn something from that. But don't simply
follow others, because very often, others don't
know where they're going.
- Your children really do have a claim
on your time, and if you neglect them and they go
the wrong way as a result, who would be responsible?
Dharma is also in the home-situation. Follow your
My 11 years old son wrote down his thoughts and observations
with regards to the temple that I attended for his
School Project on religion. He mentions, “There
are many people in the Temple and they are vegetarian.
If they don’t look after themselves properly,
they may be anaemic:: People give offerings to the
temple, but can have free lunches:.. There are many
rules and people wear a black robe. They have to bow
and kneel down many times.” My son was questioning
the rigid interpretation of rules and precepts of
how to behave in Temples. He was right. Maybe there
are too many different interpretations to know exactly
what to do and when to do it.
Sometimes I am also confused with the many rules
and precepts controlling my life. A person once told
me that she slept on the floor each time she took
the 8 precepts because her interpretation of one of
the precepts is that we should not sleep in comfortable
beds. Should we have to follow rules created by other
people’s interpretation of Dharma? For me, Rev.
Abhinyana is a great teacher as he makes simple interpretations
of Dharma which can relate directly to everyday life.
The knowledge he passes on is easy to understand.
I am a Pisces, which carries the symbol of 2 fishes
swimming in opposite directions. Just like life pulling
my thoughts and feelings in many directions. Following
the Reverend’s simple advice to “follow
my heart” I know that I do need to spend more
time with my son.
What was your opinion when you read the above extracts
from the emails? Did it make sense to you and provide
meaning that can relate to your life?
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE?
By Sue Elliot
From the first time I met (Bhante) Abhinyana until
the present, he has helped me to reflect on my thoughts
and actions in radical ways. By radical, I mean challenging
and mindful of being mindful. He continues to encourage
me to revise my understanding to apply Dharma (Truth)
in daily life. He recently told of meeting two young
men who wanted to become monks. Bhante asked them
what they thought they could achieve as monks that
they could not achieve as laymen. This simple question
asks each of us what we think we can achieve. Bhante
has set an example of living Dharma, admitting his
faults and revising his own thinking along the way.
Bhante appears to have a gift for clear and reasonable
explanations but this has come from his own efforts.
He has developed his ability to share his understanding
of the teachings of the Buddha with others, based
on his own loving kindness.
I first met Abhinyana in Thailand in 1974. I had
just completed a Uni degree and spent some time in
Indonesia as part of my studies. The morning I arrived
in Thailand, I was impressed to see orange-clad monks
walking slowly and collecting alms. The scene looked
so peaceful that I felt a deep sense of calm.
The brother of a friend of mine had become a monk,
and knowing little about Buddhism at the time, I was
hoping to visit him. But before doing so, I became
very ill. My traveling companion went to Wat Pleng
Vipassana to see if Dhammadaro could assist, as we
were finding it difficult not speaking Thai. It happened
that he was away on a meditationretreat and a request
was made to Abhinyana, who was staying there, to visit
Although Abhinyana was committed to his own meditationpractice
at that time, and it was his birthday, he came to
see me in hospital. He was calm and quietly spoken
and left me with a small pamphlet entitled “You
are Responsible” (YAR). He also spoke with other
patients, giving them comfort, and returned with small
gifts on several occasions.
“You Are Responsible” had a significant
impact on me at that time and led me to investigate
Buddhist teaching when I returned home. In particular,
it helped me look at myself and not simply rely on
the knowledge of others. I was distressed by the state
of the world and tended to blame others instead of
investigating what I could do in my daily life.
That now seems a long time ago, in the meantime,
other fortunate coincidences emerged. Bhante’s
parents lived in Adelaide, so I was able to meet him
occasionally over the years and more recently keep
in email contact for regular mindful reminders and
When I mentioned the impact of “YAR”
quite recently, Bhante surprised me by saying it is
not true, that he has since refuted the pamphlet.
So I have to think again!
Bhante: You see, we move on. At the time I gave
you "YAR", I must have been quite impressed
with it, otherwise I wouldn't have given it to you
in the first place (and it was useful), but later
on, I questioned it, and came to see that it's not
Two aspects of Bhante’s teaching are clearer
to me now for explaining YAR: firstly the interconnectedness
of us all, though this still implies our responsibility
not just for ourselves but for others and the issue
I am finding more tricky of nonself. Bhante referred
me to ‘From the Past’ in “Parting
Shots” for further explanation:
All that we have and are
Has come from the past;
Are you aware of this?
If not, then you are and will remain
A victim of the past, forever bound.
Have you made yourself as
Think about it.
You are the result, the sum-total,
Of countless causes, conspiring
And working together,
But without plan or purpose,
To produce you, as you are;
Although you might not like this,
Feeling more important than you are,
It is the same with everyone
And everything else.
And see, even as you watch,
You change again,
And become something, someone, else.
Can you stay the same, frozen in time?
Try to, and see what happens.
There is no-one and nothing
To praise or blame for what
And how we are;
We haven't made ourselves like this,
And no-one's responsible.
We can, however, by understanding,
Give life a purpose by the way we live
So while I continue to ponder the question, let me
share one more email from Bhante:
“You came into my life and I came into yours
in 1974, and since then, we met numerous times, but
no matter who we are and what we know about ourselves
and others, nobody knows everything about anybody
completely. I knew your name was Sue Goldsworthy ~
and indeed, you still are worthy of gold and much
more besides; ~ then I knew you as Sue Elliott, and
Sujata, but we are much more than names, which are
merely vibrations in the air ~ much, much more, are
we not? It is our task ~ if we don't give up, which
we are often tempted to do at times, and which would
be so easy (or would it?) Having set out on this way,
can we really give up, or do we just take a break
to catch our breath and rest for a while, only to
resume again after a while, when we see just how empty
and meaningless other things are? We must return to
resume our attempt to scale the mountain.
“Along the way, we play many roles, and have
many masks ~ a whole sackful, in fact, and if they
could be measured like that, but do we ever wonder
which is our real face, or if there is a real face?
Sometimes we are this, and sometimes that, all real
at the moment, but ultimately empty.......”
Thank you, Bhante. It is a blessing to have met
you and shared in your effort and support on the journey.
Sujata ~ Sue.
RECOLLECTIONS OF A 13 YEAR OLD
By Nicholas Tran
The first time I met Thay Abhinyana was when he
came to Adelaide to go to hospital in 2005. I remember
him telling me that he had to come to Adelaide because
he got hit by a careless motorcyclist. However he
said even though that it was unfortunate to be hit
by a motorbike, it brought him to our lives.
Just like one of his poems:
In the black, there is some
In the wrong, there is some right;
In the dark, there is some light;
In the blind, there is some sight.
One day when my mum, aunt and I went to visit him
at the hospital, I decided to make a shadow-puppet-play
to cheer him up. Thay sang for us at the hospital
~ "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life".
I wondered why Thay could still sing while he was
During Thay's short stay he gave me a Thunder Egg.
It was an ordinary-looking rock and I bet no-one would
pick it up if they saw it. Thay said the 'egg' had
some meaning. Thay told me that we shouldn't judge
people from their outside, but it is the inside that
counts. He also told me that we are all trying too
hard to find happiness. For example I say I need a
Nintendo DS then I will be happy. But this happiness
wouldn't last very long. We expect the object to bring
us happiness, but that's not the case. Thay taught
me that happiness is to be found within, not from
As I opened the rock there were many tiny crystals
inside. It looked like nothing you would expect. Thay
said I had a special one because it had 'Dragon-Eggs'
inside it as well as the crystals. I will always remember
what he taught me that day. He also taught me The
Golden Rule ~ "Treat Others As You Like Others
to Treat You." ~ during his Dharma-talk at my
Fortune telling has always been a great interest
of mine. I waited for the opportunity to ask Thay
if he could tell my fortune using my palm. He said
yes. He read my palm and then said "You will
grow old, you will get sick and you will die."
Disappointment filled me when I heard his response.
This was not the answer I expected. What I was waiting
to hear was if my dreams would be fulfilled. But upon
reflection, I realized that it wasn't of great importance
to know. To live in the present, as Thay told me,
is the best answer.
I remember the first letter Thay sent to me. It
was in 2005. I never forgot what he wrote. That day
someone brought him a box of mangoes. He asked me
if I liked mangoes and he will eat one for me. But
then he told me that no one could ever do anything
for you. No one can die, eat or live for us. He said
that we shouldn't expect others what only we can do.
This showed me that sometimes I couldn't always rely
on someone to do something that I wanted. I need to
In 2007 Thay Abhinyana had agreed to take two people
(mother and daughter) from Melbourne plus my mum,
aunt and I on a Pilgrimage to India. I was so excited!
But when my mum called him on the phone, and Thay
told her he'd been diagnosed with cancer, my heart
was broken. He told my mum that if he'd come with
us he would put me on top of a bus with him and show
me all the activities that he used to do when he was
young. But even though he didn't come with us, I felt
his spirit with us because he wanted mum to report
everything we had done in India, so he could still
guide us through the trip. During our trip, we often
talked about Thay and we cried for Thay's octopus.
Another thing Thay taught us is to clean up outside
as well as inside ourselves. He encouraged mum to
take part in the Clean-up Australia event. I did a
project in 2005 on 'Can We Go Green?' My mum took
my friends and family to take part in this meaningful
event. Another story about cleaning up was at Nirvana
Temple Kushinagara in India 2007, the place was filled
with rubbish. I thought people there took that place
for granted. In our pilgrimage group, a nun suggested
to clean up the front park. There was a Chinese person
from other pilgrimage group watching us. He asked
us what we were up to. He was amazed how we could
give up our time to clean up the park. He then went
back to his group (which was a big group from China
or Taiwan) and suddenly his whole group came and cleaned
up the entire park. It was a heart-warming experience.
I knew Thay would want us to act in this way no matter
where in the world, whether it be Australia or India.
I am sure he agreed with what we did at the Nirvana
Thay is a special monk to me. He was the first English
monk I ever met and taught me things I can understand
and apply to my life. Thank you Thay for all your
teachings, knowledge and guidance!
SOMETHING FROM BET
1979 was a year I visited churches.
This was the year before I met a friend, Elizabeth,
Who was on her way to Seng Guan See,
A Chinese Buddhist temple in Narra Street, Tondo,
One of the poorer areas of Manila,
Although the temple itself was opulent
And by no means poor.
She grabbed my hand and asked me
to go with her,
As she was a bit nervous going by herself.
I went, hesitantly, not knowing what to expect.
My exposure to temples had until then
Been limited to one ~ that of my hometown up north
my grandmother would make offerings
On special days and light incense sticks,
Things which I took to be 'Buddhist' in nature,
As that was what everyone said.
My study of the various 'local' religions was limited,
And I didn’t derive much from them.
It turned out that there was a Sunday-class
For school children, sort of like what
Catholic churches would provide in catechism classes,
prostrations, prayers, music and a talk
By a teacher from a nearby Buddhist-school.
I listened attentively when Mr. Chung, the speaker,
about the Kalama Sutra, and I got hooked.
He spoke in formal Hokkien, which
was a bit difficult to my hillbilly
ears, but I listened nevertheless,
And strove from there to learn more.
In spite of the slight language barrier,
I attending the classes as often as I could.
One day, I saw pasted on the wall,
"Meditation classes" in what I later found
to be Abhinyana's
signature-script. Something in English?! Finally,
a chance to
learn some more.
The classes were to be held late afternoon ~
Almost night ~ with meditation-sessions
On Sunday mornings, perfect.
It was a bit of a shock to find out
The class was in English, taught by a Western monk,
A sight I’d never seen before.
I forgot how many of us there were on that class,
It was mixed ~ some Chinese, some Filipino ~
I felt comfortable with the group,
And listened attentively as Abhinyana taught in his
British-English. I thought, if he talked forever,
I could listen forever.
From then on, I attended his classes
And missed the Sunday-school class.
I tried to find out where else
He would conduct his talks,
And tried to make it there too.
If he mentioned books or authors,
I went to the library to look for them or saved money
To browse in the bookstores, but you must
Remember that this is a Catholic land,
And these are not available in most bookstores.
Then we got invited to join his visits to the city
Where he was greeted happily by the inmates.
I had never been to a jail before,
And it was an eye-opener.
We were also invited to join him
to the refugee camps, But I
only got chance to go once to the Morong Camp.
I was impressed with the simplicity of the temple
images homemade but evidently done with care.
The people wore bright colors or was it because they
celebrating an event?
Abhinyana was happy with the preparations
But upset too with the presence of the missionaries;
That I remember.
It was the first time I saw him angry.
Then he moved on ~ to other countries.
We corresponded on and off,
And I got to meet his temper once in a while.
There just had to be a lesson to be learned,
It seems, that my brain could not grasp ~
“First a bop here and then a bop there, here
a bop, there a
bop, everywhere a bop-bop,
Old MacDonald had a farm ,:..” ~
But all in all, he was a pleasant correspondent,
And I was very happy to see the postman who delivered
letters even if he wrote 'Pro-polo'
Instead of 'Antipolo' as my address.
Sometimes it was 'Marco-polo',
And still the postman delivered.
Then came the computer age,
And we corresponded through email,
Even when we had to move house and I could not
Move the computer from the old house
Which had become termite-ridden.
I went back to the old house just to check my mail,
Until the house collapsed.
I was lucky to get one in the office
And we continued our correspondence.
He wrote to me of his travels, the people he met,
How he related to them and the places he went.
It was a learning-experience for me
Without leaving my seat;
It also allowed me to retain my sanity,
Not having many people to talk with in this job.
Yes, I can say that I have the pain,
And the privilege of calling Abhinyana,
Manila, April, 2008.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
An Assignment for Thay Abhinyana
Elizabeth Tu ~ Aged 13, on 6th August 1994
Hello, my name is Spiral and I am a sea creature.
Well, I was a sea creature once, but not anymore::..
Now I am a polished “Turban” sea shell.
I like being a sea shell, in fact, probably even better
than being an animal. Now I do not have to hide anymore,
I do not have to be scared to be seen nor escape the
dangers of the sea.
I was named Spiral, by a girl who had received me
as her assignment. She couldn’t think of a name
for me. So, for the very most obvious reason, she
named me:. “Spiral”:.
Here’s my story,:::
Once I, a turban sea snail, lived in the sea amongst
many different species of sea life. My family, relatives
and friends used to live near me, in rockpools, on
rocks, etc. but most of them now, have been separated
from me by the ocean’s rough waves, other hungry
animals and some have been hunted by the humans for
My home, or my preferred home would probably be, a
shallow rockpool filled with a lot of sea weed, sea
lettuce, rocks and other sea life. I prefer this type
of home because of the quiet waters, peace of the
sea and because of the sea weed, sea lettuce and rocks,
a great place to hide and find food.
Sometimes I get unlucky and it’s hard to find
and get exactly what you want. That’s when all
the nice rockpools have been used by too many other
creatures and is crowded or being used by crabs or
fish. Most of the time, I do not stay in pools that
are used by crabs or fish, but sometimes we have no
choice as it is better than being washed all over
the sea. The reason I dislike staying in the same
rockpools with the crabs and fish are because of the
many dangers. It is very difficult to move around
as they tend to find a good opportunity to have a
Usually I feed in the morning, when the tide is
low. I eat sea lettuce, sea weed, fungi, moss, little
insects etc. through my “trapdoor” or
“catseye”. The other reason I feed in
the morning is because I like to enjoy the early sun
and by afternoon I can hide from the heat and glare.
Otherwise, I feed all night when it is cool and dark.
My trapdoor is very useful. Not only because I eat
through it, but it protects me in a lot of ways. To
stay on a rock, my trapdoor backs inside me to let
my muscles suck onto the rock. The same goes with
eating. My muscles suck the food up. When a predator
or someone comes and picks me up, my trapdoor becomes
visible. The more the predator touches me, the more
the trap withdraws in to protect my body.
Whenever I get close to shore, I see millions and
millions of trapdoors. They look like miniature hard,
thick and strong plates. When I see them, it makes
me very sad as I think that one day my trap will be
in this collection as well when I die. Maybe some
of these traps belong to my family and friends.
They were all just memories of the old days, when
I was very young and scared of dying. I am not afraid
anymore. My trapdoor is with the rest of my lost family,
relatives and friends being washed up along the shore.
I guess I like it that way, I live my life and when
I feel old, I die. Its much better than to be hunted
or to be eaten, I guess:..
Well, one day that actually did happen to me. I lived
my life, was satisfied with it (only I could find
a mate and have children) and I just dropped. My trapdoor
fell off:. The ocean washed it away, and me, a new
Turban “shell” was also washed along the
sea by the waves:.. After the night, in the morning,
the tide was low. I was washed onto the shore. Next
thing I knew, I was washed away from rocky sea to
beautiful beach with swimmers, sunbakers and what
A lady in bright pink bathers was walking on the
shore, one arm through the large handle of the big,
brown straw basket, looking down onto the sand. Every
so often she would bend down, pick up something, look
at it and place it into her basket. Then she came
walking towards me. She picked me up and stared, then
smiled. Thanks to the sun and my shiny shell the lady
smiled more, to her thoughts, I looked like a sparkling
star. She placed me into her basket and continued
walking. I looked around. I was surrounded by a brown
wall and hundreds of other shells, no-one in particular
I knew. I had very mixed feelings, I was scared, sad
and very happy.
Sad, because she was taking me away from my home,
Scared, because I had no idea where she was taking
me and very happy because of the lady’s friendliness,
happy because a great feeling inside me knew she had
heaps of love inside her, happy because I knew I had
found a new home and environment and happy, because
the other shells reassured me I had made heaps of
When we arrived at my new home called “The
Undersea gift shop” we were put into warm water
and were all left there for quite a while. Then we
were dried in a monster called a steamer. We were
then placed in another monster called the polisher.
It was very uncomfortable because something was rubbing
onto my shell. I was very scared. But when we got
out we were surprised. We all looked like we were
ready to go to a party. We all sparkled in the light.
I was then placed into a little clear tray with other
“Turban shells”. Through the clear I could
see other species of shells in other trays. They all
looked beautiful, especially the limpet shells.
The very next day, another lady entered the shop.
She looked around at all the under water things and
the stopped to have a look at me. She looked pleased.
She took me to the counter and gave the lady who found
me a couple of round metals and a piece of paper and
then the lady placed me in a little white paper bag
and left. I was in the bag for a very long time. I
was very frightened and I little lonely but also had
a feeling I was going somewhere interesting and “nice”.
Sometime later I heard that I had come to a place
with a lot of people. Then I heard chanting. Straight
away I knew that I had come to the “nice”
place I had the feeling about.
Next thing I knew, I saw light as someone opened
my bag. It was a man, I’d never seen before.
He smiled at me and thanked the lady. He put me into
his room and there was where I learnt what they called
“English” and how the world above the
Several years later I was give to a girl to be her
assignment. There she wrote all this story, which
came from both my heart and her’s.
By Elizabeth Tu + Spiral
6 August 1994
By Victor Chua
What is it that makes this man, Abhinyana, special?
I often ponder. I guess it’s because he reflected
many of the highest qualities we all have but which
we hold back from expressing or manifesting. The way
he throws out soul-searching questions to make us
reflect on and yet those questions are already with
us. We admire the things he did and we went with him
to do some of them. He has that conviction to do the
things he believes in while we are still wishing/thinking
can we dare/do them. Take the example of Manila City
Jail visits: I went with him but was afraid to do
so by myself ~ before. That experience made me see
my fear was my own creation. He drew our higher-self
out into the open rather than being trapped inside.
Is it not that after he gives a talk, we go home feeling
high? Spiritual Truth is the language of the soul
and such talks stimulate/trigger our inner-being.
I was fortunate to cross his path at a time when
I was in search for meaning in life around 1978. His
thoughts, sharing and actions enriched and supported
my findings. His actions speak louder than his words.
Take this case as an example, there was this gentle,
kind, softly-spoken lady by the name of Charito Lee.
I was introduced to her during a time when she was
battling cancer. We all know its an expensive illness
and being in a third-world country, there is no medical
support from the government. I was asked by Abhinyana
(I called him Abhi) if I can help him cash-in his
outbound-flight. I asked him why. He was a bit hesitant
at first to say, but explained later that it was to
help Charito pay for her medication. Being a devil’s
advocate, I asked how then are you going to fly out?
His reply was “I don’t know; I will cross
that bridge when I get there; she needs this money
now”. We were able to do that and perhaps that
was the reason why he stayed in the Philippines for
so long? Stranded? Of course not; he found a cause
in the Refugee Camps!
We had a lot of interaction now and then as the
years went by. My parents were Buddhists and they
liked him, of course. Being a white-monk made him
more exotic, I guess. I guess my dad thought I was
in good company being with Abhi until a few years
later, he starts to worry that I might take the same
path as Abhi, not going to get married (he never said
this; I was just guessing). My dad went with me to
visit him at the Refugee Camp upon Abhi’s invitation.
It was extremely rare for my dad to accept an invitation
unless he finds it meaningful. He contributed to Abhi’s
project. My house was blessed by Abhi and it became
his abode too. It was in this house he has this nagging
cough that refused to go away even with medication.
So, he decided to do 13 days’ fasting as a way
to starve the illness away. He must have been in agony,
the whole 13 days couped up in the room and drinking
only water. The little communication we had were on
a small written paper now and then. Oh, the written
paper was a way to say he is ok. I was amazed that
it worked! In this same house, I will tell you about
the cockroach-story. There is no way not to have cockroaches
in a humid country, so my house was no exception.
My regular activities were to spray the house to kill
mosquitoes and whatever pests there are so by nightfall,
we are safe. My real trouble starts when Abhi became
their ally. He said no killing, talk to them, tell
them to go out or not to come in. As if they are going
to listen, I tell myself! Would you believe, he even
wrote some warningsigns asking them not to enter?
Looking back, I didn’t have that consciousness
that we can actually talk to them. Those unfortunate
ones died from my ignorance. If you see signs around
my house, please don’t be surprised.
We all know how much Abhi likes to give names to
people. In a deeper sense, I consider this a compliment.
For those who are parents, we tend to give certain
names to our kids apart from their actual given names.
Why? I surmise its because we love them so much we
want to make it more personal. If my premise is right,
let me share with you what Abhi called me. This is
one of many. When writing to me, he changed it, progressively,
from Victor to Victorado, then to El Dorado, and from
thence to O.F. And my son, Jerome, saw it, he wondered
what Dear O.F. meant. I said Dear Old Fart. Of course
my son was surprised and asked, “How does he
know you fart a lot?” I said, “He doesn’t;
he must somehow know that when people grow old, they
fart more”. Anyway, this last paragraph is meant
to humor everybody. No pun intended., but I am not
I have brothers and sisters, close friends and other
relatives. All of them have their place in my life,
but in Abhi’s case, he is my Soul-Brother. He
nurtures my spiritual side, he mirrors my conscience
and also shows me he is human, like all of us. But
what makes him stand out in the crowd is that he has
touched countless lives while he walks the earth.
And I am one of them.
In closing, it is important to say that all relationships
have their ups and downs. Abhi, my Soul-Brother, we
have our differences, no doubt, but what kept us together
all these years is our common interest which is soul-growth.
As he said, “Change is the only constant thing
we are assured of. Look around, nothing is permanent,
is it?” Knowing this, it would serve us best
if we wake up early to realize nothing is more important
than building good karma. Can anyone of us bring a
single physical thing with us when we pass from this
plane of existence? I leave this thought to us all.
Thank you for being part of Abhi’s circle.
By Phong Ho
I first met Thay Abhinyana when I was 15 years old
in 1993, in my hometown, Melbourne, Australia. My
Aunt, Loi, a passionate Buddhist, had urged me attend
a Dharma talk with her that Thay was giving in a nearby
Chinese temple. Generally skeptical of anything religious
I was at first reluctant, but my teenage curiosity
got the better of me and so I agreed. There was a
small group of about fifteen people present at the
talk. I watched them sitting quietly, some with their
eyes closed, seemingly in deep thought, captivated
by the words of the speaker. I stared curiously at
the monk, an Englishman in Chinese robes, a strange
sight indeed, especially considering my only prior
exposure to Buddhist monks were from highlyfantasized
Hong Kong movies where gravity-defying monks fought
evil with their superpowers. Thay was sitting crossed-legged
on the floor; he had a gentle demeanor accentuated
by wide blue compassionate eye. He spoke with tremendous
eloquence, using simple parables and stories from
his life experiences to express ideas that were deep
and relevant. I listened intently, and heard an angle
on life that was radically new to my ears, unconventional
and intriguing. Moments later, rain fell onto the
tin roof and the soothing pitter-patter echoed across
the hall; I felt as if time stood still. After the
talk had finished a wave of inspiration overcame me.
Who was this man? What had happened? A flame was kindled
within and I wanted more.
It turned out that my Aunt and Thay were good friends
and a week after the talk I was invited to join them
on a trip to the Melbourne museum. I keenly accepted.
Meeting Thay in person this time, I was pleasantly
surprised to learn that beneath the enigmatic and
austere character I had encountered previously, was
in fact, a friendly and warm individual with a quirky
sense of humor that I related to. Over the next few
years Thay and I would develop a special friendship,
he became my confidante, my mentor, and informally,
my teacher. The temple where he was staying was well
within walking distance from my home, and I visited
him regularly after school. On weekends a small group
including Thay, my Aunt and I, would go on road-trips
to the countryside. I have fond memories of Thay and
me tossing Frisbees on the beach, of light-hearted
picnics amidst tall Australian gum trees, and of Thay
reciting verses from “The Light of Asia”
on a mountaintop, surrounded by tranquil panoramic
Before I met Thay, I had inherited my view of Buddhism
from my rather traditional Chinese parents who clung
tightly to the notion of the Buddha as a deity they
prayed to routinely for reward and protection. I would
come to learn that the Buddha was actually a human
being who lived among us. In the Buddha’s youth,
whilst struggling with the meaning of life, he rebelled
against his father and teachers. In his religious
pursuit he ultimately discovered truth and dedicated
the rest of his life to teaching others the righteous
path to liberation from suffering. The Buddha encouraged
his followers to be a lamp unto themselves and to
investigate spiritual matters with a clear and intelligent
mind free from fear and superstition. Thay carried
the torch of the Buddha’s timeless message into
my life. His approach was like an archetypal Zen master,
full of originality, prodding and challenging his
students to find enlightenment in their daily lives,
in the here and now. Life was interconnected. We were
all socially responsible. Dharma or truth was universal
and not bound by time and space. Since truth was obviously
not exclusively Buddhist, Thay’s sources of
inspiration were eclectic. He would often say in his
gentle English accent, “There is a lot of Dharma
Through my association with Thay, new modes of thinking
emerged in my mind. Some ideas would alienate me from
my party-going peers. Nonetheless I had a strong resolve
and Thay’s caring support helped me through
some difficult and confusing teenage years. In addition,
I found comfort in his many books, which I would read
at night before sleep. Thay’s books read like
irresistible journals from a modern-day adventurer,
a Sinbad of our times. I was teleported around the
globe and enchanted by real-life stories of holy men
in India, Filipino prisoners and Vietnamese refugees,
like my own family, who were torn from their homeland
and doing their best to cope in their newly adopted
country. The world was indeed vast and diverse, but
the commonality of our hope and suffering was what
makes us all inseparable.
In 1997, my Aunt and I traveled with Thay for a couple
of months through Nepal and India. In my early twenties,
after returning from India, there would be a large
gap in my friendship and correspondence with Thay.
He had left a penetrating impression on my thinking
during my most formative years, and perhaps subconsciously
I now felt that I needed to break away and discover
things for myself. I was now in University, making
new friends and feeling the euphoria of my new environment
and active sociallife. However, the commercial structure
of tertiary education did not inspire me and I skipped
a large chunk of my lectures and classes. I frequently
immersed myself in the well-resourced University library.
There I discovered Aldous Huxley’s “Perennial
Philosophy”, Joseph Campbell’s “Power
of Myths” and read in awe the biographies and
teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Years passed, I travelled a little more. I graduated
and suddenly earning a livelihood became important.
The rhythm of my life got faster. I became a workaholic,
married and had a son. But I had not forgotten Thay
and would often think about him. Today I approach
my thirties, and a new chapter of life challenges
Last week I travelled interstate to Queensland to
visit my old teacher after being informed about his
condition. It had been several years since we last
saw each other. I was so happy to see that in spite
of his frail health, Thay’s clarity of thinking
remained sharp. And on that morning, he was giving
a Dharma talk to a group of Vietnamese people who
had also travelled some distance to see him. Thay
was as articulate as always, delighting the group
with his wit and insights. Again I sat quietly among
the audience, like I did 15 years ago on that fateful
rainy day when he had sparked something within me.
Inwardly, I felt the flame still burning.
Thay asked me to contribute an article to probably
his last book, and I have thus decided to relive in
these pages those significant years in my life when
Thay took me under his wing. I will be forever indebted
and grateful to him for his loving care and for revealing
to me a world of beauty and wonder. Thank you, Thay,
for setting me off on a path of self-discovery. I
will continue the journey in your honor.
Melbourne 30 March 2008.
ANH LAC’S LESSON
By Thien Anh Lac
Please let me call him ‘Thay’ to offer
my respect to him as a student to the teacher.
The first time I met Thay was at Phap Hoa Temple
in 1985 or 1986 ~ I don’t remember ~ It felt
strange because it was rare to see a ‘white-skin’
monk. I have seen a ‘white skin’ monk
in Viet-Nam before but it was a long time ago. He
was German and was dressed in a Theravada robe. My
parents went to visit him and took me with them. I
was only a five year old child but was happy to see
this monk. I really liked his thatched hut with Buddha
pictures hanging on the wall and his simple life-style
as a monk.
Thay Abhinyana was a ‘good-looking’
monk at that time with his serene and compassionate
appearance. His thoughtful attitude impressed me and
changed my perception about life. He gave us lessons
as well as meditation classes. I followed his teachings
and felt so light and calm by observing my breath,
flowing in and out slowly. When he talked to me I
looked at him and was so worried that one day ‘someone’
might fall in love with him and take him away from
Buddha and us. Please forgive me, Thay, for this selfish
After that, I didn’t see again Thay because
he didn’t return to Phap Hoa temple. I was so
sad and didn’t have much opportunity to see
Thay because I had to study, get a job and had I no
means of transport. I knew that there was a Vietnamese
group still supporting and organising meetings for
Thay to speak. I wished to see him again but didn’t
know who to contact within this Vietnamese group.
I found his books translated into Vietnamese on
my family’s bookshelf. I read slowly to take
in some useful teachings to apply to daily life. This
book was about ‘Ego’ and ‘No Attachment’.
It is a wonderful book for selfish people to read.
In 2007, I met Sujata at Phap Hoa temple. She is
Thay’s student. We became dharma-friends despite
our different ages. She mentioned Thay often and told
me that Thay gave her the dharma name ‘Sujata’.
I learned more about Thay and wanted to see Thay again
when he came to Australia. Sujata helped me to meet
Thay on one Saturday afternoon at the end of 2007.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw Thay walking slowly
downstairs. His demeanor was so peaceful and his eyes
were so bright behind his glasses. I sat on the floor
next to Thay and felt so serene. Thay looked a bit
tired but had cheerful eyes as the room was full of
Buddhists waiting for Thay to preach. I wanted to
cry because I felt so tranquil ~ the same feeling
I had already experienced when I first met the Dalai
Lama and other Buddhist monks and nuns at Budha-Gaya.
Was there a special connection? Thay didn’t
start with any special topic about the dharma that
afternoon. He looked so tired and pale, his voice
was so soft. He suggested that we raise any question
for him to explain. He would address any problem,
and of course there were many. While listening to
Thay, I gained a lot of benefit about life and how
to be happy in different circumstances. I would like
to share it here:
I am my own master now. I don’t own anything
or let money, fame, reputation, beauty, love: control
me and make me suffer. Because of impermanence, they
come and go, so there is no attachment, craving or
clinging to material things. Just strive to live a
simple lifestyle by being humble, honest and altruistic
to help others who are not fortunate. By observing
that on a daily basis, I feel free and very happy
deep in my heart. I am so lucky to know that I have
enough in my life and not feel inadequate. I spend
more time reading dharma-books and meditate to find
my true self.
By observing my mind, I just watch it carefully
and know every single thought that comes and goes.
Always remember, Thay said: “Look at it and
let it go”. It is so wonderful that I don’t
have to ‘kill’ the bad thoughts and nourish
the good thoughts, but just absorb it as it is. It
is better as I don’t feel guilty anymore when
a negative thought arises. This practice helps me
to see how bad or good person I am.
Thay also reminded me about the false distinction
between clean and dirty, rich and poor, love and hate:
These contrasting pairs should be destroyed in order
to clear the mind, using six senses in contact with
life. This helps ease my mind and feel free from greed,
anger and foolishness.
The questions and answers session lasted for two
hours. Thay looked so tired but a smile appeared on
his lips when he saw his students were still interested
to listen and learn from him. I was so happy to see
Thay again and gained a lot to add to my daily practice.
I always thank Thay for giving more flavour to my
study in Buddhism. I was asked to come again on Thursday
night but unfortunately, I couldn’t due to some
family commitment. I promised to take my parents to
visit my sister-in-law in the hospital because she
has terminal bonecancer.
The second time I came to listen to Thay’s teaching
was on Friday night at Yen Ha’s place. Thay
had sent me a texted message asking me to come. This
time, I had no opportunity to sit next to Thay because
I was late. Once again, Thay let us ask questions.
I asked, “How can we control anger?” The
reason I asked was because, this time, instead of
taking my parents to visit my sister-in-law, I went
to see Thay. They were not happy and told me off.
To me, listening to dharmateaching was more important
because they will leave us soon and my sister- in-law
will still be in the hospital. But why should I be
upset by being told off? The sound is not real, it
comes and goes like the wind. Why should I take it
to heart and suffer or be angry?
Thay said, “Show me your anger.” Thay
reminded me of the story of Bodhi Dharma speaking
to Hue Kha. “Show me your mind and I will calm
it down.” Hue Kha (the 2nd patriach) looked
for his mind and couldn’t find it. Bodhi-Dharma
said to Hue Kha: “So I’ve already calmed
your mind”. I just smiled and looked at Thay
and he smiled back at me. We understood each other.
I couldn’t find my anger to show to you Thay,
because it was gone, it was in the past now!!!!!!
I realised that I needed more patience to control
my anger. It didn’t come out of speech or body
but from my mind. Oh no!!!! I failed again because
I couldn’t stop it by practicing patience, I
believe this is called MINDFULNESS. Thay always mentioned
it when he gave us a lesson, but I can’t always
achieve it ~ I am so sorry, Thay. You mentioned a
lady who asked the same question 22 years ago about
“how to control anger”.
It was late when the teaching session ended. I stayed
back to ask Thay who the lady was that asked the same
question as me. He said, that it was me! I had asked
the same question 22 years ago and have still not
fixed my problem!!!! I was so surprised with Thay’s
incredible memory. Was that the result of daily meditation?
I believe so. It was a breakthrough of ‘self-ignorance’
when I realised that I asked the same question again
after such a long time!!!!
I felt so ashamed, I have now devoted myself to
taking more time to visualise my anger from the root
and find a way to stop it immediately when it happens.
Thank you, Thay, for giving me focus to observe and
embrace anger when it arises, then just leave it and
let it go. It has really helped me to untie the knot
which has caused misery in my life.
Thanks Thay for giving me a valid lesson. I’ll
remember Thay forever and ever, whether you are close
or far away. Yes, I will always remember Thay, forever
OUR MEETING WITH THAY ABHINYANA
By Tuan & Ly
In 1983 our family arrived at the Refugee Camps
in Morong, Bataan, Philippines after a long and terrible
escape by boat from Vietnam. We were confused and
afraid because we had no idea what was in front of
us. My wife had just given birth to our third son
and our family of five was totally dependent on the
mercy of the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Commission
for Refugees). I still remember it well, the day he
visited our Camp. It was the very first time we met
a British Buddhist monk; he was so kind, so simple
and the way he spoke to us was very easy to understand.
As per my request, he spent almost all night long
sitting and talking with me and that's why he won
my heart so easily. Most of the priests or monks we
had met, behaved like they were God, but he was different.
Due to our limited English back then, I didn't really
understand much of what he said but that wasn't important;
his actions spoke louder than words.
Time went by, and more than a decade later, coincidentally,
we read in a Vietnamese magazine in Oregon informing
the public about his talks at one of the Vietnamese
Buddhist Temples in Washington State. Thay Abhinyana,
the Buddhist monk who we'd met many years ago in the
refugee camp would be coming! I still kept his old
name-card he gave me back at the refugee camp, and
remembered his Zen-poem printed on the back:
“In the black, there is some white;
In the wrong, there is some right;
In the dark, there is some light,
In the blind, there is some sight.”
Finally, we met again after so many years. To meet
him was an honor but to learn from him was a true
blessing. His JATs (Just A Thought) messages was like
our daily nutrition that we didn't want to miss; we
attended several of his talks in the temple; and now,
even when he’s in pain he still smiles and keep
teaching us. The seeds he plants today will continue
to grow and spread.
These are the thoughts from one of your humble students
from Aloha, Oregon, who is currently working in Vietnam.
What's my name? It doesn't matter because the most
important thing here is not about a single person
carrying his own name but about how much this individual
learn from him. Another thing we admire him for is
that he holds no "Copyright" ownership on
any of his books. We've read many motivational books,
we found they're very similar to each other and we
wonder who's arrogant enough to claim "Copyright"
on them. There should not be only a few Teachers in
this world but we should all learn from each other,
We understand that he’s facing a tough time
now and we found a good way to pray for him. Every
day we try and do some good deeds for someone in need
without telling them, all on his behalf!
Please stay with us for a little longer, Thay, and
if you can’t keep in mind that we will meet
you someday, somewhere, just like how we met you 25
years ago, on and off. Love you with all of our heart,
Tuan & Ly.
LAST TRIBUTE TO ABHINYANA
Written By : Ha Dang Do ~ 19 April 2008
As read on 20 April 2008 at Drysdale Funeral Hall,
33, National Park Road, Nambour, Queesland, Australia.
I would like to say a few things, my final tribute
to Abhinyana. All the following remarks are very personal
but they need to be said and told. I met Abhinyana
about nine years ago, not as a Vietnamese Refugee
who received his help or assistance in a refugee camp,
nor did I meet him as a Buddhist, since I am not a
Buddhist. I met him as a Business man as I was at
that time, to have him do the blessing for a Townhouse
complex of a Singaporean investor, Mr. Yeo.
After a short period of contact with him, Abhinyana
wrote to me saying that he felt he had known me for
much longer than that. Perhaps he meant in our previous
lives! YES. There are certain similarities between
us. We could feel one another’s feelings and
we also have the same both Eastern and Western star
signs. That made me think he was just like my twin,
although we came to this world by different parents
at different places. We kept in touch and corresponded
very frequently for a few years. I knew with absolute
certainty that he enjoyed our friendship and our correspondences
tremendously. BUT in our lives we always seem to do
something, say something or write something that we
regret later. More often than not, when we realize
it, it is too late. I stopped all contact. Perhaps
he was my twin in some way BUT Abhinyana was more
compassionate and more conciliatory than I was. He
did everything he could to maintain, to repair our
friendship but to no avail. He was very sad. He gave
up. Looking back I felt as if I had refused a life
boat to someone who really needed it. Such cruelty!
When you are cruel to someone that cruelty will bounce
back to you eventually. At the end you will be the
one hurt most. And my hardest punishment at the end
was really losing him. We had no contact or correspondence
for about FIVE years. We lost and disappeared from
each other. At the end of 2007 and the beginning of
2008 I sensed that something (even death) was happening
to Abhinyana but I did not dare say so. I asked my
wife, when she got back from Singapore on 17th March,
whether Mr. Yeo, who was the person that introduced
Abhinyana to me in the first place, had he met or
said anything about Abhinyana. The answer was NO.
Two weeks later on 31 March, Abhinyana asked Hoa
to call me to let us know about his illness and asked
me to go to his Dharma talk on 6th April. After FIVE
YEARS I wrote to him directly to let him know I got
the message from Hoa. We started to write to each
other again. While I always told him that I did not
need to read his books and nor did I need to go to
his talks to understand LIFE. If I wanted to know
about life, I could experience it myself. But this
time, I finally went. That talk of Abhinyana on 6th
April was the first and also the last, the only one
that I went to!
I continued to write to him everyday to give him
food for thought and to encourage him to fight to
go on. Correspondence with his friends was his life
source, Abhinyana loved it. We enjoyed dearly each
of our correspondences. He always wrote to me, “Will
you have something to eat”. Yes, we did not
read the content of our correspondence. We ate them!
There was a day I wrote three e-mails to him. Abhinyana’s
sister, Sheila, told me that he sometimes received
40 e-mails that needed replies. He always replied
to mine, never missed one. Abhinyana, I greatly appreciate
Sometimes he replied almost immediately after my
e-mail was sent away. There was NO reply to my last
e-mail. So sad, so tragic! It was so painful to see
him suffer in agony, particularly on Sunday, 13th
April. If I could have shared some of his pain to
make it less painful for him, I certainly would BUT
I could not! I had to put my ear right to his mouth
in order to hear his last words. After that he could
only give some weak signals to indicate what he wanted.
Occasionally he opened his eyes and gazed at me without
any words. By 4.00 pm, he was already in a deep Coma.
He passed away on Monday morning between 4.00 am and
6.00 am. To me he passed away at 4.30 am because I
woke up suddenly at that time. I felt he wanted to
tell me he had to go. At least and at last he suffers
no more. There is always some light within the darkness
and there is always some blessing in the cruelty of
fate. I would like to share this sentence from his
last writing to me, “This Octopus that brought
me back here is a catalyst to connect us in a way
we’ve never known before”.
Since the time Abhinyana asked Hoa to call me to
on 31 March to reconnect our friendship until the
time Abhinyana passed away on 14 April, I had only
2 weeks with him. I should have had more, 5 YEARS
and 14 Days instead of 14 days only. If only I had
been more compassionate and maintained our friendship.
Had I kept the communication line open during the
last five years, I might have been able to save him.
However small and vain that possibility was.
I think I will never find another friend in my lifetime
with whom I could have such a great friendship and
correspondence. His sickness and eventually his death
reduced me to tears for the last couple of weeks,
which I have never done before. The only consolation
for me is that at least I was the last person in Abhinyana’s
life to hear his last words, the last non-related
person who stayed with him and talked to him, touched
him whilst he was still breathing, in a Comatose state.
Our connection was very deep and much longer than
the timeline indicates. And it was cut too short.
We will meet again, as Abhinyana wrote in his last
e-mail to me ~ ‘You and I met some years ago,
and cannot change that; our lives became inextricably
linked and no end; There is always something before
what was and will be something after what is. The
mountains of the Himalayas will wait for us a while,
and perhaps we will meet there, although under different
names and forms’.
How nice! Abhinyana was such a great friend whether
he was a layman or a holy man, whether a Bhuddist
monk or a non believer. He is larger than life:.I
miss him, miss my twin, my BAN TRI KY, sorely.
Ha Dang Do
MY TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
By Sheila (Abhinyana’s Sister)
My brothers early years at school were not happy
ones. He played truant quite often, hiding in the
forest nearby. Sometimes they had the whole school
out looking for him, but they never found his hiding
place. I think it was in a badgers cave hidden by
Rhododendron bushes.Nevertheless he was a bright boy,
and learn he did, and eventually went on to college.
He wanted to become a history teacher but changed
his mind mid-stream and studied art. He became quite
good at it, he was very artistic in so many
During his student days, he worked at lots of part-time
jobs to earn money for his trips to the continent
(Europe), and eventually to Asia. One of these jobs
was as a waiter in a posh country club.
Once, a customer left him a tip of 1 Penny, about
2 cents Australian. He picked it up and handed it
back to him saying, "I think your need is greater
than mine". I think the guy was too ashamed to
report him to the management, so he still had a job.
On another occasion, a very mean and wealthy customer
asked him whether he would like to do some gardening
for him at a very cheap price.
Abhinyana said "O.K.", but at that young
age (late teens) he hardly knew a weed from a flower,
he was no gardener. The man gave him instructions
to prune the trees etc:.., and went off to work. When
the man returned home in the evening, he just stared
in horror at his garden. The beautiful lime trees
which bordered his drive-way were pruned beyond recognition,
not one leaf or twig remained.
Hence the saying, "You only get what you pay
One beautiful spring day in England in the late
1950's, my family, including Abhinyana, went for a
picnic in the same forest which Abhinyana had hidden
in when he played truant from school. On this particular
day I was wearing a new black skirt with patterns/pictures
of temples of India on it. I never knew until 2008,
that it was this skirt that started him on his journeys
to India, and all that eventually followed.
So here’s to you, my Rambling Boy, I know
your wanderings brought you joy. (Taken from a BOB
DYLAN song, one of his favorite singer/song-writers).
You lived your life to the full, the highs and lows
we'll never know fully.
You were a good man little brother, you will be
missed so much.
We were all so proud of you, especially Dad and
Farewell, Your loving sister, Sheila.