Ripples Following Ripples ~ DRAWN TO THE U.S. AGAIN

I had to transit in Amsterdam, and arrived at Manchester around noon, only to find that my bags had not come on the same plane. Upon inquiry, I was told they would come in on a later plane and be delivered to my home, which is what happened. Another trip was over, but a month later, I was on my way back to the US, flying into Atlanta this time. It was so cold there, and snowed quite a lot during my two weeks’ stay. I expected it would be warmer in my next stop, Tampa, but it was cold there, too. Nga and Lu invited me to spend Christmas with them and their children and grandchildren, although Christmas has no meaning to me; I don’t even enjoy Buddhist festivals, preferring quiet to noise and confusion.

Because I was unable to buy travel-insurance in England for the U.S., I got it in Tampa, as it is too risky to be there without insur-ance; it cost $935 for 6 months!

I arrived in L.A. on January 5th, and things soon started to happen for me. I stayed in a large Vietnamese temple near what is known as “Little Saigon,” which has the largest concentration of Viet-namese people outside Vietnam; it is about 50 kms south of L.A. The temple was convenient for me, and the monks and other people there were alright.

My first two talks that weekend were a bit ‘slow,’ but led ~ as things always do ~ to other things, and then I really took off. In all, I gave 19 talks in 16 days there, and even if I say so myself, they were probably some of the best I’ve ever given, though this was due to the receptivity of the audiences. Several places requested follow-up talks, and I was happy to oblige.

The weather, in general, was quite good while I was there ~ not as cold as in Tampa, and with only two days of rain; it permitted me to take my early-morning walks, which lasted usually an hour-and-a-half or more. I felt good.

Needless to say, I met a lot of old friends and made some new ones, and best of all, was able to locate friends I’d lost contact with years ago, and who I’d tried to find during my two previous visits to L.A. One of them was Ping Kim Suor, the Cambodian lady who I’ve mentioned several times earlier. Anyway, this time, I got the number of a Cambodian temple, and called the monk, Ven. Khong Chean, who I’d met before. I asked if he knew where Kim Suor was, and was very happy to hear him say: “She’s here right now, working with me!” She was as happy to hear my voice as I was to hear hers. She was working in a mental-health clinic, assisting the monk. It wasn’t long before I went over to see her in the temple, and found her looking extremely well. Her husband had died 6 years before, and she was on her own again, but not unhappy. In fact ~ would you believe it? ~ she said to me: “I now realize that I lost nothing, but gained everything!” She attended one of my talks a few days later, in which I spoke about how I be-came involved with the refugees. At the end of it, she requested to be allowed to speak, and told how she had met me. Her story was so moving, and everyone listened very carefully. I asked for a copy of the video-tape of it all, but when we eventually got it several weeks later, it turned out to be unclear. What a pity! I would love to have had it as a record.

Tinh Giac turned up in L.A. while I was there, staying in a Tai-wanese temple. I saw quite a bit of him, and even took him to visit Chi Phuong and her family, as he’d known them in Bataan, too. He attended my talks in several places.

In L.A., too, I met some Indonesian Buddhists, friends of Onfat; one family had even driven down from Las Vegas, where they lived. I’d met them in Jakarta in ’97, and it was nice to see them there. They invited me to visit them in Las Vegas.

I went on to San Jose by mini-bus instead of flying, and had a nice time here, too, but with not so many talks. I was quite busy checking all my books for someone who had offered to set up a website for me so that my books would be available to anyone through the Internet. I was pleased about it, because someone else, who offered to do it for me 18 months or more before, had so far installed only one of my books on it.

Now, last year, before I left England for Turkey, there was a sore spot on the sole of my right foot, and I thought I must have got a piece of glass or something in it, but probe with a needle though I did, I was unable to find anything. In San Jose, I asked Dr Tuan to check it. He examined it and said it was probably an ingrowing wart rather than a piece of glass, and asked if I’d like it removed. “Yes,” I said, “go ahead.” He duly cauterised it, but it was so pain-ful afterwards, that I became more concerned about it than be-fore. He offered me pain-killers, but I told him I could stand the pain; I just wanted to know what was causing it.

After two weeks, my stay in San Jose came to an end, and I flew out to Portland, where I’d never been before. I spent a week in a Vietnamese temple, but although things were not well-organized at first (what else is new?) they got better as we went on, and I ended up giving 5 talks, one after the other. The first was a bit of a fiasco due to the poor translation by a woman who argued with me, but the next was much better, and the rest just went on from there, with the audience requesting ‘one more,’ and numbers in-creasing rather than decreasing, even on week-nights. Many people asked me to return and stay longer, and I would like to, but doubt that I will. I met several people from Bataan who I didn’t expect to meet. Even the monk-in-charge expressed his appre-ciation of my visit, and that is rare!

It would have been good to have some books to distribute, but the reprint of “BECAUSE I CARE” had not arrived from K.L. and I was not pleased with the printers as they had assured me they would be sent off promptly. Only later did I hear from various people across the country that they had arrived.

I was shown something of the environs of Portland, and taken along the Columbia River and up snow-covered Mt. Hood in a ski-lift. I heard someone say in surprise upon seeing us: “What the hell!” so I replied: “What’s the matter ~ have you never seen yetis before?”

Then, from Portland, to Vancouver, where, once again, due to personality-problems between some of the monks, arrangements had been poorly-made, but it turned out well ~ so well, in fact, that I even got the idea of settling in Canada sometime; when I saw the paper-work involved, however, this idea soon faded (I’d forgotten how it was getting Aussie citizenship); I’m allergic to paper-work. Thao took me to Victoria on Vancouver Island; it was lovely there, but so are the settings of Vancouver. I met a monk who runs a monks’ training center, and visited him there, and he invited me to stay anytime; well, I fell in love with the place, built in log-cabin style in the forest. It was really beautiful, and so quiet and peaceful. I told them I’d come and carve totem-poles there, and wasn’t joking; it seemed a distinct possibility at the time, but I don’t think it will happen now.

Victor was again in Vancouver at this time, in the final stages of relocating from Manila. I met him several times.

While I was in Vancouver, I felt the earthquake that caused so much destruction in Seattle; it was quite strong even there. Actu-ally, if things had gone according to plans I made upon my return to the U.S. in December, I could have been in Seattle at this time, but people there didn’t bother to reply to me, and so I didn’t go. Luckily, the quake didn’t cause much loss of life.

After a week in Vancouver, I flew to Edmonton. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so visibility was poor and I saw nothing of the Rock-ies this time. Coming into Edmonton, however, there was very lit-tle snow, whereas I’d been expecting a lot. I was received by quite a delegation, led by the Taiwanese monk I’d met in the air-port as I was leaving there last year, and who’d invited me back to give talks in his temple. I had requested just one or two people to meet me, as I feel embarrassed by crowds, but they disre-garded my wishes, and pressed bouquets on me.

I was surprised at how mild the weather was, with temperatures just above freezing, although it felt much warmer. They told me it had been 15 degrees below the day before, but had decided to warm up for my visit. Arriving at the temple (a converted second-floor office), I could tell that people there were serious and not frivolous, as the place was so orderly. The monk was strict and seldom smiled, but people obviously appreciated this, and he was good with me, and being my junior in monk-hood, he treated me very respectfully, and even assigned someone to be my atten-dant. This man was too fussy over me, and I felt cramped. If he learned that I liked something, he overdosed me with it ~ curry, for example, and durian, which I ended up getting with every meal, three times a day, so that I became rather fed-up with it (something I never thought would happen).

All this time, since San Jose, my foot was so painful that I had to abandon my morning-walks. The day after I got there, I had a dis-tinct limp. Investigating, I noticed that the spot where the wart had been removed was inflamed, so decided to prick it with a needle. A lot of pus came out, and the next morning, it felt better, but I went to see a doctor about it anyway, and he put me on a course of antibiotics, which soon cleared up the pus; the pain also sub-sided, and eventually disappeared.

I gave 2 talks in the Vietnamese temple, and was introduced by a young monk named Phap Hoa. I began, and he then left the hall, to return only near the end. He’d done the same thing the previ-ous year, when Thien Tuong was giving a talk; since then, Thien Tuong had died. Later, I wrote the following letter to him:

Dear Phap Hoa,

there is something that I wished to tell you after my second talk there, but the opportunity to do so didn't present itself. I needed to tell you on your own. Please understand that I am not saying it from a desire to hurt you. I wish it weren’t necessary to say it.

It concerns getting up and leaving the hall in the middle of a Dharma-talk, as if you have better things to do, or you do not need to listen, maybe thinking that you know it all already. This is improper, and causes a bad impression in other people observing it. Maybe you do know it, but we should not listen with minds al-ready made up.

Last year, when Thay Thien Tuong was there, you left the hall during his talk and went to your room to work on your computer; I heard your computer. I sat beside him throughout his talk, to show solidarity with him and give him moral support, even though I did not understand what he was saying; he appreciated this, and said so. I'm sure that you could have learned something from him if you had stayed, but you have lost that opportunity forever now.

This side of enlightenment, we all have pride; it is a manifestation of the ego, of course. Humility, on the other hand, is not some-thing we can practice or do, but is a result of understanding; it must come, and if it doesn't come, there is nothing we can do to make it arise, but we should try not to show pride, even though it is there.

It is a matter of respect for Dharma, not for the speaker.

I didn’t expect to get a reply to this, so was surprised when I did; moreover, he was humbly apologetic.

Well, my 4 talks in the Chinese temple went very well, and the translation ~ into Mandarin and Cantonese ~ was of a high stan-dard. After that, I was taken to Calgary, in the south, for 3 talks there. These also went well. While there, I was driven to the mountain-resort of Banff in the Rockies. Although it was snow-bound, it didn’t seem cold. We went into several luxury hotels and up in a cable-car to view the surrounding area; it was lovely. A visit to the city museum and an elevator-ride up the telecom tower concluded our sight-seeing in Calgary, and we returned to Edmonton the next day for more talks there. These over, I flew back to Vancouver, and the next day, out to Los Angeles. As ex-pected, I was interrogated by an American Immigration official at Vancouver airport, but finally got through. I know they have a job to do, but why do they have to be so rude while doing it? They almost treat people coming in like criminals; does the law of the U.S. consider people guilty until proved innocent?

I was met at L.A. airport by Quan, and spent 12 days in his home. It was a quiet and uneventful stay, with only one talk in the house of Ping Kim Suor, who had called some friends to attend, and she translated for me. I kept in touch with her by email now and then.

Victor had also come to L.A. the day after I got there, to stay with his eldest sister in her palatial home. He took me out for lunch and dinner several times at buffet places, where there is an amazing variety of food, much of it suitable for vegetarians, and cheap, too. Now, America is a country of overweight people, and you can easily imagine that such places attract them like flies, where you can eat as much as you like for a set price (at that time about $7.50); some of them are amazingly fat, and I didn’t feel out of place there! There were even sugar-free desserts, and so yours-truly availed himself; it’s not often he has the opportunity for things like apple-pie or cherry-pie.

Talks had been arranged in Las Vegas for me, when suddenly, I got an email from someone in Chicago, saying he’d be coming to Vegas and had booked a helicopter to fly him and some friends over the Grand Canyon. He invited me to join them, as there was a spare seat. I hurriedly made plans to leave L.A. a day earlier than planned, as this was an opportunity too good to miss.

Taking a bus to Las Vegas, I went to stay with a family who had set up talks in their home for me; not many people came ~ just as I expected ~ but it was quite good anyway; Las Vegas is, after all, a city of gamblers, so I gambled with my talks, and succeeded in reaching at least one person, an American woman who worked with delinquent kids. It wasn't a waste of time, therefore.

I joined my friends on the helicopter flight on Saturday morning. It lasted two hours, and was fantastic! We set down in the Canyon itself for a picnic, and flew over the Hoover Dam. I'm glad I went. Many thoughts came into my mind and I felt I could write so much about and because of it.

Over the next days, I was taken to visit the Hoover Dam. We joined the long line to get in, and were taken through it, descend-ing into its depths; it was incredible. I was also taken through a casino-complex to a vast restaurant, where the amount and vari-ety of food was simply staggering, and the wastage nothing less than criminal. Because the buffet-rate was so low, people would load their plates up with far more than they could eat, and if they didn’t like some of it, simply leave it and go back for more; waiters hovering nearby would then clear the tables of the excess food.

Las Vegas is a city of illusion, to be sure, and people go there to escape from the reality of everyday existence, which they find boring, but there are many stages to go through before we wake up; we do not become enlightened in a short time. I saw a couple of entertaining shows along the Strip at night: a battle between sailing-ships, and an erupting volcano, both in the open and free.

The family from Indonesia picked me up and took me to their place. They were trying to set up a restaurant, but had problems with the contractor, who had reneged on his agreement; they asked me to perform a blessing-ceremony at the place, hoping this might unblock things, but it didn’t, and eventually, they had to cut their losses and get out. Our communication by email didn’t last long after this; maybe they were disappointed because I didn’t work the magic they desperately wanted, but whenever I agree to do things like this ~ at people’s request ~ I make it quite clear that I cannot guarantee any results.

I went on to Houston, expecting it to be much hotter than Vegas, but in fact, it was almost cold! It was raining when I got there, but it cleared up after a day or two. The abbot asked me to stay there a long time and I told him I would do so if he could keep the weather like that! He laughed and said he would lock it up!

Things went fine for me during the week I stayed there, except for the translation of my talks, which was mediocre, and when it’s like that, I feel quite handicapped.

I went next to Dallas, and stayed for two weeks with friends of Nga and Lu in Tampa; ~ Cu and Thi ~ and they took me not just to any talks that had been arranged for me in Dallas itself, but also to places like Wichita in Kansas, and Austin and San Antonio in Texas; we covered a lot of ground, and it was rather tiring, but I enjoyed it all. Also, taking advantage of Amanda’s offer of the previous year, I had her fix some of my teeth, but they were too far gone, and there wasn’t a lot she could do.

The next stop was Miami, to stay with Hoa and Mai again; they‘d requested me to spare a few days with them after I had bypassed them in January. I’d asked him in advance to do a biopsy on a spot on my head which burned at times and which I feared might be skin-cancer (I had one done in San Jose last year, but it showed negative; however, I wanted a second opinion,) but when I got there I found Hoa embroiled in a law-suit, accused of mal-practice by an Indian woman who had come to him with a swollen and painful stomach, convinced she had cancer. When he opened her, he found her ovaries consumed by T.B. and fused to some other organs, and decided to remove them. By doing so, he probably saved her life, but, seeing an opportunity to dig gold, she took it differently and sued him. Her lawyer tried to settle out of court, but when Hoa refused and insisted on going through the court, he threatened to take him not only for the million dollars he is insured for, but for as much of his assets as he could. Well, he was in court for all the five days I was there and three days after, and the case went against him, although the judge was sympa-thetic to him, too, and understood his reasons for doing what he did. He awarded the plaintiff $150,000 in damages, which was much less than they feared having to pay. I had a nice rest in their beautiful waterfront home, with no talks there, but didn’t mention my biopsy; it would have been too selfish of me; so I still have the spot on my head.

In Miami, I began sending out a Daily Thought to many people on my mailing-list; I called them JATs ~ Just A Thought ~ and kept them up for two years or more, until I felt it was enough, and stopped; few people asked why, so obviously, it was time to stop; it wasn’t always easy to come up with things for them anyway.

From Miami, I flew on to Washington D.C. and arrived late at night, to be met, unexpectedly, by a small delegation of people. Again, I stayed with Chau and his family, and enjoyed being with them; I walked every morning in the woods near their home, and sometimes in the evening, too. Chau drove me to my talks and wherever else I needed to go, including the meditation-centre out in the mountains run by Rahula, who I mentioned earlier. It was really good to meet him, a kindred spirit. Even though he is a Theravada monk he is not narrow and stiff as many Theravada monks are, but friendly and relaxed, and of course, we had a lot in common to talk about. He told me he had returned to India in ’99 and had made a 700 mile trek in the Himalayas lasting 10 weeks, and had also been to Ajanta again, where he’d had quite an adventure: one night, while meditating beside the waterfall that over the past how-many-millennia has carved out a huge basin in the gorge through which its water flows, it started to rain heavily, and within two hours, the waterfall changed to such a raging cata-ract that the water-level rose 5.5 meters and came up to the place where he was sitting in the darkness. It took him so by sur-prise that his escape was cut off before he knew it, and he was convinced he would die there, but just as the water was almost up to his waist, the rain stopped and then the water fell as rapidly as it had risen. He said it was very interesting to observe his thoughts during this event, and his readiness to face his end in that place.

I told him that if I’d known him earlier I would have accompanied him on his trip, and that if he decides to go again, to let me know. Since then, we have exchanged emails, and he invited me to stay at his place the next time around (this time, I could spare only 3 hours with him, as I had to get back for a talk that evening). I gave him a copy of “BECAUSE I CARE” and he commented posi-tively on it, especially on my views regarding vegetarianism.

Chau took me into Washington for a bit of sight-seeing one day; I wanted to go up the Washington Monument, but when we got there, it was closed for repairs. Next we went to the Washington Cathedral, which was built last century in the medieval Gothic style of Europe; it was beautiful, and we spent several hours there, and joined a couple of tours, so we could hear lots of facts and stories and ask questions. Chau had never been in such a place before, and probably would never have gone in one by himself, so he enjoyed it, too.

While in Virginia that time, I got an email from an American who’d attended one of my talks in a temple there. He asked why I didn’t feel that Jesus was the way for me, and tried to prove the validity of his beliefs by a long string of quotations from the Bible. I re-plied and explained why I am not a Christian and never will be. We exchanged several emails, and when he saw he could not convince me, he became rather upset and threatened me; this is an extract from his final mail:

“Many of your simple questions have simple answers which you could easily discover for yourself if you had bothered to order the FREE materials from some of the websites I pointed you to. If you are too lazy to search for the truth for yourself, why should I be bothered? Why do I care if yet another Yuppie is determined to send himself to his richly deserved eternal reward simply because he is too stubborn to admit that he doesn't yet know every-thing and that he cannot save himself?” (I bolded the four words above.) In my reply to that, I told him that he was welcome to be-lieve what he believes, but should not try to impose his beliefs upon others. I also reminded him who initiated this correspon-dence: not me. I didn’t hear from him again.

I have long thought, and stated, that if I get no further in this life, it will have been enough to have escaped from Christianity. It is al-ready a high degree of liberation. Now, why do I say this?

Let me quote from a book which I’d like to see become required reading in all high-schools, “Insights For the Age of Aquarius,” written by Gina Cermina. Speaking about General Semantics (GS) and its emphasis on Allness statements, she says:

“Allness evaluations are often expressed with terms like every, always, never, everybody, all, nobody, and so forth. The state-ment, ‘Nobody knows everything about anything’ is in itself an All-ness statement. But it would seem to be a legitimate or justifiable one, because of the limitations of human sense equipment in the presence of vast multi-leveled reality. There are other types of justifiable Allness statements, such as ‘All triangles have three sides and three angles,’ which is true by mathematical definition. ‘All the windows in this room are closed,’ and ‘All the people on this block have their garbage collected on Tuesdays’ could also be justifiable Allness statements”.

Continuing, she says:

“Monastic orders, both Catholic and Buddhist, have provided many disciplines for the deliberate cultivation of humility. These include such activities as fasting, begging, self-denial, menial work, obedience, prayer, and meditation. Unfortunately, such dis-ciplines are usually undertaken only by that relatively small num-ber of people who dedicate themselves completely to the reli-gious life.

“The lack of humility, commonly known as pride or arrogance, and regarded as one of the seven cardinal sins in Catholic theol-ogy, can be manifested by people in many different areas of their total being. There is the arrogance of youth; of beauty; of health; of wealth; of power; of prestige; of ancestry; of race; of fame; of the intellect; even of psychic or spiritual attainment. GS has no monastic disciplines and does not provide specify correctives for all of these arrogances. Life itself usually chastens man, eventu-ally, in all of them. But GS does have one specific antidote for the arrogance of intellect, which is related to the arrogance of knowl-edge or supposed knowledge. This antidote is found primarily in the Non-Allness principle; although as we’ll see later on, other GS ideas also tend to counteract the poison.

“It is curious but true that some of the very churches who en-courage the virtue of humility in their flocks are sometimes the most arrogant in their claim to a monopoly of religious truth. Their followers then easily fall into the habit of religious pride. They make many absolute statements regarding matters that are diffi-cult or impossible to prove ~ such as how and why the world was created, the ultimate destiny of mankind, the nature of God, what God wants or what God did in the past or what God will do in the future. They claim that God made the True Revelation only to themselves or their predecessors, and to nobody else before or since or elsewhere on the planet.

“In the same prideful category is the belief that the Bible to which they give credence is the Only Source of religious or spiritual truth. A typical statement of this is to be found in a tract of a fun-damentalist Christian group: ‘There is no book that is available to man that is more beneficial than the Bible.’ In earlier ages, it was natural and almost inevitable for people to believe in this way. Printing was unknown, books were few, and the communities of the world were isolated. But now such a belief betrays lack of ac-quaintance with other great scriptures and books of wisdom in the world. These scriptures are currently available in a variety of translations, and the books of wisdom are increasingly to be found in inexpensive editions. It takes only a little attentive read-ing to discover that they contain profound and ennobling state-ments, many of them very similar to those found in the Christian Bible, and many of them clearer and more appealing to certain temperaments, and therefore more workable in their daily life.

“Also in the category of pride are 1) the claim that mankind is the Lord’s Highest Creation ~ a claim that is shockingly immodest, completely unverifiable, highly unlikely, and (in view of the end-less stupidities and villainies of mankind) even downright blas-phemous; 2) the claim that mankind is ‘God’s most valued crea-tion’ ~ a claim which downgrades all of nature and all other forms of sentient life, and which has given justification to men in Chris-tian countries to exploit nature without conscience; 3) the claim that our particular ethnic or religious group, of all the people on the planet, was ‘specifically chosen’ by God ~ a claim which in the first years of the Space Age has been hastily enlarged by some to the claim that their particular group of all people in the universe was ‘specially chosen by God’; 4) the claim that only those who accept Jesus will be ‘saved’ from ‘eternal damnation’ ~ a claim which has seemed unbelievable to thinking Christians for centuries”.

I turned away from Christianity long before I read the above, but it certainly backs me up.

I said goodbye to Chau and others in Virginia, I went next to Chicago on May 1st. It was quite hot when I first got there but cooled down considerably later on and became quite pleasant. I spent a week there, with only two talks there and one in Milwaukee on Saturday; it was my first time back in Milwaukee since my one-and-only visit there in ’85; I stayed only long enough to give my talk and then returned to Chicago.

The people in the temple in Chicago had not implemented my last year’s suggestion to put up posters with quotations in both lan-guages so that anyone could read them instead of the walls being blank. I've spoken and written about this for years. It's really diffi-cult to motivate people, and sometimes I think it's better to talk to stones, because although the stones will not understand any-thing, neither will they misunderstand, as people often do! Why didn't I give up trying years ago?! It's hard work!

Wesak came and went, just like any other day (it also happened to be the 29th anniversary of my ordination, but that's not impor-tant; the important thing is being human; being a monk comes later). I gave a talk that day, and spoke about the destruction of the Buddha-images in Afghanistan, using this to emphasize the fact that there are far more than enough images in the world, and that what is lacking is an understanding of Dharma. The crazy Taleban presented us with a wonderful opportunity to explain the significance and purpose of the Buddha-image; nor is it only non-Buddhists who need to know this; many Buddhists are ignorant about it, and are guilty of what we are sometimes accused of: idolatry, or mistaking the symbol for what it symbolizes. As far as I could see, we missed that opportunity ~ dummies!

I left Chicago and went to Detroit, where I stayed with someone I met there the year before ~ in fact, the person who created my website for me. It was nice staying there and I had plenty of time to myself. I walked around the neighborhood in the early morning, probably startling a few people; after all, it wasn’t every day they saw someone so strangely garbed. Generally, though, I wasn’t hassled in the U.S. during those trips, as I sometimes was in ‘85.

Not many talks were arranged for me in Detroit ~ only 3 or 4 ~ but that was okay; I was winding down and looking forward to having a long break in England; of course, before then, there were still other places to go.

From Detroit, there was no direct flight to Hartford (my next stop), so I had to fly via Chicago, but because of bad weather over Lake Michigan, the flight to Chicago was delayed and I missed my con-nection to Hartford, so had to be rerouted via Baltimore. Some people ~ one in particular ~ were quite annoyed at the inconven-ience. I told myself there was no point in this, and actually, was glad we came through the bad weather alright; we might not have. For reasons like this, some years back, I began to write thank-you cards to hand to one of the air-hostesses as I deplaned ~ the Turkish greeting-cards like those on the covers of “BOLEH TAHAN” and “THIS, TOO, WILL PASS” ~ with the words: “To the Pilots and Crew of Flight Number so-and-so: With Thanks and Appreciation for a Safe Flight, from a Grateful Passenger.” Sev-eral times, one of the flight-attendants came up to me while I was waiting for my bags at the carousel and thanked me for the card. It is a small thing to do and can make some difference; everyone likes to be appreciated, and flight-attendants must sometimes deal with difficult people.

Arriving in Hartford around 8 pm instead of 11:45 am, I found that my bags had not come in on my plane, but was told they would be delivered to me as soon as they came. I called Eunice and Truc, and they came to get me; needless to say, I was tired, but I soon bounce back and don’t suffer much from jet-lag. Fortu-nately, my bags were delivered intact that night, around 1:00 am.

I had a pleasant time in Hartford with my friends, and visited other friends there and in Boston, and went to the temple, on the eve of my departure for Canada, to participate in the weekly meditation-session ~ attended mainly by Westerners ~ and was requested to give the talk afterwards. During it, I mentioned that I’d been cor-responding with an Indian follower of Sai Baba in Tennessee, and in one of his emails, he had expressed the common idea that everything happens for a purpose, the purpose being our spiritual development. I replied that I don’t accept this idea and find it quite egoistic, as it implies that the universe is centered around and concerned about oneself. I said that although everything happens because of causes, it doesn’t mean that there is a purpose to it all. It seems that it is my role to puncture a few balloons as I go through life, but haven’t I written that I am the ‘Devil’s Advocate’? Sitting beside me was the young monk I’d met in the Chinese temple the year before, and after my talk he explained to me that he had to work in order to support himself, and was finding this quite hard; he asked me if I worked, and when I said yes, asked what kind of work I did. I told him he’d just seen me doing it.

I called Glen from Hartford to ask how she was, and she told me that the father of Karin’s two children had been found dead of a drug-overdose on his father’s grave. Karin had broken up with him a year before due to his drunkenness, but had gone to the funeral, where his mother ignored her completely, as if it was Karin who had caused it! Actually, his mother used to say how much she hated him ~ her only child ~ and had wanted to shoot him several times herself; shortly before his death she’d called Karin to tell her that he had been in jail four times within the past year, one of them for ‘pushing her around,’ which probably meant beating her up. After his death, however, she changed her tune and appeared very upset. Well, he’d gone, and Karin certainly did not shed any tears for him. He was a useless fellow ~ useless to others and useless to himself ~ and wasted his life. I used to worry that he would go to Glen’s and make trouble there as he’d done before, even though Karin was no longer living with Glen but had her own place, about 10 minutes’ drive away.

Truc and Eunice drove me up to Montreal, where we stayed in the home of Truc’s sister, and her family was very kind to me. They took me to several temples, although I’m not really inter-ested in such. And Bi took time off work to drive me to Ottowa, Canada’s capital about two hours’ drive from Montreal. I had never been there before and found it very nice, although we had time for only a short drive around as we’d stopped at an aeronau-tical museum on the way in. I’d like to go again sometime.

Leaving Montreal by Air France for Paris on May 30th, I had a feeling there would again be a problem with my bags, which were checked through to Manchester. The 6½ -hour flight to Paris was uneventful, but Charles De Gaul airport was confusing, and it took me a while to get to the terminal and check-in counter that I needed; maybe the efficiency of the U.S. had spoiled me; it’s quite easy to get around airports there. The next flight ~ of just over an hour ~ was with Cathay Pacific, the HK-based airline, and I was pleasantly greeted by the cabin-crew, some of them Chinese and some Thai. I was fascinated by the south coast of England and the white cliffs of Dover; it brought back memories, as this is the point from where I used to make my forays into Europe in the ‘Sixties, when plane-travel wasn’t an option. We flew right over London, too, and I saw the Millennium Dome far below, but soon after, clouds obscured the view. There was quite a bit of turbulence as we neared Manchester, but we landed al-right, and I was soon at the carousel waiting for my bags, which, alas, didn’t come; the feeling I’d had in Montreal was vindicated. The girl at the appropriate counter was apologetic and assured me that they would get them to me as soon as they arrived on another flight from Paris, where apparently, there had been some delay in getting them onto my flight.

Glen and Karin, and her two kids, Chelsea and Lloyd, were there to meet me and were surprised at how little baggage I had ~ just my computer and another small bag ~ until I told them what had happened. Anyway, I called the airport to see if they had any up-date on my missing bags, but they didn’t and so I called again several hours later, to be told they would be coming in on another flight that evening. Around 8 o’clock, they called to say that my bags had arrived and would be delivered within an hour, which they were, intact and nothing missing; that was a relief, as all my gifts, apart from my clothes, medication and almost everything else I own, were in these bags. It was my intention, at this point, to return to Montreal at the end of September, and make yet an-other trip in the U.S., but things happened to change that idea.

I was soon busy with my tasks there, but the weather wasn’t very good, with frequent rain-showers, so it was difficult to get things done. It was June and supposed to be summer, but it was cold and windy. The first job I started on was the carport roof. At first, we expected to just change the PVC sheeting, but because there was not much of a slope on the roof, we decided to raise one end of it, thus creating a steeper incline. After two weeks, it was just about finished, with a sigh of relief on my part.

One day, the phone rang, and the voice of an old man asked to speak to Mrs. Bayley. I said “She’s not here right now. May I take a message?” He said: “Just say her twin-brother called.” I was a bit surprised, as I’d not heard his voice since 1970, and didn’t recognize it; nor, apparently, did he recognize mine, because when Glen called him back the next day, and he asked who had answered the phone, he could hardly believe it when she told him it was me. There will be no reconciliation between us; he didn’t come while I was there, and I was glad he didn’t. He lives only 15 miles away, but Glen said she hadn’t seen him since her husband died 5 years before. Some twin!

A bright spot on a Sunday was a visit to what is known there as a car-boot sale ~ kind of a flea-market (though why they call them flea-markets, I’ve never been able to discover; I’ve never seen any fleas for sale). I used to go regularly, and come away with all kinds of stuff, most of which I didn’t really need, but it was so cheap that I couldn’t leave it there; I should restrain myself from going, actually; but I got some good books for almost nothing, and some tools for my work, and it was fun! One of our cousins took me, and we would go to three places in succession. She’s five years older than me, so is midway in age between Glen and I, not that that’s important. She was always complaining about her husband ~ the second; she drove the first one nuts, and is probably doing the same to this one; we never heard his side of the story, but began to doubt the things she told us ~ saying he never did anything, or if he started something, never finished it; as a result, their house was a dump and she was ashamed to let anyone see it; we wanted to see what it was like, but she refused our attempts to invite ourselves; maybe it was like the Addams' house, and not surprisingly, as she never spent any time there to do the housework, but was always gallivanting somewhere, to this or that market. Funnily enough, she always seemed to have money for that, but was always crying poverty, a trait that she no doubt got from her mum and dad, who were very stingy. Apart from her, we didn't see any other rellies.

She wore the most preposterous clothes ~ her long, see-through skirts were almost as bad as her shorts and sleeveless thingies. And her weird ideas ~ I really don't know how she came up with them! One day, she asked us if we knew where was the well that our stonemason maternal grandfather had dug in a field near where he used to live. She'd been looking for it, and, not finding it, presumed it must be covered up, so was wondering where she could get hold of a metal-detector to facilitate her search, again supposing that it was covered by a metal sheet or something. I wrote about her and another cousin in one of my books, tracing back our family-tree; I asked her if she would like some cow-dung ~ of which we’d just had a load ~ to fertilize the roots). She was hopeless at haggling at the car-boot sales and asked us to do it for her; I mean you don’t just pay the asking-price, but have to haggle; you offer a lower price and can always come up; usually you get things cheaper. Moreover, she bought the most appalling rubbish; one time, she bought a couple of rusty old hinges ~ huge things that look as if they might have come from an old castle or somewhere ~ for use on some gates that she dreamed might one day get built up her drive, but which almost certainly will not; paid a pound each for 'em, she did, when they are the kind of things most people would throw away; this was one of the times she bought something on her own, without asking us to help her.

I usually took the dog out for a brisk early-morning walk and she enjoyed it; we left around 4:30 and got back 2 hours later; she was quite tired and thirsty afterwards. She was a mongrel, with some pit-bull in her, although she wasn’t aggressive. She was terribly scared of fireworks, and almost every Saturday night ~ and some other nights at random, too ~ fireworks went off in the park not far away, and then the dog scratched at the back door to get in; on those nights we made exceptions and let her sleep in the house instead of in the garage. Another thing she was afraid of was anyone sneezing. I was very fond of her, and she of me.

Around this time, an email from Anita told me that her second daughter ~ only 15 years old ~ had left home to live with her dad in Melbourne. His new wife wasn’t very nice to the girl, however, so she moved out and lived rough on the streets for a while be-fore going to live with a boy she’d met, and she was supporting them both by working part-time in Macdonald’s or somewhere. This is what I replied to Anita:

“Oh dear, bit of a bombshell you dropped on me this morning! I'm so sorry to learn about Shanna; what can have propelled her into this? It’s little consolation to know that she's not alone in the course she has taken; unfortunately, it's not at all rare these days; you should hear the stories of the young Vietnamese that I hear, and I hear them, of course, because of my long involvement with the Viets. But that doesn't help you in any way ~ doesn't help anyone. I don't know what to say in the way of advice or comfort; words are often hollow and cold.

“You are right in saying that help is useless when it’s not wanted; it is as I say about Dharma ~ and you know that word, I guess: it is something that must be not only needed but also wanted, and if you give it when it is not wanted, it is rather like giving a diamond to a dog! You must wait until she's had enough of the hollow and empty life she’s living ~ and it is so, I know; I've been there my-self ~ and realizes that the people she considers friends are really not friends at all, and be there for her when she turns her face for home; hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.

“Meanwhile, you will suffer, of course, but you can reduce this by reflecting on the uncertainties of life and how it is a gamble from the moment we are born until the time we die; every day involves so many choices and risks; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we cannot just sit still like statues, doing nothing; we have to do something. What a tremendous gamble is marriage, as you found out by bitter experience; and an even bigger gamble is begetting children, as there’s no way of knowing what kind of kids are going to come through; they cannot be ordered to speci-fication, nor returned to the store for a refund afterwards. My mum ~ your grandmother ~ used to say that if she had her time all over again she would not get married, adding: "But then, I would not have had the joy I've had through my children." Amaz-ing, I thought! I often wonder about the love of a mother for her children: by all accounts (and I cannot speak from personal ex-perience here), child-birth is a painful thing; one would think once would be enough, but few women stop with just one child and willingly undergo the travails of giving birth again and again. Can you throw some light on this mystery for me?

“Yes, life is a gamble, but if people had not gained more than they lost over the ages, the human race would probably have be-come extinct by now. It is up to us to try to find something positive in anything, and it's amazing how we can do this if we step back a little and view things from a distance instead of standing with our nose up against a mural that covers an entire wall, as it were.

“Suffering is like a gateway; there are few people who come to an understanding of life by any other way; how would we under-stand and commiserate with others who suffer if we have not known it ourselves? The word Compassion is very interesting etymologically; it means: To suffer, or feel, with, and is therefore a painful quality, yet there is none greater.

“Children are like water: the tap is the channel through which it comes, but it does not belong to the tap. And if one accepts the concept of karma, one might see it all as a matter of causes and conditions working themselves out, with no discernable beginning or end. There is really no-one responsible for it all, no-one in con-trol, no-one to blame.

“I saw something on TV the other night about the collapse of Egypt's Old Kingdom, regarding which there is still no consensus of opinion. It was claimed that it was due to a global climate-change 4,200 years ago that lasted several decades, causing drought and widespread famine in Egypt; the Nile didn't flood as normal, and maybe millions starved to death; cannibalism was common, and people ate their own children in an attempt to stay alive, just as they did thousands of years later, in the thirteenth century. The program's purpose was to illustrate the terrible ef-fects of climate-change, against which we are almost impotent. We spend a great deal of time trying to make ourselves secure, but this is all illusion, as a tiny thing can change the kaleidoscopic picture completely and throw us into confusion and panic. The only thing we can do is to accept the fact that life is insecure and fragile, and trembles in the balance like a dew-drop on a lotus-leaf, and inasmuch as we can do so, our fear of the uncertainty and insecurity will diminish, and thus we might find some security.

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