Ripples Following Ripples ~ ARRIVAL IN ADELAIDE

That was my shortest-ever trip out of Oz. I was still stuffed-up with cold, and it took a few days to clear up, not helped by Van’s habit of keeping the front and back doors wide open, so the wind whistled through quite strongly, and the daytime temperature was around 15 degrees at that time; even the kids were shivering!

It was a bit uncomfortable staying there for another reason: Van was surly and taciturn (symptoms, I felt, of deep unhappiness), and some days I got barely a dozen words from her! She’d been like that for a long time. She spent hours talking on the phone, however, in a tone that sounded like she was complaining.

My teeth in need of more attention, I went to see Jamie again. He was always pleasant as he went about his work.

Enough was enough and after two weeks in Melbourne, I took wing to Adelaide, only to discover that the Vietnamese people who picked me up at the airport had misunderstood me over the phone and had not arranged accommodation for me, thinking that I would stay with Wilanie and her family; she had a house full of visiting relatives, however, so that wasn’t an option. In the end, after some hasty phone-calls, which turned up nothing positive, I had to be put to stay in a motel.

The next morning, according to an agreement made while I was in Melbourne, I went over to a Sri Lankan temple, where, contrary to my apprehensions, I was well-received. I say 'contrary to my apprehensions' because the way I dress identifies me more with Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism, whereas the Buddhism of Sri Lanka is of the Theravada kind, and sectarianism among Bud-dhists is often as strong and virulent as among followers of other religions, although it has never led to violence. Moreover, the resident monk, Sumedha, was surprisingly friendly, and it was not long before he took me aside and invited me to stay there long-term. Not only that, but late at night, after everyone had gone home, he asked if I’d like to eat something, and of course, I did, as I was very hungry by then, long after lunch. This was unex-pected, moreso as he also ate something himself.

I didn’t stay there longer than a few days before moving to stay with an Aussie couple I’d been introduced to, Rick and Pat; they were fantastic, and I had so much to talk about with them; Rick had been thrown from a horse at the age of 25 when he was working as a stockman at the abattoirs and became an invalid as a result, confined to a wheelchair; that was 17 years before. He had triumphed over his adversity in many ways, discovering that he had an ability to paint, and became a successful artist; his paintings selling for thousands. He was a most positive person and enjoyed life tremendously. Pat was also a lovely person and the care that she necessarily lavished on him was heart-warming to see. I didn't know them, or anything about them, before I met them; they opened their home to me and made me feel very wel-come, but I was careful not to overstay.

Someone tried to arrange a talk at another temple for me, but I came up against someone there, who called to get some information about me. I gave him what I gave at other places, and which had always been accepted as adequate. After I'd gone to bed that night, he called again to ask for more. I returned his call the next day and told him I wasn’t prepared to give more information as it was not ~ or shouldn’t be ~ important. He said, "But it is our policy to ask such things of visiting monks in order to make announcements about their talks." I said, "I'm sure you're not going to print out all that information," and told him I'd decided to cancel the talk. He accepted this without apology and didn't try to dissuade me, which made me think they were not really keen on having me there anyway. I later wrote to him, but decided not to send it; here is my letter:

Mr. ______

this is not meant to be a ‘nice’ letter, but I feel I must write a few words to correct some obvious misunderstandings.

First of all, I did not ask to give a Dharma-talk at the Chinese Temple; do I need to come there? It was arranged by Lan Thi Ngo (her Vietnamese name, though you probably know her as Nga), who has known me since 1986. Moreover, I gave talks your temple years ago when it was functioning in someone’s garage; no doubt there are other people at the temple who know me. And there are now people who know about what has just happened.

To be so insistent on asking for personal information from me is actually very rude on your part, especially as you had no way of knowing or ascertaining if what I told you were true or not. The Sri Lankan Buddhists here, to whom I’ve given three talks over the past week, didn’t ask silly things like that, and seemed happy with what I said and requested more. I generally give only the minimum information about myself, as I regard that as unimportant. Do you know the name of your mailman? Probably not, because it’s not important; what is important is that he delivers the mail; and I am like that; my job is to deliver the Dharma. But I wonder if you know what that is? How much do you know or understand about the Buddha’s Teachings? Did you not say to me, as we closed our phone-conversation on Saturday: “May God Bless You”? That is a very strange thing for a Buddhist to say; perhaps you think the Buddha is a God, or maybe you are really a Christian. In any case, an uninformed Buddhist should not hold a position of authority in a temple; it is like a chicken pretending to be an eagle.

Maybe you are familiar with Bright Moon Temple in Melbourne, which I believe has some affiliations with your temple. Well, I spent some time there years ago, and saw how it had fallen into the wrong hands, so that the emphasis was on making money and Dharma-propagation was almost non-existent. Better not to have a temple if it’s going to be misused. Unfortunately, it has been my experience over the past 30 years to come across so many temples like that.

You know, there are probably some people ~ even if only a few ~ who might have learned something had I given a talk there, but they were prevented by you, and you must accept responsibility for that; many Buddhists would say that is really bad karma; I would say it’s just ignorance and bad-manners.

After five days with Rick and Pat, I went to stay with Wilanie, not far away. To augment her meager income, and having spare rooms, she took student-boarders. She cared for me very well during the week I was there, and assured me that she benefited a lot, too.

Some other arrangements fell through, but were compensated for by the success of all the talks ~ 9 or 10 ~ I gave in Adelaide, to various groups. While there, I got an idea of making a collage of pictures from magazines on a large sheet of card, of people ~ or even animals ~ who we might have been in previous lives. We do not know, of course, about our previous lives (if any), but most Buddhists, if not all, accept the concept of many lives, so it would be a matter of using one’s imagination. When I came to do it, however, I soon found out that it would take a long time to do properly, so I delayed, and never got around to doing it. The pur-pose of it was to serve as a kind of meditation-object, to help us identify with people of various races and of different times, male and female, young and old, beautiful and not so. It could be a way of helping people expand their horizons beyond their condi-tioning, because of course, we all see things according to that, and this is how racism arises, whereas if we would consider the possibility of having been members of various races and nation-alities before, and of becoming so again, racism would definitely diminish. Right now, we are either physically this or that, but how we became so, we really don't know; I mean, I didn't choose to be born in England any more than anyone else chose to be born where they were; this happened beyond our control, but we could try to expand our minds and learn what it means to be members of the human race. I've never heard of anyone conducting such an experiment before.

I met a number of people with whom I lost contact years ago, and made some new friends, like the couple mentioned above. An op-tometrist-friend named Tony, who I’d met through Wilanie years before, tested my eyes for signs of diabetic damage, and was pleased to note that there was none, and very little change in my eyesight since I was last tested.

Then, someone who had attended one of my talks at Wilanie’s came forward and offered to support me, so that I could settle down to writing my memoirs, which I’d been meaning to do for some years. His initial enthusiasm didn’t last long, however, and he made the excuse of wanting to go into seclusion and devote himself to the practice of mindfulness with the aim of becoming enlightened, to cut contact with me. I don’t know what became of him, but I was a bit concerned that he would go off the tracks with his meditation and become crazy.

Another person I met at this time, and was to become quite close to was an Aussie woman named Georgina. Knowing that I was on my way to Brisbane, she asked for my email-address, saying she’d also be going there soon. It wasn’t long before we started to correspond regularly. It had been my intention, when I first went to Adelaide, you see, to go to Sydney afterwards, and from there, maybe to New Zealand again for a while before going to Queensland, but after a week, I decided to abandon that idea, and go direct to Queensland instead, and get down to work on writing my memoirs; indeed, as mentioned earlier, I intended to make my base there. Consequently, I bought a ticket over the Internet to Brisbane. Huy met me at the airport and drove me to Nambour, where Sheila and Frank were expecting us.

Soon after I got there, Sheila and Frank left for a 3 weeks’ vaca-tion in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. As I was seeing them off, I suggested to Anita that she write her email-address for them, as they would probably meet someone of their trip who could help them with email, as they don't know how, but she said, "There's no possibility of that!" and Frank signaled to me to leave it that; he knew better than to pursue the matter with her.

I was left to take care of myself in the upper portion of the house, and Anita was in her quarters downstairs with two of her three children, who were as taciturn and uncommunicative as she. In spite of what she’d written to me in Malaysia, saying that I had a home there if I wanted, it soon became clear that she considered me an intruder, and knowing that I was dependent upon her for transport to visit my mother in her nursing-home, she offered to take me only twice in the three weeks her parents were away. Well, I’d known for a long time that she hated my mother (her grandmother), and never went to visit her herself, but that was no reason why she couldn’t have dropped me off to see her, as she went out to gym every morning. She never as much as invited me down for a cup of tea with her!

I didn’t get very far with my memoirs in Nambour; the inspiration just didn’t flow. There was no hurry, however, as it was mainly for my own edification; it’s a good thing I don’t write for a living, or I’d very soon starve.

Anyway, S & F returned, not having enjoyed their trip, but I wasn’t surprised about that, as Sheila is not at all adventurous where food is concerned, and won’t try anything different; she had gone with the expectation of not enjoying it, so it was sort of a foregone conclusion; it was really a complete waste of money. I waited for an opportune moment to inform them of the situation, and said that rather than disturb the balance there (they were so afraid of upsetting their ‘lovely’ daughter in case she moved out), I would leave; I could not live with such negative feelings, and talking to Anita in a reasonable way wasn’t possible, as she’s a cynical, cold and hard person, and I could well-understand why her hus-band had left her nine years before; I’d not heard his side of the story, but he undoubtedly had one.

After repacking the stuff I’d sent up from Melbourne, I parted ami-cably with Sheila and Frank. Huy had driven up from Brisbane for me. We went to visit my mother, and she asked me why I was leaving so soon, making me wonder how much or little she really did understand. It was sad to see her, not knowing if I’d ever see her again; she’d lost a lot of weight, and her hands were like birds’ claws ~ skin and bones and worm-like veins.

On the back into Brisbane, I asked Huy if we could stop by to visit Mrs. Babidge, who was expecting us as I'd called to say we were coming; she was delighted to see us again, and at 94, her mind and memory were still very sharp and clear; we stayed over an hour with her, listening to her stories, and when we left, she in-sisted on giving me some biscuits and candies and money in an envelope; I couldn’t refuse, as giving me these things meant so much to her, and to me. I wrote to her now and then after this, as she liked to hear from me, and it is a small thing to do to make someone happy. However, it wasn’t long before her failing sight precluded her replies to me.

My teeth in need of treatment yet again, I visited a dentist some-one had introduced me to; being Vietnamese and Buddhist, he treated me without charge, filling three teeth and thereby relieving me of the ache thereof.

By this time, I’d decided to go to England again, and so, after some talks in Brisbane, I returned to Adelaide, to spend two weeks more in the Sri Lankan temple. During this time, Georgina, who had also returned from Brisbane, invited me for dinner, and came to collect me. She was living in a lovely place in the hills with her husband, Rob and one of their sons, David. We spent a pleasant evening together.

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