Ripples Following Ripples ~ THE DANGER BECOMES WORSE

Soon after this, I turned on the TV one day to watch the news, and saw the Twin Towers of New York in flames. Thinking it was a movie, I turned to another channel, and another, and they all showed the same: it wasn’t a movie, but the real thing. It was such a shock, and I couldn’t tear myself away. The world changed forever that day, and became much more perilous. Un-doubtedly, great evil was committed, but like everything else, it had causes as well as effects, and it would have been in the best interests of the West if it had paid more attention to those causes and tried to understand them before rushing off to war. Certainly, something had to be done about the perpetrators, but they had and still have their point-of-view, and while we do not need to agree with that, it would help us to deal with them if we were will-ing to consider it instead of thinking, “They are wrong and we are right,” as the vast majority of people anywhere are prone to do. When we lock ourselves into positions like this, we become blind and refuse to see possible solutions to our problems. Our leaders think they can get away with making black-and-white statements like, “If you are not with us, you are against us,” magnifying problems out of all proportions, and causing untold suffering around the world. And we allow them to do this, and even back them up. Are we not also responsible?

Why do they hate us so much?” is a question that should have been asked and answered long ago. It is not a new problem, but has roots stretching back centuries, like everything, and if we try to trace anything to its origins, we will go back and back and back, identifying certain causes only to find others before them, until we find everything somehow involved with and connected to everything else, not separate or independent. But what are they saying, these people who hate so much? It takes a lot of energy to keep the fires of hatred stoked and burning. What explanations or reasons do they give for their standpoints and behavior? Can we afford to blithely disregard them? Or should we be willing to look at them and address them, and try to remove the possible causes of the effects we do not like, instead of adding more fuel to the flames? What would a disinterested, uninvolved visitor from outer space make of our problems? Is it possible for us to learn to look at things impartially and dispassionately? Our education hasn’t prepared us to do so, but our travels in other countries ~ either actual or vicarious travels, through TV or books ~ should have had some effect of opening our minds somewhat, or at least recognizing that people of other lands and races are similar to us in many basic ways. Or do we travel in suits of armor, insulated from and forever cut-off from the people around us, cocooned in an ego-spun case?

Let us look at how things are: For centuries, Westerners have tried, by any means they could devise, to force their beliefs onto others, and in spite of the fact that knowledge about other cul-tures and religions is readily available today, leaving no excuse whatsoever for ignorance about them, they still do this, with huge budgets behind them. Americans, especially, are guilty of this; their missionaries swarm in every country, doing their utmost to convert and ‘save the heathen.’ It is so arrogant! What gives them the right to do this? Would they like others to do the same to them? Do we not cause many problems by our self-centeredness? It is this very mind-set that is responsible for such quagmires as Afghanistan and Iraq, where people are fighting back. Nor can we blame those people for this. The American colonists did so when they felt oppressed by Britain, did they not? And undoubtedly, Britain would have branded them terrorists if that term had been current in those days. How would we feel if we were Iraqis or Afghans or members of other nationalities and races that have felt America’s armed heel? People in Australia would say, “Come on, mate, fair go!

There is little that people like us can do about the world-situation, but it reminds us that the only real refuge is in the Dharma. Let us hope that the craziness doesn't get out of hand and lead to worse things. There, I’ve reduced the great danger we live under to just a few words; it’s amazing how quickly we’ve accepted it all and adjusted to it, isn’t it? Television has the effect of making every-thing so banal; nothing seems real any more. This thing has been coming on for a long time and can easily escalate. I’m afraid that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Since that never-to-be-forgotten event, we saw the phenomenon of empty churches filling up, for a while. Thinking to find God in a building, and driven by pain, fear, hope and desire, self-interest impels people to embrace religion. Therein, finding some solace and explanation ~ even though it is primitive, in most cases ~ they relax, and sink into the mud of complacency, not knowing why they call themselves 'Christians,' 'Buddhists,' 'Hindus,' 'Mus-lims,' etc., and never going deeper than the name-and-form.

Some of the Buddha's last advice ~ to be islands unto ourselves, lamps unto ourselves, and a refuge unto ourselves ~ is as valu-able now as when it was when He gave it 25 centuries ago. We should come back to ourselves instead of depending so much upon others, and, through understanding, develop a sense of self-reliance and responsibility.

Religion should be based upon reality instead of fanciful thinking like it often is. It means seeing that we depend upon so many other people and things around us, and cannot live otherwise. From this comes a sense of gratitude, which, in turn, gives rise to other things. We need no belief, no complicated philosophy, no savior, nor anyone to tell us what to do or to lead the way.

The danger from the terrorist menace stems from religion gone awry, and the wrong ideas thereof must sooner or later be con-fronted and exposed, as they are the real cause of the trouble, just as the Buddha said so long ago. Ignorance is the real enemy of mankind and always has been. But who wants to be ignorant? Who will admit to being ignorant? It is a sickness we are usually unaware of or turn away from and deny. To recognize ignorance and acknowledge it requires some degree of wisdom.

Organized religion is a crutch that is useful only if we cannot walk unaided, but becomes an impediment after that. Even so, this ‘crutch’ must be understood as such rather than just followed blindly, because, like anything, it can be misused and often is. The Muslim concept of ‘Jihad’ or ‘Holy War’ is an example of this; it really means an inner struggle against Ignorance, not hatred, violence, killing and war.

You wish to be liberated or enlightened? Well, it is yours for the taking. Just see through the illusion of the wrong ideas we have inherited from the past. Most religions divide humanity into the ‘believers’ and the ‘non-believers,’ the ‘saved’ and the ‘damned.’ Judaism speaks of non-Jews as ‘Gentiles,’ Islam terms non-Muslims ‘kafirs’ or ‘infidels,’ Christianity thinks of non-Christians as destined for hell. Religion, and even the names thereof, divide people, and such division is productive of great trouble. Clearly, religion, in this way, has been, and continues to be, detrimental to humanity. Why should we go on living with such arbitrary divi-sions when we can see the sorrow they cause?

Asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and real Taoism (if the latter two may be considered religions at all) are much broader than their Middle-Eastern counterparts, and do not divide humanity. Buddhism, for example, holds that everyone, and not just those who call themselves ‘Buddhist,’ has ‘Buddha-nature’ and can become enlightened; it doesn’t say you have to be a Buddhist for this, and that if you are not, you will not be saved and will go to hell. We must go deeper than the exterior aspect of Buddhism, however, deeper than its religious façade, and realize the Dharma within; it is that which helps us see be-yond divisions to our essential unity.

When we call ourselves something ~ like a religious brand-name ('Jew,' 'Buddhist,' 'Christian,' 'Muslim,' etc.), or a nationality ('Eng-lish,' 'French,' 'Chinese,' 'Thai,' 'Indian,' etc.) ~ at the same time we are saying, unspokenly, what we are not ~ "I am not this, I am not that." Like this, we limit ourselves and deny ourselves the possibility of drinking at the well-springs of many sources.

If we were not so attached to and preoccupied with names and labels, and saw, instead, our basic humanity, the wisdom of the world would be available to us in staggering amounts (it is any-way, but we make little use of it), and we would feel no shame or hesitation in picking up jewels wherever we find them; a diamond is a diamond no matter where it is found.

We could avoid religious and racial conflict and antagonism if we realized that we do not live in water-tight compartments, shut off from people of other races, nations and religions, and that we are now well-into a world-culture; our lives touch and overlap those of others like tiles on a roof or the scales of a fish. Even if we never travel abroad, we depend so much upon people from all over the world simply because of the global-economy. But this is a gross example. More basically, more obviously, we are all human, with the tremendous faculties and potential this involves. We should ponder on these things. We need others.

Albert Einstein wrote:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest ~ a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

And this was written by Sogyal Rinpoche, in “Glimpse After Glimpse”:

"Nothing has any inherent existence of its own when you really look at it, and this absence of independent existence is what we call 'emptiness.' Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of it as a distinctly-defined object, and on a certain level, it is. But when you look more closely at the tree, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence.

“When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the uni-verse. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight ~ all form part of this tree.

“As you begin to think more and more about the tree, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing. This is what we mean when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence."

“One powerful way to evoke compassion is to think of others as exactly the same as you. ‘After all,’ the Dalai Lama explains, ‘all human beings are the same ~ made of flesh, bones and blood. We all want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Further, we have an equal right to be happy. In other words, it is important to realize our sameness as human beings.’”


Abandoning my idea to return to Canada, and forfeiting the return portion of my ticket as it was non-refundable, I made preparations to leave England and return to Australia, fearing the outbreak of a great war. I bought a ticket with Swiss Air as far as Istanbul, in-tending to get the onward tickets there.

We got to Manchester airport around 11:30, in plenty of time for my flight which was supposed to take off at 3:50. I was told that, unlike the previous day, when no hand-luggage of any kind might be carried and even lap-tops had to be checked in, I could carry my lap-top in a plastic bag, but the bag would have to be checked in. My baggage-trolley had to be checked in separately, too, and I felt at the time there was something unusual about this. I was in-formed that take-off might be delayed by about an hour.

Having checked in, I told Glen and Karin not to bother waiting any longer, as I don’t like prolonged goodbyes but prefer to get it over with as soon as possible. Therefore, they left me on my own, and I went through the passengers-only gate to wait, not thinking that it would be an extra 3 hours before we boarded the plane. Just before boarding, there were further checks of hand-baggage, and one guy in front of me ~ who had a lap-top in a case, plus other baggage (the new rules were obviously flexible), was caught with a Swiss army knife and a pair of manicure scissors, which were confiscated, of course. What surprised me about this was, first of all, it had been announced on TV that all such things could not be carried in hand-baggage, and secondly, how they managed to escape scrutiny on the x-ray machine and electronic-gate.

The flight would be via Zurich, where I’d have to change planes. Unfortunately, because of the long delay in Manchester, my con-nection left before we got to Zurich, so I had to wait in a long line, inching forward, to get reassigned on another flight. When I finally got to the desk, and was told there was no other flight until 10 the next morning. I was given a voucher for a hotel-room, including transportation to and fro, meals ~ dinner and breakfast ~ and a SF10 phone-card. Before going to the hotel, I searched around the baggage-carousels among the many loaded trolleys for my bags, but could not see them; I was assured they would be checked onto the new flight to Istanbul, and given a toiletry-kit for the night, and with that, I went to the hotel. I was very tired by this time so didn’t linger over what dinner was left, and went to sleep like a log, but only for four hours, as I wanted to get back to the airport in plenty of time. So, after breakfast, I boarded the shuttle-bus and found my gate at the airport. We set off for Istanbul and arrived without incident three hours later.

At Istanbul, only my computer-bag came out, so ~ together with many others ~ I went to the missing-baggage office to fill in the necessary forms. I could have had my missing bag delivered to my hotel if I’d left my keys with them, so that they might be opened for Customs’ inspection, but was unwilling to do this, not because I didn’t trust them ~ although I had reservations about that, too ~ but because I had such a job fastening my bag after stuffing it so tight, that I felt no-one else would be able to close it again if they opened it. Then, I got a bus into the city, getting down within walking-distance of the hotel where I stayed during my last visits to Istanbul. Even so, it was quite a walk, and on the way, I stopped to visit Fetih, who was pleased to see me again, unexpectedly. I sat with him for a while at his road-side stall, until I’d cooled off; it was about 31º at 5 o’clock, and very humid.

I got a room in the Sehir Hotel; it was cheaper this year than last, at 6 million Turkish Lira, due to the high inflation-rate; $1 this year got 1.5 million, while last year it was 665,000. Once again, there-fore, I was a multi-millionaire!

Early the next morning, I took a bus out to the airport and was re-lieved to find my bag in the office, but not the trolley; anyway, I didn’t mind losing that; it was the main bag that was important.

After dropping my bag at the hotel, I went in search of my ticket. There are many travel-agents in the tourist-belt, offering cheap flights, so I checked out several of them, but their rates weren’t as low as I expected them to be; however, I chose the cheapest I could find and paid US$645 for a one-way ticket to Melbourne with a stop-over in Malaysia. MAS flies from Istanbul to K.L. twice weekly, Wednesday and Saturday, but the Saturday’s flight was full so I had little choice but to take the next day’s flight, although I wanted to spend a bit longer there. I quickly emailed DV to let him know when I’d arrive, did a bit of shopping, saw Fetih again, and got ready to leave the next day.

Taking a final walk around the area comprising the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia and Topkapi Palace ~ all of which stand where the palace of the Emperors of the Byzantine empire and the Hippo-drome once stood ~ I left for the airport and before c

hecking in, went to the Lost-baggage counter again, but there was no sign of my trolley; they told me it was still in Zurich, though how they knew that I don’t know. I gave them my Malacca address to send it to if it turned up, but it never did.

The 11-hour flight to K.L., with a 90 minute stop-over in Dubai, was tiring, and waiting at the baggage-carousel for my bag, I saw that most people from my flight had got theirs and gone already, and I thought: “Oh, no; not again! This is happening to me with monotonous regularity!” Imagine, my bags had not turned up on the same flight as me five times in the past 18 months! Then, just as I was getting ready to go to the Lost-luggage office, it came out of the shute, much to my relief.

Passing out into the hall, I expected DV to be waiting, but he wasn’t, and I wondered if he’d got my email. I wandered around a while, then called him on his mobile and asked where he was. He told me he was at a meeting in K.L. so couldn’t meet me, but had chartered a taxi to pick me up; there was someone waiting in the arrival-hall holding a sign with my name on it, he said. Off I went to look for this man, and sure enough found him waiting at the rail. He had not recognized me because I was wearing ordinary clothes instead of the robes he expected. Anyway, we were soon on our way, and I was taken to DV’s home.

They all welcomed me back and took good care of me. When asked why I didn’t give any talks there I said I’d retired. My ideas, I felt, weren’t suitable for Malaysian audiences; there is too much superstition and attachment to names and forms there, and it’s hard to work against it. This is why, when I decided to quit there several years ago, things just fell apart like a house of cards.

Almost every morning, DV took me for my favorite Indian food, and sometimes for lunch and/or dinner, too. The climate there was very trying, though, and prevented my daily walks; I didn’t feel good about that, but if I had gone walking, within five minutes I would have been drenched in sweat. How I managed to spend so many years in that part of the world I just don’t know!

While I was in Malacca, I got an email from somebody in Jakarta, requesting me to go there for a big ceremony and give talks shortly after, all expenses paid, of course. In my reply, I thanked him for his kindness, but told him it was too short notice, and that if he had informed me earlier, I might have considered it.

Anyway, I decided to visit Tor Hor in Penang for a few days, stopping off in Ipoh on the way. The bus-trip to Ipoh ~ although only 5½ hours ~ was tiring, as the a/c wasn’t working well; I was glad to get there. A welcoming-committee was waiting for me, and persuaded me to stay for two nights, and it was good, as people there had always been kind to me. I gave a talk there that evening, but it assured me that few people had understood much of my previous talks. It must have seemed strange to them when, in answer to one of their questions, I said something like: “Years ago, I could have answered your question, but now, I can’t.” To clarify this somewhat, I added: “In the beginning, it was important for me to think that I knew, when in actuality, I didn’t, and was only repeating what I had heard or read from others. Now, how-ever, I’m more sure of myself and it doesn’t matter to admit that I don’t know. Moreover, the things about which you ask are not important and are just excess baggage.” (Someone had asked me about what is called in Buddhist terminology a ‘Silent Buddha’ ~ one who doesn’t teach. Well, what do I ~ or anyone else, for that matter ~ know about this? We wouldn’t know a Buddha if we fell over one!)

I continued on to Penang in another such bus. Tor Hor met me and took me for dinner in an Indian restaurant, and then, before going to his home on the third floor of a block of condominiums, we stopped by to see Amigo and his family; they were surprised to see me as we’d lost touch years ago. It was quite late when we got home, therefore, and I went straight to bed in the master-bedroom which Tor Hor had vacated for me, but here again, the air-con wasn’t working and I spent a sweaty night.

Early the next morning, he went to work, leaving me on my own to do my email, watch CNN and whatever else I wanted to do; he returned at 2 o’clock and took me out for lunch. The days passed in this way, and I quite enjoyed my stay there and met most of the friends I wished to see. One of them, a local nun who stayed in a Burmese temple, invited us out for dinner one night but she herself didn’t eat because she follows Theravada. I told her not to worry, and that I would transfer what I ate to her, so she wouldn’t be hungry, referring to the Buddhist practice of ‘transferring merit,’ which I question. (once, DV had complained about feeling tired, so I told him I would transfer my afternoon nap to him, but next day he asked me not to do it again as he was unable to sleep that night! Such is the power of transference!)

Before dinner, the nun had requested me to visit a friend’s home where people would like me to give a talk; I agreed, but was to rue it, because when we got there, there was a ceremony in pro-gress, with about a dozen monks and nuns chanting and a lot of people in attendance. I thought: “What have I got myself into here?” and would have left there and then if I could have; but I was stuck and had to go on. Fortunately, the ceremony ended just then, and the monks and nuns were plied with food before going off to another such ceremony, leaving me with the people who had remained. When they were quiet, I gave a short talk and answered a few questions, then took my leave. That was the only talk I gave in Penang.

The day after I got back to Malacca was the first anniversary of Goh Sr’s death, so I was requested to perform a simple cere-mony at the family home. They were grateful for this, even though the ceremonies I perform are the same for any occasion. They had earnestly requested me to visit them on the way back to Oz from England, and had offered to pay my ticket from Istan-bul, but had no idea that I would be with them for the anniversary.

The family there made the remainder of my stay very pleasant ~ they were all so kind and solicitous of my comfort ~ and I began to pack my stuff ready for off. I had acquired extra baggage since I got there, however, so had to parcel some of it up to be mailed off; once again, we had to go through the procedure of 'wallpapering' the parcel with small-denomination stamps in the P.O.; they do have large denominations, but for some reason ~ D.V. maintains that it is to provide more business for the bumiputras (as the Malays term themselves; it means 'Sons of the Soil,' to differentiate themselves from the Chinese, Indian and other 'second-class' citizens; it is really a blatant racist society) ~ they palm you off with all these 'small' stamps, which you have to affix your-self. Well, I guess it makes the parcels more colourful.

DV dropped me at the airport on the 9th of October in plenty of time for my 9:15 flight. Airport security in K.L. was not as much of a hassle as I expected; the only difference from before was that everyone was frisked, which had not been so common. The flight left pretty punctually and was quite smooth, arriving in Melbourne on time, 7 hours later. We had to wait quite long at the baggage-carousel, as they couldn't get the baggage-doors of the plane to open; eventually, they had to use a can-opener! (a little bit of hy-perbole on my part here).

Translator Tuan was waiting for me, but he took all the byways instead of the freeway, which he said would be congested at that time, so we were long in getting home. Anyway, after resting a while, I was ready for anything but had no plans at all. I was open to the unexpected, waiting to see what came up; something al-ways does, and it did, very soon: I got an email from a monk there, asking me to give a talk at his temple, and I accepted, but thinking it would be to just a group of old ladies, I wrote:

“Could you arrange a more public talk for me, and announce it in the press, rather than me just talking to the people at the week-end retreat, most of whom would probably be elderly ladies? The reason I ask this is because I find it difficult to talk to old people in a way they would understand, and I say this from long experi-ence. I do not have the wisdom necessary to perceive people's level of development and teach accordingly; nobody has some-thing for everyone.

“During my recent stay of 3 weeks in Malaysia, I gave only 2 talks, and only because I couldn't avoid them. When asked why I didn't want to give more, I said I’d retired. Over the years I spent there, I did what I could in Malaysia, but with little success. I have something to give, I know, but it must be wanted rather than just needed, and if it is given where it is not wanted, it is a waste. If people come to ask for something, I can give them something”.

He replied and said he agreed to my request and asked me for the topic of my talk. Well, I seldom put a topic on them, but this time one came readily to mind, so I told him, “THE FLAVOUR OF LIBERATION.” I spoke about the implications of the concept of reincarnation, but don’t know if anyone understood, as it was a different slant on the subject.

Some people suggested I stay in one of the temples near where I was staying, but I replied that it wouldn't work, as they are too small ~ even though one of them is quite large ~ for two monks; they 'belong' to the monks who stay there, and you know what happens when a dog intrudes on the territory of another dog. Many monks are possessive.

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