Ripples Following Ripples ~ SHUTTLING AROUND

DV met me when I flew in at night, and soon had me at his place. It was nice to be back there, in spite of the heat and humidity, as he and his family were as kind to me as always. I presented them with the gifts I’d bought for them, including some thangkas, which they had nicely framed. He took me to a dentist, to have a broken tooth repaired; after that, he took me to a physiotherapist about my shoulder, who reassured me that there was nothing fractured. He suggested some exercises for it, but for my part, it was a matter of remembering to do them. I made several more visits to him before I left for Adelaide.

I’d been corresponding with Georgina since the previous year, and she’d invited me to spend some time at their place in the hills, and so, this is what I did, but she gave no indication as to how long I would be welcome. She picked me up at the airport, and took me home. Her husband, Rob, was cordial enough, and I enjoyed staying there, going for walks in the early morning.

With winter coming on, I began to gather wood from the nearby forest for their open fire, and with the help of their chain-saw (I’d never used one before, so it was a novel experience), built up a sizeable stack, enough to last them until the next year. I also did whatever other jobs I could for them around the place.

Whenever necessary, Georgina would drive me into town for any talks I had to give. I also spent some days in the Sri Lankan tem-ple, where the monk ~ Sumedha ~ really pressed me to stay; he was a gregarious person, and easy to get on with, but didn’t like staying on his own. For my part, I didn’t like having to pretend so much; I mean, the devotees were very nice and kind, but I didn’t enjoy being on a pedestal. The room I was given was also the room where Sumedha had his computer, on which he used to work long into the night. Now, I like to sleep early, as I get up be-tween 2 and 3 o’clock, so this wasn’t a good arrangement.

My talks there went well, as did those I gave to several Vietnam-ese groups. Sumedha and other people in the temple requested me to stand-in for him when he went back to Sri Lanka at the end of October for 3 months or so; I asked them to allow me to defer my decision about that until nearer the date.

Someone invited me to a display of relics at the big new Chinese temple, and together with Sumedha, I went. There was a Thai monk sitting before the altar, he was the one who’d put on the show, and what a freak-show it was; the beautiful glass stupas carried labels proclaiming their contents to be 'Buddha’s Relics (plasma), 'Buddha’s relics (blood)', 'Kwan Yin Bodhisattva’s Relics', 'The Next Buddha’s Relics', and so many more. People were milling around to gaze in awe on these things, never questioning the preposterous claims. The temple must have made quite a lot from hosting this mockery, not to mention the monk. Such traveling-shows are quite common now, and are really big business; flourishing on ignorance and superstition.

I got a poster depicting these things, and later, wrote to the monk at his email-address thereon, questioning his claims. He replied, inviting me to visit him, when he would explain everything to me. I wrote again, revealing that I am a monk, and asking however would he be able to explain blood-relics of the Buddha to me, or relics of the Next Buddha? It is hard enough to combat existing superstition without having to deal with new forms of it, I said. He didn’t reply a second time. (I even heard of a Vietnamese monk in America returning from India with brain-relics of the Buddha! And the person who told me this believed it without question! How stupid people can be!)

Not heeding the signs at the time, I overstayed my welcome at Georgina’s, and spent 2 months there when it shouldn’t have been so long. Georgina was undergoing marital problems. Thuy and her sons came to my rescue, and sent me a ticket, so I flew to Brisbane at the end of July, staying with them at their café. Huy would marry at the end of August and they wanted me to be there for that, and to join them when they flew to Melbourne for another ceremony with their family there. Meanwhile, Huy drove me out to visit my mother several times; the first time, she didn’t recognize me; the second time, she did, and the third time, didn’t; she had moments of lucidity, before slipping back into fuzziness; such is the nature of that disease. We also stopped to see Sheila and Frank, and I brought some of my stuff back with me.

The weather was good during my stay, and I soon got into a rou-tine with my morning-walks along the sea-front, but in ordinary clothes, for practicality, and not in my robes. There were many other people strolling or striding out. Some greeted me with a “Good morning” or “G’day” while others ignored me. I grew used to seeing one man in particular; he could be heard long before he hove into view, greeting everyone with a loud and cheery “Good morning! Have a great day!” so that no-one could pretend they hadn’t heard and had to reply.

Arrangements for talks were not well-made. I gave two talks in a Sri Lankan temple, and they were about the best.

Huy’s wedding went alright, although it was very warm that day and the house of his wife’s family ~ although large ~ was very crowded. I was happy when it was over (years earlier, after at-tending a wedding in Adelaide, I vowed it would be the last, but I made an exception here). I joined the family on a flight to Mel-bourne the day after, as most of their relatives live there and a second ceremony was held, which I attended, too; in my opinion, this one went better than the first; for one thing, it was much cooler. I stayed in their home until after the ceremony, when I went to stay with Translator Tuan again.

In Brisbane, I’d had a tooth extracted, but in Melbourne I needed more treatment, and visited Jamie, who filled 3 teeth for me; I was really fed-up with my teeth!

The committee of the Sri Lankan temple in Adelaide didn’t bother to respond to my several emails informing them that I’d decided to accept their invitation to stay there, so I changed my mind and went to Sydney instead. They were very disappointed about this, but these days, there is no excuse for poor communication, and I’d emailed the monk and two other people. I was quite relieved, as I didn’t want to be in charge of the temple even temporarily, and go along with all the rituals; people expect so much from monks, and if you try to live up to their expectations you become a puppet rather than a human being with feet on the ground!

Arriving in Sydney, I stayed with a young couple I’d met before, and gave a talk in the largest Vietnamese temple there ~ Chua Phuoc Hue ~ the next day. There was a large audience, and it went quite well, but the translation wasn't the best. It was a pity they didn't find someone more competent, as we have to be very careful with translation, otherwise we might convey the wrong meaning. The lady who did it had translated for me many years before, and I recalled I wasn't pleased with her translation at that time. She reminded me that I'd told her in '87 that I wanted a translator ~ someone who would give my ideas ~ not an inter-preter ~ who would give her own ideas of what I say. The two are quite different, and I often have to deal with this.

Chua Phuoc Hue wished me to talk in their temple in Melbourne ~ Chua Quang Minh ~ so although I’d just come from there, back I went. The person who’d arranged to pick me up and drive me to the airport, however, not only came late, but was unfamiliar with the way, and we spent so much time in finding it that I missed my flight and had to buy another ticket!

My talk in Quang Minh over, I returned to Sydney forthwith, as other talks had been arranged for me there. This time, I stayed in Chua Phuoc Hue, but hadn’t been there very long when I got a call from Melbourne to say that Ba Chin ~ an old lady who had always been very kind to me ~ had just died. I had seen her just 3 weeks before, when she was very frail, and told her then that if I were in Australia when she went, I would return to try to 'help her on her way', just as I did when my dad died 10 years earlier; I didn't expect this to be so soon, however, but then, we can't tell what will happen, or when, can we? I quickly made a booking on the internet, and after lunch in someone's house, was driven to Sydney airport. Again, we left late, and again missed my flight, but this time, they got me on the next flight an hour later without charging me for another ticket.

The funeral ceremony was conducted by a Vietnamese monk as per their tradition, and he also gave a talk. I was pleased about that, because normally, all they do is chant, when a funeral is the best opportunity to sow some seeds; many people never go to temples, so at a funeral, you have a captive audience who might be receptive in the presence of death, and if you waste this op-portunity, you probably won't get another Anyway, the monk did not know her like I did, and so I gave a eulogy, too.

I returned to Sydney once again, and this time stayed with Baker Vo, as I’d done many times before. And once more I had tooth-ache, so he took me to a lady-dentist, but she was a real botcher, and drilled a huge hole in the aching tooth before slapping a fill-ing in, chatting with her assistant all the time she was working, unaware that I understood some Vietnamese. The tooth ached for days after and I had to go to yet another dentist. She also overcharged me ~ or rather, overcharged the medical-insurance of Mr. Vo ~ and I was not happy about this. I called her later to complain, and she said maybe the tooth needs a few more days to settle down. I also queried the bill, and she explained that she had had to put it that way as the bill was in my host's name and he hadn't had any fillings, so she had to invent some items such as x-ray and teeth-scaling. No wonder these people become rich!

I must condense things a bit here because I moved around so much towards the end of 2003. First, I went again to Adelaide for another two weeks at Georgina’s (my mistake); this time, I was to see that her marital problems were of her own making; Rob was placid and easy-going, while she had a ferocious temper, and would sometimes explode at him for very minor things; it was embarrassing to be present during such.

About that time, there was an incident in the Vietnamese temple in Adelaide: Someone got into the locked shrine-hall and smashed all the images, etc. The police came and arrested him, and he was in jail awaiting trail. The damage was estimated at about A$100,000. Rumors immediately started to circulate in the Vietnamese community about it, but the guy ~ Vietnamese him-self ~ was a drug-addict and so probably acted impulsively on his own. Many Vietnamese imagine communists behind every tree and under every bed; there was probably no conspiracy behind it. He said he was acting under orders from God.

Like the destruction of the images in Afghanistan, it was a great opportunity to explain the meaning and purpose of the Buddha-image, both to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. But did we use our opportunity? Of course not; we merely bewailed the de-struction, and learned nothing from it! The monk there went ahead collecting a huge sum of money to buy replacements. Really, I despair of organized Buddhism! And not just this, but I’m afraid the future for the whole world looks very bleak. Even with the huge bounty on his head, Osama Bin Laden continues to evade his pursuers, indicating how much support he has world-wide. The way things are going, we should be prepared for any-thing, including the worst, if we can imagine what that might be; we've lived too long in a fool's paradise and are ~ I think ~ about to be rudely awoken. What a pity that GWB and his advisers seem to have learned so little; the roots of the problems are completely ignored as they stumble blithely on. We don't have to like or agree with others' points-of-view, but we should certainly be prepared to consider them; that, after all, is what the ‘art’ of war is all about, no? We must try to get into the enemy's mind to see where he's coming from, and then we can perhaps forestall him. The amount of money that's been spent already could have created a paradise in the Middle-East and solved the problems there. It's all so unwise, and we will be exceedingly fortunate if we can avoid another world-war, the battle-grounds of which will be our centers of dense population. We will soon need to depend upon what we have understood of the Dharma, as this will be our only refuge in facing what will probably come upon us.

Returning to Sydney once more, Toan and Loan picked me up and took me to their home, but their little boy seemed to have made it the purpose of his young life to destroy my laptop, and I couldn’t let him do that, so after a few days, I called Baker Vo, and moved back to his place, to stay with them over the Lunar New Year. Chua Phuoc Hue invited me to attend their celebra-tions, but I declined, not liking crowds. Another reason was that it had become very hot, as it was mid-summer; temperatures reached 40 degrees.

I had several talks, one to a group of Malaysians organized by Bok and Pearl, and another to an Indonesian Buddhist group who discovered I was in town. From the latter, I learned that Santithitto was still in circulation, so I got his number and went to visit him at a Laotian temple where he has a kuti. He had aged since I’d last seen him, of course, as he is 5 years older than me, and has dia-betes, too, but was injecting insulin. Some years before, when he was in Thailand, he fell and broke a leg, and had to walk with a stick. In spite of these things, however, he was still quite cheerful, just as he used to be.

Then, I got an email from a Vietnamese-Chinese school-teacher in Brisbane who I'd known about 5 years, telling me the sad news that his only child had become a junkie, and asking for advice. Well, I knew he was grasping at straws, as he couldn’t think of what to do. And what could I say that would be of help to him, ex-cept to offer him my deepest sympathy? I try to turn people back to themselves to find the necessary inner strength to deal with whatever life throws at them. I didn't hold out false hope, but urged him to "lean on the Dharma for support, as it is our only true refuge; everything else is subject to change, and parents, children, friends, possessions, health, and even our own body will let us down sooner or later, even if unintentionally.

"Your son will not listen to you at this time and probably for a long time to come, and any attempt to get him to talk will only make him withdraw from you further. And yet, how can you behave normally and go on living your life? It is very hard for you, and now you need Dharma friends more than ever before. Perhaps you know how Ananda once remarked to the Buddha that spiri-tual friendship was so important that it formed half of the holy life. The Buddha rebuked him and said: ‘Say not so, Ananda; say not so. Spiritual friendship is the whole of the holy life.’ Don't be ashamed to accept consolation from others; you are not a su-perman." I didn’t see him when I went to Brisbane soon after-wards, nor hear from him again, so don’t know how he went on.

Huy drove me out to see my mother for what would be the last time, but really, my mother had gone long before, leaving only a travesty of a human being; what a cruel disease is Alzheimer’s! She wasn’t even aware of me saying goodbye!

We also visited Sheila and Frank, who’d recently been to China on vacation, and after their disastrous trip in Spain, Portugal and Morocco the previous year, I couldn’t believe how much they had enjoyed it, with all those ‘foreigners’ there, but I was certainly glad about it.

I returned to Melbourne to stay with Pham Thanh Hung and his family in their convenience-store, but only long enough to get a new passport and prepare to depart to England again. He took me to a travel-agent-friend, who gave me a good price for a one-way ticket, even deducting the airport-tax for me.

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