Ripples Following Ripples ~ WHAT DO WE REALLY KNOW?

From Kathmandu, I flew out to Malaysia, where one of the first things I did was to have two of my molars extracted; they’d bothered me too long; I was enlightened by a few grams as a result. I then set out on another speaking-tour.

I crossed paths with Bhikkhu Dry again, and saw how weird his ideas had become. I disagreed with him in a talk we shared one night when he said that if a person isn’t enlightened himself, he is not in a position to help others become enlightened. I am not of this opinion. It would be like seeing someone injured and bleeding and saying to him: “I’m so sorry; I’d like to help you, but I’m not a doctor”. Every mother ~ and most other people, for that matter ~ knows how to treat minor injuries; there is no need to go to a doctor for every little wound or pain. Likewise, we all have the capacity ~ in varying degrees ~ to help others along the way; we do not need to be fully-enlightened for that ~ if there is such a thing as full-enlightenment (we speak as if we know, when really, we don’t). And, in doing so, we express the enlight-enment we already have ~ in whatever small amount ~ and thereby increase it. If we were to hold back and refuse to help others until we are fully-enlightened, no-one ~ including our-selves ~ would get any help at all! That would be just as foolish as making it a condition that someone must be enlightened be-fore we listen to or learn from him. There was an anomaly in what he said: Did he consider himself enlightened and therefore qualified to help others? If not, then why did he speak like this?

Not long after this, I was told of other strange things he’d said in Teluk Intan. Speaking of a recent prolonged water-shortage in Kuala Lumpur, he claimed it was a punishment by the devas for it being a ‘sinful city’. Well, having known him for many years, I recognized it as his style and wasn’t surprised; the only thing that struck me as strange about it was the word ‘sinful,’ which I can’t imagine him using, but I could be wrong; perhaps it was another word, similar in meaning. I asked one of the folks who’d heard him say this if he had objected to it, and he said: “What’s the point?”

What’s the point?” I echoed. “The point is that this is blatant superstition, and he should not be allowed to get away with it!”

There are people ~ many of them kind but naïve ~ who will be-lieve things like this simply because he’s a monk, but it should not pass unchallenged. It is hard enough trying to combat exist-ing superstition without others spreading more!

What an arrogant thing to say! What gave him the right to set himself up as a judge, as if he perceived all the causes of some-thing affecting a city of two million people?! Was he so all-knowing, so all-seeing, as to explain a water-shortage in this way? No doubt he could quote from the scriptures about this, too, but that proves nothing except his gullibility. Has he seen devas, and does he know what they think and why? This is pure fundamentalism, in complete disregard of the explanations of science. The El Niño Effect is a recently-observed and under-stood phenomenon that we’ve just become cognizant of. We do not know if it existed at the time of the Buddha, but it probably did. There was no science of meteorology then, and the causes of weather-patterns were unknown. Maybe people attributed storms, thunder, lightning, floods, and so on, to the intervention of gods or devas; some people obviously still do. I myself prefer the explanations of science; I don’t want fairy-tales any more.

By the law of averages, there would be some ‘sinful’ people in Kuala Lumpur (every city has its share), but we cannot be so sweeping as to condemn a whole city as ‘sinful’; there are ~ must be ~ many good people in K.L.; in fact, his family is there; did he include them in his judgment, whereby he was saying: “You deserve whatever you get, otherwise you wouldn’t get it! And, because this water-shortage is a form of suffering, the causes of it must be such as to produce such an effect!”? He is a Karmite, a Professor of Karmology, believing that whatever happens to us is a result of our karma, whereas this is definitely NOT SO. There are other forces at work in our lives besides Karma, which ~ come on, let’s be honest ~ at our level, is still a concept and not a proven fact.

Please, be very careful with this concept, lest it do you more harm than good. Be very careful when listening to monks ex-plaining Dharma. Don’t assume that they are authorities and simply believe whatever they say, but listen attentively and use your intelligence to decide whether what they say is true and useful to you or not. The Dharma should not leave us high-and-dry, like whales stranded on the beach.

And at this point, I’ll resume my story of Tran Cong Nam: He’d lived alone for several years after his resettlement in California in 1983, until his wife and remaining daughter joined him from Vietnam. I was glad, thinking he’d be alright from thereon. And he was, for a while. Some years later still, his daughter fell in love and got married. Only a month later, however, the boy died of a heart-attack. More suffering for Mr. Nam! We continued to keep in touch, and about this time, I received a letter from him, in reply to my last one to him, asking how he was. He thanked me for my concern, as was his way, then proceeded to tell me that he had been planning to return to Vietnam for the first time since he escaped over 15 years before, to see his aged mother. Before he could go, however, he got a phone-call, to say that a drunken, crazed policeman had broken into his mother’s home one night, stabbed his eldest sister to death, and badly wounded his mother! He hastened back for the funeral, and fortunately, his mother recovered. He returned to the US to continue his life of suffering, not becoming completely insane, as many other people would have done.

Back in K.L., Wong linked me with someone wanting to sell his laptop, and I bought it, this one with a modem, so for the first time, I was able to connect to the Internet, and my life was for-ever changed thereby. A friend named Jimmy Chew created an email-address for me and tried to show me how to use this fan-tastic means of communication, but I was slow in learning. Later, in Malacca, while staying with DV, I had to ask him every day for quite a while: “Come on, show me again,” and was almost on the verge of giving up in despair and staying with snail-mail, when I got it. Phew, what a relief! I thought of changing my ad-dress to ‘Cybersaurus’ but it seemed someone else had already got it. Email soon became my lifeline, and I was hooked. I had always been an avid correspondent, and reached the point, at one time, when I was writing up to 150 letters each month; after email ~ AE ~ that fell to about 15, but my email soared to hun-dreds. It is so convenient, and even when I must resort to using cyber-cafes with their varying costs and frustrations in getting connected and so on, it is infinitely better than in before-email days ~ BE.

Now, I wanted to donate blood again, but was feeling very tired, especially after eating, when I would have to sleep again; I was constantly thirsty, and had to get up in the night to pee, which I’d never done before. DV ~ who’d maintained his blood-donations after I’d influenced him in this over 20 earlier ~ took me to see one of his friends, a Dr. Wong. He pricked my finger to test my blood, and it showed my blood-sugar-level was very high; I had diabetes! Damn, I thought, this is really going to restrict me! It had probably been precipitated by drinking lots of sugar-cane-juice while I was in India, but looking back later, I could see that I’d had symptoms of it for many years, but hadn’t recognized them. Back in the early ‘80’s, I started to get attacks of hypogly-cemia; suddenly, I would feel ravenously hungry and start to tremble, an awful feeling that someone described as like be-ing hit by a train, although how they knew that, I couldn’t imag-ine! If I didn’t eat something quickly when I got such attacks, I couldn’t eat and had to sleep. Several times, when I’d donated blood, the bleeders remarked upon my high iron-level, unaware that this was an indication of diabetes; why blood-banks never tested for diabetes when it’s so easily done, I don’t know, but they won’t take blood from diabetics, as I soon found out.

Someone took me to see a Chinese doctor in K.L. ~ a roughly-spoken woman from Shanghai ~ who assured me she could cure diabetes, and that if she couldn’t, she would take her sign down. She provided me several months’ supply of pills.

I visited the Buddhist Society in Teluk Intan again, for what was to be the last time, and, wanting to see what people had under-stood from my previous visits, I asked them to arrange for someone to interview me before the audience, but not to tell me the questions beforehand, so that it would be spontaneous in-stead of prepared and contrived. They agreed to do this, and when the time came, they had chosen someone who I had really hoped they would ~ a man who’d been disrespectful towards me on several occasions, and who was generally rather arrogant. I expected him to give me a hard time, but was surprised when, in front of the audience, he was uncharacteristically subdued; per-haps he realized what it was like to be in my position, always in front of others, on trial, as it were. I forget what kind of questions he asked, so they couldn’t have been outstanding, but I used the occasion to confront the audience, and asked: “If I were not a monk, would you still invite me here to give talks?”

There was a long and somewhat-strained silence, until finally, someone said, “Well, … er … no, not really.”

“Why not?” I said. “If learning is sufficiently important to you, you won’t mind who you learn from, but if it is not, you will pick and choose, saying things like, ‘I like this speaker, but not that one.’ “

My suspicions were confirmed. I’d been wasting my time there, and never went again.

I’d been invited to give a talk in the Brickfields Vihara in K.L.. When I got there, the abbot, Ven. Dhammananda, asked me why I’d not visited him when he was in hospital in Sydney for a heart-bypass several years before ~ “All the other monks did,” he said. I thought: “Why should I? I owe you no allegiance.” He sat beside me on the stage ~ to monitor me, I knew ~ but I said what I wanted to say even so. Because I was dressed as I usu-ally dress when I give talks, with the Theravada robe over my Chinese tunic and pants, I began, “Perhaps you are wondering what kind of monk I am. Well, I’m not a Theravada or a Maha-yana monk.” In the middle of my talk, he interrupted me to say something, before allowing me to continue. At the end, he com-mented on my talk: “It was very liberal,” he said, although I don’t know what he meant by that, “but I couldn’t find anything wrong with what he said,” or something to that effect.

It was my intention to make another trip to the US, but first, I wanted to see my mother in Queensland, who by this time, was in a nursing-home suffering from Alzheimer’s. DV bought me a one-way ticket to Brisbane.

Now, a letter had reached me from someone in Singapore by the name of Tan Chye Hin, who said he’d enjoyed reading one of my books so much that he had collected funds to have it re-printed on his own initiative. Well, I was flattered, and wrote to say so. We exchanged letters and phone-calls, and he arranged for me to stay in a small temple when I went to Singapore not long after. He met me off the bus, and was a pleasant young guy, and a vegetarian, too, which is rare among Buddhists.

One evening, in a vegetarian restaurant downtown, a man at the next table came over and introduced himself; thus I met William Yeo. We got talking, and when he learned that I’d soon be going to Brisbane but didn’t know where I’d stay when I got there, he said he had business-interests there and could help me out by putting me in touch with one of his agents, which he did. When I flew into Brisbane, therefore, Ong Kwee Choo met me off the plane and took me to the Vietnamese temple ~ Chua Phap Quang ~ where she’d arranged for me to stay until my visit to my mother was over, but the monk there ~ Thich Nhat Tan ~ was of the possessive-type, such as I’d come across in many places, and wasn’t very hospitable. Such monks didn’t really ‘leave-home’ at all, but merely moved from a small home into a bigger one, thinking of the temple as their own private property.

Kwee Choo and her Vietnamese husband, Ha, kindly drove me up to Nambour to visit my mother, and left me alone with her for a while. The nursing-home was ~ well, what can you say about a nursing-home? We all know they are rubbish-dumps. However, this one was clean and didn’t smell, like some do, and the patient-care was good. Mum was quite well, and pleased to see me; I wish I’d felt the same way, but how could I, when she was in that condition? Had I believed in God, my faith would probably have been severely shaken; how could He/She/It allow people to become like this? But since I had no such faith to be shaken, I was able to look at things quite differently, in terms of cause-and-effect, and recalled the Buddha’s parting words to Ananda: “Decay is inherent in all things, Ananda. How could it be that this body of mine, having been born, should not die?” She was sharing a room with four other old ladies; I took her to a place where we had a bit of privacy, and holding her hand, asked her, “How do you like it here, mum?” She replied: “Where am I?” I then asked, “Is there anything you need here?” and she said, “I just need my son to stay here with me,” adding “We’ve got plenty of beds.” I had to laugh, even though I knew she wasn’t joking; she never had much of a sense of humor.

Ha and Kwee Choo came back for me, and mum was sad when we left and wanted me to stay; I assured her I would come again. I gave a single talk in Phap Quang temple, but it wasn’t well-received. Among the people I met there were Le Bang (from Bataan), and Hoa, and of course, the first thing he looked at were my teeth, and I was minus several since we last met. Again, he offered to make me some dentures, and I accepted; an impression was made and would be ready for when I swung by that way in a couple of months.

Le Bang invited me to visit his home, and I was astounded! He had built this huge new house, far beyond his means, and was driving an old beat-up car that seemed incongruous beside the house. I wasn’t impressed, as it was clearly only for show. He had several more children by this time, and his wife was the main bread-winner, having a better job than him.

Air-fares were still very high, so I took a bus from Brisbane to Melbourne, a journey lasting 26 hours. Tuan met me off the bus and took me to stay in the big new house he’d bought; he’d done well, working hard, living frugally himself, and not wasting money on frivolous things.

During the time I was there, I got a call from a lady identifying herself as the niece of Tran Cong Nam, and inviting me for lunch at her home the next Saturday; she said some of her friends would be there to listen to my talk. I wasn’t aware he had any relatives in Australia, but happily accepted the invitation. On that day, someone came to fetch me, and I found a very nice lunch awaiting me, laid out artistically. Later, when everyone had eaten, I was asked to speak, and wove in the story of Mr. Nam, but without using his name, so that only his niece knew who I was referring to. Afterwards, she came to me and quietly told me that I’d got the story wrong, and it wasn’t as I’d said. When he escaped from Vietnam, with his whole family, two of his children didn’t drown as I had been told. What happened was, their crowded boat had been fired upon by a communist gun-boat, and his son’s brains were blown out; his daughter’s stomach was torn open by shrapnel, and she died in his arms, crying, “Help me, Pa-pa! Help me!”

I was stunned! Why should someone like him ~ so quiet, humble and self-effacing ~ suffer so much? What could he possibly have done that would cause such pain? To casually ascribe it to karma ~ as if we perceive all the causes ~ innumerable causes, such as bring about any effect ~ would be horribly callous and unthinking. The fact is, we don’t know, and the sooner we can bring ourselves to honestly admit this, the better! The karma-idea is a two-edged sword, and without wisdom, we get hold of it to our own detriment! It might be useful to apply it to ourselves ~ and ourselves alone ~ especially when facing difficulties, to say: “I don’t know why this is happening, and I certainly don’t like it or want it. But because I can see there are no accidents ~ things that happen by themselves ~ but that everything comes from causes, maybe it is the result of something I did long ago, even if I don’t remember it. Therefore, I’ll accept it now, and see what I can do with it, and where I can go from here.” But we must be very careful not to point our fingers at others in judgment and say, “This must be a result of his past karma, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening to him.” We must be very careful indeed!

I was keen to begin my trip in the US, so didn’t stay long in Mel-bourne. I’d already contacted Thong Hai in Hawaii, and he’d sent me a letter of guarantee regarding my stay in his temple. Unaware of entry-requirements, I bought only a one-way ticket, from Brisbane to Honolulu, expecting to get my onward ticket there. I wouldn’t need a visa, as I’d ascertained that I would get a 3-months’ stamp upon entry, known as a ‘waived visa.’

Then, before I could get a bus to Sydney, Trung came by and offered to drive me; I accepted, and we set off, but being in no great hurry, when we got near Canberra, I decided to stop-by the temple and stay overnight. I called Thich Quang Ba to say we were coming, and he gave us rooms when we arrived. The next day, he drove us around Canberra, which, because it’s the federal capital, is well laid-out but surprisingly small; you’re in the center before you know it. We visited several places, includ-ing the National War-Museum, where I found the displays about Gallipoli of especial interest. Then, after lunch, we left for Sydney, where Baker Vo was waiting for us. He was so impressed with Trung that he offered him a job in one of his bakeries, but he wouldn’t accept, and after a few days there, returned to Mel-bourne. I went on to Brisbane by bus, to be met by Hoa and taken to his home; I had asked him if I could stay with him until I flew out, as I didn’t want to stay in the temple again. His son gave up his room for me. My dentures were ready and this time, they were a good fit.

Ha and Kwee Choo drove me out to visit my mother again, and this time, we took her out for a while, to Sheila’s home, where Anita and her kids were living; Sheila and Frank had not yet moved up from Adelaide. I was not aware at that time of Anita’s feelings towards mum, otherwise I would not have taken her. Back at the nursing-home, mum was most reluctant to get out of the car, but clung on; it took us a while to persuade her.

Now, while I was in Melbourne, someone told me that Thuy and her sons, Tuan and Huy ~ who I’d met in Galang Camp in ’86, and again in Melbourne ~ had moved to Brisbane to operate a fish-and-chips shop, and so I got Ha to take me to visit them. I was happy to find them doing well, in a good location near the beach. Tuan was married, but had no children yet.

< Previous  -   Next>

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