Parting Shots ~ Contributions from Friends

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 about that.

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, OLD
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Abhinyana’s Comments 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 fortunes.

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 whisper.

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". The
words and lines which I have underlined are mine, as
corrections or additions.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
(Rev.) Abhinyana.

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 CAE.

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 fear-stricken.

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 me.

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

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 daily work.

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 resettlement.

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 my stress.

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 appreciative.

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 them.

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 consequences.

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 of time.

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 excited?

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 mustn’t it?

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 any favours.

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 with Bhante.

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.

The Meeting
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 had expected.

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 community.

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 of reincarnation.

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 potential up.

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 more effective.

Bhante’s response to meditation, very nearly threw me off my chair: “Meditation is not something that you do, it is something that grips you

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 won’t.

Later I was to listen to many more of Bhante’s dhamma talks. His message is in his books and he has written several.

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 alone”.

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 it.

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.

Boleh Tahan
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 is diminished.

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 durable.

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. 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.
  2. Any teacher worth his salt will help people to understand that anyone and anything is a teacher if one knows how to learn.
  3. 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 Dharma.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 heart.

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?

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 me.

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 advice.

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 so.

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 you are?
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.

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 white;
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 in pain.

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 outside.

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 place.

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 be independent.

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 Temple.

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!


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 ~ Where
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, With
prostrations, prayers, music and a talk
By a teacher from a nearby Buddhist-school.
I listened attentively when Mr. Chung, the speaker, talked
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 that indeed,
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 soft,
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 jail,
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 there, The
images homemade but evidently done with care.
The people wore bright colors or was it because they were
celebrating an event?

Abhinyana was happy with the preparations done,
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 his
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, the pleasure,
And the privilege of calling Abhinyana,
My friend.

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 food.

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 nice dinner.

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 I call:.Paradise.

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 new friends.

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 sea was.

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 sure.

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 views.

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 in Shakespeare!”

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 awaits me.

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.

Phong Ho,
Melbourne 30 March 2008.

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 thought.

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 and ever.

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, freely.

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.

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 that.

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

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 for ".

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 Mum.
Farewell, Your loving sister, Sheila.

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