Ripples Following Ripples ~ TRAVELS IN NORTH AMERICA

In mid-February, ’99, Hoa drove me to the airport, and there I ran into a problem: my one-way ticket to the US was unacceptable, and I had to get another, but as it was fully-refundable, I didn’t mind. I was then on my way to Hawaii, unprepared for the rough reception I got at the Immigration. Finally, I was through. Thong Hai was waiting and took me to his temple. He was very busy in the aged-care home he was operating nearby, so I didn’t see much of him. He organized several talks for me, and invited me to join a trip he’d arranged to Big Island ~ something he did every year for his devotees ~ where we visited a number of temples and scenic spots. Following a local custom, he led his devotees to make offerings to a volcano-god. He then left me with an American monk to see some more on our own; he rented a car, and we drove right around the island, taking two whole days; near the end, we went by helicopter over an active volcano-vent, and saw the lava flowing into the sea. It was an-other first. The god didn’t reveal himself.

Returning to Honolulu, Thong Hai arranged an all-day harbor-cruise, which was enjoyable. On another day, he took me to visit Pearl Harbor, and several other places of interest. He also took me to visit a Vietnamese who owned the largest fleet of stretch limousines in the world. Someone else drove me around the en-tire island. I quite enjoyed my month in Hawaii.

Flying on to Los Angeles, a welcoming-committee was waiting for me, just as in ’84. I was surprised at how rotund Loc and Hao had become; both were married and had one child each. I stayed in several places, meeting lots of people from the Camp-days and giving several talks. Someone took me to Disneyland, where I’d never been before, and from the way people looked at me, it seemed they thought I was part of the show; I was on-stage, as it were. Someone else took me to the fascinating new Getty Museum, where we spent several hours. On another day, I was taken to Universal Studios, which was also very interest-ing; we went on several virtual-reality rides there. And on yet another day, I went to the Brea Tar-Pits, the museum of which houses bones of prehistoric animals that had been trapped in the pits and had no way of getting out. Until today, the bubbling pitch brings bones and other things to the surface. It reminded me of the mind: so many things are hidden there from long, long ago, and now and then, something acts as a trigger to bring them to the surface when we had no idea of their existence.

It was good to see Chi Phuong and Anh Dong, and their family again. Their daughters, Thi and Yen, had both married and had children, Thi two, and Yen one. Their son, Kien, was still single. Yen and her husband, Quan, invited me to stay with them.

After some inquiries, I was able to locate Paul Trinh, and through him, his brothers, Julius and Robert; Charles had moved to Ohio with his wife, and Simon couldn’t be contacted. Now, Julius, and his wife, Lan, learning that the next stop along my way would be San Jose, offered to drive me, as they had long wanted to visit some of their friends there. Consequently, having informed Drs Tuan and Diep that we would be coming, we set out, but took our time up the coast, so got there rather late, and found a number of people awaiting us and wanting me to give a talk almost immediately. There was plenty of room in the house, so Julius and Lan were also invited to stay.

Tuan and Diep had moved here from the south, opened a clinic, and bought a large house where they were living with their cats. They were doing so well that Diep asked me to guess how much they’d made the previous year; I said I had no idea, and she said $800,000, from which they’d had to pay $300,000 in tax!

They treated us all very kindly, and made special efforts to help me with my diabetes, giving me medication for months ahead (the Chinese pills had proved useless), and preparing food very carefully for me. And, because Lan had worked in a pharmacy before, they offered her a job in their clinic, which she happily accepted. Julius drove me to Palo Alto and San Francisco, and anywhere else I wished to go, including to whatever talks were arranged for me. Just like in ’85, I met a number of people I’d known from before. I had just missed the funeral of Su Ba Dam Luu, who had died while I was in Hawaii. Her sickness had been exacerbated by protests held outside her temple against a monk from Vietnam who she’d invited to give talks there; not inter-ested in what they might have learned from him, they claimed he was a Communist, this same silly old phobia.

Many relics had been found in her ashes, and were on display. During the talk I gave there, I commented on them and said that these were not the real relics of Su Ba, and would not help them in any way; the real relics were the example she set. They probably didn’t understand; it was too radical for them.

While in San Jose, I made contact with the VINA family in Min-neapolis, and they invited me to visit, so I got a ticket and flew over there. It was nice to see them and other people once more, and talks were soon arranged for me in the temple.

One evening, in the temple, I gave an informal talk to a small group of people, and someone named Tho ~ who I’d stayed with during my first visit there in ’85 ~ took notes, which he showed me a couple of days later. I couldn’t believe what I read; it was so distorted, and I told him that I’d never said such things! I don’t remember everything I say, of course, as I say so many things to so many people in so many places, but I do know what I would and would not say. I was appalled! And this was someone who was very proud of his English!

I was able to locate Chi Ba, and she came up from Rochester to visit me; she had aged quite a bit, but then, so had I. She told me that while she was on a visit back to Vietnam, her apartment had caught fire and she’d lost all her possessions, and she hadn’t had insurance. Poor woman!

I’d contacted Toan Huynh in Cleveland, who I’d stayed with in ’85, and he asked me over. He met me at the airport; his only child, Diana, had been joined by two others. But he was so busy, and couldn’t seem to relax; he was a full-time teacher in school, and afterwards helped his brother-in-law at his restau-rant. He arranged talks for me in the temple, and I was invited to become the resident-monk there, but didn’t accept.

My visa about to expire, I went to the Immigration Department, only to learn that the type of visa I had couldn’t be extended. I had to act fast. Go to Canada? I thought of it, but decided not to, in case they wouldn’t let me back in, so bought a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Manchester, England, and got a bus to the Windy City, to be met by a monk from the Quang Minh tem-ple, which had relocated since I was last there. This monk was rather odd. First of all, he asked if I was hungry; I wasn’t, but he dragged me off to China-town to look for a restaurant anyway. Not noticing a vegetarian restaurant, he took me to a sea-food restaurant, thinking to order vegetarian food there, but the smell was so awful that I walked out. We then went to the vegetarian restaurant I’d seen before, but he should have taken me to the temple straight away, as it was late and I was tired.

He had a strange habit, before answering a question or saying anything, of closing his eyes and moving his lips silently. Finally, I asked him why he did this, and he said he needed time to think before he spoke. Well, that’s good, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought it was quite weird to do it in that way.

He arranged a talk for me in that temple, and someone else fixed one up in Phap Bao temple, which had been established by some of the original founders of Quang Minh, when they split off after some disagreement, something very common. They in-vited me to stay there when I returned from England.

I then flew out, having ordered vegetarian food for the American Airlines flight, and when my meal was served and I opened and looked at it, I thought it was artificial meat ~ vege-meat stuff ~ but upon starting on it, discovered it was the real thing: beef! I complained, and was given a substitute meal of bread, cheese, and salad. Not content with this, I later wrote to the airlines to complain officially, saying that although meat wouldn’t kill me, it certainly killed the animal it came from, and that if a caste-Hindu had been served beef, they might have had a law-suit on their hands. I received a very apologetic reply and a voucher for $200 to use against a future AA flight! Worth a complaint, no?

Arriving in England, I found that Karin, Glen’s second daughter, was going with someone of doubtful character, and was already pregnant with his child. She’d had other weirdos before; her way of attracting them must have had something to do with her pheramones. I soon saw through this guy, and consequently, she wasn’t very happy with me.

Two weeks later, when I flew back into Chicago, I had quite an unpleasant time with a young immigration official. The first thing he said to me when I got to his desk was, “What are you coming here for?”

I was taken aback at his abrupt tone, but said, “To visit friends.”

“Who do you know here?” he demanded.

“I know many people here,” I replied.

“Who are they?” he persisted.

If I’d told him, he wouldn’t have known, so I said, “Would you like to see my address book?”

“No,” he said, and accused me of being evasive, adding, “You can’t just come here and crash under bridges, you know.” He’d probably taken a dislike to my appearance. Really, I should have noted his name and reported him.

Finally, he gave me another 3 months’ waived visa, and let me go, saying, “Have a nice day.”

I replied, “You, too; you need one!”

This wasn’t the end. He must have alerted a Customs official to me, as he came behind while I was waiting for my bags at the carousel, and asked me some more questions. They usually wait for you go to them instead of coming to you! Really, US Immigration officials are the rudest I’ve ever come across, and treat people as guilty until proven innocent! This is not just my experience; I’ve heard tales of it from others.

This trip in the US, more than the previous one, was really played by ear, and I often didn’t know where my next step would be until shortly before making it. Someone would suddenly come back into my life after some years, and I would decide to visit; my trip unfolded that way.

Someone from Phap Bao temple was waiting for me, and took me there, where I met someone who asked if I’d be prepared to go to Florida, where his parents lived. “Why not?” I said, and so he began to arrange things for me.

After several talks in Chicago, I returned to Cleveland for some days. Now, before I’d left for England, I’d already arranged with To Van Quang in Hartford, CT., to visit there. As air-fare from Cleveland was too high at short-notice, I opted for bus, thinking it was a direct service; I didn’t want to have to go via New York, having had such a bad experience there before. But at the bus-station, I discovered the bus went only as far as NYC, and that I would have to transfer there. Unless I changed my mind and went by air, I’d have to face it, and after many hours, we pulled into NYC bus-station late; the connection to Hartford I’d hoped to catch had gone, and I was lucky to get on the next one, two hours later. Fortunately, Quang was still waiting for me, having guessed what had happened. I stayed in his apartment, giving talks in the temple and meeting friends both old and new, among them being Cao Van Pha, who’d married since I last met him, and had three daughters; his wife wasn’t at all friendly, and I felt sorry for him, but otherwise he was doing alright.

At the temple one night, I met Dr. Tuan’s sister, Eunice, and her husband, Truc. A few nights later, I met them again at dinner in someone’s house.

Quang introduced me to his bosses in the small family-run business where he worked, and arranged to take time off to drive me up to Montreal to visit another ex-Palawan friend, Nguyen Ngoc Truong, whose nickname was Bi, with whom I’d kept in touch since we met in ’84. He met us as we came in at night and took us to his apartment, where we met his wife and kids. It was good to see him again; he also took time off work to show us around Montreal; we went up Royal Mountain (which is the meaning of Montreal) dominating the city, and visited Buckminster Fuller’s huge geodesic dome, among other things. He also drove us up to Quebec City, which was much smaller and slower than Mont-real, with a decidedly French atmosphere. It was here that, in 1759, the British under General Wolfe, defeated the French forces led by General Montcalm at the decisive battle of The Plains of Abraham; the whole of Canada was soon thereafter ceded to Britain.

Back in Hartford, Quang then drove me to my next destination, a small town in New Jersey, where I’d been able to locate Bui Minh Trung, who I’d stayed with in Norway in ’85. He had since moved to the US and married a girl he’d met in Bataan. They had a big new house, and I got a good welcome from their two kids, Kathy and Kevin, about 7 and 5 at that time; Kevin’s first words to me were, “You’re nice!They were nice. I spent a week with them before Dr. Diep’s brother-in-law, John Davis, drove up from Maryland to pick me up. Just before we left, I gave Kathy and Kevin a crystal each, telling them they were magic and could grant wishes, but only one each. I asked Kevin what he would wish for, and after a moment, he said: “I wish for another one just like this, so I can have a second wish.” Smart kid! Later on, he changed his mind, and said he wished I would come to stay with them again; his wish didn’t come true; faulty crystal!

John didn’t take me directly to his home, but stopped on the way there to visit his parents in their retirement home, where we stayed with them for two days. They were remarkable people, but I was surprised that John addressed them by their first names, Clyde and Phoebe, something I wasn’t used to. We said goodbye and proceeded to John’s home.

It was hot and humid, and although I’d have preferred to stay home, John took me into Washington D.C. by train for the July 4th fireworks display. My instincts proved correct. It was terribly crowded when we got out of the station, and the fireworks display had just begun but lasted no longer than 20 minutes; spending had clearly been cut back; it was quite disappointing, and then we had the hassle of getting through the crowds back to the station.

John’s wife, Tam, had been meditating, following a Tibetan lama, and had become mentally disturbed; she said she’d heard a voice telling her to transfer $100,000 to the teacher’s account. It was a case of meditation become maditation; she’d rushed into it with-out adequate preparation, wanting to get quick results. I was sad to see her in this state, but unless I was prepared to stay there long enough to help her ‘detox,’ there was little I could do.

Sogyal Rinpoche, in his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, wrote this: “Whatever thoughts and emotions arise in meditation, allow them to arise and settle, like the waves in the ocean. Whatever you find yourself thinking, let that thought rise and settle, without any constraint. Don’t grasp at it, feed it, or in-dulge it, don’t cling to it, and don’t try to solidify it. Neither follow thoughts nor invite them; be like the ocean looking at its own waves, or the sky gazing down on the clouds that pass across it.

“You will soon find that thoughts are like the wind; they come and go. The secret is not to ‘think’ about the thoughts but to allow them to flow through your mind, while keeping your mind free of afterthoughts.”

While I’d been in the north, an email reached me from someone I’d met in Galang Camp, inviting me to visit him in Raleigh, NC. This I did, taking a bus from Washington. His name was Phuoc, and his marriage had just broken down, and his parents had come from Vietnam to see him. I stayed with him a few days, dur-ing which he took us all out to dinner, and while he ordered vege-tarian for me, he and his family had meat. Phuoc also drank beer, and asked me if I minded. Now, when people invite me to a res-taurant, they usually eat vegetarian, too, and certainly don’t drink beer, so I said, “What would you say if I ate meat and drank beer? You’d be quite surprised, wouldn’t you? You expect me to do things you don’t or won’t do yourself, and if I don’t do them, you become upset. It means you’re using monks as scapegoats. I’m sorry, but I don’t play that game.”

Something good came out of my stay there. Phuoc had kept in touch with Nguyen Tuong Chau from Galang, while I’d lost con-tact with him as he’s not the best correspondent in the world; he called him and I spoke with him, and the next day he drove down from Virginia to visit me with his family; it was good to see him again, and he invited me to stay with him next time around.

From Raleigh, I passed on to Atlanta, where I stayed with Hien in the huge ~ and I mean huge ~ new house he’d built for himself; I never discovered what kind of business he was in, as I don’t ask people such things, but he told me that he’d just sold his own plane; he was from a wealthy family, and everything he touched turned to gold. I’d met him in Bataan in ’81, and he’d gone to the US penniless, but lived frugally, worked hard, doing 3 jobs at the same time, and had ~ to put it mildly ~ prospered. His mother was visiting from England, and it was nice to see her again; his youngest sister had married an American Jew; Hien had been so against this marriage that he cut her off, and I didn’t see her, al-though she was living not too far away. He arranged some talks for me while I was there, then sent me on to Jacksonville, Florida, where I would spend a few days with Toan Huynh’s brother-in-law, Cuu and his family.

He, in turn, drove me to Orlando, to stay with relatives of some-one I’d met in Chicago a couple of months before; things always leads to others in chain-like sequence, often in unexpected ways. I was about to experience this again, when I gave a talk in one of the temples in Orlando. In the audience were people whose faces seemed familiar but who I couldn’t place, until afterwards, they came and introduced themselves: more people from Bataan. Hearing I was coming to talk in Orlando, they’d come up from Tampa, and invited me to go back with them. I had a plane-ticket from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale, but they told me they would drive me down there. I was soon on my way to Tampa with them ~ Nga and Lu ~ and stayed above their clothing factory. They soon arranged for me to talk in a temple nearby, calling people to attend on short notice. Then, Lai, their eldest son, drove me down to Ft. Lauderdale, to stay with the parents of Bobby, who I’d met in Chicago. They’d arranged a couple of talks for me, and also took me on a cruise past the houses and yachts of the rich-and-famous, but their 12-year-old daughter was an insufferable brat, and finally I scolded her for being so rude to her dad. I also told her elder brother about her when he came down to join us.

They sent me on to stay with a doctor and his wife in Miami ~ Hoa and Mai ~ and from there I flew out to England again. This split-trip in the US had been good, and I had a completely differ-ent impression from that of my first trip there fifteen years before. I found Americans, in general ~ and apart from the Immigration people ~ polite and friendly, and I resolved to go again.

Glen had jobs awaiting me, the biggest among them being the rebuilding of a garden-shed one of the neighbors had given her; she wanted it fixed up as an extra room for the summer. We’d almost done it, when, stepping back from it one day, I twisted my right ankle and collapsed in agony. I was unable to stand or put my weight on it, and it swelled up to twice the size. Glen took me to the hospital nearby, where I was pushed through the corridors in a wheelchair ~ yet another first ~ to be x-rayed. I was relieved to be told there was no break or fracture, and that it would take about six weeks to recover. I could manage going upstairs, but coming down had to be done on my backside!

In September, I left for Malaysia, to make another trip there. I also went to Singapore for a while. In a temple there one evening, I met somebody who claimed that Buddhism was the best religion for everyone, but when I asked what he knew of other religions, he replied: "Not very much." I then told him that he was just talk-ing nonsense and showing his ignorance, because although he might say Buddhism is the best religion for him ~ and then only when he had studied other religions carefully ~ he could not speak for anyone else, let alone everyone else, otherwise, it would be like saying that bananas are the best fruit in the world when he'd never tasted any other kind of fruit.

People everywhere believe their religion to be the best, otherwise they wouldn't follow it (and most people don't follow their religion anyway), but in most cases, their religion was a consequence of birth, and was not intelligently chosen. If, for example, the people of the Middle-East had been born in South America instead, they would probably call themselves Catholics, and that only because the Spanish and Portuguese forced Catholicism on the people of that continent. If people used their intelligence and investigated things instead of merely believing, we would surely see a reli-gious revolution.

As followed by people like the man told of above, religion divides us and is responsible for many of the world's problems. In 2003, there was the awful massacre of 12 innocent Nepalese in Iraq, by people who obviously thought they were doing it in the name of their religion, but is that what Islam teaches? Among their other reasons, they said that Nepalese worship their God, Buddha, meaning that they were infidels. A little bit of knowledge ~ avail-able to anyone these days; there is no excuse for such ignorance now ~ would show that Buddhists do not worship the Buddha as a God, any more than Muslims worship Mohammed as a God. The term infidel is a subjective term, used to refer to people who believe other than the people using it; Christians use it for non-Christians, Jews for non-Jews. As far as I know, Hindus don’t use it for non-Hindus, Buddhists for non-Buddhists, or Taoists for non-Taoists; it is a term used by theists ~ that is, Godists.

If we are to effectively deal with the problems besetting our world, we must learn to focus on the things we share in common, not on things that divide us. The whole world will never become Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Jewish; we must accept the existence of other religions, and not dream of imposing ours on others. Just like love of one's country is not demonstrated by waving flags or singing the national anthem, but by living in such a way that doesn't bring shame on one's country, so Religion is how we live, not what we call ourselves. And, just as Margaret Thatcher said something like, “If you need to call yourself powerful or a lady, you are not,” so we demonstrate the validity of our religion by the way we live, not by saying it’s the best!

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