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The World is Myself

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					The World is Myself
   a monk’s travel journal
           part 2




      Bhante Kovida




              1
The World is Myself
A monk’s travel journal
Part 2


Author:
Bhante Kovida


The author would like to thank those who contributed to this project.


There is copyright on this publication and reprinting is permitted if it is for free distribution.


To contact the author you can write to buddhadipa@yahoo.ca


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Contents

   Malaysia and Singapore.......................................................................................................4
   Hong Kong ........................................................................................................................ 41
   Canada ............................................................................................................................ 116




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Malaysia and Singapore

March 5, 2000
    Arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 7:30 a.m., local time. It’s wonderful to see the
beautiful and impressive modern terminal buildings again after being in India, familiar yet
dreamlike. Tan is looking forward to going home to rural Malaysia and recovering from the
chicken pox. Leong accompanies us to immigration control; he would like us to get together later
in Kuala Lumpur for a vegetarian meal and Dharma discussion. Having a Canadian passport, I get
another permit stamp in my passport good for three months. We are met by two friends, Cheong
and Steve. They’re surprised that Tan has never had chicken pox during childhood. Driving on the
new highway to the urban centers of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, I’m happy to see the oil
palm estates again; the oil palm originally came from West Africa. Unlike the roads in India,
there’s no traffic congestion, no ox-carts or cyclists, no goats or cows or crowds of people at the
roadside along this modern highway. Welcome to Malaysia.
     Steve is full of questions about India. Cheong, the quieter one, is driving the car. I tell them
about the teeming crowds in Madras, Calcutta and Varanasi, the horrendous traffic congestion and
pollution, the dust and dirt, the huge rise in the middle-class [hence the big increase in the number
of private vehicles on the roads], the countless number of street dwellers and beggars, and about
India being an open toilet. They have a good laugh about this. I tell them that I won’t be visiting
India again due to health considerations, but that I’m glad I went back to satisfy my nostalgic
longing and to get India out-of-my-system, once and for all. However, I would definitely
recommend that travellers go to India, at least once, as it’s such a unique, ancient and interesting
place despite the challenges.
     Steve, being Chinese and prone to occasional bouts of superstition and flights of fancy, asks
whether I had felt any special kind of energy in the places where the Buddha had been. I laugh. I’m
sorry to disappoint him and confess that I hadn’t. However, being in those locations is conducive
to imaginative wondering and reflection on the Buddha’s life and teachings, and thus I experienced
a tremendous sense of amazement and inspiration that such a wonderful and noble being actually
existed in those parts of the subcontinent over 2500 years ago.
    Tan’s brother, who’s living in Kuala Lumpur, is not at home so we take Tan to the bus terminal
downtown so he can catch a bus to his hometown in Perak state. He thanks me for taking him to
India, and I wish him a speedy recovery from the chicken pox. Cheong, Steve and I then head to
Petaling Jaya to have lunch at a vegetarian restaurant. Being back in modern Malaysia, I can more
appreciate the orderliness and cleanliness of SE Asia plus having friends with private vehicles.
One can eat and drink almost anything without having to worry about getting sick. After lunch, we
drive to a forest reserve and rest in the shade of one of the tall, impressive trees. There is the
buzzing symphony of insects in the soothing greenery and a small waterfall and stream close by.
    The rain forests of SE Asia are wonderful places for hiking; small leeches can sometimes add
an exciting element to the adventure. The temperature is around 32 C and quite humid; I can
almost feel moss, ferns and orchids growing in my armpits – perfect climate for that! I show them
postcards of Varanasi and the Ganges river, with the bathing and burning ghats, and I relate a few
travel stories and facts connected to them, including the fact that when the Buddha had crossed the
Ganges on his way to the deer park in Sarnath to find his five former companions, Varanasi [Kasi]
was already an established place of pilgrimage and ritual purification.


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     The old path leading to Sarnath from the Ganges, on which the Buddha had walked, still exists
today and it goes by the property of the Krishnamurti Foundation that runs a girls’ boarding school
and a study center. Interestingly, Krishnamurti had felt a strong connection to the Buddha himself,
but not to any of the Buddhist traditions. He was considered by some to be a “modern Buddha,” but
I’m sure there are others who will disagree. That’s life.


March 7, 2000
      Today is as hot and humid as yesterday and the day before. This is Malaysia, after all. The call
to prayer from the mosque across the way [over loudspeakers] reminds me that I’m in a Muslim
country, despite a fairly large population of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. I remember when I
first heard the call to prayer in Istanbul, Turkey, during 1974, I thought it was the most beautiful,
haunting and soulful sound I’d ever heard; it gave me goose bumps and chills up my spine, and it
conjured up romantic images of camels in the desert, Tales from a Thousand and One Arabian
Nights, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, people wearing robes and turbans, exotic bazaars and
flying carpets. Now, many years later, in the tropical heat, I find the call to prayer very loud and
disturbing and not in the least beautiful and haunting. Why do they make it so loud?
     Yesterday I stayed home at Yip and Chow’s apartment resting, reading and sending e-mail; I
was too tired to visit friends downtown. The ability to send e-mail via the Internet has added a
speedy, convenient texture to travel. Today I venture out and take the air-conditioned bus to the
city-center. There are the familiar landmarks and street signs along the way, and the traffic density
increases as we approach the downtown area. The street congestion isn’t nearly as bad as in Indian
cities, the population not nearly as large. Walking amidst the pedestrians and shoppers, I use an
umbrella for the intense tropical sun. I take another bus to Brickfields to visit my friends at the
WAVE house. A well-known Sri Lankan temple is close by, but I won’t be visiting this time. This
is familiar territory and I’m once again amazed that a former self used to stay at this place five to
six years ago; my present self would not wish to stay at a place so close to a main road with its
noise and pollution.
     Interestingly, I find myself in a complaining mood and I whine and complain to my friends
about the shocking conditions of present-day India and compare it to the “good old days,” during
the 1970s and 1980s. I am, for sure, not feeling very wise, accepting and serene today; it’s like I’m
suffering from post traumatic stress, and I observe this mental state as I relate my experiences to
these patient and amused folks who are quite used to the humid heat. One of them was in India
three years ago and we exchange travel stories. The others have no desire to visit India – they’re
only interested in going to Thailand to visit the forest monasteries and offering dana and requisites
to the monks. What I find funny and ironic is that when I first met these folks in 1994, I was
frequently raving about the magic and mystery of ancient India and encouraging them to make a
visit and pilgrimage. Now, six years later, here I am ranting and raving about how awful India has
become. I really have to laugh and shake my head – things do change indeed, myself included.
    Later on, my mental state has cooled down with food and cold drinks, and I’m no longer in a
negative and upset frame of mind. I see that India is only a mental state that is causing me
suffering, and I have to let it go, pure and simple.




                                                  5
March 8, 2000
     Up on the twelfth floor, there’s a cool breeze coming through the windows but the afternoon
will be the usual warm, humid climate. I sit for about forty minutes, observe mental and physical
phenomena [nama-rupa] and reflect on the truth that whatever arises passes away, and there’s no
permanent self. The self arises when the I-thought arises; it comes and goes like everything else.
This was one of the insights of the Buddha more than twenty-five centuries ago – how wonderful
and amazing!
     In Jamaican pidgin/patois English, we use ‘me’ or ‘mi’ both as the personal and possessive
pronoun as in, “mi wah go a di mahkit” – I want to go to the market – and “mi wah go a mi yaad fi
si mi wife ah pickny dem” – I want to go to my home/property to see my wife and children. Using
‘my’ and ‘mine’ gives strength and vitality to the ‘I’ or ‘me’ and this is the source of self-centered
clinging and attachment. Using ‘my’ and ‘mine’ gives the feeling that something or someone
actually belongs to ‘me’ as a personal possession. The constant use of ‘I,’ ‘me,’ ‘my’ and ‘mine’ in
daily conversation gives the impression that there’s a permanent, concrete and separate self-center
in consciousness. This is a universal delusion, giving rise to ignorance, craving, grasping and
clinging – mental suffering, conflict and worry.
     Using conventional language: I have no desire or need to go out today. I have the whole day to
relax, read, contemplate, write aerograms, and let my mind wander. The strong glare of the sun
reminds me of a time some years ago when I was staying at my mentor’s temple in Sri Lanka and
how I came to meet some members of the Japanese religious cult, Om Shinrikyo, and their leader,
Shoko Asahara.
     Flashback. It was during my second year of monkhood, and we were experiencing a period of
drought. It was early 1992, and day after day the sun was fierce and relentless like some wrathful,
heavenly being threatening to set the world on fire. There was no rain in sight. It was easy to
understand why early civilizations worshipped the sun as a deity. Paddy fields across the island
were starting to dry up, and water levels in many village wells were getting lower and lower as
each scorching day passed. This was very unusual climate, the village elders said, and judging
from what I had already experienced in Sri Lanka since 1987, I could easily believe them. During
the hot, baking afternoons, I would sit on the verandah with my feet in a plastic basin of water and
a wet towel around my upper body, or I would sit inside the room of the concrete building with the
windows shut tight and think of cooling rivers and waterfalls.
     One day a local monk, who was very restless and addicted to chewing betul nut, a kind of
stimulant, talked me into following him to attend a function at a temple outside of Balangoda. I
think I foolishly decided to go along with him simply out of boredom. We had to take a bus a few
miles from the town, then we had to walk downhill through a forested area and further down into a
valley that was even drier and hotter than where I was staying.
    The abbot of the temple was celebrating his birthday and he’d invited many people, including
monks and two local politicians. Usually people and sensible monks in Sri Lanka do not make a
big deal out of birthdays; it’s more of a western cultural habit brought over by the British and other
Europeans. The abbot was fairly young, around 42 years old, quite tall and heavily built, and he
had an inflated image of himself. Coincidentally his teacher, who was a very kind and humble
monk, happened to be a very close Dharma brother of my mentor’s, and he had passed away at the
age of eighty-two. Anyhow, I was feeling very hot and uncomfortable and my mind was full of
conflict, regret and suffering. Apart from the intense, dry heat, they were playing very loud and
annoying love songs in Sinhalese over the loudspeakers. I was fuming mad. Why did I listen to that

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crazy, restless monk and come here? It’s so hot, crowded and noisy! I should have stayed home
where it’s quiet and peaceful and not so hot and miserable! This place is awful! That grossly
overweight monk shouldn’t be celebrating birthdays; he obviously wants to be famous and
important. He’s so proud, arrogant and stupid! On and on and on went my suffering, judgmental
mind, and I was simply making myself more and more miserable and upset.
    Then I began to look closer at my mind and I began to see that my aversion, regretting and
complaining were much worse than the heat and noise of the place. I was making things worse for
myself by my clinging, craving and discriminating mind, and I decided to do something about it.
So I got up from the shade, went to the temple well, took off my outer robe and doused myself with
cool, refreshing water, washing my legs and feet. Then I returned to my seat in the shade with a wet
towel on my head, and I began to relax and feel peaceful and accepting of where I was at the
moment, and the mental suffering ceased completely. The truth and ending of suffering.
     When I returned to my teacher’s temple the following day, they told me that a small Buddhist
group from Japan had visited with their teacher, an almost blind person with long hair and beard,
who claimed to have psychic powers. They planned to visit again in the near future with a much
larger group. Apparently, they had bought some land near the southern town of Galle and were
building a factory to process vegetarian food for their members since it was cheaper to produce
here than in Japan.
     I was at once skeptical of their spiritual leader who was openly declaring that he had special
powers. He was obviously promoting himself, and this I saw as a red flag. The Buddha would often
warn the monks and nuns not to speak or boast of their psychic powers if they had acquired any
through their meditation practices; these powers were merely by-products and not the real goal of
the spiritual, noble life of renunciation. Monks who boasted of such were asked to leave the sangha
[community of forest dwellers] since they were really promoting and boosting their egos instead of
making the effort of purifying their mind of defilements and so lessening their attachment to ego or
self-importance. What kind of spiritual leader was this Master Shoko Asahara, I wondered? Didn’t
he know that the Buddha wouldn’t have approved of his behaviour? Obviously not. About three
weeks later, he showed up with three busloads of devotees and four carloads of senior disciples in
charge of media production and publication propaganda, plus a brand-new Mercedes Benz and a
rented helicopter. He obviously had style and a great deal of money.
     At my mentor’s rural temple just outside the town of Balangoda, I was staying in a small
concrete building on the other side of a small hill. The top of this hill was leveled off and a shrine
hall was built some years earlier containing some beautiful statues and wall murals. I
affectionately referred to the concrete building as “the condo-cave.” It had electricity and a squat
toilet but no running water. Rainwater was collected in an old metal barrel off the roof. The place
had been built by a German monk, who had come to study with my mentor, and he had died while
taking a walk along the green, picturesque rice fields – heart attack. My life at the condo-cave was
simple and quiet in this tropical setting with trees, visiting birds, and other forms of wildlife –
some pleasant, some not so pleasant. So it was quite shocking to encounter a group of Japanese
media personnel from Om Shinrikyo, people from super-fast, crowded, intense, high-tech Tokyo.
They were running around the temple grounds anxiously trying to find electrical outlets to plug in
and set up their sophisticated video equipment before the three busloads of devotees and their
Enlightened Master arrived. Their energy and sense of urgency seemed totally out of place in this
rural temple setting: you could tell that something very exciting and unusual was about to take
place. It was indeed a foreign invasion from far away Japan, a country and culture so very different
from South Asia and SE Asia.

                                                  7
     They decided to use the open-sided classroom near the main building for the meeting of Ven.
Anandamaitreya [who I called “Bhante”] and Master Shoko Asahara. While waiting for the main
group to arrive, one video person began to interview my mentor on camera. Others were setting up
other video cameras in the classroom and arranging chairs. I just stood and watched in amazement
at the flurry of activity as the organizers spoke excitedly to each other in rapid Japanese that
sounded like the staccato of an electric typewriter – takatakataka. Bhante asked me to sit close to
him during the meeting, so I could translate the Japanese English into clearer English as he found
their accent difficult to understand. Soon the rest of the group arrived in three deluxe buses from
Colombo. People from the surrounding villages and Balangoda town also arrived as word had
quickly spread of the Japanese invasion. Very few wanted to miss the excitement.
     All the devotees from the buses were carrying Japanese cameras. The majority of them were
wearing loose white clothing and a few were wearing dark pink clothing. Soon they were all taking
photos of the old, main building, the temple ground, and my teacher being interviewed on video
camera. The members who arrived by car and were in charge of media production were all wearing
white clothing. I surmised that those wearing dark pink were senior members of Om Shinrikyo.
When Shoko Asahara arrived in a brand-new, chauffer-driven Mercedes Benz with his small
entourage, he wore loose purple-coloured clothing and sported long hair and a beard. His wife and
two children plus another woman wore green-coloured clothing. The colour obviously signified
their standing in the organization, and they were, without doubt, very organized and efficient.
    The Master and his family had arrived in Balangoda from Colombo in a rented helicopter that
had landed in the town’s school playground. The rented luxury car with driver had also come from
Colombo and had waited at the playground to pick them up and deliver them to my mentor’s
temple in Udumulla village in style. Om Shinrikyo obviously had a great deal of money, counting
in any currency!
    The Master’s chair [a single sofa-like seat] also arrived in style from Japan and brought to the
temple in one of the rented buses. The locals and foreign devotees were beside themselves with
excited anticipation. I simply looked on, as if in a dream, with some degree of calm detachment
and disbelief. Is this really happening, I asked myself? What are these people all about and what do
they really want from Bhante? Later, I was to find out.
     I wasn’t aware of the Master’s poor eyesight until after he greeted my mentor, when he put his
right hand on his son’s left shoulder, who led him slowly towards the open-sided classroom along
with Bhante, his family and some of the media personnel. Although handicapped, the Japanese
devotees behaved towards their master as if he was the most enlightened, benevolent, and sacred
being in the whole, wide world. In the classroom, Shoko Asahara sat cross-legged in his special
chair near the blackboard on the wall, and my teacher was seated close to him with a short table
separating them. Sitting behind the Master was a Pali scholar with his notes who could translate
Pali terms quickly into Japanese if called upon. I was seated just behind Bhante to translate
Japanese English into more comprehensible English, and seated to the right of Shoko Asahara was
a young man in dark pink clothing, obviously brilliant, who was capable of translating English into
Japanese and vice versa. The devotees were seated on metal chairs facing us; those without chairs
stood outside the classroom, with the locals, looking in. In the middle of the room were two video
cameras and their operators recording the event. Yes, these people from the island of Honshu were
very organized indeed. My mentor, who was nursing a cold virus, had to cough occasionally.
   The session began with Master Shoko Asahara thanking my teacher for inviting them to the
temple to have this spiritual gathering and then proceeded to tell the group about how the
venerable monk had achieved a lot during his long life, how he’d travelled to many countries and
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had taught so many people in Sri Lanka and around the world, and how fortunate and honoured
they all were to meet such a special person and monk. The translator repeated this speech in clear,
impressive English; my mentor had no difficulty in understanding his accent. Shoko Asahara then
asked Bhante about the life of the Buddha and some of the basic teachings regarding the Four
Noble Truths and the meaning of Nirvana or Nibbana, nothing complicated.
     Then he asked Bhante about meditation practice, about calm and insight meditation, and
during Bhante’s explanation Shoko Asahara suddenly said something in Japanese and all the
seated members quickly slid off their chairs and seated themselves on the dirty concrete floor in
full and half lotus positions, backs held straight, hands placed properly in laps, eyes closed in
concentration. Wow! This sudden display of obedience was most astonishing, and the words
“kamikaze yogis” came to mind. I had to shake my head in amazement. Bhante was also surprised
at this group behaviour – only in Japan, I mused. He stopped speaking for a few moments and
waited for the audience to settle down, and then he continued his explanation of meditation
practice.
     When he was finished, two female devotees quickly approached Shoko Asahara and stooped
down to ask him something, and I could tell from their expression and body language that their
devotion to him was total; that they were incapable of questioning and disobeying his wishes even
if their lives were in danger. I sensed that his power and authority over his members was absolute,
corrupting and unhealthy; I couldn’t help thinking how cult-like they seemed to be. Later, when
their behaviour became irrational, desperate and murderous, when they released sarin nerve gas in
two cities, I wasn’t surprised to learn that this self-styled Enlightened Master, though handicapped,
was capable of convincing what were once bright young minds – top graduates from top
universities and medical colleges – that it was imperative to liquidate the government in order for
them to take over the country and change Japan from a fast, materialistic, overworked society into
a spiritual and enlightened one. A nice objective, it seemed, but the method of achieving it was
irrational and desperate, and too ambitious. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions,
they say.
    After two or three more questions and answers regarding the Dharma, Shoko Asahara said to
Bhante, with a know-it-all smirk on his fat, bearded face, “Venerable Anandamaitreya, from using
my psychic powers, I can tell that you are having health problems from a weak liver condition.” I
almost laughed out loud! Not only was he very pretentious and deluded, he was also incorrect:
apart from having a cold virus, Bhante’s only weak organs were his lungs, and he’d been able to
recover from pneumonia twice in his old age, which was remarkable indeed. Shoko Asahara was
clearly trying to impress Bhante and everyone present. This behaviour of showing off his
supposedly psychic powers was so much against the Buddha’s teaching and advice that I began to
realize how deluded and pretentious he really was. This guy was a megalomaniac! It would appear
that after trying to impress people with false claims, he began to believe them himself – such is the
nature of self-aggrandizement. Call it wishful thinking. Also, in his books, he claimed to be the
new Japanese Buddha, the new Jesus Christ, and the new Bodhisattva of Compassion. Call this
delusion of grandeur!
     Bhante must have realized his game and immaturity, for he said in a most polite and
diplomatic manner, “Well, I’m passed ninety years old now, and the body is getting weak and
slow.” Shoko Asahara nodded his head slightly, the smirk had gone from his face, and you could
tell he was disappointed that his dramatic attempt to impress the gathering had not achieved the
desired effect: it had fallen flat. I felt a little embarrassed for him but he would get over it, I was


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sure. After all, he was the new Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Bodhisattva of Compassion, right? The
members of his group smiled politely and the discussion continued as if nothing had happened.
     It was around this time, this stage of the meeting, that I began to get an odd feeling – like a déjà
vu experience – about this self-styled Japanese Buddha. There was something vaguely familiar
about him but I couldn’t put my finger on it. What was it, I kept asking myself for the rest of the
session? By then, I had lost interest in the discussion, and I just watched him, his facial
expressions, his body language, and so on. He didn’t seem a calm, confident and wise person;
rather he behaved anxious, jittery, and unsure of himself, as if he felt the need to prove himself in
front of a revered, elderly monk. He seemed immature, pretentious, and too ambitious for his own
good. Something nagged at my mind but what was it? Here was this odd spiritual leader from
Japan who was obviously very wealthy and who commanded total respect and obedience from his
followers. What was it about him that I found so puzzling?
    Eventually, the meeting came to an end. It was getting late in the afternoon, and Shoko
Asahara thanked Bhante again for meeting with him and his group. They stood up and shook
hands, and everyone took out their cameras, and flashes went off as if it was a grand party. Gifts
were presented, and slowly the crowd dispersed. I didn’t get a chance to meet and speak with the
so-called Japanese Buddha with the so-called psychic powers. However, I did meet one of the
members and spent some time with him as he waited for the media crew to finish filming the
temple and also for the group’s car to be fixed at a garage in Balangoda town.
    Hiroshi was a heart surgeon, and head of their medical clinic in Tokyo. He was friendly,
charming and spoke good English. He was about thirty-eight years old, married with two children.
He and his wife, an anesthesiologist, had graduated from the top medical school in Japan. I said to
him offhandedly that he could get a ride back to Colombo in the chauffer-driven Mercedes Benz,
since the Master and his family would be taking the helicopter. But he smiled politely and replied,
“No, no, I cannot do that! That car is only for Master’s use. We cannot use it.” Such is the Japanese
propensity for total obedience, respect and loyalty to a leader or company – admirable on one hand
but potentially unhealthy and dangerous on the other.
     I invited Hiroshi back to the condo-cave and made us some tea. We sat outside on mats near a
tree, beside the flower garden of marigolds. It was around sunset, the air was cool and dry, and the
birds were chirping. It was peaceful and relaxing especially after the gathering. Spontaneously we
both entered the silence of meditation. After several minutes, he opened his eyes, looked around
him, drank some tea, and said how lovely and peaceful the surroundings were. I found it
interesting that our lives were so different – me a Buddhist monk in rural Sri Lanka, an ex-hippy
traveller originally from Jamaica, and he a medical doctor and heart specialist from busy, crowded,
downtown Tokyo, with a family, and belonging to this popular yet controversial spiritual
movement in conservative Japan. But here we were sitting outside the condo-cave, sipping tea
together and appreciating the peace and beauty of the tropical landscape and sunset. He asked me
the usual questions: how long had I been a monk, why did I become a monk, what did my family in
Canada think about me becoming a monk, how did I get to meet Ven. Anandamaitreya, and how
many hours did I meditate daily? Then it was my turn.
    Hiroshi and his wife had joined Om Shinrikyo five years earlier, and following their Master’s
wishes, they no longer lived together as man and wife. They became celibate, their children were
now ten and eight years old. All married couples who joined Om Shinrikyo were expected to
become celibate. If a couple was childless and wished to have children, they needed special
permission from Master Shoko Asahara. The Master could have as much sex as he pleased: he was
the Enlightened Master, after all. The other woman in his small entourage today, also wearing
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green clothing, was his “second wife.” Before joining the group, Hiroshi and his wife both had
successful careers working at the best hospital in Tokyo. Now, he was in charge of the group’s
medical clinic in Tokyo and was hoping to attain enlightenment and psychic powers as promised
by the Master. Little did he know that in less than three years, the Master would be asking him [and
others] to do something beyond their wildest dreams, something that would severely compromise
his medical career, medical training and integrity. But sitting together, watching the tropical
sunset, and having a pleasant conversation in the present moment seemed simple, uncomplicated
and innocent.
     He said that many young people in Japan, students and professionals, were joining Om
Shinrikyo because they were looking for a spiritual life which would counteract the materialistic
attitude of the society and the need to work so many hours each week. In Japan, most people work
12 to 15 hours each day, unlike North America and Europe. No one worked eight or nine hours and
then went home. People worked too much, some going to extreme and dying from overwork; then
they would be considered heroes by some – dedicated workers for dying a noble death for the sake
of the company. That was such a crazy, fanatic attitude! Om Shinrikyo now had twenty-two
centers in Japan and growing, plus one in Bonn, Germany, and one in New York City. They were
planning to start a center in Kandy, here in Sri Lanka. Master Shoko Asahara also wanted to start a
Buddhist radio station in Sri Lanka, and he was intending to ask Ven. Anandamaitreya to help him
arrange a meeting with the President to discuss this project.
     Being skeptical by nature, I had misgivings about this Buddhist radio station idea but I didn’t
want to disturb the peace and calm we shared with an argument. A part of me wanted to caution
him of the danger of following a spiritual leader who promoted himself with claims of psychic
powers and how unhealthy and misleading it was to totally surrender yourself to a teacher – even
the Buddha hadn’t wanted people to blindly follow him. But another part of me felt that it wouldn’t
be polite and appropriate since I didn’t know him well. And it was unlikely he would appreciate
my misgivings since he would have a strong sense of loyalty. However, I felt it was okay to speak
about the Dharma and how the Buddha had wished for people to question what he said and not
accept things on blind faith, how he didn’t want to be an absolute authority figure as this tended to
breed corruption, power, confusion and further delusion; how he’d wanted people to think for
themselves, to understand the Dharma from their own experience. By telling Hiroshi about the
Buddha’s way, I hoped he could better discern and question the ways of Shoko Asahara. After all,
he was a heart specialist from the top medical school in Japan; surely he had enough intelligence to
see through Shoko Asahara’s game sooner or later.
      I slowly walked him back to the temple building while listening to the birds in the silence of
the early evening. Jupiter could be seen in the vast and darkening blue sky, bright and sparkling. I
mentioned how much I liked Japanese classical music, especially the Shakuhachi bamboo flute,
and how I was inspired earlier by reading books on Zen Buddhism and Japanese culture, and by
practicing Zen meditation. He smiled with mild surprise. Hiroshi gave me his card and said that if
I should come to Japan, I must call him at the medical clinic in Tokyo. It sounded like a good idea.
I had made a spiritual friend whom I could visit in Japan. The car with his companions was ready
to leave. We bowed to one another, palms held together, and then shook hands. I wished him a safe
journey back to Colombo and Japan. Then he and the media crew were gone.
      I thought that one day, within five years, I would meet him again with his family in Tokyo and
that he would be able to show me around his interesting country. However, the next time I was to
see him was in a photograph in Newsweek magazine three years later. He was being lead away in
handcuffs by the Tokyo police, wearing a blue plastic rain jacket and looking very guilty, dazed,

                                                 11
confused and disbelieving. He was being arrested as an accomplice in the releasing of sarin nerve
gas in the Tokyo subway system by members of the “doomsday cult” Om Shinrikyo. Twelve train
passengers were killed and hundreds injured by the deadly gas. Wow! I shock my head in shock
and disbelief. The worst possible scenario of a cultish spiritual organization had indeed been
actualized!
      Crazy buggers, I thought. I took out the card Hiroshi had given me three years earlier in Sri
Lanka, matched his name with the one in the magazine caption, and continued to shake my head in
disbelief and sadness. I couldn’t help feeling compassion for him despite what he was involved in.
Even with his medical education and training, he wasn’t able to free himself from the unhealthy
influence of a deluded cult leader posing as an enlightened Master. I read his name and address
while re-reading the magazine article, and looked at his pathetic photo with the police. I felt
strange that I was connected to him somehow through memory, past experience and his name card.
Then I slowly tore up the card thinking that I wouldn’t be meeting him in Tokyo after all. So it goes
in this world of ignorance and delusion.
     The deluded and ambitious “Japanese Buddha” turned out to be more deluded and ambitious
than anyone could have imagined. But, at least, his grand scheme had failed. Later, I read that
Hiroshi was spared the death sentence and given a life sentence due to his full cooperation with the
police to uncover the devious operation and mission of Om Shinrikyo and its power structure.
Thus, without much difficulty, the police were able to find Shoko Asahara and other leading
members hiding at their compound at the foot of Mount Fuji. What had begun as a seemingly
innocent spiritual organization offering classes in Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism, hatha yoga
and meditation ended up being a murderous doomsday cult with intentions of expanding globally
and producing a new kind of society in Japan.
     Less than a week after they had visited the rural temple in Sri Lanka, it suddenly dawned on
me what the missing piece of the puzzle was regarding the unlikely leader of this fast-growing
religious movement. The missing piece of the puzzle regarding the religious cult leader initially
seemed so far-fetched, so unlikely, that it took me another two days to accept that it was true and
not just wishful thinking on my part. In early 1980, I returned to Calcutta from Thailand and Hong
Kong, and I began to volunteer at the Home of the Dying Destitutes, founded by Mother Theresa,
while staying at a cheap traveller’s hostel. One evening after work, I was relaxing on the patio
upstairs, and I happened to meet a young Japanese traveller, who was having mental problems
from ingesting too many magic mushrooms in Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia. Remember him?
Remember he was having difficulty sleeping due to the after-effects of the drug, and I had advised
him to leave Calcutta and go north to Darjeeling so he could rest and recuperate in the cool,
peaceful climate of the tea estates and the surrounding mountains? Well, that young
mentally-disturbed Japanese traveller eventually became Master Shoko Asahara, the blind,
megalomaniac religious leader of Om Shinrikyo some years later. I still have to shake my head
when I make the connection and the random chance of meeting interesting, if not potentially
dangerous, people on the road.
    Apparently, the young traveller had followed my suggestion and had gone to Darjeeling to
recuperate from his mental trouble, during which time he met Kalu Rinpoche and began studying
some aspects of Tibetan Buddhism from him. The future Shoko Asahara also began to study
Theravada Buddhism from a book he picked up. He also learned some basic yoga postures,
breathing exercises and meditation from a Hindu yoga teacher. Apparently, he visited Darjeeling
several times over the next few years while conducting yoga-meditation classes in Japan.
According to their published literature, “Master Shoko Asahara attained Supreme Enlightenment,

                                                 12
like Shakamuni Buddha 2500 years ago, after eight years of strenuous practice in the Himalaya
Mountains.” With this caption, there is a photo of him in flowing robes standing and looking at the
mountain range in the distance, giving the impression of someone who was serene, wise and
detached from the world of confusion, hatred and greed – looks are deceiving indeed!
    The use of the term “strenuous practice” is misleading. It was obviously used by Shoko
Asahara to impress those who were inexperienced. Those with experience and right understanding
would realize that it implies wrong effort and wrong practice, because it is based on a strong
craving to achieve, to become, to have. Right Effort and Right Practice is learning to let go of
becoming and learning how to be which is the right, harmonious path towards wisdom and peace.
The ascetic Gautama had to give up the strenuous practice of self-mortification and follow the
Middle Way, the path of moderation, calmness and patience in order for him to experience
awakening and wisdom.
     His public claim of attaining Supreme Enlightenment like Shakyamuni Buddha and having
special powers shows, not only his lack of wisdom and humility, but an intense desire for fame,
power, and the domination of others: an indication of a deep-seated insecurity and fear of being a
nobody in a society based on conformity, material success, and total loyalty. It has been speculated
that the root of his insecurity and driving ambition originated with his inability to pass the entrance
exams to a university and so he considered himself a failure, a nobody special, someone who
couldn’t be a company man working in an office. He would have to be a factory worker doing hard
physical work for 12 to 15 hours a day. This gave him an inferiority complex and a big chip on his
shoulder.
    Using the Japanese know-how for marketing and promoting products, Shoko Asahara had
been promoting himself as a great spiritual teacher by visiting well-known spiritual teachers in
India, Sri Lanka and southeast Asia and having photos and video recordings taken. These were
published along with captions saying what a great spiritual teacher and leader Master Shoko
Asahara was of the Japanese people – yes, fame and credibility by association. He had visited my
mentor’s temple because of Ven. Anandamaitreya’s fame and reputation and his association with
President Premadasa of Sri Lanka. They never started a Buddhist radio station in Sri Lanka. When
he was notified of their proposal, the president asked his secretary to contact the Japanese Embassy
in Colombo to find out about this “Buddhist” organization, and he was told that they were a
controversial group in Japan and that their blind leader was most eccentric and ambitious. The
president was advised not to allow them to start a radio station in the country.
     Some weeks after they visited Ven. Anandamaitreya in 1992, I happened to be listening to SW
radio and discovered that Om Shinrikyo had begun broadcasting a program on Radio Moscow, and
it became obvious that their intention was not to promote Buddhism but rather to promote Shoko
Asahara as the new Japanese Buddha. Later, I read that many young Russians had joined Om
Shinrikyo after the break up of the Soviet Union as they were starving for any kind of spirituality.
Apparently, the organization had bought arms from members of the Soviet Army to be used in
their grand scheme. In the end it turned out to be a classic case of “the blind leading the blind.”
      Shoko Asahara’s intention was to change Japanese society from an industrial, consumer one
to a more simple spiritual society, with him at the helm. And being anxious, deluded and overly
ambitious, he wanted this change to take place as soon as possible: patience and the Middle Way of
the Buddha was not his cup of tea despite his fantastic claims. Om Shinrikyo expected to run in
local elections, expected to win, and to then proceed to implement this change. Being the new
Japanese Buddha, Jesus Christ and Bodhisattva of Compassion, he saw this as his special mission
in life; he saw himself as someone not unlike one of the Japanese comic book heroes that are
                                                  13
popular among young readers. But the organization and ideas were too strange for the mainstream
Japanese – even the idea that a religious group would run for election was viewed as bizarre and
suspicious – and so they lost the election.
    This was when Shoko Asahara decided to take his plan underground; he was not going to let go
of his mission. Since he couldn’t change Japanese society through political means, he and Om
Shinrikyo would have to take over the government by force, by illegal means. His doomsday plan
was to wipe out all government members working in the downtown area, the “old order,” using
sarin nerve gas, and then take over the leadership and create a “new order.” He and his senior
members would organize Om Shinrikyo into different ministries like a normal government and run
the show. This plan did seem to come straight out of a comic book, didn’t it? There’s no limit to
human ignorance and delusions of grandeur. It’s fitting yet ironic that they would choose extreme
measures to change a society that is known for extreme behaviour.
     On the surface, Om Shinrikyo continued offering classes in Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism,
yoga and meditation, while some of their young, scientific minds were making sarin nerve gas in a
secret laboratory. And their centers continued to attract young people, mainly university students
and professionals, who were dissatisfied with the way the society was going – mindless
consumerism, long working days, and very short holidays. It is very likely that the majority of its
members were unaware of the devious plot waiting to unfold. One woman did not like their
fanatical attitude and their cult-like worship of the blind leader and tried to leave the group. She
was pressured and harassed so badly to stay that she asked her lawyer brother for help. Apparently,
Shoko Asahara’s henchmen ended up killing him and his small family and cremated their remains
in the basement of their compound. These murders took place even before their Sri Lankan visit in
1992. Before the Tokyo subway incident in 1995, they had managed to kill a few more people,
who did not see eye-to-eye with their plans and ideas.
     They first released the nerve gas in a town north of Tokyo as a trial run, an experiment, to test
the potency of the gas. It killed two or three people and injured quite a few. The police and citizens
were horrified and mystified as to who could have done such a crazy and cruel thing. The police
were under such a great deal of pressure to catch the culprits that they arrested and accused many
innocent individuals, including the husband of a woman who had been injured by the gas. The
second release of the gas in Tokyo several weeks later was meant be another trial run before the
“big day,”only this time the police quickly connected the crime to Om Shinrikyo.
     Shoko Asahara and the main perpetrators have been tried and given the death sentence.
Hiroshi and a few others were given life sentences. It would be interesting to interview them and to
find out what they now think and feel in retrospect. I would like to visit Hiroshi in prison and have
a long discussion with him. I still think of him with compassion because I’d spent some time with
him. I have to ask the question whether he was brainwashed into thinking and believing that his
actions were correct and beneficial for the future of Japan, or did he know that it was crazy but
wasn’t strong enough to disobey Shoko Asahara’s orders under the threat and fear of death for his
family and himself? If it’s the latter case then it must have come as a tremendous relief to sit and
confess everything without holding anything back. In the end that did indeed saved him from the
death sentence.
    I recall what most surviving members of the Nazi Party said when asked during their trial why
they did what they did, and they flatly replied: “I was only following orders.” This answer might
seem a cop-out for being irresponsible and inhumane, but I think in most cases people followed
orders, however cruel and irrational, simply out of fear, the fear of being punished and the fear of
death for resisting the wishes of a power structure. Since fear is one of the strongest of our mental
                                                 14
states, besides anger, it is no wonder that people use fear to control and influence others. During
wartime, for instance, soldiers were constantly reminded that the only punishment for army
deserters was death. Interestingly, anger can sometimes cause us to overcome our fear due to its
powerful and all-consuming nature.
     It has been said that the guru, the authority figure, destroys the disciple and the disciple
destroys the guru. The guru destroys the disciple when the disciple is prevented from questioning
and finding out the truth for himself through intelligence, intuitive wisdom and common sense.
The disciple destroys the guru when the guru is given authority and power, which causes the guru
to become deluded, arrogant, greedy and self-centered. The disciple who blindly accepts the
guru’s authority prevents the guru from being humble, mindful and wise. The Buddha didn’t wish
to be a traditional guru but rather wished to be a spiritual friend; he didn’t want people to blindly
accept what he said but encouraged enquiry, rational thinking, and self-understanding.
     Shoko Asahara and his disciples managed to destroy each other due mainly to ignorance and
delusion, craving and attachment. If the self-crazed guru wasn’t also suffering from hatred and
ill-will, he wouldn’t have proposed those irrational plans and demanded that his disciples obey
them unquestioningly. So, how did this man have so much influence, power and authority over
young, intellectual, bright people? Because they gave him those powers, because they blindly
accepted what he said and they blindly carried out his orders. Naturally, he had to depend on his
close followers to see that his ideas and commands were obeyed and implemented. Some of them
became his henchmen, the more zealous and aggressive the better. As I write this, I cannot help
recalling certain movies I’ve seen in the past with a cult leader and his zealous, aggressive
henchmen trying to control a group of confused and fearful followers, and a handful of them
wanting to escape their evil clutches and influence. Remember those movies?
     Because his disciples blindly accepted that their Master had attained Supreme Enlightenment,
Shoko Asahara began to truly believe that he’d attained Supreme Enlightenment like the Buddha.
Because his disciples blindly accepted that their Master had psychic powers, Shoko Asahara began
to believe that he indeed had these powers. Likewise, he began to believe his claim of being the
new Japanese Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Bodhisattva of Compassion; that he was truly the Saviour
of the Japanese People; that he was divine, omnipotent, and so on. By being loyal and obedient
disciples, they unwittingly gave him the power, influence and authority to control and manipulate
them: ignorance and delusion breeding further ignorance and delusion.
     It is said that people often get the leader they deserve, political, spiritual or otherwise. In the
case of Shoko Asahara and Om Shinrikyo, this is indeed true. They blindly accepted and believed
in him because they were too eager to attain Supreme Enlightenment and possess special psychic
powers like their Master had done. This cult-like worship of their leader only fed into the pool of
ignorance and delusion, craving and clinging, hatred and ill-will. An aspect of this worship was the
belief that drinking some of his bath water would give health benefits and spiritual abilities. Also,
possessing parts of his body – mainly his hair, nail and toe clippings – would have certain benefits.
He encouraged them to practice certain austerities like the ascetic Gotama before he became the
Buddha. When the police raided their compound at the foot of Mount Fuji, they found in the
basement some disciples in various stages of prolonged fasting and other forms of bodily
mortification.
    One can only imagine what was going through the mind of Shoko Asahara; his ideas and his
images. His power of imagination must have been tremendous and vivid indeed, hence his very
high degree of delusion. Also, one can only imagine his mental states during and after his arrest,
detainment, and interrogation. Apparently, it was extremely traumatic and humiliating for him to
                                                  15
be treated as an insane criminal after being treated by many as the Divine Saviour of Japan, since
he felt godlike and above the law. They said he was quite belligerent and arrogant, very
un-Buddha-like, and he didn’t want them to touch him since he though of himself to be supremely
divine and holy. And he definitely didn’t want them to cut off his long hair and beard since that
terrible act would be sacrilege, to destroy his special image of being the Supreme Enlightened
Master. I can only hope that he’ll learn some humility and find some peace of mind before he’s put
to death some years in the future.
    Meanwhile, some of their centers continue to exist but the name ‘Om Shinrikyo’ has been
sensibly changed. With Shoko Asahara and his henchmen out of the way, they are now following a
much more moderate path.


March 9, 2000
     Today I’m not in the mood to write: the mind is tired, unclear and uninspired. I see that the
creative energy is also subject to change and impermanence and is therefore uncertain and
unreliable. No hurry, no worry. I know that this mental state is also impermanent –this too shall
pass – and I know that the creative energy will arise again, no doubt. No think, no problem. It’s
another warm humid day in Malaysia. I listen for peals of thunder in the distance, for the coming of
the cooling rain.


March 10, 2000
     Today I’m staying in and reading about the life of the Buddha from the book, Old Path, White
Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s a long, wonderful read, and I’m inspired to light some Indian
incense and listen to classical ragas on tape, played on bamboo flute, sitar, sarod, and vocals. The
meditative quality of the music invokes the ancient spiritual tradition of the subcontinent and
memories of my early experiences with yoga asanas and meditation practice after my first visit to
India. And one can easily enter this unique mood and appreciate one of the finest aspects of Indian
culture without having to be in the country, without having to deal with its hardships and
challenges. There is awe and amazement, bliss and timeless mystery.
     In the evening, Sam comes over for a yoga session and to hear about my India experience. Yip
and Chow invite him to stay for dinner. He has to go to Malacca tomorrow so he offers to give me
a ride to Muar on the way so I don’t have to take the bus. It seems like ages now since he came to
meet me at the airport last December. Time and memory are such interesting and spooky aspects of
human consciousness.


March 12, 2000
     I’m now in the town of Muar, not far from the historic city of Malacca, and I’m staying with a
friend who’s involved in the Dhamma. Interestingly, he says I look younger than before. Others
agree. This makes me curious, so I check my image in the mirror, and yes I do look younger than
before I went to India simply because I’ve lost weight during the past two months. My face is
thinner and more youthful looking. I laugh at this image because I know that it’s only a temporary
appearance and physical state. In a few weeks this face will expand with good, clean food, and the
youthful look will be no more. This face is constantly changing its appearance. This is the nature of


                                                 16
the body; it’s impermanent, uncertain and empty of a permanent self. To be obsessed with one’s
physical appearance is to experience mental suffering and worry.
     Someone brings a young man to see me. He’s nineteen years old, grew up on a rubber estate,
and has been having mental problems since he was about thirteen. While speaking with him, I
come to learn that his mental condition is mainly due to the fact that he didn’t have someone to
speak with when he began to worry and think too much as a young teenager. His parents, being
traditional Chinese, didn’t encourage heart-to-heart conversation. His mother, who might have
been more compassionate and understanding, was too busy with helping on the estate and looking
after his younger siblings. So he spent a great deal of time alone, worrying and thinking, feeling
increasingly isolated, sad and confused, and unable to deal with his mental states. His parents
thought he was going mad, that he was possessed by a hungry ghost, and so they eventually took
him to a doctor who promptly put him on medication, which only made him groggy and lethargic.
The person who brought him to see me is a family friend. Could I help this young man?
      Being a travelling monk visiting temples and Buddhist Associations in Malaysia and
Singapore, I’m often seen as a kind of “witch doctor” with a magic wand, someone with special
powers capable of solving anyone’s problems. At times, I’m called upon to do this kind of service.
If I’m feeling tired or I have a virus, then the role of “wise monk” helps me to overcome inertia,
irritation and moodiness and to bring me to a state of patience, loving kindness and acceptance. I
remember another occasion in a small town, I was feeling hot, tired and irritable when they
brought a very distraught lady to see me in the hope for a miracle. She claimed that she had been
robbed of her life-savings by a cunning lady who worked as a teller at the bank. Could I help her
somehow with this awful dilemma? My initial reaction was feeling that I was having a very bad
and anxious dream, that I was being put in a difficult situation involving a great deal of anguish,
anxiety and fear. What could I do? I listened patiently as she related her story, how she had come to
know this friendly and talkative teller at her bank, how they became friends and started to meet for
lunch at least once a week, and how this cunning lady had come to steal her savings by cleverly
removing all evidence of her savings account from the computer records. Even the bank manager,
she claimed, was fooled by this lady. Fortunately for me, there were four members of the Buddhist
Association present to also listen and give advice to this traumatized lady. I could only listen with
compassion and nod my head in agreement with my friends’ comments and advice.
     So, here I am with this mentally disturbed young man from the rubber estate. I explain to him
the benefits of mind training and mindfulness, and I proceed to show him some dynamic forms of
meditation to help focus and calm his confused mind. It would be impossible for him to sit and
watch his breathing. We do some simple chi gong exercises [co-ordinating breathing and
movement of the arms and legs], also walking meditation [co-ordinating breathing and movement
of the feet] and the rhythmic movement of the hands while seated. This latter practice was taught
by Luang Por Teean of Thailand and it’s a very interesting, effective way of focusing the mind in
the present moment and awakening mindfulness. For the average person, this rhythmic movement
of the hands is easy to learn, but for this young man it is quite difficult to stay focused even for five
seconds. It is amazing to see a nineteen-year-old behaving like an elderly person suffering from
Alzheimer’s Disease. I spend over an hour with him repeating several times the hand movements,
the chi gong exercises and the walking meditation. I explain to the family friend that he needs to do
daily exercise and physical work plus these dynamic forms of mindfulness in order for him to “get
out of his mind.”
    This case reminds me of a young lady I met some years ago while I was visiting a Chinese
temple in Malacca. She was having mental problems and had no idea how to deal with them. She

                                                   17
said she had been able to see the ghost of a little boy since early childhood, and that she could see
him now, as we were speaking. She described what he looked like and the clothes he was wearing.
Her darting eyes and tense forehead betrayed a very agitated, confused and deluded mind. I told
her that this ghost was just a figment of her imagination, but this was too difficult for her to accept
as she identified so strongly with the image. As a young girl, the little boy became her imaginary
friend, and being neglected and lonely, she depended on him to keep her company in times of
solitude; her imagination ran wild.
      To draw attention to herself, she would boast about her little friend to her parents, brothers and
schoolmates, and it made her feel special and important. As she grew older, it gave her a sense of
comfort and security to believe that her imaginary friend actually existed despite what others said –
such is the power of mental clinging and delusion. One day her parents, being superstitious, told
her that the little boy must be a ghost since she was seeing him all the time, so she began to believe
that her imaginary friend was indeed a ghost. And telling people that she could see the ghost of a
little boy, she had found an easy and effective way of impressing others of her special psychic
power. She was indeed a sad and lonely person.
     As we were speaking, she would drift off into an imaginary world and speak of things totally
unrelated to our conversation. Using a rolled-up magazine, I would tap her gently on her forehead
and say, “Please come back to the present moment, OK?” She laughed a little, then continued to
speak, and she would soon go off on another tangent. I would tap her on the forehead again and
again to bring her back to present reality. This is how our conversation went, funny yet interesting.
I was able to show her some of the dynamic practices in mindfulness and, like the young man from
the rubber estate, she found it difficult to focus her mind.


March 15, 2000
     I’m now in the island state of Singapore and staying with a friend and his wife in their
apartment flat. Most people here live in similar apartment buildings as in Hong Kong. I have a
14-day permit stamped in my passport, having crossed the Causeway Bridge from Johor Bharu,
Malaysia; you get a 30-day permit if you arrive by air. In Johor Bharu, I used to visit a Theravada
Buddhist center called Metta Lodge, but this time I only visited a friend who wanted to hear about
my visit to India and Thailand; he also appreciates the Dharma and Indian classical music.
      Singapore is clean, modern, hi-tech, impressive, and expensive, compared to Malaysia and
Thailand. It is also busy and stressful, proud, tropical, hot and humid, with many beautiful plants
and trees. It is an interesting place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. During a previous visit,
a Sri Lankan monk had asked me to stay and help him, but I declined even though he would have
helped me to get a one-year resident visa. It’s an artificial environment with lots of
air-conditioning. For a country just one degree north of the equator, people are moving much too
fast for their own good. The pace of life is similar to that of a large North American or European
city. I’m not surprised that some couples are choosing not to have children. Some are now
immigrating to Australia where they find a life that is more relaxed and less controlled.
     When I first visited Singapore in 1988 for a week’s holiday from development work in Sri
Lanka, I enjoyed the food, shopping, and the colourful Chinese temples with their devotional
chanting, the smell of sandalwood incense, and the free vegetarian meals offered by the devotees.
I was to visit again the following two years as a layman. When I next visited Singapore as a monk
in 1994 I knew it was going to be a very different experience than before. And indeed it was. I got
the same 14-day permit and I first stayed in an apartment with two local Chinese monks ordained

                                                   18
in Thailand. The highway was close by and so the traffic noise was persistent in the background.
Although the monks were well supported by kind devotees, they said that staying in an apartment
in a busy city environment was not really conducive to the holy life. Sometimes they would visit
rural retreat centers in Thailand and Malaysia but they could only stay for short periods.
Sometimes they would visit India and Indonesia on pilgrimage.
     Then I stayed with a monk of the Mahayana tradition in another apartment not far from the
Causeway Bridge. He was supported by a small group of young professionals and students whom
he’d met while staying at his master’s temple. This monk specialized in Early Buddhism and had
studied at a college in Taiwan. He was energetic, friendly and hospitable but sometimes he became
too critical of others, which later created conflict with other Buddhists in Singapore and within his
own mind. Mental defilements are indeed the source of our suffering, conflict and dis-ease. He was
to disrobe before my last visit in early 1998.
     I got to meet his students for a talk and discussion, and he arranged two talks for me at the
Buddhist Library and at the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society. These were well received.
Through these gatherings I met some practitioners who would come to the apartment for delightful
discussions. During this visit I also met a devotee on the street who offered to take me to a large
Chinese temple complex where I’d previously visited as a lay traveller. He took a whole roll of
film and kindly offered me the prints so that I could remember the experience with him. At the
apartment he would later come for yoga relaxation sessions and beneficial discussions. Like most
working people in Singapore, he, too, was suffering from a great deal of stress and he had a small
family to support. I was to stay with this Mahayana monk two more times during my visit to SE
Asia during 1994-95.
     My friend and his wife are experiencing a lot of worry and anxiety concerning a medical
condition of his wife’s and so we are doing chi gong exercises every morning, yoga asanas in the
afternoons, and meditation in the evenings. They find these sessions most beneficial and relaxing.
Chi gong [energy practice] is a series of gentle physical movements in coordination with the
breath, with mental and spiritual intent. It is calming, rejuvenating and assists the body and mind to
maintain balance and relieve mental-emotional stress. It is good for chronic conditions like
diabetes and high blood pressure, even depression, and it helps to counteract the symptoms of
radiation and chemotherapy. The stretching and meditative movements performed can gently
stimulate the body and center the mind, thus creating a focused and relaxed awareness.
    Through a doctor I know, I meet a Buddhist group at the National University Hospital,
consisting of medical students and young doctors. They are all very bright academically but very
busy and stressed. After the talk and discussion, I show them some dynamic forms of mindfulness
similar to some of the chi gong exercises for stress release and relaxation. Afterwards they take me
to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner and further discussion. The doctors tell me that they usually
have only five minutes with each patient, not enough time for a decent chat, which most patients
would like to have. The good old days of the friendly family doctor are long gone. One doctor is
keen to visit me to learn some chi gong and to seek a deeper understanding of meditation practice
and the irrational nature of the thinking process.
    Through the same doctor, I also meet a father whose young son has liver cancer. The boy is
nine years old and has been in the hospital for a year undergoing treatment. The father is a nominal
Buddhist and his wife is a Christian. All the congregation at her church, including the priest, have
been praying for the child’s recovery. At his wife’s request, he even converted to Christianity to
help pray for their son. However, he didn’t feel comfortable with Christianity so, after some
weeks, he stopped praying with the church group, despite his obvious wish for his son’s return to
                                                 19
good health. They also have a twelve year old daughter who’s healthy and doing well in school.
The father comes to see me in the hope of having a better understanding of the Buddha’s teaching
which will help him deal better with the family crisis.
   “Why would such a young, innocent child, eight years old, get such a serious illness as liver
cancer?” he asks wearily, “It must be past karma, something bad that he did in his past life, no?”
    This explanation about past karma from past lives doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s a
common idea held by many traditional Buddhists in SE Asia, an idea or belief that I don’t agree
with. I look at this concerned father with compassion, and say, “Your son is sick simply because he
was born. Sickness, ageing and death begin at birth, also hunger, thirst and tiredness. You and your
wife wanted to have a son and so you both gave him a physical body which is subject to sickness,
ageing and death. This is the way it is.”
    “But why liver cancer?” he asks worried and mystified.
    “The Buddha taught that all conditioned existence manifest and eventually disintegrate due to
certain causes and conditions. I would say that your son’s genetic makeup is the main cause of the
cancer, considering his young age. This physical body does not really belong to us; it belongs to
nature and its changing conditions. You can say that it’s on temporary loan from nature. The
Buddha taught non-self: the body-mind process or phenomenon doesn’t contain a permanent,
concrete and separate self or ego personality.”
    “I’ve never heard this kind of teaching before.” he replies somewhat surprised.
    “The Buddha taught that if we identify and cling to this body and mind with its
feelings/sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness, as a self, or as belonging to
a self, as ‘me’ or ‘mine,’ then we will only experience suffering and conflict. So your son doesn’t
really belong to you and your wife; he belongs to you in name only. Like us, he too belongs to
nature and composed of the four elements. And even if he should recover from this disease, he will
have to die eventually from either old age, or an accident or perhaps another illness, right? This is
just the way things are, it cannot be otherwise. By the way, how is his mental state?” I ask.
    “Actually, he’s quite accepting and relaxed despite the occasional physical discomfort,” he
replies smiling, “he’s not as worried and anxious as his mother and I.”
    “Yes, children tend to be more accepting of sickness and death because their sense of self is not
as strong, concrete and separate; they intuitively feel more a part of nature and the natural flow of
things, adults tend to feel more separate and independent from the intricate web of
interdependence and interconnectedness of life, hence they try to resist and go against the flow and
stream of life which results in mental conflict.”
   “How can I help him as a father?” he asks thoughtfully.
    “I think what is most important is that he’s comfortable and that you spend time with him,
talking and laughing together and sharing in his hobbies, and taking things one day at a time. What
are his hobbies?”
    “Actually, he likes to draw and paint and listen to stories,” he replies. “It’s interesting that you
should mention about taking things one day at a time because before he got sick I used to think a lot
about his future, about his formal education, what high school and university he should attend, his
professional career, and so on. And now with his future looking so uncertain, all of my future
projections and plans for him have become unimportant. I can only think about him getting well,
that’s all.”

                                                  20
    “Yes, in our modern world, we tend to take things for granted and so we get caught up with our
future plans, ambitions, hopes and dreams. We get greedy and fuss and complain about so many
things that are not really important. Or we have a lot of regrets and suffer from guilt or resentment.
We suffer from ignorance and delusion. People who have to struggle to survive on a daily basis are
naturally less inclined to take things for granted or to be obsessed about the future or the past,
right? Of course, it’s normal to have certain goals in life but they should be only tentative ideas, not
fixed, concrete plans that we must fulfill. Otherwise we are asking for a lot of suffering – anxiety,
frustration, disappointment, fear, depression and sorrow, right? Life is indeed uncertain, only
death is certain.”


March 18, 2000
     It’s another warm, humid day in modern, equatorial Singapore. I have a fan and
air-conditioning in my room, plus a cassette player and radio, so I shouldn’t complain. I enjoy
listening to the BBC and Dhamma talks of Godwin Samararatne on tape, recorded at the Buddha
Dhamma Mandala Society [BDMS] where I’ve also given talks. Godwin is from Sri Lanka and a
lay meditation teacher who is well liked and respected. He’s tall, elegant, calm, unhurried, gentle,
soft-spoken; he appreciates silence, spiritual inquiry, and the beauty of nature. His peace and
compassion is a blessing for those who encounter his simple, unassuming presence.
     Doing chi gong exercises in a hot, humid climate has its benefits apart from health and
relaxation. Although I’m soaking wet by the end of it, I have good energy and clarity afterwards. If
one just sits around in this climate one ends up feeling tired, dull and lethargic.
     Today is an interesting day as it offers me the opportunity to practice ‘letting go’ and
non-attachment. Two people I know in Singapore have declined to see me for totally different
reasons and I have to accept their decision. If I take this personally, then I’ll only experience hurt
feelings and the pain of rejection; if I practice loving kindness and compassion, acceptance and
non-clinging, then there is peace and the freedom of non-self and emptiness. Friendships are also
subject to change and uncertainty. Although I would like to see them again, perhaps for
self-centered reasons, I know that I have to let go of that desire – live and learn. One of these
former friends is the former Mahayana monk whom I used to stay with and who later disrobed in
1997. The other is someone I’d met at a large Chinese temple during my first visit to Singapore in
1988 while I was on a week’s holiday from development work in Sri Lanka. His name is Wong.
     Wong was a misfit in Singapore’s competitive society because he had not finished high
school. This was due to problems at home. When I met him he was doing temporary work in
computer data processing at various companies. However, these assignments were few and far
between since he wasn’t a qualified programmer. He had always wanted to be a high school
teacher but to finish high school and then obtain a university degree and a teaching diploma
seemed an almost unreachable goal. Needless to say, he was unhappy, frustrated and lonely. He
was relieved and happy to meet me, a foreigner from Canada, and to show me around Singapore,
especially the Chinese temples where we could observe the chanting ceremonies and partake of the
free and delicious vegetarian meals. He also took me to a Tibetan Buddhist Center where he
occasional attended classes and ceremonies, and to the public library where we listened to
recordings of Indian classical music and Tibetan chanting, plus looked at large picture books on
Buddhism. For Wong, Tibetan Buddhism offered a mystical world of esoteric teachings, exotic
ceremonies and colourful religious art – a temporary escape from his unfulfilled life in this fast,


                                                  21
materialistic environment of shopping centers, apartment blocks, office buildings, and noisy,
intense traffic.
    He didn’t have much of a home life: he stopped having meals with his family; he only slept
there. He would leave the apartment early morning and return late at night so he wouldn’t have to
meet the younger brother whose behaviour had disrupted his high school education and prevented
him from graduating. This brother was a deaf mute prone to throwing temper tantrums, which
prevented Wong from studying at home. He had been studying instead at another student’s
apartment when possible, or at the library, or at a temple where he could conveniently have free
meals. Since these places were far away from his home and, not having enough pocket money to
take public transportation, he had been walking long distances every day. This physical hardship
had caused him to become increasingly angry and resentful of his brother and parents, which had
affected his ability to concentrate on his schoolwork and so he had been unable to graduate.
      When I first met Wong at the temple, he was studying some science notes in the hope of
getting the credits to complete his high school education. He was twenty-eight years old and his
situation was unfortunate indeed. I was able to buy him meals at the hawker food center while
appreciating his company, and to get him some new footwear, as his pair of running shoes were
badly worn and torn, which was unusual for a citizen of modern, affluent Singapore. The following
year I was to meet Wong again while on another holiday from work in Sri Lanka. I was very
stressed at the time.
    When I saw Wong this second time, he was working as a part-time caddy at the golf club and
he was happier. He was making steady money so he could afford to take buses, have meals where
he wished and treat himself to new clothes and footwear. And he was close to completing his high
school diploma. Again, we visited two or three temples, listened to the chanting, read Dharma
books in their library and ate delicious vegetarian meals with the devotees. When I met him a third
time the following year [1990], my work contract in Sri Lanka was over and I was doing some
travelling before I was to take ordination back in Sri Lanka.
     At the time my mentor was still in the USA and I had to wait for his return. I had already
visited India and Nepal, and I had flown to Singapore on route to the Indonesian islands of
Sumatra, Java and Bali. As before, Wong was happy to see me although he had some
disappointing news. He had at last received his high school diploma – which was the good news –
but then he found out that he could not become a primary school teacher with this diploma
because, being over thirty years of age, he was now too old to apply. He had been on the verge of
becoming a schoolteacher, his life’s dream, and he had missed it by a few months – so near and yet
so far! Understandably, he was terribly frustrated and unhappy. At least, he still had the caddy job
at the golf club. His home situation was still the same; he was still only going back to the apartment
to sleep.
    “Why don’t you come to Sri Lanka and become a monk since you don’t have much of a life
here,” I suggested, “I can help you with the air-fare when you’re ready.”
    “In Sri Lanka they have Theravada Buddhism and I want to have the freedom to do my Tibetan
practices.” he said firmly and seriously; his mind clearly was full of tension, conflict and clinging.
    “That’s not a problem,” I said, “after you have learned the essential teachings of the Four
Noble Truths, the Three Characteristics of Existence, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, and
Dependent Origination, and have a good understanding of meditation practice, mind training and
cultivation, you can do your Tibetan practices in the privacy of your room or kuti, no problem.”


                                                 22
   “If I decide to become a monk, I want to take ordination in the Tibetan tradition,” he replied
with conviction and blind attachment.
    “Well, you can go to India and ordain in that tradition but it’s not easy to get a long-term visa to
stay there and you would have to return to Singapore after only a few months in order to apply for
another Indian visa. In Sri Lanka, it’s easy to get a resident visa as a monk and you can extend it
every year, no problem.”
    “If I leave Singapore, I don’t want to come back here,” he said firmly.
     “Anyway, you can think about it, OK?” I replied, trying to show him an option to his unhappy,
unfulfilled life in Singapore. Later, when I thought over this idea, I realized that Wong would have
a lot of difficulty adjusting to monkhood in Sri Lanka simply because of his mental state and
obscurations.
     Two months later, after my visit to Indonesia, I saw Wong again. I was exhausted from the
humid heat, traffic pollution and second-hand smoke, and my breathing had become painful on the
boat ride from Jakarta to Singapore. I worried that I might have lung cancer. I went to a doctor for
a checkup and he said to come back in a week for the results. I felt the need to go to a quiet place to
rest and recuperate, and also to come to terms with the possibility of having a terminal disease. So
I decided to go to Tioman island, off the east coast of Malaysia, not far from Singapore. Since
Wong had never been across the Causeway Bridge to Malaysia, not even for a day, I invited him to
join me for a holiday away from his dissatisfied life.
     We took the bus across the bridge to Johor Bharu, then another bus to Mersing on the east
coast of Malaysia, and then a boat to Tioman island, which looked like a South Pacific island. It’s
not surprising that the 1950s movie musical, South Pacific, was filmed here. The changes I saw on
the island after a year were noticeable: it was more expensive and commercialized, there were
more backpackers, and the beach was littered with plastic bags – some containing garbage – and
what was once a lovely sandy path running through the tropical landscape had been replaced by a
concrete walkway for foreign tourists. I had fond memories of the previous year staying in a cheap
A-frame hut and walking along the sandy path close to the shoreline, feeling relaxed and healthy,
and appreciating the tropical plants, flowers and coconut trees, the soothing ocean breeze and the
colours of the sunset. Plus having memories of childhood in Jamaica and enjoying inexpensive
meals at a village restaurant with a group of friendly travellers from England, New Zealand and
California.
     Wong and I stayed in an A-frame hut at another village on the island and we had meals at a
restaurant close by. The owners were very friendly and they allowed us to play the gamelan music
tapes I’d brought from Java and Bali, which everyone enjoyed. I considered doing some
yoga-meditation with Wong to help him deal with his stressed mental state but, unfortunately, I
was still feeling very weak and tired, and my breathing continued to be painful. However, he began
to feel more relaxed and calm after a few days on this beautiful, laid-back island, which was so
unlike the island state of his home country. I was able to do some snorkeling only once and I
wasn’t motivated to do much swimming, which was so unlike my tropical aquatic temperament –
such was the state of my physical condition and low energy level.
     However, I was happy to see Wong swimming, snorkeling and enjoying himself; he really
needed this break away from Singapore. Every evening, we laid on bamboo mats on the beach and
relaxed to the gentle sound of lapping waves and the sight of the stars in the Milky Way, discussing
the Dharma, the life of the Buddha, the realities of present-day India and the Buddhist cultures in
Thailand and Sri Lanka. But mostly we just listened to the silence and sounds of the tropical night

                                                  23
and slowly, slowly, my concern about possibly dying from lung cancer eventually became a
peaceful state of acceptance, gratitude and compassion.
      Initially, I saw having lung cancer as a sad and unfortunate obstacle to the next significant
stage in my life as a spiritual seeker [i.e. monkhood], and also a major cause of worry and
inconvenience for my family members. But laying on the beach at night, I began to reflect on my
life, how fortunate I had been, how I had been able to travel and to learn the Dharma and to have
many wonderful experiences, meeting many kind, interesting and creative people, plus finding
answers to questions that had haunted my inquiring childhood mind. I began to feel a liberating
sense of contentment, gratitude, compassion and joy. I felt that if I died without becoming a monk
in Sri Lanka, it would be perfectly fine. I felt free of regret and attachment. I saw that birth,
existence and death were just parts of a process in a much vaster and timeless reality or dimension.
Being on the beach, I found it easy to relax and expand my mind with spacious awareness out into
the vastness and timelessness of the universe, beyond measure, beyond thoughts, ideas, images or
emotions. Regarding the possibility of upsetting my family members and close friends, I realized
that they, too, had to face the fact of sickness, old age and death like everyone else. Life was indeed
a death sentence, a terminal condition.
     I was able to share these reflections with Wong. He said that it had been years since he had felt
so relaxed and peaceful. I mentioned that monkhood could give him a life of peace and
contentment and that eventually he would be able to teach and share the Dharma with others on the
spiritual path, but he would have to either let go of his strong attachment to the Tibetan tradition or
he would need to find a kind Tibetan lama who would be willing to support and take care of him.
But he was just not ready. Even though he was forced to live a life of simplicity on the material
level in Singapore, his mind was too complicated, tense and confused with worldly desires,
frustration, disappointment, resentment, bitterness, loneliness, isolation and despair, to consider a
life of simplicity and peace, and so I never brought the subject up again.
     During the last two days on the island, he helped me to clear up the plastic bags of garbage on
the beach. The locals told us that most of the garbage and plastic bags are left there by visitors from
Singapore where heavy fines were handed out for littering. Many Singaporeans take the greatest
pleasure in throwing litter when they come to Malaysia; they are like children on holiday away
from their strict school principal. This goes to show that proper education in environmental
awareness and care is more effective than imposing fear from the threat of heavy fines.
     Back in Singapore, I went to the doctor’s office for my test results fully prepared to hear that I
did indeed have lung cancer. Although my breathing was painful and my energy level was still
low, my mind was now calm and relaxed. The doctor read up and down the sheet of paper, smiled
and said, “Everything looks OK; there’s no need to worry: your lungs are just congested, that’s all,
nothing too serious.”
     “That’s good to hear,” I said calmly and relieved. He prescribed a bottle of decongestant for
the lungs, and when I returned to Sri Lanka I got another bottle a few weeks later. Eventually the
painful breathing was no more.
     Wong and I exchanged about three letters over the next two years and I told him about my life
as a monk in rural Sri Lanka. He told me about his bi-monthly trips across the Causeway Bridge to
Malaysia to walk around and do some shopping in Johor Bharu where things were much cheaper.
He was still going to the Tibetan Buddhist Center and still working at the Golf Club. Sometimes he
made good tips, especially from the Japanese businessmen who would play at the club. He seemed


                                                  24
a bit more content and I was happy for him. Once he sent me some Chinese tea and herbal
medicine for the cold virus.
     But then he stopped writing; he no longer answered my letters. I began to wonder if he did go
to Thailand or India and become a monk after all. Call it wishful thinking. Before I came to
Singapore this time, I wrote to him from Malaysia telling him that I was planning to visit
Singapore. Could he write back to let me know if he was still there, and if so, could we meet? No
reply. I was almost sure now that he did leave Singapore and become a monk somewhere.
However, once I arrived, his father informed me that he was still in Singapore but he’d gone out. I
left my contact number for him to return my call but he didn’t. This was unusual behaviour. What
was the matter with him, I wondered?
     Then this morning I called again at 8 o’clock hoping to catch him before he took off for the
day. His father said he was in the shower but would be out soon. Could I wait a minute? I waited
for two minutes. I could hear his father calling him to the phone.
   “Hello?” he said.
    “Hello, Wong. This is Kovida, the Buddhist monk. How are you? After a long time. Did you
get my letter from Malaysia?”
     “Yes, I got your letter but I must tell you that I’m not involved with Buddhism anymore,” he
replied dryly, discouragingly.
    “And why is that?” I asked surprised and curious.
     “Tell me, why do we need religion?” he said peevishly, “Religion is a waste of time. People
follow religion because they are weak and cannot think for themselves. Karl Marx had even said
that religion is the opium of the masses. Religion only controls people’s minds!”
    Wow! I thought. This guy sounds really angry, bitter and confused!
     “Well, as you ought to know,” I said calmly, “Buddhism is not really a religion in the
traditional sense. It’s a spiritual path based on self-inquiry, self-understanding and personal
experience; you don’t just accept things on blind faith. You’re obviously confused and lack proper
understanding of the Buddha’s way and teaching.”
   There was stunned silence for a few seconds.
    “Tell me, why do we need to follow someone who lived many centuries ago? This is the
twenty-first century, the modern world. Religion is not necessary. People pray to the Buddha or
Quan Yin or to God only because they are worried and afraid or because they want something.”
     This person is obviously not the Wong I used to know. Yes, people do change but this is a
drastic change indeed. I know that he has had a frustrating and unhappy life but he seemed to be
coping well when we last corresponded. He seemed to have snapped somehow and has become
anti-religious or anti-spiritual; it’s like he has been brainwashed but in reverse.
     “Yes, I’m aware that many Chinese worship the Buddha or Quan Yin as a god or supernatural
being and that they pray for good luck for the family or in business affairs. However, this kind of
devotional worship is suitable for those who lack the inquiring mind to follow the path of wisdom,
mental training and cultivation. Each person follows the path according to his or her nature and
temperament. If you have a decent understanding of the Dharma, you’ll know that you don’t
follow the Buddha blindly as some Saviour. The Buddha taught the Dharma, which is timeless
truth about the laws of nature and the way things are, including the human condition, human

                                                25
experience, human suffering and conflict, and he also taught a way out of suffering, using skillful
means in order to purify the mind of defilements [ignorance and delusion, craving and clinging,
hatred and ill-will] which are the causes of suffering. It’s a practical teaching, which is beneficial
in today’s fast, stressful, competitive and materialistic world. You sound so angry and bitter. I
know you’ve had a very difficult life but what made you turn so much against Buddhism? You
seem to be blaming your problems on Buddhism. That doesn’t sound very intelligent and rational.”
     “Let me tell you,” he said righteously, “I used to know this person. We used to meet at the
Tibetan Buddhist Center some years ago. He became interested in this tradition and he kept telling
me how he was going to become a monk, follow the Dalai Lama and other great lamas, and
become enlightened. And I really believed him. Then he stopped going to the center and I didn’t
see him again for about five years. I really believed that he had taken ordination in India and was
studying and training with the Dalai Lama or some other well-known Tibetan teacher. Then about
a year and a half ago, I ran into him at a shopping center and he had become a successful lawyer.
He was no longer interested in Buddhism. He had also married, they had a child and he had
become a Christian like his wife. I was so shocked and upset by this that I came to the conclusion
that Buddhism was totally useless – like all the other religions – and a complete waste of time.”
     “Well, people change all the time,” I said, “all conditioned existence is subject to change and
impermanence, that’s just the way life is. Just look at yourself, for example, you have changed
drastically since I last saw you, no? You have become an angry, bitter person; that’s suffering,
isn’t it? Your conclusion and present attitude about Buddhism and about religion in general are
most irrational and incorrect. Actually, the problem is not that that person became a lawyer and a
Christian instead of becoming a monk in the Tibetan tradition. The problem is your shattered
expectation of him, your mental clinging to a certain idea or image of him. And it’s possible that
you feel resentment and jealousy that he’s now a successful lawyer while you see yourself as a
failure in this society, yes? By the way, how is your caddy job at the golf club?” I asked, wanting to
change the subject.
    “The job is not going well these days,” he replied limply, sounding more subdued and less
bitter, “there are more people now working as caddies so they don’t call me as often and so I’m not
making much money.”
   “Well, would you like to get together for old time sakes?”
   “Ah no, I don’t think so,” he said, his voice betraying conflict, confusion and fear.
    “OK, Wong, you take care of yourself and try to let go of your anger and bitterness, OK?
Goodbye.” I said, feeling a lot of loving kindness and compassion for him. I couldn’t help thinking
of how the temples had offered him temporary sanctuary and free vegetarian meals over the years,
and how, because of his mental defilements, suffering and conflict, he might never set foot in those
temples again. That’s life.


March 27, 2000
     My 14-day permit is coming to an end. I plan to return to Malaysia the day after tomorrow and
visit the folks at the Buddhist Association in the pleasant town of Kuala Terengganu on the east
coast, between Kuantan and Kota Bahru. During my previous visit to southeast Asia two years
ago, I had a most enjoyable visit to this Buddhist Association and I wished to meet its members
again and to also relax by the ocean. A Malaysian friend who works in Singapore has offered to
give me a ride across the Causeway Bridge to Johor Bharu. Before I leave, I wish to visit the area

                                                 26
where I first stayed during 1988; I’ve been back to this area [Bencoolen Road and vicinity
including Little India] several times since then and the changes are always interesting. I’m curious
to see the most recent changes and to visit the Hindu temple and the most popular Chinese temple
in Singapore.
       I used to meet Wong in this area for chat and refreshments. Now those days are only distant
memories. Life and experiences seem more dreamlike as I continue to exist, share the Dharma and
travel, with nothing solid or permanent to hold on to. One’s existence now seems more like a
continuity of the six processes of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking, without
a concrete ‘me’ at the center. I see that the self only exists when the I-thought arises in
consciousness and that it comes and goes like everything else. ‘I’ is nothing special or important,
‘I’ is only conventional language. There is a restful awareness and knowing, a coolness beyond the
body-mind process, beyond the limited dimension of thoughts, sensations and emotions.
     Wong called me this morning and I was surprised. He was seeking financial help, not spiritual
help. He sounded almost like the person I used to know. He said he has been teaching ESL at a
center on a voluntary basis but in order to become a qualified teacher and to receive a salary he
would have to take a diploma course that will cost Sing$2000. Could I lend him the money? I
really wished I could assist him to become a qualified ESL teacher as this would, at least, make
him happy and content in this challenging country but I don’t have that kind of money. I asked him
whether we could meet for old time sake and have a meal together.
   “How will you get downtown?” he asked, slightly puzzled.
   “I can take a bus to Bencoolen Road and meet you at the Hawker Center where we used to eat,
remember?” I said.
    “But you’re a monk now,” he replied, “I thought monks are not supposed to take public
transportation.”
    “Says who?” I exclaimed, surprised and amazed at his ignorance and his preconceived ideas
about monks. “Monks are human beings, too, you know. I think you have too many deluded ideas
in your head. Do you expect me to have a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz on hand?”
   “But I thought monks are not supposed to eat outside the temple.” he replied sternly.
    “OK, Wong,” I said resigned and discouraged, “I think it best that we don’t meet after all, OK?
You have a good life. I wish you all the best and good luck with the ESL teaching.” And that was
that. In this humid heat, I just didn’t have the energy to deal with this person. The Wong I once
knew no longer exists. So it goes in equatorial Singapore.
    This afternoon the young doctor from the Buddhist group at the University Hospital comes to
see me. His name is Chan and he has a good, inquiring mind. We have a very pleasant chi gong and
dynamic mindfulness session in the gazebo by the garden outside the apartment block; afterwards,
we have an inspired discussion about Dharma practice and the art of reflection. Chan says he grew
up being a straight-A student but always very competitive, as is the norm in Singapore. And he
continued to be competitive during medical school even though he didn’t need to be. It was just a
learnt behaviour, a conditioned habit since elementary school that he believed to be normal and
expected even though it caused him mental conflict and anxiety. Only when he joined the Buddhist
group and began to learn the Dharma did he begin to see the folly of such behaviour. He’s now a
much more relaxed and compassionate person. Good for him. We promise to keep in touch by
e-mail and meet again in future.


                                                 27
March 28, 2000
     Today I’m exploring my old haunt in the vicinity of Bencoolen Road and Rochor Road. It’s
hard to believe that I first came to this area of Singapore twelve years ago on a short holiday from
development work in Sri Lanka. It was a free trip and initially I didn’t want to come but the
director of the project insisted that I take a well-deserved R and R and, besides, I also needed some
new clothes and Singapore is indeed famous for shopping like Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Bencoolen Road is a well-known area for cheap hotels and hostels and this is why I initially ended
up here. The hotel was near the Sim Lim Tower, a well-known landmark and a place to buy
electronic goods. Well, the hotel is still there and open for business and so is the Sim Lim Tower.
Every time I visit Singapore I cannot help but come back to this area of town. Even though it keeps
changing it feels like home somehow. It’s familiar and the changes are always interesting. Even
though I don’t wish to buy any electronic items, I like to visit Sim Lim Tower and look at all the
amazing stuff with awe and detachment; it’s innocent fun, and I don’t have to spend a cent and
there is air-conditioning. In 1988, I had to buy a camera for the project in Sri Lanka and I wasn’t
very detached: I was anxious to get a good, inexpensive model and it took a lot of effort to visit
several stores around the city, to look at many cameras, then finally to decide which one to buy.
Talk about choice and the conflict of having to choose!
    There’s still an optometry store on the ground floor of this building and I remember obtaining
a pair of glasses here in 1990 after having carelessly left my previous pair on the plane from
Trivandrum in southern India to Colombo, Sri Lanka. The basement floor is also full of electronic
and electrical goods and there’s now a small booth where you can change money from a young
man of south Indian extract. Interestingly, all the moneychangers in Kuala Lumpur are from a
similar ethnic background. Like Malaysia, Singapore is a mixture of Chinese, Malay and south
Indians.
     Just north of Sim Lim Tower is a shopping complex and a block of apartment buildings. It’s
convenient for people to take the elevator down to go shopping and have meals at the food center
when they don’t feel like cooking. There’s also a post office, a small bank, and a supermarket. You
can get almost everything you need at this place including religious items: statues of the Buddha,
Quan Yin, Fat Buddha Maitreya, and the Three Chinese Gods of Prosperity, Longevity and
Wisdom; also joss sticks, incense coils, ready-made shrines with red light bulbs that substitute for
candle flames, ornamental dragons and frogs, large gold-painted coins, Hell money [special
printed paper that you burn so that the spirits of ancestors and recently departed loved ones can
have spending money], and so on. There are several of these stores on one side of the shopping
complex.
     This place hasn’t changed much since 1988 except for the underground train station just west
of the complex. The MRT [mass rail transit] is modern, high-tech, efficient, clean and
air-conditioned. On this system, you use computer travel cards that are easily recharged when the
credit amount gets low; you can buy them at a ticket booth. Single journey tickets can be obtained
from coin-operated electronic machines. After a few days in Singapore, you can appreciate the
Government’s ban on chewing gum: it’s a sticky, messy, unhygienic nuisance when irresponsible
gum users discard the used wads about, sometimes sticking them under chairs, tables, handrails,
the armrests and seats in buses and trains; some naughty brats will even leave them on seats and
benches so that they’ll stick to people’s clothing.



                                                 28
     Across the street from the religious items stores is the Fu Lu Shou Complex Building, one of
my old haunts, where I used to buy shirts, cotton pants, Chinese medicines and incense coils for
myself and for friends in Sri Lanka. There are five floors connected by stairs and escalators and the
entire building has “air-con,” as they say in Singapore. There’s not much change here except for
three or four new stores. The ground floor is above street level. You can get electronic goods,
expensive jewellery and watches, clothes and footwear, ornamental crystals – both rock minerals
and glass, colourful marble balls spinning mesmerisingly on top of marble water fountains, and
foot massages by reflexologists. The basement floor still has the same small restaurant and food
counter in one corner, with two or three tables and chairs set up outside, plus three Chinese herbal
medicine stores with a wide variety of products, and more clothes and footwear. The second floor
has clothes, footwear, and two new stores selling healing crystals, Buddhist pendants and prayer
beads, religious pictures and statues, and incense sticks and coils from China and Taiwan.
     On the third floor, there’s a well-known Buddhist bookstore that carries religious items,
including tapes and CDs of chanting from Taiwan, Thailand and Tibet. I think it was Wong who
first brought me to this store twelve years ago and I remember being surprised to see tapes of two
of my talks at BDMS being sold here without my permission or knowledge. But there was no
copyright on my work so I suppose the folks at BDMS felt no restriction about selling my talks for
the benefit of their center – no attachment, no problem! By selling the tapes, more people can
benefit from the talks, no? There are also two stores on this floor selling religious and spiritual
items from both the Chinese and Tibetan traditions. It’s colourful and interesting to browse
around.
     This time I’m hoping to buy a Chinese monk’s smock but it’s not easy to find one here, even
though the one I’m presently wearing came from one of these stores. The bookstore has black
chanting gowns for lay devotees of the Pure Land tradition, long gowns for Chinese monks, and
Theravada robes from Thailand, but no Mahayana smocks that fall a few inches below the knees.
The other stores have the same long gowns and Thai robes but no smocks. At least, I get to look at
the colourful and intriguing Tibetan thanka paintings with their silk borders, Buddha and
Bodhisattva statues made in Nepal, singing bowls, ceremonial bells, dorjes [symbols of
thunderbolts], prayer beads, Tibetan herbal incense, crystals, and even items made from human leg
bones and skulls.
     The next building over is the Albert Complex. The bank on the ground floor is still there as are
the stores selling cameras, jewellery, and religious items; the upper floors have offices. I check out
the Buddhist store to see if they have the smock but no luck. However, they have beautiful statues,
prayer beads, crystal items, boxes of incense coils, meditation cushions, cute figurines of young
monks in different poses of play and repose, and recordings of chanting from Taiwan, Thailand
and Tibet. In the lobby area there’s still a booth run by a tall Indian man selling cigarettes, cigars,
lighters, pens, batteries, disposable cameras, postcards, and cheap digital watches.
     It was in this lobby during my second visit in 1989 that I first came across a unique herbal
medicine from China for the relief of cold and flu symptoms. I was staying in the Bencoolen Road
area and visiting the various shopping places. I found a temporary display of Chinese medicines in
this lobby. I was curious and then surprised to discover a Chinese herbal medicine for colds. Since
I’m susceptible to a wide variety of viruses, even in tropical Sri Lanka, I was keen to try it and to
see how effective it was. And indeed it was amazing stuff. As soon as I felt the symptoms coming
on – sore throat, woozy head, achy body – I took the capsules with luke-warm water or tea, two to
three times a day and, within two to three days, the symptoms were mostly gone – except for some


                                                  29
coughing and nasal discharge. I found that the herbal mixture also gave me a nice energy in the
head, which was beneficial for sitting meditation.
     Here’s how it works. The Chinese say that a cold/flu virus produces ‘wind heat’ in the body,
which manifests as sore throat, woozy head and achy body. The herbs in this medicine are cooling
in nature and so they counteract the ‘wind heat,’ which causes the symptoms to disappear. Thus,
this medicine is described as anti-viral, anti-pyretic, antidotal, antiphlogistic, carminative, and
retrigerant. I sometimes also get sleepy viruses, with woozy head but no sore throat or achy body,
and for this I also find the herbs beneficial. The two popular brands are Yin Qiao and Ganmaoling
[ganmao means cold or flu]. They usually come in pill form and are inexpensive since they’re
made in China. The Chinese also have cooling teas and herbs for the hot climate and these are
popular in SE Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
     On the other side of Bencoolen Road is the massive Sim Lim Building, which is also full of
electronic goods like the Sim Lim Tower close by. The basement floor is now an enclosed
restaurant; before the basement area used to be a large, open-air eating-place consisting of several
food and drink stalls, with fans blowing cooling air. I used to come to this relaxing open-air place
for breakfast and beverage, and to write postcards and aerograms to folks in Canada and Europe. It
was never crowded or busy in the morning so it was a good place to hangout at that time. The other
side of the narrow road used to be an open grass area. Now there’s a huge upscale apartment
building on that spot and a new covered walkover to the other side of Bencoolen Road. Further on,
there was another larger open field near the popular Quan Yin temple and hawker food center
where I used to go with Wong; now there are several new buildings with offices on the top floors
and shops on the ground floor.
     Amazing changes: I observe the mesmerizing confusion between déjà vu sensations with past
memories and the present reality of recent development and planning. My vocabulary is reduced to
just two words: “Wow, amazing!” And this perception of the area is only a beginning. The other
street over has become an entirely new area for pedestrians with open-air stalls selling a wide
variety of items including clothes, videos and music CDs, cheap jewelry, jade pendants, handbags,
running shoes, and small Buddha statues from Thailand. Not far from the Quan Yin temple are
some new stores selling religious items. If you like shopping or just exploring around, you’ll find
the Bencoolen area wonderful and fascinating, but if you dislike shopping or just
window-shopping you won’t appreciate this part of Singapore.
      Beside the temple is a well-known Buddhist vegetarian restaurant that has been there since my
first visit to Singapore. The menu consists of dishes with mock beef, pork, chicken with
drumsticks, fish, shrimp, ham and cuttle fish. It’s a novel experience to try these dishes but you
wouldn’t want to eat them often. Taiwanese companies produce a lot of these mock-meat items
and export them to other countries. The Chinese temples also serve these kinds of meals on special
occasions. I once told a friend that if I wished to eat chicken I would prefer to have the real thing
and not something that looked, tasted and chewed like chicken. He laughed.
     At the entrance of the Quan Yin temple are vendors selling joss sticks and flowers. This is the
most popular and busy temple or shrine in Singapore. It is more a shrine than a temple because
there’s no resident monk, as far as I know. Wong first brought me here in 1988 and it’s busy as
ever. The focus of worship and reverence is a shiny metal multi-armed statue of Yuan Yin, the
Bodhisattva of mercy and compassion. What was once originally a symbol or personification of
human kindness and compassion is now seen as a powerful loving deity to whom people beseech
in hope of good luck and fortune in times of difficulty, conflict, anxiety, confusion and poor health.


                                                 30
It’s befitting that such a shrine from ancient Chinese culture serves to help those who live in such a
fast, stressful, competitive and materialistic society.
     During my brief visits in 1989 and 1990, I came here in the mornings to observe the activities
at the shrine. I stayed nearby at travel hostels off Bencoolen Road so it was a short walk. Sitting on
a side bench, I could see people on their way to work coming to pray to Yuan Yin before facing the
uncertainties of the day and offering smoking joss sticks and flowers. In the old tradition of
divination, some people came to shake a container of sticks and have the spilled stick read by a
medium who was employed by the temple. Interestingly, many young Singaporeans have become
Christians because they view the old Chinese customs, such as burning paper money to departed
spirits and praying to various statues, as a form of idol worship, which they equate to Buddhism,
which is, of course, incorrect. In contrast, they see Christianity as modern, trendy, western and
American.
     Just down the road is a Hindu temple, south Indian and Tamil, that has beautiful depictions of
various gods and goddesses, with a gopuram [a tower with carved statues] above the entrance.
Some of the statues are of peacocks, tigers and cows: creatures that are connected to some deities.
In Tamil Nadu, some large temples have very high gopurams with a multitude of statues; they’re
most impressive and amazing indeed. Many Chinese come to this temple to pray even though
they’re not Hindus. Any deity will do, the more the merrier, as they say. They’ll also attend the
daily puja [ceremony] and the public talks given by visiting swamis [teachers].
     On the other side of the same street is the familiar hawker food center and stores selling
Chinese herbs and medicines, joss sticks, ‘hell money’ for burning to the spirits, and statues of
Yuan Yin, the Fat Buddha, and various Chinese deities that are colourful and intriguing to look at.
Upstairs there are also stores selling the same things and a couple stores have books on Chinese
medicine, tai chi and chi gong exercises, Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism. The food center still
has the same food and drink stalls; perhaps some of the owners have changed since 1988 or 1994
or 1998, it’s hard to tell.
    The system of service is still the same: you order from the beverage staff and then from the
food staff and you pay separately as you get served. It’s simple and efficient in a place where
people are coming and going all the time. The food is good, clean and inexpensive. The servings
are small compared to North American standards; some westerners have to order two or three
servings before they feel satisfied. But in this warm, humid climate you need less food and more
liquid. Naturally, I think of Wong who used to have meals with me here, sitting at the same small,
round tables, chatting and sweating like the rest of the population. Perhaps I’ll run into him, by
chance, one warm humid day in busy, modern Singapore.
     The other street over, Bugis Lane, on the other side of the food center, has also changed a lot
since 1990. Most noticeable is another open-air, covered area with many stalls selling a
mind-boggling variety of stuff ranging from exotic, tropical fruits and steamed snacks made with
sticky rice to clothing and footwear to cell phones and movie videos to quartz alarm clocks and
plastic umbrellas made in China. There’s also a restaurant off this busy area and a shop selling
computer books.
     In 1990, during the Hungry Ghost month of August, this street was blocked off. During this
period, the Chinese believe that the Gates of Hell are opened and the spirits are free to roam the
earth in search of food, drink and entertainment. It is a time for food offerings in front of family
shrines, outdoor roadside shrines, and temple shrines housing ceramic containers of ashes and


                                                 31
bones of the departed. One must appease the hungry ghosts otherwise they’ll haunt you and cause
you misfortune instead of guiding and protecting you, it is believed.
     For myself, of Chinese descent and western upbringing, it was a wonderful and moving time
to witness ancient Chinese customs related to ancestral worship and departed spirits. The food
offerings were as fascinating as the entertainment. The main offering at the outdoor shrines, I
noticed, were piles of fruits and steamed buns coloured pink and red. Beverages offered were
juice, water, Chinese tea, black coffee with sugar, and soft drinks. Giant joss sticks were made for
this period, consisting mostly of sawdust. They ranged in size from 3 to 6 feet long and 3 to 6
inches in diameter. Some had colourful dragons coiled around their length. These big joss sticks
would smolder for many hours. The Chinese believe that smoke from joss sticks and burnt
offerings is the direct path and connection to the spirit world and it helps to carry the essence of the
food and drink to nourish its hungry inhabitants.
     In front of household shrines, fruits, flowers, joss sticks, drink and small portions of
daily-cooked food are regularly offered; during the Hungry Ghost month, those pink and
red-coloured steamed buns are added to the daily offerings along with bean cakes. Hell Money is
sometimes burned so that the departed spirits can use them for shopping in their world. Some
people have small outdoor shrines with offerings for the wandering ghosts who happen to be in the
neighbourhood. During August, more Hell Money is burned than usual along with paper models of
deluxe cars, jet planes, motorbikes, bicycles, TV and video equipment, computers, credit cards and
cell phones. Sometimes, intricate models of mansions are made, complete with servants and
garages containing deluxe cars. These beautiful artistic creations all go up in smoke as offerings
for the enjoyment and comfort of departed loved ones. Interestingly, there are people in Singapore
who are encouraging the public to stop wasting money on these expensive ghost offerings and to
donate the money to charitable causes instead.
    The wandering ghosts and spirits also need to be entertained like living mortals. The events I
witnessed in 1990 were of several roadside performances of musicians playing traditional Chinese
classical music, Chinese puppet shows with live musicians, and a large stage performance of the
Beijing/Canton Opera with live musicians behind the stage. These shows were most enjoyable and
delightful and I’m sure the ghosts and spirits were also pleased and satisfied. The Beijing/Canton
Opera was held on the street between the food center and the present-day open-air market. The
stage was about three feet above street level and folding chairs were set up for the public. Nearby
was a temporary public shrine set up with offerings, including a giant joss stick – with a blue and
yellow dragon coiled around its length – slowly smoldering away, the auspicious smoke sending
ethereal nutrition to the spirit world. What an interesting and wonderful world we live in!
     Before the Opera began, a spirit medium went into trace in full view of the audience and began
dancing with two short swords in hand muttering strange guttural sounds. Then he stood in one
place and breathed deeply a few times, swaying to and fro like a drunken man and proceeded to
push one of the swords into his stomach. But, amazingly, the sharp metal object was unable to cut
the skin or slice into his flesh; it seemed that some mysterious force from within was preventing
the blade from injuring the possessed body of the man in trance. People gasped in amazement,
shock and disbelief, some putting their hand over their open mouths or holding the sides of their
heads. The performance had its desired effect.
     I had seen similar performances in Java and Bali of men going into trace and trying
unsuccessfully to push knives into their stomach area. It’s an old, impressive ritual to demonstrate
the power of mind and mysterious forces over matter and human flesh. After the shamanistic
display in modern, hi-tech Singapore, the medium came out of trance slowly aided by two
                                                  32
attendants and became a normal person again, like someone’s kind uncle or grandfather, sitting
down with friends, drinking tea, and chatting and smoking a cigarette, as if his extraordinary
performance a few minutes before was all in a day’s work, auspicious but not uncommon.
     Then the Chinese Opera began with its unique familiar music consisting of melody and
harmony accented by the loud disharmony of the clashing brass cymbals, drums and gongs,
followed by a dazzling display of intricate silk costumes, ornate headdresses, dramatic movements
and gestures, waving embroidered flags, vocal gymnastics, and facial makeup, which expressed
the full range of beauty and grace, power and wrath, majesty and virtue, comedy and jest, evil and
deception, faith and devotion, despair and hope. It was wonderful and amazing.
    After some minutes I found myself thinking fondly of my father, aged and feeble, living with
an elder sister in Ontario, Canada. He loved to watch Chinese Opera. When I was eight years old in
Jamaica, he sometimes took me on a Sunday to a movie theatre in Montego Bay to watch Chinese
Opera. The costumes, headdresses and facial make-up were colourful and fascinating. However, I
couldn’t understand the storyline or the language so it became boring and it went on forever, it
seemed. The female singing was so high-pitched that it sounded like cats wailing painfully, and the
music was accented by frequent banging and clashing sounds from brass cymbals, gongs, drums,
and wood blocks. All I could relate these sounds to were kitchen pots and pans being banged by
angry frustrated cooks. It was really unusual and disturbing.
    I usually fell asleep during the movie, then I would wake up some minutes later to hear that the
opera was still going on, then I would fall asleep again. Chinese Opera was unique and fascinating,
no doubt, but for me, an eight-year-old child, who enjoyed watching cartoons or playing outside,
the movie from Hong Kong was a very long and tedious ordeal. My father had recordings of
Chinese Opera music at home and sometimes my siblings played it for their friends for a few
minutes, just to have a good laugh. This was a part of our oriental cultural background while we
were growing up in Jamaica and listening to western pop music and dancing to Caribbean rhythms
and rock and roll.
     Now here I was many years later, watching a live performance of Chinese Opera on a street in
Singapore, thinking of my father and enjoying it immensely, as if seeing it through his eyes. Sitting
in the warm humid air and recovering from congested lungs and painful breathing, I felt relaxed,
open and receptive. I felt close to my father at that moment. I felt that I was like him in our mutual
appreciation of Chinese Opera; our connection was this old, unique art form, something that I was
unable to appreciate as a child and in that wonderful, touching realization, I experienced a tender
feeling of love, compassion, gratitude and timeless bliss. My appreciation of Chinese Opera on
that warm, humid, auspicious day in Singapore was indeed serendipitous, but not really surprising
since I’d come to appreciate ethnic music and culture of all sorts during my travels and adventures.
    Being relaxed, open and receptive, I was able to see and hear without the ‘me’ center, without
the ‘observer’ and ‘listener,’ with its conditioned habit to like or to dislike, to want or to feel
aversion. I could experience the Chinese Opera without the discriminating mind and thereby I was
able to enjoy its beauty, drama, skill and uniqueness, including the high-pitched female singing,
and the banging, crashing, and clashing of the percussive instruments. Also, the familiarity since
childhood helped to create a feeling of nostalgia and an appreciation of family and the ancient
Chinese culture. The late afternoon performance turned into an evening show as the strong
equatorial sun receded and the sky grew dark. Bright lights were now illuminating the stage, the
silk costumes, the ornate headdresses, and the brilliant flags, all of which became more colourful
and impressive than before; the painted faces, body movements and hand gestures became more


                                                 33
and more expressive. There were now more people in the audience and there was magic, beauty
and delight in Singapore. Even the ghosts and spirits were smiling.
      Perhaps my father’s ghost was also here enjoying the Chinese Opera with me and smiling. As
it turned out, he had passed away a few weeks earlier in Canada without my knowing. So it was an
amazing coincidence that I was in Singapore during the Hungry Ghost month, watching and
enjoying Chinese Opera and thinking fondly of him, without realizing that he had recently died.
This was auspicious indeed!
    So this part of Singapore has personal significance and fond memories. It’s an area I’ll come
back to again and again whenever I happen to cross over the Causeway Bridge from Malaysia. But
my exploration of the Bencoolen – Rochor Road area is not yet finished: there’s Little India and
the Malay Muslim area. I’m getting hungry and a late lunch of Indian cuisine sounds good. From
Sim Lim Tower and the old hotel, Little India is a short walk south and east. In the humid heat I use
an umbrella to lessen the ferocity of the tropical sun. It’s hard to imagine freezing winters in this
equatorial heat. I can almost feel moss, ferns and orchids growing in my armpits. This imagery
makes me laugh and the humid heat seems more bearable.
    The main street in Little India, running north to south, and therefore parallel to Bencoolen, is
named Serangoon Road. Appropriately, the name conjures up images of Burma, Bangladesh and
South India, places with rice fields and coconut trees, bare-chested coolies wearing sarongs and
working in rubber estates and harvesting jute, water buffaloes, sleepy villages by the many rivers,
exotic spices and fragrant flowers, ox-carts and a slow pace of life, with British colonials running
the show.
     However, this is modern Singapore and the traffic along Serangoon Road is intensely noisy
like the rest of the island state. It’s difficult to imagine a time when Singapore was once a
backwater island with two or three sleepy fishing villages where excitement came from biting
sandflies and mosquitoes and the occasional tiger that swam across from the Malaysian peninsula.
This area, with its relaxed friendly tea and coffee shops, colourful clothing stores, aromatic food
shops and restaurants, flower stalls and Hindu temple, hints at an ancient country and culture that
is distinctly different from the rest of Singapore.
     Near the intersection of Serangoon and Rochor roads are two or three traditional south Indian
restaurants that serve rice and vegetarian curries on banana leaves, like the ones in Kuala Lumpur
and Madras. These establishments have ceiling fans and like all the two-storied concrete and
wooden buildings in the area, they give you an idea of what “old world” Singapore was like before,
during and after the last world war, before it became modern, fast, stressful, very clean and
high-tech; before the air-conditioned office buildings and banks, five-star hotels, shopping centers,
buses and subway trains, before the tall apartment blocks and skyscrapers. I have lunch at a
modern vegetarian restaurant with bright florescent lighting and vivid images of the menu dishes
on the wall. The place is spotlessly clean and air-conditioned. The food – masala dosa, iddlis, and
mango lassi yoghurt drink – is familiar but the setting and the chilled air is different from my south
Indian experience. Perhaps a modern restaurant in Madras is like this.
    On the west side of Serangoon Road are other new restaurants, a few moneychangers, and
gold jewellery stores. There are clothing stores selling colourful saris, cotton sarongs or lungies,
dress materials by the yard, glass bangles and cheap jewellery. Also, music stores selling tapes and
CDs of Indian pop, film, and classical music; stalls selling cigarettes, bidis, betel nuts, and
garlands of marigolds and jasmine. There are open-air cafes offering cold drinks, tea and coffee.
The side streets have a few restaurants, clothing and footwear stores, more music stores, plus shops

                                                 34
carrying stainless steel eating utensils from India, statues and pictures of Hindu deities. Also, some
food stores selling rice, lentils, spices, bottles of mango chutney, lime and mango pickles, fresh
mangoes from India, tins of mango pulp from Bombay, mustard oil for cooking and skin-care,
herbal soaps and toothpaste. Further south on the west side is a large modern building with more
stores owned by Indians as well as a travel agency that offers the cheapest fares in town.
     The east side of Serangoon Road has apartment buildings and a large, open-air, multi-storied
shopping complex that has cheap clothing, footwear, electronic goods, toys, stationary items, food
stalls, fruit and juice stalls, handbags, shoulder bags, suitcases, gym bags, and day backpacks for
students. Further south is the Hindu temple with its gopuram tower that non-Hindus are welcome
to visit, and continuing further south you’ll get to St. Michael’s Road that takes you to a
well-known Sri Lankan Buddhist temple that I still haven’t visited. Wong once told me that his
grandfather used to take him there when he was a young lad to observe the Pali chanting ceremony.
     I would like to visit the Malay Muslim area on the other side of Bencoolen Road and south
west of the Sim Lim Tower, but I have to return home since my friends are expecting me at the
apartment; there’s always another visit in a couple of years or so. What I can recall of the Muslim
area during my previous visits in 1989 and 1990 is the mosque and stores selling perfume oils,
batik shirts, blouses, sarongs and dress material from Java, blue and green plaid sarongs for men,
black and white Muslim caps for men, head scarves for women, framed photos and velvet
paintings of the Kaaba in Mecca, and framed verses of the Koran in Arabic.
     I also have fond memories of my visits to the largest Chinese temple on Bright’s Hill Drive,
called Phor Kark See or Kong Min Shan temple, with its large halls and beautiful statues. I
remember the amazing dragons on the rooftops, the crematorium with four modern gas ovens, the
spirit hall containing ceramic jars of ashes, bits of bones and photos of the departed on each jar,
and its large pond of turtles, of all sizes and ages, released by well-meaning devotees to make
merit. Yes, Singapore is a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live here.


April 2, 2000
      I’m now in Kuala Terengganu and staying at the Terengganu Buddhist Association for a few
days. The building is an old spacious structure on the ground floor. I’d wanted to stop in Kuantan,
on my journey up the east coast, to see the large new temple built by the Pahang Buddhist
Association but my time in Malaysia is now limited before I leave for Hong Kong in a week or so.
I should be back in Malaysia, however, in a couple of years at most. The guest room for visiting
monks and nuns is off the shrine hall area. There’s a small office and a library, also off the shrine
hall. Both rooms have air-conditioning.
     The guest room, with two beds and an adjoining bathroom, has air-conditioning and a fan. The
shrine hall, being an open area, has ceiling fans but no air-conditioning. The hall on the other side
of the office and library contains a dining area and a space where pre-school children come and
learn for a few hours every weekday morning. They are all cute and adorable, full of playful fun
and curiosity, like little jungle primates. It’s hard to believe that I was once like them, many moons
ago in tropical Jamaica, on the other side of the world.
     I enjoy visiting this town on the east coast, especially after Singapore, because it’s a much
slower pace of life. People are more laid-back, simple, content and hospitable. And there’s the long
stretch of beach. Most of the members of the Buddhist Association are Chinese-educated – they
can speak and write Mandarin – and only a few can speak fair English. Hokkien is the popular

                                                 35
local Chinese dialect. When I was here two years ago, someone translated for me during the
meditation-mindfulness sessions. They found it strange that I looked Chinese but couldn’t speak
Mandarin or Hokkien, not even my father’s dialect, Hakka. However, they enjoyed the sessions
and the music tapes I used, some of which were copied.
     Every morning, there was a chi gong class at 6 a.m. led by two local instructors, and some of
the participants would later attend my evening sessions with the other members. It was a lot of fun
and mutual sharing. After breakfast, someone drove me to the beach and at noon someone else
picked me up and took me back for lunch and a siesta. These few hours by myself on the long
stretch of beach were simply wonderful: I would swim, sun bathe, comb the beach, swim again,
and observe the waves, sky and drifting clouds with a silent mind; there was awe and beauty, joy,
timelessness and vast space. This was meditation without the meditator, the ‘me’ center.
     It is very nice to meet everyone again plus some new members, adults and students. They
enjoy looking at my photos and postcards of Thailand and India, and listening to the travel stories
related to them. Some of the members are planning a pilgrimage to India in October to visit the
various Buddhist sites. This will be an eye-opener for them and an amazing and sometimes
shocking experience they’ll never forget. As before, I’m conducting a meditation session in the
evenings consisting of dynamic practices, sitting and discussion. Someone is planning to take me
sightseeing to a dammed area with a large lake, and a large museum displaying Malay culture and
history.


April 5, 2000
      This morning I’m having breakfast with two visiting monks of the Theravada tradition from
Malacca. We have not been formally introduced as they arrived early and had already started
eating when I joined them. The elder monk looks Thai and the younger looks like local Chinese
with a thin shy face. We eat in silence mindfully and towards the end of the meal they chit-chat a
little in Mandarin. Every now and then I look up at the monks and the thin, younger monk begins to
look vaguely familiar and eventually I realize who he is. I used to know him before he became a
monk and am I surprised to see him sitting beside me in Kuala Terengganu! In fact, during my
previous visit to Malaysia, I had called his home in Malacca from Muar. His mother had said that
he was now a monk and living in Burma. She didn’t have his contact address so I thought I would
never see him again unless I visited Burma. Now here he is sitting beside me with shaved head,
wearing Theravada robes and looking very thin and ascetic, about twenty-five pounds lighter. We
haven’t met in about five years.
     He’s obviously feeling too shy and nervous to initiate a conversation with me. John did have a
very sensitive and nervous temperament. When I first met him at the Chinese temple in Malacca
during 1994, he told me that he’d been living and working in Singapore, married to a Singaporean
wife with three daughters, but he couldn’t take the stress of the place so eventually they got
divorced. He was then back in Malacca and working with his brother in a business. He enjoyed
visiting his children and former wife every two months or so and he was especially close to the
youngest girl. He was happy to talk with me and he was very curious about my background, my
travels and my experiences as a monk. When I heard that he’d taken ordination in Burma I was
very happy for him.
   At the end of the meal, I turn to him and ask, “So, how is Malacca these days?”
   “Oh, you remember me, “ he says, smiling shyly.

                                                36
    “At first I didn’t recognize you and I wasn’t expecting to see you here in Kuala Terengganu,” I
laugh, shaking my head, “What a surprise! You have lost a lot of weight! Were you sick in
Myanmar?”
     “Not really,” he says, “ I’ve not been eating much and I usually don’t eat after 12 noon, which
is a strict rule in Burma. How do you know I was in Burma?”
   “I phoned your home in Malacca about two years ago and your mother told me you were in
Burma as a monk. I never thought I would see you again. Tell me, why did you decide to become a
monk in Burma? I’m curious.”
    “Well, first I took ordination with a Malaysian monk at the monastery in Lunas, not far from
Penang, and after a few months I had to go Singapore to see my youngest daughter because she
was very sick. I didn’t want her to see me as a monk since I thought it would upset her, and I guess
I was feeling too self-consciousness, so I disrobed. My teacher told me that he wouldn’t re-ordain
me after I disrobed. So, after my daughter got better, someone suggested that I go to Burma and
take ordination with Ven. Kundala, who is a kind and gentle monk, and not too strict like the other
well-known monks in Rangoon or Yongon. After one year of practicing meditation at his center, I
decided to study Buddhism at the local university, which is free for monks. The program is in
English. Now I’m visiting Malacca for a few weeks, seeing my family, and also staying with this
monk here at a Theravada temple. He’s from Thailand but he speaks Mandarin and he likes to
travel around Malaysia. I’m learning Mandarin from him.”
     He introduces me to the Thai monk whose English is very limited. Someone at the Association
takes us in a van to see a retreat center outside the town. I’m familiar with this place from my
previous visit to Kuala Terengganu. It’s a small, quiet center with mosquitoes so you need a net if
you plan to stay. There are tropical trees and plants everywhere. The owners are away in the
southern state of Johor helping to build a new retreat center. No one is around at the moment and
they tell me that the English-speaking group meets here once every two weeks or so; it’s not a busy
retreat center. There’s a library of good books mostly donated by the WAVE group in Kuala
Lumpur. I get a chance to chat some more with my friend from Malacca and I’m really happy that
I’m meeting him again and that he has decided to become a monk.


April 6, 2000
     Today I’m spending a few hours at the beach before they come to fetch me for lunch. It’s hard
to believe that I’m back on this coastline after two years. After half an hour of swimming and
sunning on the sand, feeling the breeze and hearing the soothing sound of the surf, the experience
is familiar and dreamlike, as if I never left, as if the many months in Toronto, the moments of joy
and peace, anxiety and conflict, were merely delusions of the mind. Only the present moment on
the beach seems real: the salty smell of the ocean, the sensation of the wind and sun on the skin, the
awareness of fleeting thoughts and images of the past coming and going like the small waves upon
the water. Time and memory are such interesting aspects of human consciousness.
    Now I also recall lying on a beach in Mahabalipuram, on the east coast of southern India, only
a few weeks ago; it seems much longer. The sensations on the body, the smells and the feeling of
the wind and sun were similar in Mahabalipuram, but the ocean here is safer to swim in. During the
winter monsoon months, this ocean would be very rough and dangerous, they say, and there would
be serious flooding in the area. Now it’s beautiful and calm and it feels wonderful to be on this
endless stretch of sand and by this vast blue ocean with its endless waves. Singapore now seems

                                                 37
like a distant impossible dream. It’s also hard to believe that I once flew over this coastline and this
town at an altitude of 37,000 feet on the way to southern Taiwan around five years ago [May,
1995] and this was before I got to visit Kuala Terengganu. I look up at the vast blue sky to try and
see the imaginary jet I once took and I have to shake my head in disbelief. Life is indeed dreamlike
and without substance or stability.
     Two years ago, I had a wonderful experience on this same stretch of beach. Walking slowly
southward, using an umbrella and wearing Polaroid sunglasses to cut down the bright glare, and
looking at the coconut trees, the clouds and the ocean waves, the mind became more and more
quiet and expansive and meditation became a movement in that silent and spacious awareness, as
easy and effortless as the gentle cooling breeze. In that strange unusual stillness, all mental activity
came to an end and so the ‘me’ center, the experiencer, was completely absent, and there was only
the experience of vast space, beauty, bliss and freedom. Silence and space go together. In the light
and space of silence, all problems and conflicts are dissolved and so there is freedom from the past,
the known. This quality of meditation is different from formal practice during sitting and dynamic
practices. This kind of meditation comes without effort or desire when there is order in the mind,
when there is the understanding of the thinking process and the self. It goes beyond their
limitation, beyond grasping, clinging, craving and delusion.
     The cotton clouds floating in the blue sky gave delight to the eyes and as one observed the
surface of the ocean, there was the insight that all of our lives, whether human, animal, reptile, fish,
insect, bird and plant, and all events in the world were like the waves arising and falling, arising
and falling, returning to the immense, deep and timeless dimension of the ocean and the universe,
returning to peace and silence, order and harmony. There was the realization that birth, existence
and death were just parts of a process in a much vaster and timeless reality or dimension.
    Tomorrow evening I plan to take the overnight bus to Kuala Lumpur and then to catch the
morning bus to Teluk Intan in Perak state. The Buddhist Association there is one of my favourite
places to visit since 1994.


April 8, 2000
    I’m now at the Buddhist Association in Teluk Intan and feeling quite at home in their new
building. This center is one of the most active in Malaysia due to its dedicated members. Teluk
Intan is not far from the city of Ipoh, once the tin-mining capital of the world. I used to visit the two
Buddhist Associations in Ipoh during 1994-95 but since then I haven’t been inspired to connect
with them apart from seeing a handful of devotees. This visit to Teluk Intan is a short one, only two
days, because my flight to Hong Kong is just a few days away. My visit to India has cut short my
usual time in Malaysia. However, it’s good to meet old friends and new ones in the Dhamma. The
Association has programs for both Chinese and English-educated adults as well as programs for
high school and elementary students. They also offer tuition classes in science, maths, English and
the Malay language. During the school holidays, they have Dhamma camps for the students and
everyone has a lot of fun. There are also group outings to different parts of the country and retreats,
usually held in the Cameron Highlands, where the climate is pleasantly cool and refreshing.
     When I first visited this town in 1994, I stayed with a gentleman named Mr. Thou and not at
the Buddhist Association. Here’s why. A Thai monk I knew in Haadyai, southern Thailand, had
given me the name and address of a person he knew in Teluk Intan. This person didn’t have a place
of his own and was staying with friends. So Mr.Thou offered to put me up in his small modest
house where he lived with his wife. Mr. Thou and I had an instant connection and liking for each

                                                   38
other. Even though he was not a member of the Buddhist Association, he was well read in several
spiritual traditions and he had a strong attraction to Indian culture and spirituality. Mrs. Thou was
a retired nurse and Mr. Thou was working in the local hospital as a pharmacist. He was looking
forward to retirement at the age of fifty-five. He and a small group of friends had followed a
spiritual teacher from Sabah, on the island of Borneo, until he passed away from emphezemia in
Mr.Thou’s house.
     Mr. Thou told me many interesting stories about this teacher and we spent many pleasant
hours sharing stories about our own spiritual search and discussing the lives and teachings of the
Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, Krishnamurti, Swami Sivananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Jesus of
Nazareth, St. Francis of Assisi, Anandamayi Ma, Ammaji of Kerala [the hugging Saint] and
others. After two days, Mr. Thou called the Buddhist Association and informed them that a
Canadian monk, a Reverend Kovida, was staying with him and would they like to meet me? They,
the committee members, were surprised to learn that a monk was in town and without their
knowledge. Normally, when a monk or nun is planning to visit a Buddhist Association in another
town in Malaysia, he or she is usually invited or, at least, the Association is informed of the coming
visit. So, you can say that I came through the back door, in a manner of speaking – uninvited,
unexpected and unannounced.
     Needless to say, they were most curious to meet this mysterious travelling monk from Canada.
When they showed up at Mr. Thou’s house, I explained how I got to this out-of-the-way town and
how I came to meet Mr. Thou. Naturally, they invited me to stay at the Association but I politely
declined as I wished to continue staying with Mr. Thou. But I offered to visit the Association and
meet their members for talks and discussions during my visit to Teluk Intan. They offered to take
me out for lunch the next day. I found them to be very interesting, entertaining and dedicated
people and they have been good friends ever since. They were surprised at how informal and
laid-back I was compared to other monks they’d previously met. I told them it had to do with my
Jamaican background. Ya, mon.
     During my later visits to Teluk Intan, I continued to stay with Mr. Thou and his wife until Mrs.
Thou began to have health problems, then I began to stay at the Association in their new building.
During one of our many discussions, Mr. Thou mentioned that he’d come to realize that his mind
lacked the depth and silence of meditation that the well-known teachers talked about. His entire
spiritual education and experience was based on ideas and emotions. He was devotional, respectful
and humble despite his sharp intellect and he’d never experienced the freedom beyond thoughts.
So it was time for us to meditate together in the natural environment by the Perak River, starting
before sunset.
     These timeless moments by the wide flowing river with Mr. Thou were wonderful and full of
beauty, peace and vast space, the wide expanse of moving water reflecting the sunset colours of the
sky and clouds – orange, yellow, pink, red, green, purple, and several shades in between. Tropical
birds vibrated the cool air as the dense greenery across the river slowly darkened with the receding
light. Occasionally, a small motorboat ferried villagers across the river, but the sound of its engine
did not disturb the immense silence of meditation. First, we sat with eyes closed for about half an
hour and observed the rhythm of the breath. Then we observed the environment in all its evening
glory while still sitting in silence. Mr. Thou said afterwards that his mind was still preoccupied
with random thoughts but he felt more peaceful just from looking at the sunset and the flowing
water. He hadn’t sat by the river in many years.
   The second evening by the river his experience was more or less the same but the third evening
was one of deep calm, peace and bliss without much thought and memory. He began to experience
                                                 39
the spacious awareness that comes with the silence of the mind and this was indeed a revelation.
He said he was now inspired to come to the river more often.
     During this short visit to Teluk Intan I won’t be able to see Mr. Thou because he has gone to
Singapore to see his daughter and niece. We had spoken on the phone and he said he was enjoying
his retirement and was sometimes helping out with the English classes at the Association. He’d
taken Mrs.Thou to meet Ammaji at her ashram in Kerala in the hope that this “hugging saint” and
Divine Mother would be able to cure his wife. But the physical conditions at the ashram were too
basic and uncomfortable for Mrs. Thou and he had to bring her back to Malaysia without a cure.
He had also visited the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai on a previous trip with
another spiritual friend. [P.S. When I returned to Canada several weeks later, I received an e-mail
from a member of the Buddhist Association informing me that Mr. Thou had died after suffering a
heart attack while riding a bicycle. He was rushed to the heart unit at a hospital in KL where he
passed away peacefully after two days. That’s life.]
     For the two evenings that I’ll be here, we have planned separate sessions for the student group
and the adult group. The sessions will consist of dynamic mindfulness practices and sitting
meditation, followed by open discussion about the Buddha’s life and teachings in ancient India,
and the state of Buddhism in present-day India. The Association is planning a pilgrimage trip to
the Buddhist sites in the near future; they would like me to accompany them as a spiritual guide but
I politely decline.


April 11, 2000
     I’m back at Yip and Chow’s apartment and preparing to leave Malaysia. Tomorrow I head to
Hong Kong via Bangkok with Thai International. Sam has offered to drive me to KLIA; he’s a
kind friend. We’ll be having another yoga-meditation session this evening and then a farewell
dinner with friends including Cheong and Steve. Upon reflection, I’m aware that I haven’t made
the effort to connect with any Buddhist temples or groups in the KL area as in my previous visit
two years ago. I think the next visit will be different – we shall see.




                                                40
Hong Kong


April 14, 2000
    I’m now in the Special Economic Zone of Hong Kong and staying at Dhamma Garden
Meditation Center, which is situated outside the township of Yuen Long in New Territories, west
of Kowloon. This retreat center has been recently built by Ven. Sudhammo, a local monk, with the
help of devotees and friends. It is situated on a hillside, close to a village. I’ve been invited to give
three public talks in Kowloon and to conduct a five-day retreat over the Easter holidays.
     I had landed at the new airport, Chek Lap Kok, on Lantau island for the first time; it’s a
massive and amazing place, a work of wonder and admiration. And the new infrastructure
connecting the island and the airport to Kowloon, New Territory and Hong Kong island – two
bridges, a new highway and railway system – is very impressive indeed. When I last visited Hong
Kong two years ago, the project was still incomplete and Dhamma Garden was at another location
in the vicinity and without a meditation hall. My public talks and meditation sessions were held in
a rented hall at the Girl Guides Association in Kowloon. I believe the three public talks this time
will also be held at the same place. I was quite tired from my flight from Malaysia via Bangkok so
I slept most of yesterday in between small meals.
     It is nice to see Ven. Sudhammo again after two years. I first met him in Taiwan five years
ago, where he was studying at a Buddhist College in the southern city of Tainan. He was wearing
Chinese Mahayana dress at the time; now he’s wearing Theravada robes like two years ago; he
initially took ordination in Thailand. He is a good organizer and very dedicated to spreading the
Dharma in this stressful, materialistic and competitive society, even more so than Singapore. He
has been very busy and tired building the new center over the past several months, and he plans to
erect at least four more buildings on the hillside. We speak about mutual friends and acquaintances
in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and about certain monks and well-known teachers. He has relatives in
Toronto. Although he doesn’t feel confident enough to conduct meditation retreats himself at this
time, he’s been doing a great deal in promoting peace and Buddhism by distributing Dharma books
printed in Taiwan, and inviting teachers from Thailand and Burma. His efforts are much
appreciated.


April 15, 2000
     The rain began around 4:30 a.m., a heavy, steady downpour from off the South China Sea that
doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. The sound is soothing and comforting. It is now
around 9:00 a.m. and the heavy downpour continues unabated. It is indeed “raining cats and dogs”
and in bucketfuls. I’ve never experienced such heavy rain lasting for so long. Growing up in
Jamaica, heavy tropical rainfall never lasted more than 30 minutes before it began slowing down.
This is really quite extraordinary and amazing. Here in Hong Kong, it’s early summer and it’s not
too hot yet but it’s getting more humid by the day. There are times when you think the rain couldn’t
possibly get any heavier and indeed it does get heavier, increasing in loudness, volume and
intensity. It is unbelievable and somewhat worrying. It’s like the wrathful gods in heaven are
deliberately trying to drown the planet. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are landslides and floods in
parts of Hong Kong and Guangdong province; fortunately we are on a stable hillside and fairly
safe from flooding. It might as well be raining Chinese dragons and demons.


                                                   41
     It’s now noon and the downpour continues. Despite the loud noise on the roof, I have no
trouble snoozing or reading or meditating – the sound of the rain says what I think. Rationality
gives way to surrender, acceptance, patience and wonder. It’s now I:00 p.m. and the rain is starting
to ease up after eight and a half hours. I don’t believe it! There’s now a light rain upon the
thoroughly soaked landscape and the silence is profoundly peaceful and expansive and, like the
heavy rain, it seems to cover the whole earth. The air is fresh and clean like the leaves and rooftops.
In a few days, it will be warm and humid, and the mosquitoes will appear from out of nowhere,
hungry and bothersome.
     Ven. Sudhammo and I have a late lunch; the food is vegetarian, healthy and delicious. It is
good to see someone from this greedy, aggressive, competitive society who has chosen to follow
the noble path of simplicity, renunciation, study, meditation and reflection. He asks me about the
Buddhist Library where I used to stay in Toronto and we discuss why I left, and also about my
recent visit to Thailand, Malaysia, India and Singapore. We talk about monks we both know or
know about and those who have disrobed. We also discuss about the different meditation methods,
including the Goenka Vipassana Method and the cultish attitude of those involved in that tradition;
some of them are also in Hong Kong, not surprisingly. Ven. Sudhammo asks me for the retreat
schedule so he can have it translated into Chinese. Tomorrow I’ll be meeting my translator, a
young high school teacher, and a blind Dharma devotee who’ll be attending the retreat.
     On the evening news, there has been bad flooding in several areas of the New Territories
including the Yuen Long district not far from here. The army and police have had to rescue people,
mostly elderly, in the affected villages using aluminum boats. There’s no serious flooding in the
crowded downtown areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong island. My time in India, Thailand,
Malaysia and Singapore now seems like a distant dream. The sounds of the night insects and
singing frogs say what I think. There’s peace and compassion upon the land and love is there like
the light of the fireflies and the twinkling stars.


April 16, 2000
     It is a cool, fresh morning after yesterday’s rain. The songs of birds charm the air, giving rise
to hearing consciousness and delight. There is just experience without a center or experiencer and
this fact is always amazing, insightful and liberating. I’m staying in a small room, newly built, near
the old building that has the library on the ground floor and sleeping quarters upstairs. I sleep on a
thin, foam camping mat on the floor that is covered with thin red carpeting and I’m using a
spacious, round mosquito net from Thailand, which feels safe and secure during the night. As in
Singapore, I can pick up the BBC on local AM radio plus two or three English speaking stations
and several Cantonese stations and one Mandarin on FM. In Singapore, only English and
Mandarin radio and TV broadcasts are allowed. The retreat schedule is as follows:
5:00 – 6;00 a.m. --- sitting meditation.
6:00 – 7:30 a.m. --- yoga session.
7:30 – 9:00 a.m. --- breakfast, wash and relaxation.
9:00 – 11:00 a.m. --- sitting and walking meditation.
11:00 – 12:00 noon --- sitting, dynamic practice, and short talk.
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. --- lunch and rest.
1:30 – 3:00 p.m. --- talk and discussion.
                                                  42
3:00 – 4:00 p.m. --- walking, sitting, dynamic practice.
4:00 – 6:00 p.m. --- chi gong, sitting, and rest.
6:00 – 7:30 p.m. --- light dinner, wash and relaxation.
7:30 – 9:00 p.m. --- listen to taped chanting, talk and discussion, loving kindness meditation.


      At breakfast, I go over the schedule with Ven. Sudhammo. The women will be sleeping in the
old building upstairs; the men in the upper hall where most of the gathering will be held. The
vegetarian meals will be catered by a restaurant in Yuen Long town. During the morning, Robert
Sing and two friends visit Dhamma Garden to meet me. He speaks good English, studied for a
B.A.[mathematics] in the UK, and then his eye sight began to deteriorate due to defective optic
nerves. He returned to Hong Kong and started the training program at the Institute For The Blind to
help him adjust and come to terms with his condition. Here he met his future wife and companion,
a dedicated volunteer. She has been a tremendous help and support to him and others at the
Institute. He became interested in Buddhism and Dharma practice several months ago. It has
inspired his inquiring mind and the increased awareness/mindfulness has helped him with his
mobility and performance in daily life and to better remember the relevant features of his
surroundings.
     It is interesting how much more aware blind people are of their immediate environment than
sighted people, also of their mental states, and mental objects – thoughts, ideas and images.
Lacking sight their other senses become much more sensitive and acute and so their awareness of
what is happening in the present moment is much better than most of us. I’m very impressed with
Robert and his total acceptance of his blindness and his keen interest in the Dharma. He’s curious
about my family background and how I became interested in Buddhism and monkhood. He says he
tries to get others at the Blind Institute interested in the Dharma through listening to talks on tape
and CDs, and reading books in Braille and through meditation practice. He and his wife will be
attending the retreat.
     In the late afternoon, I meet my translator, Derrick, the high school teacher. He’s accompanied
by Susan, also a teacher at the same school in the New Territories. Derrick teaches mathematics,
economics and Buddhism, and Susan teaches Buddhism and History. He would like to become a
monk eventually, and she a nun; they’re both disillusioned with family life and they have keen
interest in the Dharma. Derrick’s Dharma teacher has been a French monk from Viet Nam who
used to live in Hong Kong and is now living in Berkeley, California. I’d met this monk at a small
monastery on Lantau island in early 1980 during my first visit to the British territory as a lay
traveller and we had had some very good discussions and shared travel stories. Shortly after that,
he was invited to teach at a meditation center in the U.S.
     During my visit to Hong Kong in 1998 I met him again and he remembered the stories I’d told
him about Jamaica even after eighteen years. He was living and teaching in an apartment on HK
island. After spending some years in America he was able to acquire a U.S. passport and
eventually disrobed. He told me he was planning to return to the States since the climate in Hong
Kong was too damp for him. When Derrick met this teacher three years ago, he was undergoing a
great deal of mental-emotional stress and this person was able to help him train his mind and
understand the Dharma. Like Derrick, Susan is from a broken home and not interested in marriage
and having children. Like Robert, they’re curious about my family history and how I became a
monk in Sri Lanka. I tell them about my recent trip to India and show them postcards of Varanasi

                                                    43
and the Ganges river with its bathing and burning ghats. Derrick would like to borrow the
postcards and show them to his Buddhism students.


April 17, 2000
     It’s warm and humid and mosquitoes are biting my lower legs and feet. I observe my aversion
to them and apply Tiger Balm to the bites to stop the itchy sensations. My first public talk will be at
7:00 p.m. in Kowloon; I’ll be speaking about our mental defilements that cause us suffering,
conflict and dis-ease. Ven. Sudhammo informs me that a devotee and volunteer named Jerry will
be coming this afternoon to meet me and take me downtown to this meeting hall as he has to leave
earlier with another volunteer with a van to pick up the sound system and mats for people to sit on.
This person shows up around 3 p.m. and he bows three times following the Theravada tradition in
Thailand and Burma [in Sri Lanka they bow only once]. He’s around thirty-three years old, short
and small, balding, and has a shy, nervous disposition. As we speak he becomes more relaxed and
less nervous. I’m surprised that someone his age would be so shy and nervous.
     Jerry used to work for a shipping company doing computer work for ten years, then he quit
following doctor’s advice about a year ago. Three years ago, he began to read philosophy
including some on Buddhism and he attended two retreats conducted by a monk from Malaysia
which he found beneficial. Six months ago, he went to Burma and stayed at a meditation center
where they practiced a unique method based on fast, rhythmic breathing in order to focus the mind.
Even after some months of daily practice, his Dharma understanding seems confused, scattered
and very intellectual. Like some people I’ve met in Malaysia and Singapore who read a lot, Jerry
tends to think too much and is very caught up with concepts, ideas and ideals; the strong clinging
mind is evident but he seems harmless enough.
     At 5:30 p.m., we leave for Kowloon, first taking a mini-bus from the village to Yuen Long
town, then an express bus directly to Kowloon via the new highway and tunnel which makes the
trip much shorter than before. On the way you can see the two new bridges connecting Lantau
island to the mainland. As we get closer to the Kowloon area, the increase in traffic and population
is evident. So many people living in a small area, so many tall apartment towers housing thousands
of people per square kilometer. They say the population of HK is around seven million. We get to
Jordan Station and walk to the Girl Guides HQ; the traffic is intense, the noise and exhaust
pollution are awesome. The hall looks smaller than two years ago: our perception of places and
people do change. Before, close to a hundred people attended the three sessions we held [seated in
rows of around fifteen] so that number helped create the impression of a larger hall. My translator
was a lawyer who had studied in the UK.
     Seeing an empty hall now gives a totally different impression. This evening about thirty-five
people are present. Derrick, my translator, sits on the low platform with me. Because of the high
level of stress in HK, we begin the session with a calming breath practice [inhaling, holding the
breath for five counts, then slowly exhaling and being aware of the body breathing out] for about
five minutes, then twenty minutes of sitting meditation with ambient music in the background.
Then we begin the talk on the three defilements and the importance and skill of Dharma practice
using mindfulness, reflection and loving kindness.
    HK is experiencing economic slowdown like the rest of Asia and SE Asia; people are worried
and anxious about the future, unemployment is on the rise. This is a good time to be more mindful
of our mental states in daily life, our fears and anxieties, our reactions when we see and hear the
news on TV and radio regarding the economic situation, and also when we think and speak about

                                                  44
the recession. With mindfulness and reflection, we begin to realize that the ‘world’ including Hong
Kong is but a mental state via the six-sense doors, which is causing us suffering and worry. This
‘world’ is constantly changing and therefore unreliable, uncertain, and empty of a permanent self.
We also mention how during the economic recession in 1929 many people overreacted and
became totally deluded and irrational and ended up jumping out of windows from tall buildings.
    So, Dharma practice is of the utmost importance during this challenging period: remaining
calm and patient, letting go of mental states, reflecting on the current situation with respect to
change and impermanence, grasping and clinging, craving, greed and attachment. This is a time to
practice simple living, less spending and buying, with more kindness and generosity. One doesn’t
have to be rich to be generous; in fact, poor people tend to be kinder than the affluent and they’re
much happier and free-spirited. Kindness and generosity isn’t only about giving money and
material things but also about giving of oneself, being more patient, understanding and forgiving,
spending more time with others when they need help and emotional support. In short, being more
kind and compassionate and less self-centered.
     After the question and answer period, we end the session with loving kindness meditation. I
think this evening will inspire people to attend the retreat. Derrick is an excellent translator and I
thank him for his skill and effort. On the way back to Yuen Long and Dhamma Garden, we have a
pleasant chat and he tells me how Dharma practice has been able to help him deal with a great deal
of stress and conflict at work.


April 18, 2000
     It is another peaceful and lovely morning at Dhamma Garden despite the mosquitoes and itchy
feet. The birds are singing and thick cotton clouds drift in the vast, blue sky. I help Ven.
Sudhammo to water the plants on the hillside using a long hose and he appreciates my jovial
company. His physical energy is admirable and he doesn’t need to take an afternoon siesta – that’s
impressive! Unless I’m physically active, I find it difficult not to take a snooze after lunch.
      The evening talk is an expansion of yesterday’s topic on mental defilements. The attendance is
about the same. I can tell that people appreciate the meditation and ambient music before the talk:
Hong Kong is not an easy place to live! I start by mentioning the benefits of yoga asanas, chi gong,
tai chi, hiking in the hills and swimming in order to release mental-emotional stress before doing
sitting meditation. I mention that when I was in the working world doing hatha yoga after work
was a gentle way to relax and bring one’s awareness to the present moment, and to let go of the
day’s activity, worries and conflicts, and how it was complimentary to sitting meditation. I also
mention the benefits of chi gong exercises and that we would be doing both yoga and chi gong
during the retreat. I go over the three defilements again and match them with the three qualities of
the Buddha. I explain how interesting and important it is to see that wisdom and mindfulness are
the medicine or antidote for ignorance and delusion, that loving kindness and compassion are the
antidote for hatred and ill-will, that simplicity and renunciation are the antidote for selfish craving
and attachment. The root cause of carving and attachment and aversion is ignorance and delusion.
     Specifically in Buddhism, we are speaking about ignorance regarding the self or ego, taking
the self as real, as a permanent, concrete, separate and independent entity. This is the fundamental
cause of suffering, conflict, dis-ease. We see the world in terms of ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ We take our
body, ideas or feelings as a self, as a separate ego just as we perceive a piece of rope at night as a
snake. Upon enlightenment, the Buddha realized that the body-mind phenomenon was a
constantly changing process and that it did not contain a concrete, separate and permanent self. We

                                                  45
are not the same person [mentally and physically] from one moment to the next. That the self
seems unchanging and separate from the rest of existence is a deep-rooted and universal illusion.
     The Buddha saw that the self was only a result of conditioning, based on thinking and
memory, past experience and knowledge, that ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’ were just concepts in the mind
based on the use of conventional language and the habit of identification. Because of this illusion
of a solid, independent ego, we become very self-centered, we take ourselves very seriously, and
we spend a lot of effort trying to satisfy, protect, justify and magnify this self and its images. From
this notion of self, we have craving, aversion and ill-will. We become very attached to our likes
and dislikes, to our ideas and opinions, to people and material possessions. Out of the root and
trunk of ignorance and delusion grow the branches of craving and clinging – desire, greed, hatred,
resentment, envy, jealousy, pride, arrogance, conceit, fear, anxiety – the whole lot. All these
branches bear the fruit of suffering, discontentment, dis-ease.
     We speak about the reputation of Hong Kong people as being very materialistic, greedy,
arrogant, superficial and aggressive. We speak of the craving for designer clothes and items, being
competitive, about people who try to out-dress each other in the work place and outside, and the
funny irony of people ending up looking the same: same style of clothes, makeup, hair-style,
footwear, handbags, jewellery and so on. Also, how comparing ourselves with others only result in
envy, jealousy, anxiety, inferiority complex, pride and conceit. We discuss the benefits of simple
living and how to practice the spirit of renunciation in a modern society using wisdom and
mindfulness to observe one’s mental states [craving, clinging, anger, worry, etc] and letting them
go in the light of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self.
     The mind, the restless, confused, reactive, untrained mind is the creator of selfish craving,
clinging, aversion and delusion. Dharma practice helps us to be calm, patient and less reactive. Our
state of mind depends on how we react to things or situations. It can remain cool and calm or
become heated and upset depending on how personally we take things. Being impatient and angry
or irritable does not remove the problem, it only causes more suffering and makes the problem
worse.
    After the Q & A session, we end with loving kindness meditation and more ambient music.
Next evening is a further exploration of the nature of delusion and mental states, unsatisfactoriness
and impermanence.


April 20, 2000
     Today is the start of the Easter holidays. Officially, the retreat begins this afternoon at 4:00
p.m. when most of the participants will have arrived. Tomorrow the program will start at 5:00 a.m.
with one hour of sitting meditation. I meet Derrick, Susan, Jerry, Robert and his wife, and others
including a sixty-four year old lady with a warm smile, and a young monk and his mother. Robert
and his wife will be sleeping on two folding cots near the kitchen area. She takes him with his
white cane around the center [to the toilet area, up the concrete stairs to the upper main hall and
balcony, to the two smaller halls on the way to the stairs, and to the washing-shower area] so he
can map these locations in his memory and consciousness plus the distances between these places
by the number of steps he takes. Lacking eye-sight and seeing consciousness, Robert has to depend
more on memory and thinking, intuitive knowing and awareness connected to touching, hearing,
smelling and tasting consciousnesses in daily life. He has inspired me to try going around the
center blindfolded for a couple of hours to see how I would manage; I’ll do this exercise after the
retreat is over and it will make more clear that fact that the ‘world’ as we know it is really what we

                                                  46
experience through the six senses at any given moment and that this ‘world’ is constantly changing
and empty of a permanent, concrete and separate self.
     After 4 p.m., we have an informal gathering in the upper hall with the nice balcony
overlooking the hillside, the other buildings and trees, and the surrounding hills in the area. There
are about twenty-eight people present; a few more will arrive tomorrow before lunchtime. There
are more women than men and about two thirds of the group have already attended at least one
retreat. I introduce myself and give some personal history including my discovery of Buddhism,
yoga and meditation in India and my becoming a monk in Sri Lanka. I speak about the ancient path
of the Buddha and the Indus Valley Civilization, the benefits of mindfulness/calm attention and the
Four Foundations of Mindfulness, and the value of observing noble silence and the five precepts
during the retreat.
    There’s a discussion about the practice, then we have a chi gong session and short sitting to
rest. After a light snack and rest, we meet for sitting meditation and we speak on the benefits of
loving kindness, acceptance, patience and compassion. We end with metta bhavana [loving
kindness meditation], bow three times to the Buddha, and retire quietly for the night. It’s a good
start to the retreat and everyone is smiling and happy to be at this peaceful place and looking
forward to the next few days. Silently, I thank Ven. Sudhammo and his supporters for establishing
this center and providing a place where people can relax and retreat from the intense hustle and
bustle.


April 21, 2000
      The early morning sitting begins with a taped recording of nuns and monks from Taiwan
chanting quietly for fifteen minutes. This invokes a wonderful feeling of peace, reverence and
devotion especially in the early morning [or late evening]. Then there is silence and that strange
stillness before the dawn that is sacred and untouched by the noise of mankind. And as the light of
dawn slowly awakens the landscape, one is aware of the sweet and gentle chirping of birds
emerging from the deep silence of meditation. There’s a benediction upon the land and a new day
has begun. Everyone feels good, relaxed and energized after the yoga asanas and we end with AH
and OM sound vibration. Afterwards we have breakfast on the patio below in silence, listening to
the birds and looking at the trees and hilly landscape; from the patio you can see China
[Guangdong province] in the distance across the bay.
     At 9 a.m., before the sitting and walking, I do a reading by Ajahn Chah of Thailand: “Try to
keep your mind in the present. Whatever that arises in the mind, just watch it, then let go of it.
Always return to the in-breath and out-breath to be in the eternal moment Don’t ever wish to be rid
of thoughts or sounds in the environment. Let them pass on, just let them be, let them die and fade
away naturally. Then the mind will reach its natural state. No discriminating between good or bad,
pleasant or unpleasant, hot or cold, fast or slow. No me and no you, no self at all. Just what there is,
mind and body, an ever-changing process. Nothing special, nothing to cling to. All things will
come and go of itself. No need to cling to isolation or seclusion. Wherever you are, know yourself
by being natural and watching. If doubts, moods, impressions, etc. arise, watch them come and go.
It’s very simple. Hold on to nothing.”
    At 10 a.m., I do a reading on walking meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh: “The seed of
mindfulness is in each of us, but we usually forget to water it. We think that happiness is only
possible in the future – when we get a house, a car, a Ph.D., a spouse. We struggle in our mind and
body, and we don’t touch the peace and joy that are available right now – the blue sky, the white

                                                  47
clouds, the green leaves, the flowers, the smile of our friends. What is most important? Many
people have passed exams and bought houses and cars, yet they are still unhappy and discontent.
What is most important is to find peace and share it with others. To have peace, we can begin by
walking peacefully and mindfully.
     Everything depends on your steps and breathing. If you think that peace and happiness are
somewhere else and you run after them, you will never arrive. It’s only when you realize that peace
and happiness are available here in the present moment that you’ll be able to relax. In daily life,
there is so much to do and acquire and so little time. You may feel pressured to run all the time.
Just stop! Touch the ground of the present moment deeply, and you’ll touch real peace and joy.
When we walk mindfully, we arrive in each moment. Our true home is in the present moment.
When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets, anxieties and sorrows disappear, and we
discover life with all its wonder and beauty.”
     Before we begin sitting and walking again, I suggest that people keep their eyes open if they
begin to feel sleepy or tired, keeping focus on the breath or they can look at the natural
environment and be aware of the space in the mind and thoughts arising and fading away in that
spacious awareness. Likewise, during walking meditation, one can stop sometimes, close the eyes
and breathe mindfully for three breaths and then look at the nature and be aware of the
spaciousness that comes with silence. Before lunch, we do the dynamic practice based on the slow,
rhythmic moments of the hands that originally came from Laos and brought to Thailand by Luang
Por Teean. Some are already familiar with this practice from a previous retreat conducted by
Ajahn Thong, a student of Luang Por Teean’s. This dynamic form of awareness is good to do if
one is sleepy or having difficulty focusing the mind; the eyes are open during this practice and one
is able to ‘see’ thoughts more clearly and let them go before one is deluded by them.
     Luang Por Teean taught that thoughts and mental images are primarily responsible for
creating craving, aversion and delusion, and hence suffering. Thinking is the source of both human
activity and human conflict/dis-ease. When awareness is weak, thought drags us away to the past
and the future, forming a strong chain. In dynamic meditation, the practitioner seeks to develop
and strengthen awareness to see thought and break its bond. Clear, firm awareness will naturally
go against the stream of thought by itself thus causing thought to lose its dominating power. Less
thinking, less problem.
     As with breakfast, lunch is eaten mindfully and in silence with awareness on tasting, chewing
and swallowing. I suggest that one can use the noting technique if one’s mind is thinking too much
while eating: ‘tasting, tasting,’ ‘chewing, chewing,’ swallowing, swallowing.’ This helps us to
focus more and stay with the actual eating experience of tasting, chewing and swallowing in the
present moment. Usually, our mind is busy, preoccupied with something or reacting to the food
and getting away from the present moment. Our reactions are automatic and personal: “Mmmm,
this is yummie, I like this dish, I would like to have this again real soon. This reminds me of
something I ate the other day, I think this evening I would like to have Chinese or Thai food.” or
“This is so bland, it needs more salt and chilly sauce. I should have ordered the chicken curry
instead.” And so on. When we react thusly, we automatically create the self or ‘I’ as the eater or
experiencer, as the taster and smeller, as the liker or disliker. We create a division, a duality in
consciousness which gives rise to craving/greed or aversion/conflict. By mentally noting the
tasting, the chewing, the swallowing, one is kept in a state of non-duality, just eating and intuitive
knowing without the idea of an ‘eater’ or experiencer separate from the process of eating or
experience.


                                                 48
      Also, when we usually eat with others, we are busy talking and so the food becomes a
secondary concern; we’ll make a brief comment about the food and then jump to other topics. But
when we eat mindfully and in silence, the food is our main focus and our appreciation is much
greater. And there is a wonderful shared experience of peace and contentment. Those who insist on
talking while eating tend to be anxious, agitated and nervous. Eating lunch on the patio while
looking at the environment and hearing the birds is wonderful and relaxing indeed.
     During the afternoon talk and discussion, we go through some of the difficulties people are
having with the practice. Some find the noting while eating difficult, it is such a strange idea for
them; they prefer to just eat in silence and let the thinking come and go, no problem. I mention how
I once saw people eating lunch at a restaurant and almost everyone was eating unmindfully and
hurriedly, speaking loudly about work and business with grains of rice flying everywhere from
their mouths, how it looked so ugly and undignified. They laugh.
     We speak about the three qualities of the Buddha [wisdom and mindfulness, simplicity and
renunciation, loving kindness and compassion] and how they’re related to our three mental
defilements [ignorance and delusion, craving and clinging, hatred and ill-will], then we explore the
nature of the thinking process and how it creates the idea of a permanent, concrete and separate self
or ego-entity as a collection of memories based on past experiences and conditioning, habitual
reactions and impulses, and personal identification with physical, mental and emotional
phenomena: grasping and clinging to the world as ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ Then there is awareness,
mindfulness, calm attention, the unconditioned state of being and intuitive knowing. We also
speak about the difference between logical, rational, constructive thinking and irrational,
destructive thinking that causes mental-emotional suffering and conflict.
    After the discussion, it is time for dynamic meditation [walking and hand movements], after
that they can do sitting practice if they wish or have tea and look at the trees and hills in silence.
Then we have the chi gong exercises at 4 p.m. to recharge ourselves since people are usually
feeling sleepy or spaced out at this time of day. Doing chi gong is a easy and wonderful way to
energize oneself plus focus the mind and release mental-emotional stress, unbalanced feelings and
moods. It is indeed a powerful yet gentle form of dynamic mindfulness. Afterwards, we rest and
meditate for around 20 minutes with Chinese tea music in the background. By then, there is clear,
vibrant energy in the mind and it’s a real joy to relax and appreciate this state of being. Before the
light meal at 6 p.m., people go off by themselves to observe the sunset and be at peace. By this
time, the hectic, intense, crowded and materialistic world of Hong Kong seems very far away from
the quiet simplicity of Dhamma Garden, and the gentle, unassuming and supportive presence of
Ven. Sudhammo is most reassuring and much appreciated by one and all.
     At the evening session, we first sit on the padded floor and listen to a recording of Thai monks
chanting blessing suttas for about twenty minutes. It has a lovely rhythm and lilting quality similar
to that of the Thai language. The chanting is soothing, mysterious and ancient sounding; it conjures
up images of the Buddha and those early forest monks sitting under trees and walking mindfully
with their alms bowls and collecting food from kind devotees, also images of ancient temples and
monasteries, with wise monks and nuns teaching the Dhamma to other monks, nuns and lay
devotees all seated on the ground, with some meditating and some performing ceremonies with
chanting and bowing involved. And I think fondly of my mentor, the Venerable Balangoda
Anandamaitreya Mahathera of Sri Lanka who passed away two years ago. Thanks to his loving
kindness, compassion, guidance and blessing, I’m now here at Dhamma Garden conducting this
retreat program and sharing the Dhamma. Some participants comment on the chanting afterwards.


                                                 49
     In order to keep the evening session light, relaxed and pleasant, I encourage people to share
their experiences of the day’s program and previous retreats, and to ask any questions. I share
some of my experiences in Thailand, India and Sri Lanka including the time when I sat by the
Ganges river in Rishikesh and experienced the total silence and stillness of the mind, when I went
on alms round in Thailand on the King’s birthday and suffering from having to carry too much
food and bottles of water, and when I was at my mentor’s temple in Sri Lanka and having to deal
with sickness and boredom, leeches, rats, snakes, black scorpions, and thieving youths from the
nearby villages. It is a pleasant evening of discussion and storytelling.


April 22, 2000
     The early morning sitting is as deep and blissful as yesterday. The gentle chirping of
awakening birds brings delight and peace to the dawn as before. Fleeting memories of early
morning sittings in Sri Lanka come to mind when I would sometimes get up at 3 a.m. Some
mosquitoes are buzzing around and trying to get blood; that’s just what they do since they came
into existence a long, long time ago.
     During the yoga warm up [sun salutation], a young lady loses her balance and falls backwards,
hits her head on the window ledge and drops limply onto the padded floor. There’s an air of
excitement and those closest to her tend to her prone form, checking her head for bleeding, talking
to her reassuringly, caressing her forehead and temples, holding and massaging her hands. I’m
quite impressed with their loving care and attention; there’s a big difference between reacting and
getting upset, angry or freaked out, and acting rationally with loving care and compassion. I
remain calm and alert, there’s nothing really I can do to improve the situation but hope that she
hasn’t sustained a serious injury. After some minutes, she’s slowly lifted to her feet and supported
away to be taken to the hospital in Yuen Long for X-ray and treatment. The yoga session proceeds
according to schedule.
     In between the sitting and walking, I do another reading by Ajahn Chah: “When you reach the
edge of perception, what do you do? You stand there or sit! Stand and watch your mind. Watch it
and it will change of its own accord. There is no need to try and force it. When that’s the way the
mind is, then just know that that’s the way the mind is. Simply establish this kind of knowing and
a new kind of perception will arise. In meditation absolutely anything is possible. But we must not
be fooled by any of it – whatever comes up, don’t get caught in doubting – just wait patiently for it
to change. If you follow or get caught by anything, it will lead you to confusion – just keep putting
it down, know it and let it go and don’t think that’s the end. Don’t think you have finished
anything, because soon something else will come up. All we need to do is know it and let it go.
Make this the base of practice and there will be no dangers or problems. When you have this kind
of base then no matter how strange or weird the activity of the mind may be, you will be able to just
look at it – you won’t be caught in it. With this knowledge and attention we work through such
difficulties, and solving them wisdom arises. It is not relevant how unpleasant or pleasant things
may be. This is the attitude you must develop.
     Don’t think that these things that disturb the mind are necessarily harmful, or that the practice
is going to be enjoyable. Sometimes the easy moments are misleading, sometimes they’re
wonderful – but remember it’s all dangerous and misleading, deceptive. Simply do not give value
to anything. They’re all empty and temporary conditions of mind that arise out of the void and pass
back into it with no trace or reminder – nothing to cling to or be saved. So we learn to let things go,
allow things to be as they are. And they change quite naturally on their own, they die a natural

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death. They are all impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty of a permanent self.” And I read again
something on walking meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh.
     After lunch, the talk is on the dynamic practice of the rhythmic movements of the hands. Apart
from its benefit of seeing thoughts more clearly and letting them go, it’s an easy way to intuitively
know nama-rupa, mental and physical phenomena. The movement of the hands is rupa [physical
phenomenon], and the awareness and knowing of the movement is nama [mental phenomenon].
One can also recognize nama-rupa during walking meditation, mindful eating, mindful breathing,
mindful washing of dishes, and so on. This intuitive knowing of nama-rupa is a direct way of
realizing non-self, of seeing beyond the idea of ‘me’ as a separate, concrete self or ego entity who
is walking, eating, seeing, hearing, breathing, washing the dishes, and so on.
     So if someone asks you who is walking or who is eating, the answer is clearly: nama-rupa
[mind-body process]. When we say, ‘I am walking” or “I am eating,” you can see that the use of
the ‘I’ is only a convenient, conventional label to refer to this phenomenon of mind and body.
Similarly, names [John, Mary, Wong, Lim, etc] are only conventional labels used to describe
nama-rupa [or the five aggregates]. Also, knowing nama-rupa helps you to also see beyond other
social conventions such as man and woman, male and female, monk and layperson, doctor, lawyer,
engineer, dishwasher, cook, king, queen, prime minister, president, pope, cardinal, bishop, and so
on.
     Social conventions have their place and purpose but if we become too attached to them and
take them too seriously as ultimate, concrete reality, we only experience conflict, confusion and
delusion. For example, monks who take themselves too seriously will experience mental suffering
despite their social status and knowledge. You also see that a dog, cat, rat, mole, ant, cockroach,
whale, shark, dolphin, goldfish, eagle, crow, sparrow, cow, goat is also nama-rupa, mental and
physical phenomenon, interesting, no? This understanding is indeed humbling for it helps us to see
the folly of self-importance and ego-pride, and as you know, all living things on the planet,
including all nama-rupas, are subject to birth, sickness, ageing, death and decay. Also, seeing
nama-rupa [or reminding oneself of the fact of nama-rupa] helps us to be more patient, accepting
and compassionate when one is experiencing an unpleasant or uncomfortable feeling or situation
since it stops us from taking things so personally: “I don’t like this! I’m so uncomfortable! Why
me? Poor me, life’s not fair!”
      One monk I know likes to chant, “Only earth, water, fire and air, only earth, water, fire and
air.” whenever he’s experiencing pain or heat or cold or sickness. That’s wisdom and creativity for
you! From knowing nama-rupa, one can reflect on the five aggregates – matter, feeling or
sensation, perception, mental reaction, and consciousness, plus the four elements. But more on this
later.
       During the discussion someone gets upset by something I’ve said. He’s Vietnamese Chinese,
living in Taiwan, and speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, no English. He’s the sensitive, emotional
type [not unlike myself] but with limited life experience and he takes things far too personally;
he’s around twenty-five years old. I try to clarify what I’ve said that made him upset but he defends
his attitude; others are surprised by his reaction and behaviour. Then I say slowly and clearly:
“Actually, the problem is not about what I’ve said but your perception and reaction to it. You grasp
at it and take it too personal and so you experience suffering. This is why you’re upset, I didn’t
intentionally try to make you angry; you caused yourself to be angry, do you understand? This is
the second Noble Truth as taught by the Buddha. Please remember that Dharma practice is
learning to let things go: when you see, just see; when you hear; just hear, and so on. In the Fire
Sermon, the Buddha talked about how our senses and sense consciousnesses are on fire, burning
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with desire, aversion and delusion. Dharma practice is learning how to use mindfulness and
wisdom to put out these fires and cool down. Mental coolness is freedom from craving, aversion
and delusion. This is a very beneficial and wonderful teaching.”
    Again, I read Ajahn Chan: “Generally, our problems are the result of our inner reaction to a
situation; when we do not know ourselves clearly, we are like foreigners to our senses, thoughts
and feelings, and it is difficult to control our reactions. It is our reactions which make us burn out,
which throw us off balance and cause us suffering or discontent, dis-ease. Our very lack of
awareness has contributed to our mental suffering. We are deluded by our thoughts, feelings and
emotions and we become victims of them and are thrown off balance. We can learn to rely on
ourselves by paying attention to our patterns of response and become aware of the motivations that
lead us into difficulty. We can learn to watch and let go. Just see things as they are – impermanent,
unreliable, and empty of a permanent self. Things get better in our lives when we react less and
less. We will remain calm and peaceful, wise and patient, strong and secure.
     Basically, our problem is that we take everything too personally. Whether it is the past, present
or future, we tend to relate to them from the context of ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ We don’t realize that
ultimately nothing really belongs to us. If you take a walk in the cemetery and read the
grave-stones, and reflect on the nature of impermanence you will see this fact. We ourselves are
conditioned and impermanent beings. How can something that is impermanent and has no lasting,
fixed and independent self or ego-entity, own anything in the first place? Not to mention, too, the
things we supposedly own are also impermanent themselves! So can we see the height of our folly,
ignorance and delusion! Due to the conditioned mind it’s easy to stay inside our personal
boundaries, our self-centered world, protecting our habits, our pleasures and comforts.”
     I continue addressing him, “So please let it go, OK? It’s not important. You and I are not so
important; we are both going to die one day, OK? Please bear this fact in mind. When you put food
in your mouth and it’s too hot you don’t waste time making noise and complain: you spit it out
immediately, no? This is common sense and wisdom. In life, we cannot expect people to say things
that are pleasant and agreeable all the time; the world isn’t like that: it’s a mixture of both pleasant
and unpleasant, praise and blame, gain and loss, happy and sad, fame and ill-fame. These are the
conditions of the world. When we train our minds properly and develop wisdom, we can remain
calm and patient because we know that they’re all impermanent, unsatisfactory and empty of self.
We stop taking things personally and that is freedom from suffering, OK?”
     The sensitive, emotional man from Taiwan nods his head and smiles. I smile, we both smile.
Derrick is such a wonderful translator. I thank him and everyone spontaneously applauds with big
smiles on their faces. It’s a happy, appreciative moment. The chi gong session at 4 p.m. is also
much appreciated and nicely energizing. The evening session begins again with sitting and
listening to Thai Pali chanting for around twenty minutes. Again, the rhythm and lilting intonation
invokes the spirit of the Buddha and the ancient path of wisdom and mindfulness, simplicity and
renunciation, loving kindness and compassion. Then we continue to sit in silence listening to the
buzz of night insects and small high-pitched frogs for several minutes more. There is peace,
contentment and bliss. Afterwards, most of the group say that they’re feeling more relaxed and
peaceful than yesterday. Again, it’s a pleasant evening of sharing and humour. And I tell more
stories. One is the well-known tale about the two travelling monks and the young lady by the river
that takes place in either Japan or China to illustrate the clinging, suffering mind.
     Two monks are travelling on foot to a temple several miles away. Soon they get to a wide,
shallow river where they see a beautiful young lady wearing a lovely silk dress. Standing on the
bank and looking very worried about having to cross the river and getting her dress wet. The older
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monk at once sees her predicament, laughs understandingly and says, “Here, young lady, not to
worry, let me take you across, no problem.” Before she can respond, he quickly picks her up in his
arms and confidently wades to the opposite bank making sure he doesn’t step on any sharp or
slippery stones. The young lady giggles and smiles in appreciation at this gallant gesture. The
younger monk is shocked and upset by his brother monk’s unorthodox behaviour but he keeps his
feelings to himself as he follows them across the river. The helpful monk puts the happy lady
safely down when they get to dry land and they bow to each other as she thanks him profusely for
his kindness.
     He’s happy to be of service and he continues on his way, smiling and singing to himself. The
other monk, walking behind him is unhappy and preoccupied: “I can’t believe he did that, holding
that woman in his arms as if they were lovers! This is outrageous! He broke the monk’s precept!
And he’s acting as if he’s done nothing wrong. Monks are not supposed to go near women, much
less touch them, especially young and beautiful ones like that one! I can’t believe he broke the
rule! I thought he was a good and decent monk but now I’m very disappointed with him. He’s not
free from defilements as I used to believe. I used to look up to him and respect him as a good
example but now I’m not sure what to do! Maybe I ought to report him to the abbot at our temple.
I don’t think I want to be his friend anymore. Why did he do that? Can’t he control himself? Maybe
if the woman was old and ugly it wouldn’t be so bad but look how beautiful and attractive she was
especially in that pale green silk dress!” And on and on and on he thought, his mind contracting
with obsession and indignity, hardly aware of the beautiful scenery around him as they walked.
     Meanwhile, the other monk is enjoying the hike and the beauty of the hills, trees, wild flowers,
and the birds and clouds in the vast blue sky. Even when they stop to rest in the shade the younger
monk is solemn and still preoccupied with what happened earlier on; he’s unable to appreciate the
natural environment. Eventually, they get to their destination after sunset; they’re welcomed by the
resident monk, they have a wash, a meal and some chitchat, and then they prepare to retire for bed.
Finally, the upset monk can no longer keep quiet and suppress his emotions, he exclaims to the
older monk: “You know, you made me very angry and upset today. Why did you carry that young
woman across the river this morning? Us monks are not supposed to go near or touch women,
especially young and beautiful ones. I thought you would know better than that but obviously you
don’t! You still have lustful desire and defilements! I’m very surprised and disappointed with you!
What made you do such a thing and break the precept?” The older monk shakes his head in
disbelief and amazement and says: “You know, I left that young lady by the river many hours ago
but you are still carrying her. Please put down your heavy burden and go to sleep, OK?”
    I like to tell this well-known story for it illustrates the clinging, suffering mind. One can see
how obsessive thinking about the past [or future] is the cause of clinging, craving and delusion. No
think, no problem. I tell another story about learning to be silent during a meditation retreat.
    Four young students were staying at a temple and their master had to be away for a few days.
They decided to do their own meditation retreat and keep noble silence. A caretaker was at the
temple to do the cleaning, sweeping and cooking. The first day all went well. They did sitting and
walking meditation diligently and kept noble silence even during the meals. However, during the
evening, long after sunset, one of the students couldn’t help himself and called to the caretaker:
“Hey there, don’t you see that it’s dark and getting late? Why don’t you do your job and light the
lamps and candles?” The second student spoke up: “Why did you talk and break noble silence? I
thought you were a good meditator but now I see that you cannot control yourself!” The third
student then responded: “You two chatterboxes are really bad! You have no mindfulness, your
concentration is weak, and you cannot appreciate the silence and emptiness!” A minute later, the

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fourth student said: “You three are so silly and pathetic, you just cannot meditate properly like me.
I’m the only one who has not spoken.”


April 23, 2000
     Today we speak and discuss about the noting method in dealing with mental-emotional states
in daily life. The Buddha taught that suffering/conflict arises from our habitual grasping at the
world, at physical, mental and emotional phenomena as ‘me’ and ‘mine’ and that’s why we take
things so personally and experience dis-ease. Noting things objectively helps to lessen our
grasping at phenomena and so allow them to pass away naturally without struggle or control. For
example, if jealousy or resentment arises, instead of saying, “I’m jealous” or “I’m feeling
resentful,” take a deep breath or two and make a mental note, “There’s a state of jealousy” or
“There’s a state of resentment” and remind yourself that it’s impermanent and not self – “this too
shall pass,” then bring awareness/attention to breathing or walking or hand movements or to
whatever you’re doing at the moment and you’ll see that that mental state will go away by itself
without struggle or effort, be patient.
     Doing chi gong exercises or running or swimming is good for strong or heavy emotions like
anger, resentment, grief and depression. Likewise, objectively note desire/craving, fear, worry,
loneliness, sadness, etc. and learn to let them go using skillful means. One can also note “thinking,
thinking, thinking,” “worrying, worrying, worrying,” “regretting, regretting, regretting,”
“planning, planning, planning” etc. and use skillful means to let go of illogical, irrational thinking
and come back to presence. We must see things as they are – feelings are just feelings, thoughts are
just thoughts, emotions are just emotions. This is the way to end suffering. A wise person still
thinks and feels, however, he or she knows that feelings, thoughts and emotions are impermanent,
unsatisfactory/unreliable/uncertain, and empty of a permanent self.
     I read again something from Ajahn Chah: “When we no longer identify with and cling to
happiness and unhappiness, we are simply left with the natural way of things, the arising and
passing away of mental states or phenomena. When your knowing is constant you’ll see that this is
really all there is. Everything is just birth and death. It’s not as if there is anything which carries on.
There’s just this arising and passing away as it is – that’s all. This kind of seeing will give rise to a
tranquil feeling of dispassion, detachment to the world. Mental activity is like a deadly poisonous
cobra. If we don’t interfere with the cobra, it simply goes its own way. Even though it may be
extremely poisonous, we are not affected by it. We don’t go near it or take hold of it, and so it
doesn’t bite us. The cobra does what is natural for the cobra to do. If you are smart, you’ll leave it
alone.
     Once you understand non-self, then the burden of life is gone. You’ll have less craving, worry
and regret, and more peace with the world. When we see beyond self, beyond ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ we
no longer cling to happiness and security, and then we can be truly happy and secure. Learn to let
go without struggle, use mindfulness to simply let go, to be just as you are – no holding on, no
attachment, no grasping – to be light, innocent, joyful and free. Know your own body, heart and
mind. Be content with little. Don’t be too attached to teachings, to books, ideas, opinions, words.
Don’t go and hold on to emotions and moods. Let it all go. When happiness arises, don’t be
overjoyed, and don’t get carried away. When suffering comes – sadness, depression, loneliness,
etc. – don’t despair, don’t lose yourself in it. Keep mindfulness and patience. See that they have the
same value – only temporary conditions of mind. When suffering arises, understand that there is


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really no one, no permanent self to accept it. If you think suffering is yours, happiness is yours, you
will not be able to find peace and joy.”
     During the evening session, I tell another story relating to someone on a long, meditation
retreat. A man, tired of the worldly life, goes to a retreat center, set in an isolated valley surrounded
by high mountains and hills, far away from the nearest town or village. And he wishes to do a long
retreat of meditation, study, and reflection; he’s made a lot of money, has learned several
meditation methods, has brought with him a good collection of spiritual books, and can afford to
take the time off. He’s been married and divorced: no children, no wife, no problem. He has an
interview with the manager/supervisor and he is told that there’s no official teacher, as such, at this
center: it’s a self-styled place where you do your own retreat program. No problem, he says, he can
manage just fine by himself. The manager tells him that observing strict silence is of the utmost
importance but that, if he wishes, he’s allowed to speak two words, only two words, once a year.
The man nods in agreement and he’s most eager to begin his long retreat; he has been wanting to
do this for the past ten years or so.
     The weeks and months go by and he’s in heaven; despite a few discomforts, he’s inspired,
positive, blissful, and all’s well. At the end of twelve months, he’s invited to see the supervisor in
his office and the supervisor quietly says, “Well, a year has passed since you arrived here and I
trust you’re finding the retreat beneficial. Now, if you wish, you may say your two words, as
agreed.” The man, after not speaking for twelve long months, finds it difficult for his mouth to
form words and, with much effort, he manages to whisper: “Bed hard.” “OK,” replies the
supervisor, “you may go now. See you in one year.” The man bows with palms held together in
respect and humility and he slowly returns to his small room in the west wing of the building, some
distance away from the reception and office area. Twelve more months go by and he’s back in the
supervisor’s office and he’s once again encouraged to say his two words. With much effort, he
manages to whisper: “Food boring.” “OK,” replies the supervisor, “you may go now. See you in
another twelve months.” Again, the man bows respectfully and off he goes into the great silence.
After another year, he’s back again in the office and he barely whispers: “Mosquitoes biting.” He
gets the same response and off he goes again into the great silence. Another twelve months go by
and this time he quietly says: “Feeling restless.” Another year goes by like nothing, he’s back in
the office facing the supervisor who is looking a bit older and he quietly says: “Back paining.” Off
he goes again and after another twelve months, he’s again facing the supervisor and he says:
“Missing friends.” Another year goes by like nothing and he’s back again to see the supervisor and
he says: “Legs paining.” Another year goes by and his two words are: “Having nightmares.” After
twelve more months he’s again sitting in the office and facing the supervisor and quietly he says:
“I quit.” The supervisor looks at him thoughtfully, smirks and then responds: “Well, I’m not
surprised as you’ve been complaining ever since you got here.”
     Another story is about a man on a train journey. Sitting across from him is another man who’s
dangling a carrot tied to a string into a large paper bag and moving the string with the carrot up and
down and making funny noises. The other man looks on for a few minutes and he’s getting more
and more curious and finally he asks: “Hey mister, what have you got there in the paper bag?” The
man looks up and gives him a big smile and says: “Oh, this is Benny, my pet mongoose. I’m
playing with him.” The other man is surprised and responds: “But why are you travelling around
with your pet mongoose in a brown paper bag. Why don’t you keep him at home?” The man with
the paper bag smiles again, nods his head and says: “Well, you know, I’m partial to drink and
sometimes I hallucinate and I see snakes, and I’m really afraid of snakes, so I carry Benny around
to protect me from those mean snakes, understand?” The other man laughs like crazy, shaking his

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head and says: “That’s really crazy! But surely, you must realize that those snakes don’t really
exist, they’re just a figment of your imagination, they’re only in your mind!” The snake-man
smiles, nods his head and says: “That’s OK, so is Benny.”


April 24, 2000
      During the morning session, we do a reading regarding the Dharma and mindfulness: “The
Buddha was not a Buddhist; he did not become a Buddha through Buddhism. The Dharma
produced a Buddha, the Buddha proclaimed the Dharma. Let Dharma be your refuge. In the last 25
centuries thousands of books have been written which seek to elaborate or simplify the Dharma.
Religions have been formed around it and countless practices [rites, rituals, ceremonies, etc.] have
been advised in its name, all of which tend to separate the Dharma from life, from everyday
existence – all of which glorify and venerate the pathfinder [the Buddha, various mystics, and their
followers] – yet which ignore the Timeless Path and the qualities of nobility needed to even
commence the pilgrimage. This ignorance [ignore-ance] in which the bewilderment of suffering
has its base, has been the reason why one continuing advise of the Buddha has been continually
ignored. What is this advice? – Satipatthana [mindfulness, calm attention]. To be mindful of life.
To pay attention, to be alert and awake! To examine sensibly and without preset views and
opinions the physical and mental states of phenomena.
     Each of us must therefore be mindful as we thread the Ancient Way. Each of us must see the
path through our own eyes. Each must know the Dharma through one’s own experience. Just
reading books is not enough; the value of the Dharma isn’t to be found in books. Those are just the
external appearances of Dharma, just fingers pointing to the moon, they’re not the realization of
Dharma as a personal experience. If you realize the Dharma you realize your own mind, you see
the truth there. When the truth becomes apparent it cuts off the stream of delusion. We must be
mindful of our methods and conditioned habits of forming opinions and prejudices, of the
processes we call “instinctive,” of the body and mind, and of actions and thoughts and mental
images. With mindfulness, awareness, we must investigate and reflect this mystery we call Life,
this ignoramus and illusion we call “I” or “me” or ego. Words alone cannot tell us, philosophical
formulae will be meaningless until we experience the wordless truth of seeing things as they are in
the flame of attention, in the clarity of perception, free from the conditioning/programming of the
mind – labels, judgements, comparisons, criticisms, likes and dislikes, etc.
     Through mindfulness, we may strip life of its illusions and complexities, its pretenses and
hallucinations, its half-truths, its fears and insecurities, anxieties, tensions and so on. Samadhi is a
state of mindfulness, calm attention and joy. A state of repose and restful awareness, of quiet
confidence and goodwill, wherein clear one-pointedness of mind may operate undisturbed by
physical tensions or emotional worries. Through mindfulness one will observe the interactions of
emotions on the body and of physical tensions on the mind and by knowing these things we gain
confidence, insight and repose. To see things as they really are, there must be a firm foundation of
physical relaxation and emotional repose in daily life as we relate and react to the world so we can
see clearly the habitual patterns which exert their powerful forces from the dark caverns of
memory, past experiences and knowledge. The Buddha taught the way of Satipatthana through
which the Dharma may be clearly realized. Mindfulness, choiceless, effortless awareness in daily
life, leads to insight, self-knowledge and wisdom, freedom, loving kindness and compassion, and
harmony. In mindfulness, one is not only calm, content, and happy but alert and awake. Meditation
is not an evasion or escape; it is a clear and serene encounter with reality.”


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    After lunch, we speak about how the Buddha was able to find a cure for sickness, ageing and
death. When Siddhartha left his father’s palace in search of enlightenment, what was most
prominent in his mind was: “How can I find a cure for sickness, ageing and death?” – having been
very shaken and disturbed by seeing a very old, feeble person, a very sick person covered with
infected sores, and a dead body being cremated on a pyre by the river. And so when Siddhartha
became the Buddha, he was able to find such a cure but this cure was obviously not a medical,
physical cure as he himself had to experience sickness, ageing/old age, and death. The cure was
therefore a mental/psychological one based on his profound realization of impermanence,
unsatisfactoriness, and non-self. The Buddha saw that human beings had the conditioned habit of
grasping and identifying with physical and mental-emotional states as ‘me’ and ‘mine’ and
therefore experienced suffering, conflict, worry, anxiety, etc. We take the body as ‘me’ and
‘mine.’ Conventionally speaking, we say, “I’m tall, I’m short, I’m fat, I’m skinny, I’m beautiful,
I’m ugly, my skin is smooth/rough, I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m sick, I’m getting old, I’m getting fat
and unattractive, my leg is paining me, I’m losing my hair, I’m going to die,” and so on.
     But in truth, the Buddha realized that the body was not ‘me’ or ‘mine’; that it belonged to
nature and its changing conditions; that it was only a temporary shelter composed of the elements,
of earth, water, fire and air; that actually there wasn’t anyone there, no permanent, fixed and
independent entity – only mind-body process, only earth, water, fire and air. With that
understanding and insight, he no longer identified with the body and its changing conditions, he no
longer saw birth, sickness, ageing and death as a personal happening and so there was no conflict
and dis-ease. Thus, he overcame the fear and anxiety of sickness, old age and death. Also, he no
longer grasped and identified with mental-emotional states including feelings/sensations,
perception, mental reaction and consciousness as ‘me’ and ‘mine’; he saw that happiness and
unhappiness were only temporary mental states, only changing conditions of mind and empty of a
permanent, separate self. Thus his mind was free from clinging, craving, aversion, becoming,
ignorance and delusion.
     I do a reading by Ajahn Buddhadasa: “We must reflect on life until we realize that suffering
arises from grasping and clinging. Birth, sickness, growing old and death are conditions of nature.
They are not suffering where there is no attachment to “my birth,” “my sickness,” “my ageing,”
“my death.” At the moment, we are grasping at birth, sickness, ageing and death as “ours.” This is
wrong view caused by habitual conditioning. If we don’t grasp and take things personally, they are
not suffering and conflict. Birth, sickness, ageing and death are only bodily changes. With right
view, right understanding, birth, illness, ageing and death disappear – only changing conditions of
nature – and the “my” disappear at the same time. There is no longer any “I” or “my” and this
condition is not suffering. It is peace, acceptance, freedom and detachment. This is the way to
overcome birth, sickness, ageing and death. No one can free you but your own understanding.”
     The evening session begins with the multi-tonal chanting of the Gyuto monks from Tibet.
Listening to the deep vibrations, I find I can easily go into a deep state of meditation. Most of them
have never heard this kind of chanting before and some say they find it very strange and scary.
They say that this kind of chanting might invite some ghosts in our presence, we laugh. Some
Chinese in Malaysia are afraid to meditate by themselves because they believe that spirits might
come into the room to haunt them. It is appropriate that we discuss the nature of fear and the skilful
way to deal with fear whenever it arises. This is always a good topic since we can all relate to fear
of some kind, especially mental/psychological fear. First, I ask each one to say what is their most
common fear and it’s interesting to see that they cover the whole range of mental fears that humans
experience: fear of getting sick, fear of old age and death, fear of the future and the unknown, fear

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of not achieving, becoming and having, fear of losing, fear of change, fear of loneliness and
isolation, fear of public opinion, fear of pain, fear of not being loved and accepted, fear of
rejection, fear of authority, fear of ghosts and spirits, and so on.
     We explore each of the fears and then we see the three connecting factors of this mental state –
thinking, desire/aversion, and time as past and future. And then we see the root of all fears which is
the self, the ego-center. The more self-centered we are, the more we take ourselves seriously, we
more mental fear and suffering we experience: worry, anxiety, insecurity, vanity, craving,
expectation, frustration, disappointment, resentment, attachment, sorrow, guilt, despair, and so on.
Thinking is the source of fear and the self, the ‘me’ center which is put together by the thinking
process as memory and past experience is the origin and root of all fear. Simply put, you can say
that self-centered thinking regarding the past, present and future is the cause of psychological fear,
anxiety and guilt, the latter being an aspect of fear. When there is attention, there is no fear. When
we are not mindful, discursive thinking takes over and that produces fear, worry, anxiety, craving,
etc. Desire/craving and fear often go together….the fear of not getting what you want, the fear of
not achieving, not having, not becoming, and so on. When there is loving kindness and
compassion, there is no resentment or aversion or self-centered craving and attachment, and so
there’s no fear.
     When fear arises, we apply mindfulness/attention and mentally note it: “there is fear” or
“there’s a state of fear,” as we’ve discussed before. We don’t identify with it, we don’t grasp and
take hold of it as a personal possession, we don’t say: “I’m afraid” or “I’m having fear and I
shouldn’t be afraid, I must be brave,” and so on. Then we remind ourselves that it’s impermanent,
that it’s only a temporary mental state, that this too will pass, and that it’s empty of self – not me,
not mine. Or one can note, “just thinking, thinking, thinking” and then come back to present
mindfulness since mental fear is caused by thinking. You will see that fear will go away by itself
without struggle, control or suppression. And, of course, you can do a short loving kindness
meditation if you have the time as this will help alleviate the fear.
      I relate two well-known stories related to fear about samurai warriors in Japan: A samurai
warrior and his army comes upon a small hut after they had attacked the village nearby and had
killed a few people and set fire to some of the buildings. The samurai dismounts from his horse and
steps arrogantly into the hut with sword in hand and preparing to kill another frightened, pathetic
peasant; he’s thirsty for blood, adrenaline pumping through his veins. Inside, he finds an elderly
monk sitting calmly and sipping tea from a clay cup. He glares fiercely at the monk, stands over
him threateningly and says in a rough voice: “Aren’t you afraid of me, old man?” The monk looks
up at him calmly, then he looks down and continue to sip his tea as if the samurai wasn’t there.
    The proud samurai feels ignored and insulted; he’s used to people bowing down in front of
him, shivering with fear and pleading for their lives. This elderly monk is treating him as if he’s
almost invisible, as if he doesn’t exist. “Don’t you know who I am?” he shouts arrogantly, “I’m a
great samurai warrior! And I am someone who can run you through with this sword without
blinking an eye!” The monk looks up at him calmly, showing no fear and says: “And I am someone
who can be run through with a sword without blinking an eye.” Then he returns to sipping his tea
unconcerned, unfazed by the threat of possible death. The samurai is shocked by the monk’s
equanimity and he calms down and admires the monk’s calm and dignified presence. He bows
with respect and humility, then he turns and walks away shaking his head.
     A samurai warrior goes to a Zen master to inquire about Heaven and Hell. “Do these two
places actually exist or are they fanciful ideas created by the mind?” he asks. The master looks at
the proud, arrogant warrior and replies, “You are only a samurai, someone of low intelligence. All
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you know to do is how to fight with your sword and kill people. You’re really stupid and ignorant;
I cannot teach you anything so go away from here!” The samurai is surprised at this rude, insulting
response: no one insults a samurai and lives to tell the tale! He quickly becomes angry and
automatically he draws his sharp sword made of the finest steel, holds it above his head and
prepares to cut the master’s head off his shoulders. Just as he’s about to strike, the master brings up
his hand and points his finger directly at him and shouts: “Aha! That’s Hell!” Suddenly, the
samurai is aware of his disturbed mental state, his anger, his hurt pride and arrogance. He also sees
that the master has risked his life to teach him this lesson out of compassion and he quickly cools
down, throws his sword in the corner, and prostrates himself on the floor in gratitude, respect and
humility. The master smiles and says, “Ah, that’s Heaven.”


April 25, 2000
     Today the retreat ends after lunch. During the morning session, we do an overview on the
benefits of Dharma practice and we mention how it helps us to be more content and peaceful on a
daily basis. We again go over the use of the noting method in daily life in order to be more mindful,
objective, and less reactive with craving or aversion or delusion especially when seeing, hearing
and thinking. We suggest that people spend a day off work just noting and not reacting and see
how it feels afterwards; it’s good practice. We suggest that people go to a shopping center and just
keep noting, “seeing, seeing, seeing” or “only seeing, seeing, seeing” and just keep letting go of
that perceived object and don’t buy anything, save your money – it’s good, interesting practice in
mindfulness, simplicity and detachment. [laughter]
     In the work place, pick a day when you make the effort to note, “only hearing, hearing,
hearing” when someone is saying something unpleasant to you, especially your boss or supervisor
[laughter], try not to react, try to keep calm and cool, don’t take it personally; this is a good practice
in equanimity and patience, even if someone is saying something pleasant to you, don’t take it
seriously and get carried away, just smile politely and say, “OK, thank you.” [laughter]. We also
encourage people to continue doing some yoga and some of the chi gong exercises whenever
possible in dealing with mental-emotional stress and to improve their sitting practice.
     I again read Ajahn Chah: “Most people still don’t know the essence of meditation practice.
They think that sitting and walking meditation, and listening to Dhamma talks are the only
practice. These are the only the outer forms, the preliminary stages of practice. The real practice
takes place when the mind encounters a sense object. That’s the place to practice, when sense
contact occurs. When people say things we don’t like there is resentment or hurt, if they say things
we like we experience pleasure. We get caught by insult or praise. Now this is the place to practice!
When people criticize us we should listen. Are they speaking the truth? We should be open and
consider what they say. Maybe there’s a point to what they say, perhaps there’s something
blameworthy within us. They may be right and yet we immediately take offense. Some people
cannot accept criticism; they are proud, arrogant and conceited, they become defensive and
uptight. Instead they turn around and argue. If people point out our faults we should strive to be rid
of them and improve ourselves. This is how intelligent people will practice.
    The practice of Dhamma isn’t something you have to go running around for or exhaust
yourself over. Just look at the feelings that arise in your mind. When your eyes see forms, ears hear
sounds, nose smells odours, tongue tastes flavours, body feels sensations, mind creates thoughts,
ideas and images, they all come to this one mind, ‘the one who knows, who is aware.’ Now, when
the mind perceives these things, what happens? If we like that object we experience pleasure, if we

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dislike it, we experience displeasure. Craving or aversion may arise. That’s all there is to it. So,
where are you going to find lasting happiness in this world? Do you expect everybody to say only
pleasant things to you all your life? Is that possible? No, it’s not. If it’s not possible then where are
you going to go? The world is simply like this. We must know the world, know the truth of this
world. The world is something we should clearly understand. The Buddha lived in this world; he
didn’t live anywhere else. He experienced family life and many pleasures in his father’s palace but
he saw their limitations and detached himself from them. If you persevere with the practice you,
too, will see the limitations of this world and be able to let go. No more grasping and craving and
attachment.”
     Lunch is again a mindful, peaceful and blissful experience on the patio looking at the trees and
hills, and listening to the birds. People are much more relaxed and smiling than a few days ago.
Time is really an illusion; it seems like this retreat has been going on for at least ten days but it’s
been only four or five. We are planning to have a shorter retreat next weekend for those interested.
It’s been a good experience for everyone, myself included.
     After lunch, I do a reading on The Three Refuges by Ajahn Sumedho and it is much
appreciated. Then I do a reading by J. Krishnamurti before we end the session with loving kindness
meditation: “Is the human brain your brain or is it the brain of humanity? This is really a very
serious question? Is your brain an individual brain or the brain of mankind? When you say it is my
brain or it’s my consciousness, is it really so? Or is it the consciousness of mankind? Inquire into it.
You suffer, you are confused and uncertain, you are anxious and afraid, you worry, you are
regretful, you are hurt, angry and frustrated. That is what you are. You are not separate from your
thoughts and emotions, your mental states. You have ideas, opinions, beliefs, fears, knowledge,
pride and conceit, character. And this is what you are. And this is exactly what your neighbour is.
He or she is also suffering, that person also goes through disappointment, sorrow, fear, and so on.
     So, is your consciousness separate from the rest of mankind? No, of course not. You may
think you are an individual because you are male or female, dark or fair, tall or short, attractive or
ugly, smart or dull, etc. because peripheral activity makes you think you are an individual unique
and separate. But, deeply, you are the same as everyone else, you are the rest of humanity, of
mankind. We all want to be happy, we want to be secure, to be loved and accepted, we all have fear
and anxieties and sorrow. We are ‘all in the same boat,’ we are all living creatures on the same
planet whirling endlessly around the sun. When you realize this fact, this truth very deeply in your
heart, not intellectually or superficially, you will never hurt or kill another because you are hurting
or killing yourself. Then out of that understanding comes great compassion and love.
     We share, all humanity shares, the sunlight and the rain; that sunlight and rain are not yours or
mine. It is the life-giving energy which we all share. And our consciousness in which is included
our reactions and actions, our ideas, our concepts, patterns and habits, systems of belief,
ideologies, fears, anxieties, insecurities, pleasures, faith, the worship of something we have
projected, our sorrows, loneliness and pain. All this is shared by all human beings. When we suffer
we have made it into a personal affair. We shut out all the suffering of mankind like pleasure; we
treat pleasure as a private thing – ours, my pleasure, my enjoyment – the excitement of it and so on.
    We forget that man has suffered from time beyond all measure. And that suffering is the
ground on which we all stand. It is shared by all humans. We know our own sorrow, but we are not
aware of the sadness of others. When our hearts are weary and dull, how can we feel the weariness
of another? Sadness is so exclusive, isolating and destructive. How quickly the smile fades!
Everything seems to end in sorrow, in depression, the ultimate isolation. To feel and share the


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suffering [and joy] of mankind is the flowering of compassion and love. With love there is the
ending of time and sorrow. When the ‘me’ is not, then love is. This is virtue and freedom.”
     At the end of the loving kindness meditation, I play Zen Meditation by Tony Scott and friends
for several minutes; it’s an old classic from the 1960s. I find this music very peaceful, deeply
moving and blissful, evoking a feeling of spiritual aloneness and solitude in nature, and it’s
therefore appropriate for the ending of the retreat. Then there are short speeches of appreciation
with joyous laughter and we again applaud the wonderful skill and effort of our translator, Derrick.
As people are leaving the hall, one schoolteacher approaches me for a private chat and thank you,
saying that my kind of retreat [with the yoga, chi gong, chanting tapes and ambient music, and
Dharma stories] is more appropriate and beneficial for people in Hong Kong who are very
stressed, serious, materialistic and worried. He found other retreats too intense, serious and boring,
not enough dynamic mindfulness like the yoga, hand movements, and chi gong exercises, not
enough informal discussion and entertaining stories. It is good to get such response.
     The sensitive, emotional, young man from Taiwan also approaches me for a personal thank
you and goodbye, and he gives me a warm hug before we bow to each other. I thank Derrick
personally and give him a warm hug, then we do a short yoga session together as he’s not sure
about two or three of the stretching postures. For the rest of the afternoon, people slowly pack up,
chit-chat, hang out, and prepare to leave. There are more gestures of appreciation and goodbyes.
     Then Derrick, Susan, Jerry, the young monk, his mother, Ven. Sudhammo and I get together
for a friendly, informal discussion outside on the patio. The main topic is karma, rebirth and
reincarnation, and it’s a lively session with much laughter, teasing and goodwill. Jerry is the most
serious of the group with his clinging mind: too much thinking, grasping and attachment, it’s not
easy for him to let go. Only awareness can free us from our thoughts and delusions. In the moment
we come aware that our thoughts are just thoughts, just temporary conditions that come and go,
rather than reality itself, we wake up from their spell and can return to presence.


April 26, 2000
      Today is a day of rest. No retreat program and no schedule to consider. Ven. Sudhammo is
busy as usual with taking care of the grounds, watering the plants, sweeping inside and outside,
phoning people, and so on. I read, write, meditate alone in the hall, look at the scenery from the
hillside and balcony, and think occasionally of the past few days. We have an interesting visitor, a
local lady named Mary, who is here to prepare lunch for us and to ask a few questions about the
Dharma and practice. Mary was once married to a Thai person in the Air Force; they’d met while
she was on holidays in Thailand. She learnt the Thai language and became interested in Buddhism
and Thai culture. They divorced and she returned to live in Hong Kong and later she got married to
someone from the UK and had two children. Now, whenever she has some free time, she likes to
visit Dhamma Garden and prepare lunch for Ven. Sudhammo and any guest who might be present.
     She appreciates the peaceful environment and she likes the tradition of offering food to monks
which she had learned in Thailand. She has also lived in Singapore and her English is quite good,
better than her Cantonese. She’s naturally curious about my background and how I got interested
in Buddhism and the monkhood. We discuss the three characteristics of existence –
impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self – plus the nature of self, the thinking process, and
knowing nama-rupa [mental and physical phenomena]. I show her the dynamic practice of
mindfully moving the hands, and mindful eating during lunch.


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     During the late afternoon, I go for a walk around the village and I end up at the previous
Dhamma Garden where I’d stayed briefly two years ago. Surprisingly, the place is open and the
owner, Ven. Sudhammo’s friend, is staying somewhere else. Through an open gate, you walk
along a dirt path through a small clump of trees under which the Dharma classes were held, then
you get to a grassy area and an enclosure with fence and a small house where Ven. Sudhammo and
sometimes guests would stay. The gate of the enclosure isn’t locked so I can go through and enter
a small patio area with a round metal table and plastic chairs, and beside it is a small grassy yard
with potted plants and small trees. It’s a quiet place, a perfect spot for a monk or two to live but not
a place for group retreats; you can see why Ven. Sudhammo decided to find a new area and build a
new meditation center, a new Dhamma Garden.
     The door to the small house is locked and I think Ven. Sudhammo has the key. Although my
stay at this place two years ago was brief, I do have fond memories waking up in the early morning
and meditating in the cool, country air, listening to the insects and frogs from the pond next door,
and later at dawn hearing the chirping of birds and the crowing of the village roosters which
brought back déjà vu sensations of childhood innocence in tropical Jamaica during the 1950s. The
cool air was also a wonderful relief after being in Malaysia for five hot, humid months made even
hotter by the absence of rain caused by the El Nino Effect. This weather phenomenon had also
affected the rest of SE Asia, New Guinea and Australia, and giving Canada an usually mild winter
which resulted in a severe ice storm in eastern Ontario and parts of Quebec when thousands of
people were without electricity. I also have fond memories of sitting on the balcony upstairs and
appreciating the cool breeze and lovely view of the surrounding area with high hills in the
background.
    This early evening before sunset, I’m content to sit at the round table in the small garden area
and read a most interesting book by a former American monk about his experience with Ajahn
Chah of Thailand, titled: Venerable Father.


April 27, 2000
     Today I have a visitor called Goh; he and his wife had attended the retreat. Also, Mary is here
again to prepare us lunch and ask more questions. I’m pleased to see her and she’s happy to be
visiting Dhamma Garden two days in a row and speaking with me. Goh has been unhappy at his
workplace for some years now and he would like to discuss this situation plus go over some of the
things I’d said during the retreat regarding the thinking process, the ego, the world as the six sense
doors and our reaction to sense objects. His wife has a good job, attends yoga classes, likes
Dharma teachings and meditation practice, and she’s very kind and supportive. They have no
children and they’re in their early forties. I tell him how lucky he is to have such a wife; he smiles.
He tends to think too much and take things too seriously and this is the root of his problem, I
surmise.
     We discuss his work situation, his stress level during the workday, and the need to be more
mindful and less reactive. He says he’s seeing more the value of noting things while at work and
reminding himself that all experiences are impermanent, unreliable and empty of self. I suggest
that he does some of the breathing exercises and dynamic practices we did during the retreat while
at work, and some yoga and chi gong after work with his wife. He says he and his wife are thinking
of taking early retirement as they live simply at her parents’ flat and there are no children to worry
about. I suggest that when they decide to retire, they can come to live at Dhamma Garden and help


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Ven. Sudhammo with the center. The latter thinks it’s a great idea since he needs all the help he can
get.


April 28, 2000
     Today I have a visitor called Carol Poon and she was able to attend only two of the afternoon
sessions during the retreat. She had other engagements but this week she has more free time and
wishes to discuss a matter that has been troubling her for quite a few years. She had attended the
talks in Kowloon and she had asked a question about guilt. She can’t spend much time today but
she wants to tell me the problem and come back later for a more in-depth discussion. OK, I say.
Carol is middle-aged and single, and she’s been suffering from guilt since her mother died sixteen
years ago and she has tried many things, workshops in the USA and HK, speaking with
professional people, reading self-help books, but she’s been unable to unburden herself.
    “My mother had this chronic disease for about ten years which had to do with her immune
system and she worried a great deal about the family [of three children] because my father was a
poor provider yet somehow he never seemed to worry. Sometimes I blame him for her illness
because it was perhaps connected to her worrying and anxieties about the future. Anyhow, I was
very self-centered, flighty and immature at the time, not a very responsible daughter. Instead of
helping my mother at home, I just wanted to go out and have fun with my friends and boyfriends;
I really hated having a sick mother at home all the time. My sister, on the other hand, was very
different; she was a very filial daughter and she really took care of my mother, she was so kind and
patient. I’m a very impatient person! Anyhow, when our mother finally died, I suddenly realized
what a terrible daughter I had been and since then I’ve been suffering from guilt and remorse for
not caring for my mother. How can I free myself of this guilt? Sometimes I feel that my mother’s
ghost is haunting me, taking revenge for having neglected her. Please, I really need your help, what
can I do?”
    We sit in silence for several minutes listening to the birds calling to one another. The view of
the surrounding area from the hillside is lovely in the morning light but her mind is too agitated and
preoccupied to appreciate the beauty and silence of the moment. Her mind is so dominated by past
memories that the significance of being in the present has little meaning. To be free from the
burden of the past, to that which we know, is to be innocent, open and receptive, and joyous.
    “When we don’t know ourselves we usually end up as tormented, confused, unhappy human
beings,” I reply, “even though we may be successful in the business world, in our careers, and so
on. Learned people who don’t understand themselves are really limited and unintelligent.
Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. In self-understanding there is the whole of existence;
it embraces all the struggles and conflicts of humanity – all our suffering and dis-ease.”
   “What do you mean by self-knowledge?” she asks.
    “It means understanding the nature of the human condition, the nature of experience, the
thinking process, why we have problems and how to solve these problems. I spoke about this
during the talks in Kowloon, don’t you recall?”
   “This is still all new to me as they never taught any Dharma in school and as a child my parents
never took me to any Buddhist temples.” she replies.
   “Actually, they should be teaching Dharma in schools besides the other academic subjects; it’s
no wonder children end up as confused, selfish, anxious adults. The Dharma is about life and

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relationship, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with being a Buddhist; in fact, many temples do not
teach Dharma as taught by the Buddha, they mainly do devotional ceremonies and collect
donations. The Buddha taught about the nature of suffering and freedom from suffering, mainly
regarding mental-emotional suffering, like what you’re going through. Anyhow, you have to go
now so I’ll be happy to continue this discussion with you at a later date, OK?”
    “Thank you very much,” she replies, “what you’re saying sounds very interesting and I hope to
see you soon before you leave Hong Kong.”


April 29, 2000
      Kitty has come to see me, a friend from Toronto who’s working in Hong Kong. She’s
originally from here but immigrated to Canada some years ago. In Toronto, she worked and bought
a house and invited her siblings to live with her: a brother and a sister, no parents living. The sister
was single like herself and her brother was married with a small child. I first met Kitty when she
came to my yoga-meditation class at a center where I was staying and conducting weekly classes
on Sundays. The yoga class was in the morning and in the afternoon was a Dharma discussion
class plus a meditation session. Kitty had an inquiring mind but had a difficult time calming her
restless thoughts and focusing her awareness.
      She was having a lot of conflict with her sister and her brother who she felt were taking
advantage of her generosity and she didn’t know how to deal with the situation. I could tell she was
a kind, sincere person with a good sense of humour and I was happy to speak with her. She
attended more of the yoga-meditation classes and some of the Dharma discussions, and we had
several beneficial discussions regarding her family conflicts. Eventually, she decided to sell the
house and move back to Hong Kong where she had a small apartment and her siblings had to find
their own place to live and learn to do without her. She was happy to be on her own again and far
away from her family in Toronto.
     It’s nice to meet Kitty again after a year or so and in her native country. She tells me about her
work in a company and I tell her about my life since leaving that center in Toronto including a
short trip to Northern Ireland and Scotland plus my recent visit to Thailand, India, Malaysia and
Singapore. I invite Kitty to attend the retreat on the weekend but she has to work on Saturday.
However, she would like me to visit her this Sunday afternoon after the retreat session. I plan to
ask Jerry to accompany me to her apartment since he has invited me to spend a short time at his
place. It is noticeably getting warmer and more humid than before; fortunately I have a small fan in
the guest room. Both my feet are covered with small itchy sores from insect bites; I keep applying
Tiger Balm oil to them.
     People begin to arrive for the retreat around 6:00 p.m. It’s good to see some familiar faces
from last week and there are three or four new ones. Derrick is back to translate but he has to leave
tomorrow after lunch, no problem. We meet in one of the halls at 7:30 pm for group meditation,
informal discussion and story telling; it’s nice to sit together and listen to the insects again, they
seem like old friends. One of the stories goes like this:
     One day a young novice was washing his master’s teacup and it slipped from his hands, fell on
the floor and broke into several pieces. He was very upset and worried as this was the master’s
favourite cup. He heard his master’s footsteps approaching and he quickly picked up the pieces
and held them behind his back to hide the evidence, not knowing how the master would react. He
was in a heightened state of panic when the master opened the door and entered the room.

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Suddenly, he got an inspiration from the Dharma teaching and asked with trepidation, “Oh master,
please tell me, why do people have to die?” “Well,” replied the master thoughtfully, “People have
to die because they have this physical body. Because we are born, we have to experience sickness,
hunger, tiredness, ageing and death. This is the law of nature, the way things are. We have so long
to live and then there’s the time to die, OK?” The novice smiled with relief, produced the broken
pieces of the cup and said, “Master, it was time for your teacup to die.”
     Another story is also related to impermanence and the certainty of death: Once two groups of
monks were arguing about the rules of the sangha and they became very heated and carried away.
The Buddha stepped in and tried to calm them down and get them to stop the argument but they
wouldn’t listen to reason as they were so heated and irrational. The Buddha shook his head and
calmly left them and went to another forest some distance away where he could be quiet and
undisturbed. The next day when the monks went on alms round in the village close to where they
were staying, the villagers inquired where the Buddha was since they were looking forward to
meeting the Blessed One and offering him food. Some of the monks told them that the Buddha had
left and gone to another forest because they had been arguing angrily amongst themselves and they
became so heated and deluded that they were unable to cool down even when the Buddha tried to
stop them, and that’s why he left the area. The villagers became upset and refused to offer food to
the monks. Eventually, after three days without food, they came to their senses and realized how
stupid and immature their behaviour had been. They went to where the Buddha had gone to and
when they met him they bowed with respect and humility and asked forgiveness for their childish
and arrogant behaviour and promised not to argue like that again.
     The Buddha smiled and calmly said, “For the next few days, you need to meditate on the
certainty of death and the fact of impermanence. When you have calmed and focused your mind,
you must see yourself as a decomposing corpse, rotting and putrid and covered with flies and
maggots, and also being eaten by wild jackals, crows and vultures, and eventually reduced to a
skeleton and scattered bones, and then to dust. So the next time you find yourself wanting to fight
and argue with others, meditate on the certainty and fact of death and you’ll see the folly of
deluded grasping and clinging and taking things so seriously. Of all mindfulness practices, that on
death is supreme. May you be well and happy and free from suffering.


April 30, 2000
     The early morning sitting is wonderful, deep and clear, even though there are more
mosquitoes. Someone has lit mosquito coils close to the open windows and my sinuses are very
sensitive to smoke. I observe the sensation that arises in the nostrils, one’s mental reaction of
aversion, and one’s mental state from the smoke and repellant. I observe the desire to remove the
coils and I let that desire go. I find that one’s aversion is worse than the smelling and burning
sensation itself and I practice acceptance and patience. The mind is slightly dizzy but it’s not the
end of the world. I’ll survive.
     During the morning session, we discuss the wisdom and freedom of not clinging to perception
as ultimate reality or truth; likewise, not clinging to thoughts and ideas, views and opinions,
attitude, ideals, ego and image, conclusions and beliefs. It’s important to let go of clinging to fixed
ideas – about oneself and others, about monks and Buddhism, about the world in general, and
letting go of clinging to the desire to change others. It’s best not to judge others. It takes all sorts of
people to make the world go round. No need to carry the burden of wishing to change them all.
Clinging is itself a stressful state and everything that comes from it is also stressful. It’s like

                                                    65
clenching your hand into a fist: as soon as you start to clench your hand, you have to use energy to
keep your fingers clenched tightly. When you let go of the clenching, your hand is free and relaxed
again. So it is with the mind. When it’s in a state of clenching, clinging, it can never be free and
relaxed. It can never experience peace or happiness or freedom, even if one has all the wealth,
fame and power in the world. We must try to be patient, practice wholesome behaviour, live
simply, be natural and watch the mind’s activity and reactions. It will lead you to unselfishness,
peace and compassion.
     I tell a well-known story regarding perception and clinging: One day two monks were in the
temple courtyard, looking at the flag fluttering in the wind and arguing. One insisted: “It’s the flag
that’s moving and not the wind.” The other insisted: “It’s the wind that’s moving and not the flag.”
After several minutes, the master came over, listened to the argument, looked at the fluttering flag
and said: “It’s not the flag or wind that’s moving, it’s your mind that’s moving.” [Such is the nature
of seeing consciousness and perception]. Another master joined them and said: “What flag? What
wind? What mind?”
[thus going beyond labels and concepts].
     After lunch, we continue with the subject of clinging and the mind. And I do a reading from
Ajahn Chah: “People are always looking outwards, at others and things. They look at this hall, for
example, and say, “Oh, it’s so big!” Actually, it’s not big at all. Whether or not it seems big
depends on your perception of it. In fact, this hall is just the size it is, neither big nor small. But
people run after their perceptions and feelings all the time. They are so busy looking around,
reacting, and having opinions about what they see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, that they have no
time to look at themselves. We get carried away with our restless minds and chase our thoughts
and ideas, our feelings, emotions and moods – we get caught by them, and so we create a lot of
problems for ourselves and others around us. Some people get totally carried away and do crazy
things, even commit crimes and murder. We are often victims of our own mental states simply
because we don’t know how to watch our minds with awareness and wisdom and let these mental
states go.”
     Also, another reading of unknown source: “The root meaning of Nirvana or Nibbana is
“letting go,” a state of mind which is free of craving and attachment, grasping and clinging, free
from self-centered activities. It is a state of calm and peace, restful, expansive awareness. Even the
desire for Nirvana can cause conflict, anxiety and dis-ease. We’re always looking outside
ourselves for happiness and security in other people, money and material things. And out of fear
and insecurity we have created God or a Saviour, a concept or image in the mind. All things are
within ourselves if we only care to look. We are simply fooled, seduced, distracted and
mesmerized by the world of appearances, which is an illusion because it’s constantly changing.
Truth is not static; it’s dynamic and alive.
     Nirvana is a state of mind that is simple and clear, free and innocent, compassionate and
patient. There is nothing to lose or gain, nothing to become or to get rid of, and nothing to prove.
Wisdom is being and accepting who you are, and seeing things as they are, seeing what’s what
without reacting to it. Our minds are conditioned to react, our brains are programmed/educated to
label, judge, compare, criticize, condemn, to like or dislike, to want or not to want. So, this is the
cause of our conflicts, discontentment, disharmony and dis-ease. The idea of a permanent,
unchanging ego-center or self is strengthened by this conditioning and it is this deep-rooted
illusion of a permanent and separate ego-entity which is the source and cause of our problems and
conflicts, fears and worries, craving, greed and attachment.”


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      During the evening session, I tell the story about two friends visiting a wise man: One day two
friends got into an argument about some issue and getting no where, each one sticking to his point
of view. Finally, they agreed to go and see a wise man in the town and seek his counsel. One friend
went first as the other friend was busy that day. He met the wise man and explained the nature of
the argument and his point of view. “So who do you think is right?” he asked. “Of course, you’re
right.” replied the wise man. “I knew it!” he exclaimed happily and off he went to tell his friend the
good news.
     The following day, the other friend showed up anxious and upset and explained his point of
view and then he asked: “So now, who do you think is right?” The wise man replied: “You are
right, certainly.” The man laughed happily, thanked the wise man, and off he went to tell his friend.
Then the wife of the wise man came out of the kitchen and said to him: “You know, I happened to
overhear your discussion with those two idiots and I think both of them are wrong and stupid yet
you told them that they were both right. Everyone in the town might believe you are a wise man but
I think you are just an old fool like the rest of them.” He nodded his head, looked at her with love
and compassion and said: “You know, my dear, you are right.”


May 1, 2000
     The familiar feeling of sitting in this hall with its buzzing mosquitoes and softly chirping birds
at dawn is somehow reassuring, peaceful and blissful. During the morning session, we discuss the
importance of being humble, to be without ego pride, arrogance and conceit. The proud mind says,
“I know a lot of things,” but a humble mind says, “I don’t know.” The ‘don’t know’ mind is alert,
open, unassuming, intuitive and intelligent. Knowledge is always related to the past and is
therefore limited. A mind that has a lot of knowledge isn’t necessarily intelligent; you can have
several university degrees and still be ignorant and deluded about life and yourself; you can remain
self-centered, insecure, petty and superficial. You can have a Ph.D. in Buddhism and still lack
wisdom and compassion.
     Intelligence is not the mere capacity of design, remembrance and communication; it is more
than that. One can be very informed and clever at one level of existence and quite dull and ignorant
at other levels. Mere knowledge, however deep and wide, does not necessarily indicate
intelligence. Capacity or talent is not intelligence. Intelligence is sensitive awareness of the totality
of life; life with its problems, contradictions, ironies, miseries, paradoxes, joys, its illusory nature.
To be aware of all of this, without being caught by any one of its issues and to flow with the whole
of life is compassion and intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to keep an open, inquiring mind so
one is learning all the time. A proud and conceited mind is incapable of learning. So humility,
learning and intelligence go together.
     I tell a well-known story about a university professor going to see a Zen master to inquire
about Zen Buddhism and meditation. The professor is proud and arrogant and full of himself, and
tries to impress the Zen master with his vast knowledge of philosophy and history and academic
achievements, quoting frequently from several books. The master listens patiently for several
minutes and then offers to serve some tea. He pours tea into the professor’s cup and when it’s full
he keeps pouring calmly while the tea runs over into the saucer and then over the table and then
onto the floor. The professor looks on and becomes more puzzled, confused and upset. Finally,
unable to control himself, he utters, “What are you doing? You keep pouring tea into the cup even
though it’s full and you’re making a mess with it. Can’t you see that the cup cannot hold any
more?” The master stops pouring, smiles and says, “Like this cup, you are full of your knowledge,

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ego pride, arrogance and conceit. How can I teach you about Zen unless you first empty your
cup?”
    After lunch, we discuss the nature of equanimity and the eight worldly conditions – happiness
and unhappiness, gain and loss, praise and blame/flattery and insult, fame and infamy. This is a
good teaching, I find, and one for thoughtful reflection and experimentation especially when one is
experiencing unhappiness, loss, blame or insult, and ill-fame. Worldly people who are attached to
happiness, gain, praise or flattery, and fame are naturally very afraid of their opposite –
unhappiness, loss, blame or insult, and ill-fame. The Buddha taught that we should reflect on these
conditions and see their impermanent, unsatisfactory/unreliable, and empty nature, and we should
therefore not cling to them as ‘me’ or ‘mine.’ If we don’t take them personally, then they are not
suffering and conflict; a wise, mindful and patient mind can remain calm and cool despite their
unpleasant nature.
     I tell a well-known story relating to the Buddha’s equanimity: During one of the Buddha’s
talks, a man got up and began shouting angrily at the Buddha, calling him all the bad names and
curse words he could think of. Some of the audience were shocked and upset by this irrational and
disrespectful behaviour while others were slightly amused and curious to see how the Buddha
would react to this unpleasant situation. The Buddha remained cool, calm, and smiling, not
reacting to the man’s behaviour. After several minutes of emotional display, the man stopped and
stood silently, breathing heavily like a mad bull, feeling spent, confused and mystified as to why
there was no reaction or argument from the Buddha. When he had calmed down a bit, the Buddha
addressed him: “Tell me, Sir, what if someone was offering you a gift and you refused to accept it,
who would you say the gift then belonged to?”
     The man was initially surprised that the Buddha would ask him such a rational question, then
he thought for a moment and replied, “Well, since I have not accepted the gift, then I would say
that it would still belong to the person who was trying to offer it to me.” The Buddha smiled
benevolently and said, “Likewise, O man of anger and confusion, I have not accepted your angry,
insulting words and so they all belong to you.” The audience gasped in amazement and
appreciation. The man looked at his mind and suddenly realized that his mental state was really the
problem, his anger, his ego-pride, arrogance and ignorance, and not the Buddha. He placed his
palms together, bowed in respect, and quietly sat down.
     During the discussion, I again tell another well-known story regarding the sublime state of
equanimity: A monk was living a simple life in a small hut at the edge of a fishing village. In one of
the houses closest to the hut lived a small family with two daughters. One day the parents found
out that their elder daughter was pregnant and angrily demanded that she tell them which man in
the village was responsible. Feeling very guilty and afraid, she cried and cried, refusing to say who
it was. The parents persisted for several days and finally she told them that the monk living nearby
had gotten her into trouble. Shocked and upset, they quickly spread the word what the evil monk
had done and a group of them marched to his hut and began shouting accusations and curses at
him, two or three people threw stones at the hut. The monk listened to their accusation, shook his
head calmly, and said, “Is that so?” He listened some more and again calmly said, “Is that so?”
     Ten months later, after the child was born and breastfed for a month, the girl’s parents took the
child to the monk and demanded that he take care of the bastard child since he was its father. He
calmly took the child without argument and said, “Is that so?” For a year he took care of the child,
getting milk from some of the villagers, and by then his reputation from being a virtuous monk to a
lustful scoundrel had grown. But he remained calm, patient and dignified and lovingly cared for
the child as if it was his own grandson. Then the young lady, tortured with guilt, decided to tell the
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truth and confessed that she had lied and that the child’s father was really a young man who
worked in the fish market and that they were now planning to get married. Her parents were
overjoyed and quickly went to see the monk and they told him the whole story. They begged
forgiveness and asked for the child back. He nodded his head calmly, gave them back the child
who was now walking, and said, “Is that so?”
      We end the session and retreat with a short sitting and loving kindness meditation at the end of
which there is Zen Meditation music. Afterwards, there’s friendly chit-chat, and people saying
thank you and goodbye and how much they appreciated the weekend retreat. Packing an overnight
bag, I head out with Jerry to visit Kitty at her flat via three bus rides. I thank him for doing some
translating yesterday and today despite his nervousness. For his age, he’s quite nervous and shy
and he’s very nervous to meet Kitty for the first time. I wonder why he has such a temperament? I
tell him to breathe deeply and relax, and that Kitty is a very nice, friendly person, nothing to worry
about. Kitty is happy for my visit and is curious about Jerry who becomes less and less nervous the
more Kitty chats with him. I encourage them to speak in Cantonese even though their English is
fine.
     I drink coffee and Chinese tea and snack on crackers and cheese. I browse through some of
Kitty’s magazines and books on Buddhism in English; she has a few Dharma books in Chinese.
You can tell she’s happy for the company as she doesn’t have many friends outside the workplace
but she’s happy to be on her own and away from her demanding siblings. She’s thinking of
changing her job to a company in Shengzhen, a mini-Hong Kong across the border in Guangdong
province; she’ll be able to stay at the company’s living quarters during the week and return to her
flat here on weekends. The job is better paid and she’s in need of a change. Good for her. And she
decides to accompany us to Jerry’s place in one of the new townships in the New Territories not far
from Yuen Long. Derrick and Susan are also living in one of the new townships close to their
school.
     These townships are a collection of tall new apartment buildings with shopping centers, banks,
supermarkets, restaurants, children’s playgrounds, and so on, not unlike the apartment blocks in
Singapore except that these buildings are much taller and the shopping areas on ground level are
more extensive. There’s more space, people and money in HK and the New Territories, plus more
hills and islands. After the peaceful atmosphere of Dhamma Garden, travelling around and seeing
many people, tall buildings and shopping centers is quite an adventure. Kitty is eager to take us
food shopping in the township’s supermarket, all modern, flashy, colourful, air-conditioned, and
full of enticing items to buy – just the drink section alone is mind-boggling! Not to mention the
instant noodle and bottled sauce section!
     It’s delightful to see Kitty in a new environment, away from Toronto, and behaving so funny
and animated as she chats, jokes and shops for an evening meal. She is indeed enjoying our
company and I don’t think Jerry has met a lady as open and friendly as Kitty. We go up to Jerry’s
apartment on the twenty-second floor and the view is lovely especially of the evening lights of the
township. We have an enjoyable dinner and I watch a documentary on TV while Kitty and Jerry
have a long, involved conversation in Cantonese. You can tell she hasn’t had such a conversation
in a long while and Jerry is a patient listener. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that he’s really quite a
nervous and shy person. Eventually, Kitty has to return home as it’s getting late but she’ll be able
to meet us tomorrow evening if we are free. Jerry’s in a good, relaxed mood after Kitty’s visit and
he even tells me a joke before bedtime. He has a guest room and another room that he uses as a
small office with computer.


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May 2, 2000
     It’s raining this morning and I’m not keen to go sightseeing in Hong Kong with Jerry. We
were planning to visit Victoria Peak by taking the cable car but the cloudy, wet weather would
prevent us from having that famous, spectacular view which I’ve seen on many postcards and
travel book covers. Apart from meals, I spend most of the morning and afternoon reading and
writing in the guest room and Jerry’s in the office looking in the papers for a possible job. Once we
look at a map of HK and discuss the idea of taking a hike somewhere in the hilly area of New
Territories, and once when I touch him on the shoulder during conversation he gets nervous and
shouts, “No!” It’s obvious that he’s not used to being touched and it’s possible that his shy,
nervous nature has to do with his family background.
     He’d stopped working for a shipping company after ten years due to doctor’s advice because
he couldn’t take the stress anymore, he was having sleeping problems and panic attacks – that’s
understandable but the doctor didn’t realize that he also needed professional help apart from a long
holiday. Sometime during the day, his mother drops in for a short visit with a plastic bag of
groceries and she spends most of the time looking around in the kitchen and checking out the
fridge. There’s no warmth between them and she treats him as if he’s a hospital patient, weak and
vulnerable, and she’s only visiting him for a short time because she feels obligated as family. This
is only my perception, of course, and since I don’t speak and understand Cantonese my view on
things could be wrong.
      Around 4 p.m., he gets a call and it’s for me and it’s from Carol wanting me to meet with her
sister [Ven. Sudhammo has given her Jerry’s phone number] but I think it’s Kitty and I get
confused. I make an emotional outburst in my informal Jamaican way [because I have an
emotional nature] and Jerry is frozen with terror believing that I’m angry with him but in truth I’m
not; I’m not even thinking about him. I’m only reacting out of my confusion regarding these
people wanting to see me and a part of me would like to be left alone in peace – I’m human, after
all, not superman or supermonk. I’ve underestimated the nature of Jerry’s nervous condition and
so I’m not really aware how frightened he is and disturbed by my emotional outburst. I’m
supposed to be this calm, wise monk and teacher who he has been observing the past two weeks
during the retreat program and suddenly for one moment of natural, spontaneous, informal
behaviour, I’ve shattered his image of me and there is conflict and trouble in his clinging,
judgmental mind. Only later do I find out the extent of it…read on.
    I speak with Carol on the phone and she really wants me to meet with her sister this evening in
downtown HK as that’s the only available time and she could really use some help from me. I ask
Jerry if he would like to follow me downtown so I can meet this lady and he says yes, no problem.
He’s showing no external signs of trauma or stress despite my “freaking out” on him. Meantime,
Kitty has also called and she would like to meet us downtown even though I’ll be busy meeting
with Carol’s sister at her private club.
     The journey to downtown HK is pleasant, we chit-chat a little but most of the time we just look
at the scenery and people going here and there. What an amazing place and geography! And my
perspective of it is now so different from when I first visited in 1979 to see my sister and her
family. Then, I was a carefree lay traveller coming from India and Thailand and used to staying in
cheap hotels; now I’m a Buddhist monk staying and teaching at a retreat center in rural HK and
presently staying and travelling with a very nervous local called Jerry, and planning to have a
counselling session with a disturbed lady in need of my help. I do seem to have an interesting,
unpredictable and worthwhile life although it does get a bit tiring and trying at times. So it goes in
the life of a travelling monk. Patience, wisdom and compassion are all you need, they say.
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     We get to a point on the hillside in Kowloon where you can see the old airport, Kai Tak, and its
abandoned runway that runs out into the sea. Wow! I exclaim. Talk about change and
impermanence! That unique runway has challenged many a pilot to have a safe landing after
skimming over the tops of apartment buildings in the Kowloon area; one or two planes have ended
up in the water over the years. I’m sure the residents are happy and relieved not to have screaming
jets passing over them every few minutes. It would be interesting to visit Kai Tak and just walk
around the abandoned terminal building and on the tarmac where so much activity once took place:
planes and people coming and going from and to places all over the world. I once landed here from
Thailand, then from Taiwan, then from Malaysia, and recently at the new airport on Lantau island
from Malaysia again via Bangkok. Jerry says they are planning to use the space of Kai Tak for a
new township and park area, that’s a good idea. The view from the runway of the whole area
including the boats and ships on the water would be fantastic.
     We get off at Diamond Hill station to visit a well-known nunnery and a newly-built wooden
temple complex in the old style of Tang Dynasty China and Japan. I’ve been here before in 1996
before it was completed, and then in ’98; the work and architecture are lovely and exquisite; so are
the statues and the gardens with potted bonsai trees from China. This place must have cost a
fortune. They tell me that some of the wood came from Canada. Some of the nuns are complaining
that there are too many crowds of visitors on weekends and public holidays. The nunnery runs an
old folks home, a beautiful library and classes in Buddhism and meditation. Afterwards, we travel
over to HK island and meet Kitty, Carol and her sister, Annette, at one of the flashy shopping
centers. Everyone gets introduced, then Annette and I go off to her private club, and Kitty, Carol
and Jerry go off to a café or restaurant to chit-chat and have refreshments.
     Annette says she has been having sleeping problems for the past six months or so, and
consequently she has been suffering from guilt for not being a responsive wife, mother and work
colleague. She has tried several sleeping medications but to no avail; these days she’s just feeling
exhausted, anxious and confused. She does seem frail and nervous. Annette is well-dressed and
has a certain dignity about her, but just below that elegant appearance lies a neurotic, disturbed
temperament. Appearance, social status and reputation mean a lot to her and this indicates deep
insecurities and fear. She’s very self-involved, needless to say, and the love for her son is made
painful by too much expectation and attachment. Simply put, her mental condition is very
unhealthy, agitated and deluded; her fear of ageing and death is profound. She makes it a point to
praise her husband for being kind, supportive and strong but the root of her problem, I soon realize,
is her inability to forgive him for some indiscretion he had committed ten years ago. He has been
very repentant for his unfaithful action and their relationship has been mostly cordial and civil, no
fights or heated arguments, but her pride has been deeply hurt and the wound in her ego refuses to
heal – hence her inability to get a good night’s rest. She has tortured him with her silent indignity
and she has become a tortured person in return; the law of karma, action and reaction, is evident.
    At the end of this long, intense and insightful session, she has become a much wiser and more
forgiving person. She has come to a better understanding of herself: namely, the thinking process
and the ego, the nature of craving and clinging, fear and guilt, the illusion of pride, social status and
reputation, the certainty of sickness, ageing and death, and the truth of impermanence,
unsatisfactoriness and non-self. Also, the freedom and intelligence of loving kindness and
compassion. She’s inspired to attend yoga classes and weekly meditation sessions. She thanks me
for my patience and I’m inspired to give her a farewell hug in front of her sister, Kitty and Jerry.
    As Jerry and I begin to walk to the bus stop, he suddenly says quite sternly, “I think you should
go back to Dhamma Garden now, you cannot stay at my place tonight!” I’m surprised by this

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behaviour but remain calm and say, “I’m sorry but I’ve left my bag at the apartment so I have to go
back and get it.” He’s surprised by this; it hasn’t occurred to him that I might have left some stuff at
his apartment. I’ve obviously upset him today, more than I could have imagined, and he has been
waiting all day and evening to tell me this. “I thought you brought all your things with you.” he
says in an unfriendly manner. This guy has a big problem, I realize and say, “Don’t worry, Jerry,
I’ll just go straight to bed and I won’t disturb you, OK?” He remains silent but his mind is
obviously preoccupied and confused. I’m starting to regret having socialized with him away from
the retreat center but it’s too late now.
     Live and learn. Life is indeed uncertain: one moment I’m having a most inspired and
beneficial session with someone in a private club, ending with a compassionate hug and farewell,
and the next moment I’m faced with someone’s anger and aversion standing out on the street in
fabulous Hong Kong. So it goes in fabulous, unpredictable Hong Kong. It’s a long crowded bus
journey back to Jerry’s township in the New Territories; it takes two buses and there’s standing
room only. The virtues of patience and compassion go through my mind; I wonder what is going
through Jerry’s mind? It hasn’t occurred to me that my spontaneous hug with Annette has shocked
and upset him, that this natural and innocent expression of loving kindness has only helped to
further shatter his image of me as a serene and virtuous monk; in fact, it has traumatized him and I
only come to know this two years later.
     When we get to his apartment building and we’re taking the elevator up, I realize how tired I
really am, especially after my long, intense session with Annette. Now here I am with this mentally
disturbed and unpredictable person who I thought was a dependable friend and Dharma devotee. I
ask him about the state of the economy in HK to break the silence and he says something but I’m
not really interested. When we get inside the flat, I immediately head for the washroom, brush my
teeth, wash my face, use the toilet, say goodnight to Jerry and head straight to bed. During the
night, I get up to use the toilet and Jerry is doing walking meditation in the living room in the dark.
I hope his all-night meditation will bring him peace and clarity.


May 3, 2000
      Jerry gets me up at 5:30 a.m. and tells me sternly that it’s time for me to leave; this is unusual
behaviour for a Buddhist devotee towards a monk. I can feel his anger and aversion and that he
feels I deserve to be reprimanded. He has been up all night preparing for this encounter and I act as
nonchalant as can be. He’s anxious to see me out and give me a lecture, I can tell, but I ask him for
some breakfast and that throws him off a bit as he cannot refuse this simple request. I sit and wait
patiently as he prepares tea, toast, and cereal with milk. While I eat slowly and mindfully, Jerry is
drinking tea and very preoccupied with his plan; he’s pale, tense and disturbed as if he’s about to
commit a crime or scold a “bad” monk. I finish eating, I collect my stuff, and we leave the
apartment and get into the elevator. Then he starts telling me how he has been observing my
behaviour and he doesn’t think a monk should be acting this or that way, and so on. I listen with
patience, nodding my head gently and note, “only hearing, hearing, hearing,” and I begin to
understand the reason for his nervous temperament, his panic attacks, his sleeping problems.
     We walk to the train station and while we wait for the next train to arrive, he says with
conviction, “I think that you have defilements! You are not perfect!” I chuckle, shake my head and
calmly reply, “Of course I have defilements, I’m just a human being like you but with practice and
reflection we can slowly but surely improve ourselves.” Jerry, expecting me to argue and defend
myself, hangs his head and is silent for a few moments, then he says more subdued, “You made me

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very uncomfortable yesterday at the apartment.” “Please forgive me, “ I calmly reply, “and I
promise not to bother or disturb you again, OK?” The train arrives, people are getting off and on,
and it’s time for me to leave. I want to tell him that I didn’t really make him uncomfortable but
rather, he made himself uncomfortable by his nervous, fearful reaction but I realize that he’s not
able to appreciate this fact. Jerry continues to hang his head in confusion and disappointment; his
planned encounter and self-righteous lecture hasn’t worked out the way he had envisaged. I offer
my hand in farewell, he slowly reacts as his mind is burdened by conflict, I shake his hand and say,
“All the best and good luck, eh?” Then I enter the train, take hold of one of the standing poles and
look out the window.
     Jerry is still standing on the platform and still hanging his head with conflict and confusion,
completely unaware of his surroundings. He has stayed up all night, “meditating” and thinking
about what to say to me but his clinging, judgmental mind has not given him any sense of
satisfaction. I feel compassion for him and as the train pulls away I see clearly that he’s the result
of having a very abusive father and that’s why his mother was treating him as if he was a weak,
injured and vulnerable hospital patient. It’s very likely that his father used to physically beat him a
lot as well as verbally scold him. And this is why he has this very nervous temperament [not unlike
an abused dog] and a clinging, obsessive, judgmental mind. I can see that he got very little physical
affection growing up – the Hong Kong Chinese are not known for their warmth and affection.
     It’s sad, really, and I feel he could use some professional help in healing this abused childhood
and free himself of this anger and fear. Just attending Dharma talks and the occasional retreat are
not enough to heal a damaged psyche and heart. Jerry’s judgmental attitude reminds me of Tan, the
Malaysian friend who went with me to India last January. His father was also an abusive parent
although he didn’t beat Tan very much. In future, it’s best that I don’t socialize and stay with lay
people who are serious, clinging and judgmental. Also, I have to be more mindful and circumspect
when I’m around lay people [and serious, uptight monks].
     I return to Dhamma Garden and decide not to tell Ven. Sudhammo about Jerry’s behaviour; I
don’t want to trouble him with this incident but I mention that my meeting with Carol’s sister went
very well and that she plans to attend yoga-meditation classes. I also mention that Carol is feeling
much better and that she plans to attend more meditation classes in HK and retreats at Dhamma
Garden in future. He’s pleased to hear that. We have a pleasant lunch and I tell him that I’ll be
visiting someone I met two years ago on Lantau Island, near Po Lin Temple, and that he’s planning
to take me to Ocean View Park since I’ve never been to that popular place on HK island. And I’ll
also be visiting Po Lin Temple and spending a few days there. He knows one of the monks at Po
Lin.


May 4, 2000
     It’s a warm, humid morning but the birds are chirping and giving delight to an already
peaceful landscape. They tell me that mosquitoes like this kind of climate and I believe them. I
must say that I’m not very compassionate when it comes to mosquitoes; they’ve twice given me
malaria and I’m only alive today [and writing this journal] because of modern medicine. If I want
to practice non-killing, non-harming, I have to carry a fan around with me so I can keep fanning
them away, otherwise slapping them senseless is not a source of conflict and guilt for me. So it
goes in malaria-land.
    I read from a spiritual book: “As human beings, I feel it’s important to understand what simple
love is. Not the complexity of romantic or sexual love with its pleasure, desire, attachment,

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expectation, anxiety, frustration and anger, nor the love of God or Krishna or some fanciful idea or
image, but just love, being tender and considerate, really gentle in one’s whole approach to all
things. The moment you are deeply sensitive you naturally have a spontaneous desire not to
destroy things [except a few dangerous mosquitoes], not to hurt people, which means having real
respect and love: loving kindness and compassion. To love is the most important thing in life; it’s
the only quality that gives a total understanding to existence.
     But what do we mean by love? When you love someone because that person loves you in
return, that love is only based on self-centered need, desire, pleasure and attachment and therefore
subject to conflict and suffering; this quality of love can quickly change to anger, resentment,
hatred, jealousy, disrespect, possessiveness, fear, anxiety, and resistance. To love, to have loving
kindness and compassion, is to have that extraordinary feeling of affection without asking
anything in return. You may be very clever, intellectually smart, you may pass all your
examinations, get a doctorate and achieve a high position and make lots of money, but if you don’t
have this sensitivity, this feeling of simple love, your heart will be empty and you’ll be unhappy
and fearful for the rest of your life.”
     After breakfast, I decide to write Jerry a note and put it in a book that belongs to him. I write:
Dear Jerry, Again I’m sorry for disturbing and upsetting you. Please forgive me. I knew you were
a very nervous and serious person and so I shouldn’t have accepted your invitation to stay at your
place, my mistake. However, thanks again for your kind hospitality. You obviously have a very
critical, judgmental mind and have certain ideas or concepts about how monks should be or
behave. This is an unwise attitude and definitely a source of conflict and suffering. I have a feeling
that you were abused by your father growing up and this might be the reason for your mental
attitude and nervous nature.
     I quote Ajahn Chah: “Looking outside yourself is comparing, discriminating, judging. Don’t
cling to rules, to outer form. Watch yourself [not others] most of the time, this is proper practice.
You will not find happiness otherwise. Nor will you find peace if you spend your time looking for
the perfect man or woman or monk or teacher. The Buddha advised us to look at the Dhamma, the
truth, the way things are, not to look at other people, not to be caught by the illusion of form and
appearances. Sometimes you may see other monks behaving badly, you may get annoyed and
upset. This is suffering unnecessarily. You may think: ‘Those monks are not good monks. They
are not following the rules, they are idle and lazy, they are not practicing meditation, etc.’ But this
is a great defilement on your part. Don’t make comparisons and judgements. Do not discriminate.
Let go of your opinions and watch yourself, your ego, your reactions and emotions.
     This is the way of Dhamma. You can’t possibly make everyone act as you would wish or be
like you. This wish will only make you suffer. It’s a common mistake for meditators to make but
watching other people won’t develop wisdom and compassion, patience and tolerance. Simply
examine yourself, your thoughts and feelings. This is how you’ll understand. You must get rid of
your cleverness, arrogance and conceit. If you think yourself better than others, you’ll only suffer.
Opinions, views and ideas about all things, about yourself, about practice, about other monks,
about the Buddha’s teachings – get rid of them, you must empty your mind of all these things, then
you’ll see the truth of things the way things are outside of your thoughts, ideas, opinions and
images. You cover up the truth of non-self. All you see is self – I, me, mine. But Dharma practice
is letting go of self, of habit and conditioning, and moving towards peace and emptiness, towards
Nibbana.”



                                                  74
   I hope you find this useful and beneficial. May you be well and happy and free from suffering,
may you be peaceful and free from fear, conflict, clinging and delusion. Best wishes, Bhante
Kovida.
      [Flash forward two years. I’m in Taiwan and conducting classes at a temple, and I receive
e-mail from a friend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, saying that she has received e-mail from a fellow
called Jerry in Hong Kong. He says people in HK are shocked, upset and outraged with me
because I hugged a woman in public; that I’m therefore a fake monk and that people in Malaysia
should be alert and careful of me. Also, this Jerry believes that a certain Malaysian monk, whose
meditation retreat in HK he had attended, is an Arahant [a Buddhist Saint] or Perfected One like
the Buddha. This latter statement is an indication of how deluded and clinging Jerry’s mind really
is, and my friend in KL says that he must be a mad fellow to believe such a thing. That he chose to
send such an e-mail to Malaysia is an indication that my note to him was of little benefit; he was
still critical and resentful of me even after two years: such is the nature of the grasping, deluded
mind that is also suffering from aversion and ill-will.
     I guess I should have spoken to Ven. Sudhammo about Jerry’s behaviour, after all; perhaps he
would have been able to help Jerry deal with his problems. From my experience, I feel it’s better
for people like Jerry to either follow Pure Land Buddhism [the path of devotion] or become
Christians. Their temperament and mental condition are not suited to Dharma practice and
reflection; their mental clinging, aversion and delusions are too strong to follow the Buddha’s path
– they have too much dust/obscuration in their eyes].
     I must admit that I was initially shocked and upset when I read my friend’s e-mail [I’m human
after all] but I then realized how traumatized Jerry must have been when he saw me giving Annette
that farewell hug. From his perspective, someone who’s very uptight and nervous, someone from a
conservative Chinese background and abusive parenting, who has never been hugged or had much
love and affection, seeing a monk hugging a woman in public must have been like seeing a monk
attempting rape or making passionate love out in the open and without shame. It’s no wonder he
felt he had to lecture and reprimand me for such behaviour! Live and learn. My brief animated
behaviour at his apartment was bad enough but my hugging a woman in public was too much for
him to bear.
     Initially, I thought he had told many people in HK about my “outrageous” behaviour but later
I found out that it was he who was shocked, upset and outraged. I replied to my friend in KL
explaining the incident and Jerry’s reaction, and she advised me to follow the Buddha’s example
and practice equanimity and I felt much better after that. Here was the perfect opportunity to
practice what I was preaching. And even if many people in HK were indeed outraged with my
behaviour, then so be it…let it go…form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Besides, I don’t need to
go back to HK and be this teaching monk; I can let go of that craving and attachment.
     During the late afternoon, I meet Stephen Low for dinner in Kowloon and spend the night at
his place. I’d met him two years ago at Po Lin temple and we had kept in touch. He’s around
forty-five years old, tall and slim, single and working at a store in Kowloon. He has a sensitive,
inquiring nature, enjoys travelling and hiking, reading and discussing spiritual teachings and
experiences; he’s been to Burma and Thailand but not to India – one day, he says. I’d met him
during a hike up Lantau Mountain with the fog swirling around us; the atmosphere was mysterious
and wonderful. I tell him I’ll be visiting Po Lin temple again soon and planning to go hiking up the
mountain and I hope the fog or low-flying clouds will be there as before. He says he might join me
for a short hike and then he has to return to Kowloon.


                                                75
     Stephen is a simple and gentle soul and it’s a pleasure to meet someone like him in a place like
HK; he reminds me of Ven. Sudhammo. He has a brother and sister who are very different from
him, and he looked after their mother for many years in his very small flat until she died. His flat is
very small indeed and it’s in an old building for low-income families. It consists of one room,
serving as living room and bedroom, and a very small back room and a small toilet serving also as
a shower. I’ve never seen such a small flat. Families have to use bunk beds in that one room and
usually there’s a TV and radio against one wall plus two or three small folding chairs. Before there
were bunk beds and folding chairs, people just sat, ate and slept on mats on the floor. There’s a tap
in the back room and Stephen uses an enamel basin set on a stool as a temporary, moveable sink.
There’s a small washing machine in that small space and a wooden rack for hanging laundry. Most
families have a small gas cooker in that space but Stephen no longer cooks at home; it’s more
convenient to buy meals outside. His simple, unassuming nature is a reflection of his humble,
living space and I feel happy and privileged to be sharing that space with him for one or two nights.
      He offers me the bottom bunk for sleeping but I choose the top bunk as I’m used to bunk beds
since boarding school and staying in student hostels in Europe during my early travelling days. He
says the government is planning to demolish all the old buildings in the area and modernize it with
new buildings and shopping centers and he has to find another inexpensive flat to stay. I tell him
about Dhamma Garden and Ven. Sudhammo and suggest that he visits there sometime; he’s not an
official Buddhist but he’s open to all Dharma teachings. He likes to visit Taiwan whenever he can
[it’s close by and the airfare is cheap] as he finds the people very different from the Hongkies – a
name used by the Malaysians and Singaporeans. He says the Taiwanese are more friendly and
polite and the place gives him a feeling of the Old China despite the rapid development and
pollution. Also, the language is different, Mandarin and Fujian dialect, and he finds it interesting to
try and communicate with the locals. I play him some of my meditation music and chanting tapes
and we slowly float away into the realm of the unknown. There’s a feeling of peace, goodwill and
mutual understanding.


May 5, 2000
     Today I finally get to visit Ocean View Park. This morning Stephen takes me to a Dim Sum
restaurant in the neighbourhood for brunch. The place is spacious with many tables; the food is
amazing and delicious. As it’s a weekday, it’s not crowded and noisy, but quiet, unhurried and
relaxing. One could spend many hours here snacking and sipping tea, telling stories and even
reading a good book, if you happen to be alone. Stephen is a gracious host and he hopes that I
didn’t find his very small flat too uncomfortable. I tell him that after staying in large, modern
buildings and houses in Malaysia, Singapore and Canada, staying at his flat is a unique and
wonderful adventure. He laughs. I tell him that it’s the warmth and kindness between people that’s
important and not the size and wealth of the house and property. He nods his head in agreement
and smiles with appreciation. He should know since he shared that small place with his beloved
mother for many years.
     He asks me about my life as a monk in Canada, about my teacher in Sri Lanka, and about the
Buddhist culture in that country compared to Burma and Thailand. Interestingly, he tells me that he
used to correspond with a prison inmate in the United States but he has stopped writing after three
years because he had nothing more to say. This inmate would write him long letters that he found
tedious to read after sometime. Stephen would also send him books and postcards and then it was
time to stop. Later, he shows me one of those long letters from the inmate; it’s tedious, all right.


                                                  76
     After a long, relaxing brunch, we take the subway train to a certain station on HK island, and
then a special bus to Ocean View Park on the other side of the island via a new highway and
impressive tunnel. I’ve seen people’s snapshots of this popular hillside park but the photos cannot
really capture the scale and beauty of the place built on a natural slope overlooking the South
China Sea and to the left, some high hills across the eastern end of the island. Stephen buys me an
entrance ticket and there are some souvenir shops, stores, snack bars and restaurants around the
entrance area, also tropical plants, flowers and trees. It’s before noon and already there are quite a
few visitors with children. This place must be packed on weekends and public holidays. We move
up the hillside on long escalators covered by curved plexi-glass; these are perhaps the longest
escalators in the world. There are different levels with different attractions and rides, and there are
connecting paths and steps up and down the slope. There’s a dolphin pool with regular shows, an
area for the sea lion show, a large area enclosed by netting containing exotic birds and fowls from
the Asian continent including two tall, grey and red cranes that are capable of flying over the
Himalayan Mountain range during winter migration.
    There’s also a roller coaster ride, a Ferris Wheel ride, and one that takes people up and down
while they’re spinning around. Then there’s the sea aquarium that has the most amazing and
awesome collection of fishes and marine life I’ve ever seen; I could easily spend hours in this
place. Then you’re outside again on this hillside high above the sea where all those marine life
forms came from, and you feel the warmth of the sun and there’s the vast blue sky with floating
clouds in front of you. And then you take the cable car ride that goes horizontally along the slope of
the hill and above the coastline and there’s a spectacular view of the high hills to the east with
some apartment blocks below at sea level. This is a most magical experience of flying/floating in
vast spaciousness high above the ocean waves and hillside and I feel like I’m eight years old once
again. Then the cable car floats down to an area containing a panda bear enclosure and a unique
museum with an exhibition of live goldfishes of all the species known to the Chinese and it’s a
wonderful, fascinating display. There are two fairly young panda bears on display in the enclosure
and they’re well-fed with an unlimited supply of bamboo; the children are excited and the adults
take photos, one of the keepers gives a short talk and answer questions about the pandas.
    We take the cable car back to the main park area and it’s a magical experience again floating
above the sea and hillside. For more innocent fun, we jump on the Ferris Wheel and I feel like I’m
eight years old again; we laugh, we shout and feel silly and wonderful. We rest, have refreshments,
enjoy the scenery, chit-chat, and I write in my journal. There are more people at the park in the
afternoon. We walk around and it’s always interesting observing other people, other human
primates with their offspring in a modern setting far away from the jungle. Stephen decides to see
the sea lion show and I sit outside on a bench, read and write and look at people coming and going.
There are games and snack bars in this area, and a small train for young human primates to enjoy.
     After half an hour, I see people coming out of the sea lion show but there’s no sign of Stephen;
perhaps he’s in the washroom or waiting for the next show. I walk around a bit and return to the
bench. Another half an hour goes by and there are more people coming and going but there’s no
Stephen. I venture inside the sea lion area and I wander around outside and still no Stephen. Where
is he, I wonder? I’ve lost him; we’ve lost each other, slight problem. I observe my anxious mental
state and then I calm down. I can always find him back at his small flat in Kowloon, if I cannot find
him here. I decide to leave the area and return to the sea aquarium: what an amazing place! I then
walk down to the dolphin pool, Stephen might be there but he’s not. I observe some expectation,
hoping to see him, and I’m getting mildly upset mainly because I’m a bit tired and pooped from the



                                                  77
heat, and partially due to Stephen’s vanishing act. Where did he go? Why didn’t he wait for me at
the entrance of the sea lion place?
     I rest in the shade, read and write, and breathe mindfully for a few minutes. I’m aware that the
moment I expect to see him, my mind gets tense and disappointed; the moment I stop trying to find
him, my mind becomes calm and relaxed. I’ll see him later, no problem. It’s still early and so I go
for another magical cable car ride along the hillside and above the sea and experience the freedom
and delight of vast spaciousness and silence. I walk slowly downhill enjoying the scenery and late
afternoon sky before sunset. I take one of the escalators down to the entrance/exit area. Naturally,
I look out for Stephen among the sea of faces without much luck. However, today has been a
wonderful, magical day and I’ll visit Ocean View Park again when next I’m in HK.
     I take the bus and subway train back to Kowloon, back to the high-rise buildings and crowds;
the contrast to where I was today is amazing. I walk to Stephen’s old building and take the old
elevator up seven floors. All the flats have sliding metal gates in front of the doors for security
reasons. Some of the doors are open with the gates in place to allow air circulation in the humid
heat. Most of the flats have four bunk beds. It’s a funky place but I happen to know a friend who
lives here. This is definitely not one of HK’s many five-star hotels!
     Stephen’s door is open and he’s obviously waiting for me to return. Needless to say, we’re
happy and relieved to see each other and he apologizes for taking off without me. He says that
when he came out from the sea lion show, he didn’t see me around and he suddenly got anxious
and thought I had left because I couldn’t find him and so he quickly came back here to find me.
Only when he returned to the flat and didn’t find me did he realize how foolish he’d been. I tell him
it’s OK and that I wouldn’t have left the park without him, right? He just panicked and wasn’t
thinking rationally; we’re only human and these things happen. I give him a hug and all’s well.
    He has bought some fruits, fruit juice and a vegetarian noodle dish and we have dinner with the
AC on. We’re both tired and we watch some TV. There’s an old western movie on with John
Wayne and when he opens his mouth and starts speaking in Cantonese I laugh like crazy. So it
goes in Hong Kong’s TV-land. We listen to some meditation music and drift off into the great,
limitless void.


May 6, 2000
     Stephen takes me to another Dim Sum restaurant for brunch; HK is famous for Dim Sum
places. This place is also spacious, fairly quiet, and offers many kinds of small dishes and I’m able
to get some vegetarian food. Stephen says that he won’t be able to accompany me to Lantau Island
today for a short hike but he would be happy to meet me again after I return from Lantau. He has to
work today at the store and also on Saturday and Sunday; weekends are busy shopping days for
office workers, schoolteachers, maintenance staff, and others who are too busy to shop during the
week. He’s off on some Sundays and certain week-days like yesterday.
     I tell him about Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, Rajneesh, and Sri
Amritananda Ma or Ammaji, the hugging saint from Kerala; also, about the Indus Valley
Civilization and the beginning of the spiritual tradition of renunciation, meditation, yoga, and
wisdom. He tells me how to get to Lantau Island using the new train system via the new suspension
bridges that help to connect HK to the new airport, Chek Lap Kok. This will be my first time taking
this route and I’m excited. After another long, pleasant brunch with Stephen, I bid farewell and I’m
off to visit one of my favourite places in the world.

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    Some people will find Po Lin temple and its surrounding area a boring place to visit much less
stay for a few days as it’s too quiet and uninteresting compared to the many flashy, modern and
exciting shopping centers in Kowloon and HK island. But for me, it’s a beautiful, refreshing and
peaceful retreat from the busy, intense energy of the former British colony, and its setting close to
Lantau Mountain is the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing Ancient China with its four holy
mountains and their ancient Buddhist and Taoist temples situated on their peaks. In fact, I know a
Chinese Vietnamese monk who speaks fluent Mandarin who goes frequently to China to hike up
those mountains and visit those ancient temples, but that’s another story.
     Lantau Island is known for its beaches, hills and mountains, its temples and one Benedictine
monastery, and recently, its brand new immense airport, a work of engineering genius and marvel.
The government wants to develop Lantau Island as the entertainment capital of southern China and
I hear that they’re planning to build a Disney World there to compliment the new airport. What to
do? When I first visited Po Lin temple at the end of 1979, it was a quiet and sleepy place; the only
visitors used to be a few curious tourists and travellers, local weekend hikers, and Buddhist
devotees on special occasions. To get there, you had to take a ferry from HK to Silvermine Bay,
then a minibus along the coastal road and then up and around through the hills on a winding road
before reaching Po Lin temple and monastery built on a small plateau surrounded by more hills
and with Lantau Mountain dominating the landscape. The altitude is impressive especially when
the mist and low-flying clouds roll across the area.
    I was a lay traveller back then and I was able to stay overnight in a small dormitory in an old
concrete building for a nominal fee. And here for the first time I had specially prepared Chinese
“Buddhist” vegetarian food, cooked without garlic and onions, and it was delicious and much
appreciated. I only remember seeing two or three monks and a nun and one lay person, and I
wasn’t aware of the monastery section behind the main shrine hall at the time. The shrine hall was
beautiful, ornate and intriguing with different statues and offerings of flowers, bowls of fruit and
sandalwood incense. And in one corner was a big bell supported off the ground by a sturdy wooden
stand with four legs; during the evening I sat under the bell and meditated and every time I opened
my eyes I felt I was somewhere in Ancient China. It was so quiet and magical.
    This was my first experience inside a Pure Land Buddhist temple and so I didn’t know who
most of the statues were apart from the Buddha, which I was already familiar with from being in
Thailand. The potted plants and flowers in the courtyard in front of the hall were lovely and there
was a sense of order and beauty to the place. A concrete path led to an entrance archway with a
gravel road in front where the minibus had stopped earlier. And not far from the archway was a
small hill where I walked up along a narrow path to watch the sunset and admire the view of the
whole area. On one side you could see the sea below in the distance with one or two small islands
and a passing boat; on the other side you could see the high mountain partially covered by mist or
low-flying clouds. It was one of the most beautiful and inspiring views I’d ever seen apart from the
Himalayas during a trek in eastern Nepal.
    Later, on that small hill they would build an amazingly large and awesome Buddha statue,
made of bronze, and looking down on the temple and monastery, and with steps leading up to it
from the road. The statue took ten years to be built [in Nanjing, China] and it was brought over to
Lantau Island in pieces and put together on top of the hill and it was finally completed in 1993
when they had a grand, auspicious ceremony to bless and inaugurate the occasion. Since then, Po
Lin Temple has become a busy, popular place for many tourists and sightseers, both local and
foreign, and Buddhist devotees from all over the world. It’s no longer a quiet, sleepy place. The


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impressive Buddha statue has changed everything: not only the landscape but the commercial
viability of the temple.
    After that first visit to Lantau Island and Po Lin temple at the end of 1979, I returned again two
weeks later in January, 1980. [I was then visiting with my sister and her family who were living on
HK island at the time]. One of the monks told me in his limited English to go and see an
English-speaking monk from France who was staying at a small monastery down the hill on the
other side of the island called Po Lam. After a long but scenic walk downhill, I managed to find the
monastery and meet this monk. He was actually from Viet Nam of French parentage and he got an
early exposure to Buddhism growing up in Saigon. Later, he went to Thailand and became a monk
but after some years he had to leave because of reoccurring malaria. Initially, he came to HK to rest
and recover from the illness; afterwards he planned to return to Thailand [in those days it was easy
for foreign monks in Thailand to get resident visas which could be easily extended every year]. But
in the end, he decided to stay because he found a quiet monastery with a supportive abbot and
sangha community. It was very interesting to meet him and he invited me back to stay for a few
days. By then, he could speak some Cantonese and he was conducting a monthly meditation class
in HK and the occasional retreat in the New Territory.
    I remember staying at Po Lam monastery. I had to go to bed at 7 p.m. I couldn’t read or listen to
radio – I didn’t have a Walkman with head phones at the time – and I found it difficult to fall asleep
so early as I had been staying up late at my sister’s apartment watching TV and reading. I had some
good discussions with this monk and he told me he was invited to teach at a temple in the United
States and he was in the process of obtaining a visa to go there. I was to meet him again in 1998 at
an apartment on HK island where he was again conducting meditation classes although he had
disrobed in the U.S. after some years; he had U.S. citizenship by then. It was nice to see him again
and he was pleased that I had ordained and was spreading the Dharma in SE Asia and HK. The
lawyer who was going to translate for me at the Girl Guides HQ in Kowloon was one of his
students and supporters. The former French/Vietnamese monk said he was thinking of returning to
California as the climate in HK was too damp for his old bones.
    When I returned to HK and Po Lin temple in early 1996 [after an absence of 16 years], I saw
the Buddha statue for the first time and it was so amazing to see this giant, majestic form sitting on
top of the transformed hill where I once stood looking at the sunset and breathtaking view. I never
imagined in a million years that they would put up such a statue at that place! I was a monk by then
and so I was allowed to stay at their fairly new guesthouse free of charge. There were many
changes, of course, and I got to know two of the monks, Min Hui and Min Tong [not their real
names]. I had come to HK from Taiwan in order to renew my visa so I could return and continue
conducting some classes at a center in Taipei, and I was able stay with an Australian monk for a
few days in a small flat in Kowloon. During that visit, around the Chinese New Year, the weather
had turned unusually cold [around 6 C] and a few elderly people who were living alone died from
lack of heating and blankets. I made another brief visit to Po Lin temple in 1998 after a teaching
spell in Kowloon, and today I’m heading back again two years later.
     I get off at a station on Kowloon side and then change to the new subway train that goes to the
new airport. This train travels under the new highway that spans the two suspension bridges but the
rail passage is enclosed so you cannot see the view from the bridges as you zoom along, only from
the highway on top – too bad. However, once we get on the island and travel along the coastline,
the view of the sea with small islands and boats on one side and hills on the other side is lovely. I
get off at the new township near the airport, Tung Chung, and walk to the bus station. You can see
Chek Lap Kok in the distance and high hills close by. Then I take a minibus up to Po Lin temple

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via a winding road that eventually joins the other road from Silvermine Bay on the other side of
Lantau.
    The hills and mountains on Lantau island are truly spectacular and you can see why it’s a
popular place for hikers, vacationers, and monks and nuns who want to build temples and retreat
centers away from the hustle and bustle of HK. The first sight of the Buddha statue from below
takes my breath away as the minibus takes yet another corner up the winding road; and I feel so
fortunate and excited to be visiting this place once again. I wish some of my friends could be here
with me, I muse. The air is noticeably cooler and less humid as we get higher above sea level. I’m
also looking forward to seeing those two monks again, Min Hui and Min Tong.
    The bus stops at a designated area near some souvenir shops where you also get cold drinks.
Needless to say, they are selling many postcards of the Buddha statue depicted from different
angles. The old archway is still there except that the entire area in front which used to be a gravel
road and clumps of bushes plus the bus stop area to the right is now paved over with concrete: call
it modern development. And looking down benevolently from the top of the hill close by is the
world-famous giant Buddha statue with hands gesturing peace, compassion, wisdom and
awakening.
    This is my third visit since the statue has been installed but I still get goose bumps all over as
powerful shivers rush up the old spine, call it the willies, call it Kundalini Energy, call it whatever,
but it sure does cleanse the mind of discursive and self-enclosing thoughts, and what remains is
only the experience of expansive bliss, awe, innocence and beauty. Wow! I cannot believe I’m
seeing this amazing statue again! It’s like I’m seeing it for the first time. I take a few deep breaths
with eyes closed and I slowly open them and there’s the Buddha again looking down benevolently
and the powerful shivers continue and eventually they subside. I slowly shake my head in utter
amazement and feel like I’m five years old all over again. With palms held together, I bow in
reverence, respect and gratitude.
     I sit on a bench in the shade and take in the atmosphere of the area and I write in my journal.
There are not too many visitors today; the weekend will be busier. At the bottom of the hill is a
high railing and there’s a gate that you go through to purchase an entrance ticket that allows you to
walk up the steps and get closer to the statue and it also entitles you to a complimentary vegetarian
meal in the spacious dining area across from the courtyard in front of the main shrine hall. This is
good planning, I think. I hear group chanting over the sound system and I realize that this is for a
special occasion coming up as it’s the late morning and they usually chant only in the early
morning and early evening with a short food offering ceremony just before lunch. The special
occasion is Vesak Day, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the
Buddha Shakyamuni and it’s usually held on the full moon day in May. Sometimes there are two
full moons in May and it’s up to individual countries to decide which one to celebrate. I sit and
wait for the ceremony to finish before I head over to the monks’ quarters and meet Min Hui and
Min Tong; they usually welcome me and find me a place to hang my robes.
   I recognize Min Hui’s voice over the loud-speaker as he’s the lead chanter even though he
doesn’t have a good voice for chanting and he just doesn’t like to chant unlike some monks and
nuns. But he does it because he has to; it’s his job and devotional chanting and bowing are the main
forms of practice in Pure Land Buddhism. Private study and meditation are encouraged but not
compulsory; chanting and bowing are. In some ways, Min Hui makes for an unlikely monk; he
doesn’t like to study or meditate [or chant] but he likes the simple, peaceful life on Lantau Island.



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     Here’s how he decided on monkhood: Ming [his lay name] was happily married with one
daughter and doing different jobs involving driving. He did delivery service mostly and once he
worked as a driver for an expat-family from the UK, which is how he picked up most of his English
as he didn’t learn much in school. He was not religious or spiritually-minded but he was friendly,
happy-go-lucky, and generous by nature. His wife became ill, spent many months in the hospital,
and then she died. Ming had to take care of their daughter with the help of both their families and
he went to the hospital every evening after work and on holidays, and naturally, this experience
deeply affected him. And when she died, he no longer wanted to live and work in HK; he no longer
wanted to fight the traffic, the noise and pollution, the crowds, the greedy and materialistic attitude
of the people; he just wanted to be in a quiet, peaceful place. And so he became a monk at Po Lin
temple, and his parents offered to take care of his daughter.
     When I first met Min Hui and Min Tong in early 1996, before the Chinese New Year, I
quickly earned their friendship by offering to help them unload a van full of boxes at the harbour at
Silvermine Bay and then load up the van with more boxes of books to be taken back to the temple.
After that, Min Hui spent a fair amount of time with me chit-chatting, asking me about my life
history and travels, taking me up to the Buddha statue for the first time and to another temple on
the island, and showing me the property he’d bought; he was hoping to live there one day so he
wouldn’t have to chant anymore. When I saw him two years later, he was busy and preoccupied,
talking a great deal on his cell phone and so we didn’t speak much to each other. He was still
chanting everyday and still not liking it but at least he was earning enough, through donations, to
support his daughter through high school.
      Min Tong is a different character from Min Hui; he’s short, small built and older with a sagely,
handsome face, and he’s a natural Dharma person and monk. He was married with two grown
children and when he retired he told his wife that it was time for him to leave home and become a
monk. He was a ship engineer so he was used to spending a great deal of time away at sea and his
main interest was reading Dharma books and meditation practice. When I first met him, he was in
charge of the meditation hall in the basement and for hitting the bell inside and outside the hall to
tell the monks that it was meal time, chanting time, and time to wake up before dawn.
    The chanting ceremony is over. I walk to the monastery area via the courtyard in front of the
main shrine hall and through the round moon gate and up the concrete stairs to the monks’
quarters. Min Hui and Min Tong are surprised and happy to see me again. I tell them I’ve been
conducting a meditation retreat at Dhamma Garden and I would like to visit Po Lin for a few days
before I return to Canada. The gong is rung for lunch and they invite me to join them. In the dining
room, I recognize the small shrine and the long, narrow wooden tables and benches. I also
recognize the nun who brings in the food on a trolley – bowls of steamed rice, soup, and three
vegetarian dishes, delicious and healthy, as before. One monk, who I haven’t seen previously, is
very talkative and loud during the meal, and I observe my desire to tell him to shut up and eat his
food in silence and with mindfulness. Some monks laugh at his joke and there are no senior monks
around to discipline him. Only hearing, hearing, hearing.
    After lunch, Min Hui tells me he’s very tired from the extra chanting they have to do this week.
There’s also an afternoon ceremony along with the usual evening one; that’s two extra ceremonies
each day and that’s hard on the vocal chords. I feel sorry for him but what to do? I ask him when is
he going to move to his property and escape the chanting. He laughs and says he has to support his
daughter’s education who’s now studying in Australia and that he’s thinking of selling the
property to help pay for her university education. He’ll survive the chanting ceremonies, he muses
fatalistically, even though he still doesn’t like this important aspect of his tradition. Min Tong is

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content with his life at Po Lin and he has been to Shanghai recently with his teacher. I ask him if he
ever goes to visit his former wife and family, he say no, he’s not attached to them; he has truly
renounced all family ties. I suggest that he visit Ven. Sudhammo, whom he knows, and get some
good Dhamma books in Chinese printed in Taiwan. He still reads and meditates regularly but he’s
no longer in charge of ringing the gong in the Chan Hall downstairs and outside, so he meditates in
his room these days and not in the basement.
    They take me to a dormitory room just down the steps where some guest monks are staying;
I’ve not been in this room before. I take a bottom bunk bed with mosquito netting. There are only
three monks here at the moment; two are local in their 50s and partial to card games in between
ceremonies, and the other is a young monk from Thailand, wearing Mahayana robes and learning
to chant in Chinese. He says he likes this tradition and staying at Po Lin temple, that it’s a nice
change from his temple in noisy, polluted Bangkok. I take an afternoon siesta, have some coffee
and slowly walk around the temple grounds, listening to the mid-afternoon chanting over the
speakers. I look at the familiar surroundings, the temple roofs with orange ceramic tiles, the
courtyard area and open pavilion with seats, I walk pass the office, the guesthouse, the banquet hall
that I first saw in ’96, the open area where the potted plants are prepared, and I gaze fondly at
Lantau Mountain in the distance without mist or cloud cover.
     Most of the day visitors have gone and the area is quiet and without much activity. I walk up
the steps to the base of the statue and look up at its serene face looking down at me. At the top, I
survey the familiar yet spectacular 360 degree view of the area, a view I first saw twenty years ago
but without this giant statue looming above me. How wonderful to experience this splendid
scenery again! It’s quite familiar yet dreamlike mainly because I’m always changing despite my
past memories which are not permanent as they come and go and they’re often not accurate.
    The view of the temple/monastery area is also lovely and one can see the changes at Po Lin
very clearly from up here. After twenty minutes, I feel it’s enough for today; tomorrow I’ll come
up again and also visit the art gallery and museum that are inside the statue. It’s time to go indoors
and sit quietly in one of my favourite meditation rooms in the world. This does not imply that I’m
attached to this room in the sense that I want to meditate here all the time, but let’s just say that this
room has a special atmosphere for a world-weary traveller as myself.
     In the basement of the monks’ quarters is this meditation room or small Chan Hall of
traditional style: tile floor, wide benches along the four walls except for the door space leading
outside to a lower level of the monastery section. There are small, firm, oblong-shaped cushions
that you sit on and I find using three of them sufficient for a comfortable posture. In the middle of
the room is a lovely shrine enclosed from the middle up by glass set in a wooden frame; it is
illuminated by a small light bulb. Meditating monks usually walk around this shrine in circles at a
brisk pace in between sittings to aid blood circulation; sittings are usually 50 minutes long, with 10
minutes for walking and toilet break. In the Chinese tradition of Chan, slow, mindful walking is
usually not done; it’s the sitting practice that’s emphasized as the way to awaken the mind from its
limited conditioning and restless, confusing thought process to a state of clarity, wisdom and
peace.
    I find this room most inspiring and conducive to deep meditation and reflection as it’s quiet
and dimly lit by outside light from two small windows close to the ceiling. During the early
morning and evening the only light is from the small light bulb at the shrine. The walls are of dark
brick with no pictures to distract you, and you feel very alone and far away from the activities of
the monastery and temple areas and the day visitors. These days this wonderful room is rarely used


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by the monks upstairs; only Min Tong used to meditate here when he was in charge of ringing the
gongs inside and outside this hall.
    When I first met him in early 1996, he was happy to have my company in this cool, quiet room.
Once Min Hui joined me for meditation but he found it too difficult to calm and focus his mind; he
preferred to chat and laugh and watch video movies in his room. The monk who’s now in charge of
the gongs doesn’t meditate here. When I sit in this unique hall, I feel I’m in Ancient China, during
the Tang Dynasty. I feel I’m in an old temple on the side of a mountain, quiet and isolated,
surrounded by bamboo, apple and apricot trees, sometimes shrouded in mist and very far away
from the noise of human civilization and entertainment.


May 7, 2000
     From out of the great void of deep sleep and predawn silence, I hear the sound of a wooden
board being hit purposefully and rhythmically by a wooden mallet. It’s 4:30 a.m. and it’s time to
get up for the five o’clock chanting. This unique wakeup “alarm” is centuries old and you won’t
hear this wood-against-wood knocking sound in any modern day town or city. Although I’ve come
to like the chanting ceremony from staying in Chinese temples from time to time, I’ve decided not
to attend this morning’s chanting; instead I’ll sit again in the Chan Hall in the basement. As a
visiting monk from a different tradition, I’m not expected to attend the ceremony but when I do
they can appreciate my effort and patience to stand for an hour listening to the chanting and
bowing at the appropriate moments. The monk in charge of the wakeup wooden knocking and
ringing the gongs has turned on the overhead light in the Chan Hall. I turn the fluorescent light off
and take up my sitting position under one of the high windows; there’s just the light from the shrine
enclosure illuminating the room and the space is magical and silent.
    And out of that silence comes the rumbling sound of a large drum being beaten very rapidly for
a few minutes, and then silence again, and then there is the sound of chanting voices and a gong
being hit at certain intervals adding a rich, melodic vibration to the devotional worship. This goes
at a slow pace for about fifteen minutes, then it shifts gear, in a manner of speaking, and the faster
section of the chanting begins with short syllables and the beating of a smooth, carved-out block of
wood keeping rhythm and adding a deep, hollow sound to the dynamic flow of the ceremony. The
rich, melodic sound of the gong punctuates this flow at certain times and this part of the chanting
seems to go up and down in waves of mysterious oriental melody. This section ends with the gong
and one final thump of the hollow drum. Silence, then another slow chanting begins during which
there is slow walking around the hall to the rhythm of a smaller hollow wooden drum, then the
chanting is accompanied by a bell and a small snare drum during which there is a series of bowing,
a handheld chime bell signaling the time for bowing. The entire ceremony lasts around an hour.
     Once I was staying at a Chinese temple in Penang, Malaysia, and I had to attend all three
ceremonies everyday. The abbot was very strict, controlling and subject to delusion and confusion;
he was very concerned with status, reputation and power, and he enjoyed putting people down –
nice Buddhist monk! I got to like the chanting ceremony even though I couldn’t follow it very well
from the chanting book; I only wished I could have sat down sometimes instead of having to stand
all the time. Anyhow, the experience taught me patient endurance and acceptance including having
to deal with the abbot. Two years ago, I stayed at a new temple in Taipei, Taiwan, for about eight
days and I was happy to find out that their morning ceremony only lasted for half an hour plus I
was not expected to attend the evening ceremony if I was busy meeting friends.


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     At Po Lin, I don’t mind attending the morning chanting occasionally as it’s not compulsory
and I can appreciate the experience simply because it’s something I wish to do and not something
I have to do. This ceremony must have evolved around 700-800 AD in China, during the early
Tang Dynasty, or 800-900 AD, after the early Pure Land Buddhist ideas in northern India travelled
north. Considering the prevalent practice of bhaki or devotional worship in Hindu India, it’s not
surprising that devotional Buddhism should evolve in the Mahayana tradition, that a belief should
evolve in a celestial form of the Buddha – Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, who
resides in the Western Paradise, the Pure Land, named Sukhavati. To the Buddha Shakyamuni, the
“pure land” meant the purified mind-heart, free from ignorance and delusion, craving and clinging,
hatred and ill-will. People simply projected that idea outwards to a physical location in the west,
some glorified vision of paradise or heaven close to the setting sun and its beautiful colours.
      By the end of the ceremony, grey light is coming through the two small high windows, gentle
chirping of birds can be heard, and the day with its many possibilities has begun. There is deep
stillness in the brain. Soon, the monk comes to strike the gongs and it’s time for breakfast: rice
congee and two dishes plus fruits from the plastic basket at the back of the dining room that we can
take back to our rooms. Then it’s time to take exercise and walk to Lantau Mountain; the sky is
overcast and the air is fresh and cool, nice weather for hiking. It’s so great to be here and I’m
hoping to experience the fog again like two years ago but I’m aware that this is just craving for past
pleasure or delight. Without awareness it’s so easy for the mind to be caught in past memories or in
future projections: hopes, dreams and expectations.
    As a Dharma practitioner, I know that only the present is real although it’s not static or stable;
but I don’t mind indulging in the past especially when those are fond memories. I’ve noticed that
we tend to think of “the good old days” when present reality is not so interesting or pleasant or
comfortable, like in present day India, for example. Despite the changes at Po Lin, it’s still a
wonderful place as the location is fantastic and the day visitors go away by early evening, leaving
the place deserted but for the Buddha statue and Lantau mountain with their serene, noble and
inspiring presence. Tomorrow I think I’ll walk down to Po Lam monastery since I haven’t been
there in over twenty years. There is a youth hostel in the area and is used by weekend hikers,
students on holidays and western backpackers.
     Four years ago I went hiking in this area for the first two days but then the weather turned cold
so I wasn’t keen to hike up the mountain but spent more time indoors when I wasn’t visiting the
statue on the hill. The whole area was shrouded in thick fog for some days and it was eerie and
special despite the chill; one felt completely cut off and isolated from HK and the rest of the world
and yet people came for the Chinese New Year celebration and banquet. Two years ago I managed
to hike a bit up the mountain path and I could appreciate the fog more as the climate was fairly mild
in May like now. That morning only the mountain area had fog but I think it was more like low
clouds passing through as the “fog” would race up the slope and swirl around me like ethereal
beings and it was most thrilling and enchanting standing there all alone on the mountain side and
feeling totally “lost” to the world. One felt like a Taoist mystic or hermit wandering on a high
mountain in Ancient China, cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown. It wasn’t cold or wet, just cool
and slightly damp, and it was simply heavenly. One could hear and feel the wind gently moving
around me and up the mountain slope, and it was so extraordinary and magical that I could have
died happily that day without attachment, desire or regret. There was a joy, innocence and beauty
that were not of time, memory and conditioning; it was simply the explosion of love and bliss.
    This morning there’s no fog or low clouds but the view of the hilly landscape below and the sea
in the distance is fantastic and breathtaking – so much space, silence and timeless beauty. I slowly

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walk up the path and every few minutes I stop to capture the view from a little higher up and I
know that I cannot hold onto this incredible scenery and that I won’t be able to get to the top of the
mountain. I’m ill-prepared without food and water, and I would need at least four hours to reach
the summit, rest and get down safely.
    Walk, stop, look at the scenery, there’s growing tension in the mind. I observe the desire of
wanting to hold onto the view as it’s so beautiful and spectacular. I close my eyes, breathe
mindfully and let go of that desire to cling to seeing consciousness. I see that thinking is creating
the duality, the division between the observer and the observed, and it’s this observer that wants to
cling, to possess the observed, this spectacular scenery in front of and below me. When there’s
seeing without the ‘me’ center, there’s peace and timeless beauty. The Buddha had once advised,
“When you see, just see, when you hear just hear: no grasping, aversion or delusion.” Wise advice.
I can understand why people want to take photos in order to capture the moment since the moment
is so fleeting and unstable.
    It has been said that we are apertures through which the Universe becomes aware of itself or
you can say that the Universe is using us [in this physical form as nama-rupa] as a means of being
aware of itself. So, you can say that we are “cosmic cameras” or “cosmic video cameras” and that
our lives and experiences are really “cosmic movies or photography.” More precisely, we are
temporary apertures or cameras through which the Universe becomes aware of itself; for when we
die, when body-mind process shuts down, the aperture or camera closes for good – during sleep,
the aperture is temporarily closed – and the world as we know it which includes our memories,
plans, ideas, ideals, likes and dislikes, anxieties and fears, problems and conflicts,
sensations/feelings, perceptions, and consciousness related to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting,
touching, and thinking/imagining no longer exist – the five aggregates of experience cease to
operate. How interesting!
     It’s a wonderful and insightful hike and along the path I come upon cool, clean drinking water
flowing from a gap in the rock which is much appreciated, a refreshing and healthy gift from
nature. After so much visual experience, it’s time to return to the monastery and Chan Hall, to sit in
the dimly lit room before lunch. There’s no place else on Lantau Island I would rather be. Sitting
quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself, and sometimes the fog rolls in
all on its own.
    After another delicious, healthy meal and rest, it’s time to visit the Buddha statue and the
museum and art gallery inside. Speaking of fog, two years ago, one day when I didn’t go hiking,
the fog rolled in during the morning and shrouded the entire area with a misty veil; and with the
sun trying to shrine through, the atmosphere had a light orange tinge to it, so it wasn’t dark and
eerie. And you could see the Buddha statue playing hide and seek on top of the hill as thick layers
of mist passed in front of it, followed by thin layers, then more thick layers, then thin layers again,
and so on. The effect was most surrealistic and amazing especially with the sunlight shining
through this enchanting and ethereal aspect of nature. I can see why the Chinese have depicted
flying dragons to symbolize universal power or energy after being in close contact with rolling
mist or fog in the hilly and mountain regions of Ancient China. I, too, have “seen” or imagined
flying dragons from observing layers of mist floating up the valley in northern India during the
monsoon season.
     This afternoon, it is sunny with clouds passing over. There are about one hundred and fifty
visitors at Po Lin; at least eight to nine hundred will come on Vesak Day [two days away] since it’s
now a public holiday in HK as in SE Asia. The standing incense holder in front of the entrance hall
is full of smoking joss sticks; inside the entrance hall is a gold-painted statue of the Fat, Jolly
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Buddha and the four temple guardians bearing lances and swords. Around thirty people are up at
the statue as I begin to climb the steps. I’m once again in awe as I look up at the giant Buddha
gazing serenely down at me. And what’s interesting is that at times you feel that the statue is alive,
omnipresent and omniscient, and affecting all those who see it; you intuitively know that it’s only
a statue, an inanimate object but the scale, detail and beauty of it [the gesturing hands, the serene,
majestic and noble head, the flowing robes artistically captured in bronze, the lotus throne] gives it
a living, pulsing presence that you feel each time you look at it with innocent eyes. The bronze
Buddha sits serenely on a bronze lotus throne, and like the flower, the base is round and consists of
two layers with white railing around the edges.
      People are taking photos and video filming the giant Buddha as they ascend the steps;
everyone’s in awe like myself. In the palm of the Buddha’s raised right hand is the Dharma Wheel
proclaiming the truth of existence and suffering and the freedom from suffering. Once again, the
360 degree view of the area is incredibly beautiful and breathtaking; it’s like I’m seeing it for the
first time. I could use the words “awesome” and “amazing” again to describe the scenery but I tend
to use those words too often, some might say. I guess I’m just young at heart, impressionable and
romantic, because young people don’t mind using the same words over and over again to describe
experience – words like “awesome,” “amazing,” “cool,” and “far out.”
    There are three boats on the sea way below going in different directions, and there’s a lovely
cloud hugging the middle of Lantau Mountain, as if it’s trying to protect it from the wind and sun.
There are three small statues on either side of the base of the statue paying respect to the Buddha.
There’s a pool of water with coins in it, and there’s a sign that says, “Please do not throw coins in
the water.” People do it anyway for good luck, for their wishes to come true. That’s life, especially
for wishful, superstitious people. I also see a bright orange roof of another temple close to Po Lin
and it’s surprising that I haven’t been over there before; I ought to visit that place before I leave Po
Lin and Lantau island, perhaps later this afternoon or tomorrow. Because there are many visitors to
Po Lin these days [since 1993], you meet all kinds from different parts of the world up at the
Buddha statue.
    You meet Canadians, Americans, British and Europeans, Chinese from mainland China,
Japanese, Koreans, tourists and business men from Singapore and Malaysia, Australians, Kiwis,
plus a friendly group from Santiago, Chile, who invited me to come and teach, and a noisy,
gregarious group from Rio de Janiero, Brazil, who’d also visited the Portuguese colony of Macao,
close to HK. All this Brazillian group needed was some samba music to start a carnival below the
Buddha statue, a lively bunch of people, for sure! Some local Chinese will start to speak to me in
Cantonese assuming that I’m a local monk and they’re surprised when I tell them that I don’t speak
Chinese. Some foreigners are surprised and happy that I speak English also assuming that I’m a
local monk and perhaps don’t speak English, so then they can ask me about Buddhism and why I
became a monk. If I weren’t a monk, some Hongkies would scold me that I ought to speak Chinese
because my father was Chinese; my sister used to have this problem when she was living in HK for
three years so she began to say that she was Canadian Eskimo or from the Philippines – less
hassles.
    The back of the statue is also impressive showing the folds of the robe in realistic detail. Four
years ago, I got to see a video in the office showing how the statue was made in Nanjing, China.
First, a statue was made out of a white material in a large, hanger-type building; then it was sawed
into various pieces and molds were made of these pieces in bronze. Then the bronze pieces were
temporarily put together to see what corrections/adjustments were needed to be made to the


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precise measurements; then they were taken apart, corrections were made and each piece
measured again for more possible adjustments.
    Then the pieces were railed to the coast [Shanghai, I think], and then shipped to HK and Lantau
island; then the pieces were brought up to Po Lin where the round base, side road up the hill, and
steps were already built plus a stainless steel structure that was erected from the base up so that the
pieces could be put together using that steel structure as a stable foundation. It’s an impressive
combination of art and engineering that took ten patient years and millions of HK dollars. Now I
find it difficult to imagine the hill top without this awesome and amazing Buddha statue; my
memory of the bare hill from early 1980 fades further and further into obscurity and unimportance
the longer I hang out below the statue and enjoy the view from its round base and meet visitors
from all over the globe.
     I hear the mid-afternoon chanting below and think fondly of Min Hui; I hope to meet him later
this evening. You enter the base of the statue, passing two vending machines advertising cans of
cold drinks, and you find an art gallery and up another level is a museum which is actually inside
the bottom part of the statue. In the former are impressive, detailed murals depicting scenes from
the Buddha’s life, painted by a Sri Lankan artist. Four years ago during early February when the
weather turned unusually cold, I remember being in this art gallery and museum, and then stepping
outside in the near freezing temperature [5-6 C] with thick fog swirling around the statue and hill
top and totally enshrouding Po Lin and the entire area. It was almost unreal and unbelievable; very
chilly but somehow special and unforgettable. And yet there were visitors that day and some were
climbing up to the statue while I was there.
    I decide to visit the temple close to Po Lin with the bright orange rooftop. It’s quiet and lovely
with potted plants and small trees plus several ceramic jars full of water placed strategically to
improve the feng-shui of the temple, the harmony of elements related to energy, good health and
peace of mind. The monk is away in HK or Guangdong province but I get to meet the caretaker of
the place who’s also a student of the monk. Coincidentally, I had looked at a copy of his book in
Taiwan, written in English, and I had met him once at his temple in Vancouver. He had studied in
Canada before becoming a monk and he followed the Mahayana tradition. The caretaker speaks
good English; he was once a professional in HK and then decided to drop out from the rat race and
seek refuge at this quiet temple near Po Lin. Good for him. After tea and a pleasant chat, I return to
the monastery for meditation and dinner.
    After the meal, Min Hui invites me to his room for a chat and to watch the news on TV. Since
arriving in HK, I’ve only watched TV once at Dhamma Garden and it was the evening news after
the very heavy rain, since then I haven’t thought much about TV or electronic entertainment; if I
want to hear the news I usually get it on the radio. Min Hui tells me again how tired he is from the
extra chanting and I can believe him; he looks exhausted and his voice sounds hoarse. I suggest
that he gargle with salt water and use throat lozenges. I offer to give him a foot massage but he
declines. After being on Lantau island for a few days, I find it somewhat strange to watch TV
again. I much prefer to watch natural scenery or read under a tree or sit in the Chan Hall
downstairs. Likewise I would rather sit and read in a park or walk by the ocean than spend a few
hours in an art gallery or museum; inanimate objects don’t interest me like they used to.
    The news is mainly about the economy, consumerism and crime in HK and most of the crime is
based on greed and extortion apart from domestic violence. Now I recall that a lady’s body was
dumped down the hill near Po Lin when I was here four years ago and we saw the police
investigating the crime when Min Hui was driving me around. Apparently, she was an insurance
salesperson and she came over to Lantau island to meet a potential client when she got kidnapped;
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her family was unable to pay the ransom and she was subsequently murdered; the two men
involved were arrested.
     On TV, bad news have become entertainment and people in our modern world like to be
entertained. After the news, Min Hui puts on a movie on DVD, a new hi-tech mode I’m unfamiliar
with; the quality of the picture is quite impressive and I watch for about twenty minutes and then
it’s time to go. I wish Min Hui goodnight and sweet dreams. I tell him I’ll be attending the chanting
tomorrow morning and he groans laughingly and I laugh too. The two local monks in the
dormitory are playing card games and the Thai monk is not around. I observe my desire to go sit in
the basement but I decide to relax in bed and listen to the BBC before I float away into the realm of
the unknown.


May 8, 2000
    I’m awake before the wood knocking at 4:30 a.m. I was having one of my flying dreams: arms
outstretched and gliding among small, cotton clouds and over verdant landscape; I take this as a
sign of contentment and inner freedom. I remember before I went to India and began Dharma
practice, I used to dream about wanting desperately to fly but always feeling this heavy
gravitational force pulling me down each time I tried to take off into the air. You don’t have to be
Sigmund Freud to figure this one out.
    This morning I wish to attend the chanting ceremony and keep my fellow monks, nuns, and lay
devotees company in the monastery shrine hall. The main shrine hall is in another building close
by on the upper floor, on the ground floor is a large hall with small shrines against the walls and the
space is sometimes used as a reception room and for special lunch banquets like on the Chinese
New Year. There’s a light fog in the area and it’s nicely illuminated by the light bulbs outside and
by the moving beams from the flashlights carried by some of the monastics walking towards the
shrine hall. The air is cool and fresh and the smell of sandalwood smoke is coming from the large
standing incense holder in front of the hall. On a busy day, these standing incense holders have to
be cleared of countless joss sticks every fifteen minutes or so; many people will light an entire
packet containing 20-30 joss sticks which is a waste really; three would be the recommended
number if one stick seems inadequate.
     The rumbling sound of the large drum at the back of the hall fills the air and I take my place
beside one of the younger monks, Min Tong is standing in front of me. Min Hui and one of the
card-playing monks take their places in front of the shrine alter where microphones are positioned
as they’re leading the chanting. Min Hui is standing close to the big bowl gong on the right of the
alter as he’ll be hitting it at the appropriate times. Another monk stands on the left side beside the
smooth, hollowed-out wooden drum as he’ll be beating it during the fast section. An elderly nun
sits in front of a small snare drum and she’ll also be ringing the bell during the latter part of the
ceremony; this is the perfect job for her since she’s unable to stand for any length of time. The nuns
and female lay devotees are on the left side of the hall and the monks and male lay devotees are on
the right.
    The handheld chime bell rings and we bow on the padded stools in front of us and then stand,
the chime bell rings again two more times and we bow each time it rings and return to standing
position. The slow chanting begins and the big bowl gong is hit at certain times by Min Hui, the
sound is rich and melodic. Hearing the drumming, chanting, chime bell and the gong from the
Chan Hall is lovely and enchanting but being present in the midst of the ceremony is a totally
different experience, needless to say. There’s the visual experience, of course, and the sound

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experience is louder, clearer and more effective. Min Hui’s voice is not very melodic and stable
but the other monk is quite good, firm and confident. I think he has been invited here specially for
the week’s celebration, to help Min Hui lead the chanting, for poor Min Hui could use some help.
    The shrine is beautiful and the dominant colour in the hall is auspicious red, the two red
columns on either side of the shrine have vertical Chinese writing in gorgeous gold-painted
characters. I wish I could read Chinese and immediately I think of my father who was good at
calligraphy brush writing in the traditional style; if he was still alive today he would never imagine
me in this traditional Chinese Buddhist setting. When I see these pictorial characters, I know I’m
looking at the expression of an ancient culture that my ancestors belonged to, but it’s a language
I’ve unfortunately lost. It’s an ancient mystery I’m connected to but cannot comprehend and that’s
why it remains a mystery although I can appreciate it as an art form.
     The fast section of the chanting has started and the rapid beating of the hollow drum keeps the
rhythm and energy of the flow going. It’s very nice to hear the nuns in Taiwan chanting this part in
Mandarin; their soft, melodic voices flowing gracefully in waves of devotional beauty and bliss.
It’s so interesting how a spiritual movement which began in the forest region of the Indus Valley
should end up as an elaborate and elegant chanting and bowing ceremony in China, Korea, Japan,
Hong Kong, Taiwan and SE Asia, not to mention in all the Pure Land temples all over the world,
but I don’t think that poor Min Hui can appreciate this historic and cultural phenomenon especially
when he doesn’t like to chant in the first place [haha].
    I remember four years ago in early February, during the cold spell, the Chinese New Year
chanting in this hall began at 3:30 a.m., so there were one and a half hours of extra chanting that
freezing morning with thick fog outside to bless the new year. It was one of the most auspicious
occasions in Chinese culture and it was a true test in patient endurance and devotion. The bowing
section was welcomed as it helped to create some warmth in the body. There was a wonderful
feeling of relief and accomplishment at the end of this long ceremony and everyone happily
wished each other Happy Chinese New Year – Gong Hei Fat Choy! Then the monks and nuns ran
around like excited children collecting good luck money in red envelopes [hungpow] from the
abbot and second abbot; there was much laughter and innocent fun despite the cold and thick fog.
I offered a red packet to one of the nuns but she declined the offer. Everyone was very cold and
hungry by 6 a.m. so breakfast with hot rice congee, soup and vegetable dishes were much
appreciated.
    Then there was the official new year ceremony in the main shrine hall starting around 10 a.m.
and this was attended by many lay devotees and visiting monks and there was the walking section
where we walked slowly around the balcony outside while the chanting continued inside and
outside and with the thick fog swirling around and blanketing the area. It was indeed a memorable
event. At the end, all the lay devotees offered red packets to all the monastics and then we
proceeded to the huge hall downstairs where a special lunch banquet was prepared. Guests from
the British government were invited and there were a few speeches made. I sat beside an
African-American monk from New York City and we had a most interesting chat; he decided to
stay for two nights and I returned to HK with him on the ferry from Silvermine Bay.
    Ven. Suhitananda Dharma grew up in California and from a young age he was drawn to the
monastic life. He first ordained in the Franciscan Order and he began to study Zen Buddhism and
practice zazen [sitting meditation] which was popular in California. Later, he travelled to India to
do some social work for the Order and here he was introduced to Theravada Buddhism in Bodh
Gaya and Sarnath. Eventually, he left the Franciscan Order and took ordination in this tradition and


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now he’s teaching the Dharma in NYC. I found him to be a very sincere and humble person and we
had some very inspiring discussions. He gave me his card and I hoped to visit him in future.
    The morning ceremony ends with bowing and all the instruments are put aside for the next
ceremony. Before breakfast, I have some hot water with Min Hui and he tells me again how tired
he is. I tell him to go to Dhamma Garden for a short holiday after Vesak Day where he doesn’t
have to do any chanting but the idea of silent meditation frightens him. I tell him he doesn’t have to
do any meditation there, just relax and read, but the idea of leaving his TV and video movies
sounds scary. What to do? How about visiting his parents for a few days? Maybe, he says.
    After breakfast, I take a short rest, have some coffee and then I take a walk to Lantau Mt. and
this time there is fog and low cloud in the area and I’m at once in a state of enchantment and
sublime aloneness, bliss and childlike wonder. I walk up the path in this misty environment only
able to see a few feet in front of me and the silence of the earth is the silence of the heavens; and out
of that sacred silence is the chirping of two or three swallows. I sit on the damp grass on the slope
and feel totally lost to the world, light years away from the intense energy of HK and its many
shopping centers and apartment buildings. I think of Stephen and his tiny flat and understand why
he likes to hike up this mountain.
     I close my eyes and listen to the silence, there are images from this morning’s chanting
ceremony and images from that cold spell four years ago, and I still haven’t called Ven.
Suhitananda Dharma in NYC from Toronto as promised, perhaps this summer I’ll remember to do
that. I open my eyes and I’m back on the slope enveloped in fog, mystery and enchantment. The
wind blows, the grass grows, the mist comes and goes, and no one knows. I could sit here for hours
but I know I will have to get up sometime and return to the monastery for lunch and rest. Also, this
sitting position will get uncomfortable after a time and that too has to change. Nothing is
permanent, satisfactory, certain, and reliable; it’s not easy for worldly people to accept this simple
fact of life. I think of Taoist sages like Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu [and some Chan Masters] living in
places like this in Ancient China and writing wonderful, profound things like this:
    “The great Tao [Way] flows everywhere, to the left and to the right, all things depend upon it to
exist, and it does not abandon them. To its accomplishments it lays no claim. It loves and nourishes
all things, but does not lord it over them. The Tao always abides by what is natural. It does not
deliberately set out to do things, yet nothing is left undone.
     There is something obscure which is complete before heaven and earth arose; tranquil and
quiet, standing alone without change, moving around without peril. It could be the mother of
everything. I don’t know its name, and call it Tao. The Tao moves by returning in endless cycles.
By yielding, it overcomes, creating the ten thousand things, being from nonbeing. It is the source
of all things, all pervading and limitless.
      The greatest wisdom is to follow the Tao. The Tao is mysterious, unfathomable, Yet within is
all that lives; Unfathomable, mysterious, yet within is the essence; shadowy, intangible, yet within
are vital principles, principles of truth informing all creation, the lessons of life inherent in Tao.
The Tao person, detached and wise, embraces all as Tao.
     The highest good is like water, for the good of water is that it nourishes everything without
striving. It occupies the place which all men think inferior. It is thus that Tao in the world is like a
river going down the valley to the ocean. The most gentle thing in the world overrides the most
hard. How do coves and oceans become kings of a hundred rivers? Because they are good at
keeping low – that is how they are kings of the hundred rivers. Nothing in the world is weaker than
water, but it has no better in overcoming the hard. When water is still, it is like a mirror, reflecting

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the beard and the eyebrows. It gives the accuracy of the water-level, and the philosopher makes it
his model. And if water thus derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the
mind? The mind of the Sage being in repose becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of
all creation
    The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both
absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and
heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, have no fixed ideas either for
or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike – this is a disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of the way is not understood, our peace of mind is disturbed to no end.
    The Way is perfect like vast space where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. Indeed, it
is due to our choosing to accept or reject that we do not see the true nature of things. Live neither in
the entanglements of outer things, nor in the inner feelings of emptiness. Be serene in the oneness
of all things and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves. When you stop activity to
achieve passivity your very effort fills you with activity. As long as you remain in one extreme or
the other, you will never know Oneness. All changes in this empty world seem real because of
ignorance.
     To seek Great Mind with thinking mind is certainly a grave mistake. If mind does not
discriminate, all things are as they are, as One. When all is seen with ‘equal mind,’ to our
Self-nature we return. All ego-centered strivings cease; doubts and confusion disappear, and so
true faith pervades our life. There is no thing that clings to us, and nothing that is left behind. In this
true world of emptiness, both self and other are no more.”
     I hear footsteps approaching and a short, grey figure emerges from the misty veil and it’s Min
Tong, the natural sage of Po Lin monastery. We are surprised and happy to see each other in this
wonderful, foggy place; we’re like two mountain goats meeting way above the world of mankind;
he also likes to hike up the mountain and feel distant from the monastery and people. He asks me
how much longer I’ll be staying at Po Lin and in HK and I tell him I’ll be returning to Dhamma
Garden tomorrow afternoon and leaving HK in a few days for Canada, also that I would like to
come again to Po Lin for a longer stay in future. You are most welcome, he says. I walk with him
further up the path and enjoy his simple, peaceful presence. The fog clears temporarily sometimes
and one gets glimpses of the breathtaking scenery below including the sea with boats in the
distance. This is a beautiful place, says Min Tong, and I can only shake my head in mutual
appreciation and wonderment. Then we walk slowly down the path together, cloud-hidden,
whereabouts unknown.
     After lunch and siesta, I decide to walk downhill and visit Po Lam Monastery after twenty
years; it doesn’t seem that long ago but time and memory are indeed spooky, confusing and
misleading. I follow the paved path and a sign from the Po Lin area and I get to the edge of the
mountain where the path begins to descend and there’s a tall concrete archway with the writing,
“To Po Lam Monastery.” This archway wasn’t here in 1980 and when I look in the distance down
the narrow valley is a part of the new airport, before that was only the sea. It’s a lovely view,
however, and there are many trees, wild plants and flowers along the path, many birdcalls and
insects buzzing. My memory is playing tricks with me and the monastery is much farther than I
remembered. I remember walking down this winding path at dusk to stay a few days with the
French-Vietnamese monk and he was surprised that I’d arrived so late and it was only about 7 p.m.
     Finally, I get there and the place looks bigger than before although my memory of the external
structure is hazy; I guess twenty years is a long time ago. There are a few vegetable gardens

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outside and there’s no one in sight. The abbot is a very famous monk in HK but he’s now in a
nursing home in the New Territories, I’m told. I recall he was very kind and friendly although he
could only speak Cantonese; his home temple was in Guangdong province where he grew up. I
don’t want to disturb them inside so I continue farther down the path that winds around the lower
part of the monastery and I find an open gate and a small open pavilion with seats surrounded by
bamboo. The location of Po Lam is not as open and beautiful as Po Lin but it’s much quieter and
isolated from the public; this is a real retreat monastery, and I hear they now have a branch
monastery for nuns in Chilliwack, B.C., east of Vancouver. I sit in the pavilion, read and rest, and
look at the small buildings, the flower bushes and bamboo trees, and I think of the former French
monk from Vietnam who’s now living in Berkeley, California. A lot has happened in twenty years.
     It’s a vigorous and healthy uphill walk back to Po Lin. I have tea and rest in the open pavilion
near the courtyard in front of the main shrine hall. I write some postcards with the Buddha statue in
front and look at visitors coming and going; some are offering joss sticks to the Buddha and Quan
Yin and placing them in the standing incense holder in front of the steps and hall. It’s a lovely,
peaceful afternoon with a cloudy sky and I wish the friends to whom I’m sending the postcards
were here with me to experience this wonderful place and scenic area…just wishful thinking. Then
I go to sit in the quiet Chan Hall not far away yet when you’re sitting inside you feel very far away
from everything and everyone, and very alone and peaceful. How fortunate to have access to this
room!
     Some years ago when Po Lin was a quiet, sleepy place, they used to have group meditation in
this room on a regular basis and during retreat programs, and now I have this place all to myself. In
this darkened room, I sit and observe the breath, the rising and falling of the body, and wonder how
many times this body has breathed in and out since it was born, since it came out of my mother’s
womb – simply countless. I see that birth is non-self, only physical phenomenon; I also see that
breathing is non-self, having been born, the body breaths all on its own. The in-breath conditions
the out-breath, and the out-breath conditions the in-breath. As long as the body is alive, that’s the
way it will be. Breathing belongs to nature, it doesn’t belong to you or me, it is non-self [anatta].
You don’t control the body or breathing. Awareness of the in-breath and out-breath is something
immediate, when you observe and reflect on this, it takes you to insight or vipassana. This is
simple and natural wisdom in action.
     Conventionally speaking, we say, for example, “I was born on May 22nd, 1963, and so now
I’m 37 years old.” But in truth, there’s no permanent, concrete self or ego-entity who was born on
that date; the idea of self is a mental conditioning based on the use of language, the habit of
identification, thinking and memory. When a baby is born, it doesn’t jump up and say, “Yippee! I
am born today!” It’s just a physical organism, an aspect of nature and the four elements, that’s
breathing, yawning, sleeping, drinking breast milk, and excreting. When we identify with birth as
‘me’ and ‘my,’ we really believe that we have a certain age and we become very attached to
birthdays, which often causes fear and worry, expectation, disappointment and conflict, yes?
Unenlightened monks and nuns also make a big deal out of birthdays, like lay people; they still
cling to ego or self with respect to birth, sickness, ageing and death, also status, position and
reputation. It’s just social conditioning and wrong understanding, wrong view based on ignorance.
    I observe images of my mother who died many years ago, someone who was close to me,
someone who I haven’t seen, heard or touched in thirty-two years; I only “see” her as a memory
when thinking/imagining consciousness arises. Where has she been all these years? I know her
physical form no longer exists as such, that it has decomposed, that only a skeleton remains in a
grave somewhere in Jamaica, West Indies; but where is the person who gave me so much love,

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affection and tenderness? I know that if she were alive today, she would be looking quite different
from my image of her thirty-two years ago; she would be looking much older, of course. I
remember when she died suddenly and unexpectedly, I saw her as a person or self, separate in time
and space, who had mysteriously chosen to go away simply because the body could no longer
remain alive.
    At the time, I wasn’t able to see her death as nama-rupa [body-mind process] shutting down; I
didn’t have the understanding of the five aggregates of experience, a temporary collection of the
four elements belonging to the planet and solar system. I knew intuitively that “my mother” was
connected to her body but I still thought of her as a person or self who had died or passed away
mysteriously. We all have this limited, superficial perception of life and ourselves, and that’s why
we speak of so and so dying or passing away or about that person going to heaven or hell or the
Pure Land or being reincarnated or taking rebirth, and so on. I also remember that for about ten
years after her death, it made me happy and warm all over to think of her taking a long, long
journey through the Milky Way galaxy, and then that romantic idea was no longer important or
necessary; it no longer gave me comfort or peace.
     As Ajahn Chah had said, “We believe that a self exists, that there’s a permanent, concrete,
separate and independent ego-entity which sees, hears, tastes, smells, feels and thinks. We believe
that a self lives and dies, we believe that other selves exist. This is incorrect view of reality! What
we take for self are only ever-changing phenomena. In reality there is no ‘me,’ no ‘he,’ no ‘she,’
these are just labels for social communication. We spend our lives dreaming about things that do
not exist. Our wrong view causes us attachment and suffering. We have expectations of ourselves
and others and if these do not come through we suffer from frustration, disappointment, anguish,
etc. We are afraid of death and we do not know what happens to the self after we have died. It
would be most beneficial if we could see our life as it really is – only changing phenomena. Then
we could face with right understanding old age, sickness and death. All phenomena in ourselves
and around ourselves are only two kinds of realities – mental [nama] and physical [rupa]. Nama
experiences or knows, rupa doesn’t know anything. What we take for self or a person are only
changing phenomena, only nama and rupa. This includes animals and insects. Emotions are also
transitory and empty of self. Our whole life is like a chain of moments of consciousness arising and
falling away. When we realize that our life is actually only nama and rupa which arise due to
conditions, we become more patient even in difficult situations.”
    Ajahn Chah has died or passed away, using conventional language. Naturally, we tend to think
of him as this wise and ebullient teacher who taught many Thai and western monks and whose
books have inspired many Dhamma practitioners around the world, myself included. We tend to
see him as a special person or self, we normally don’t see him as changing phenomena, as
nama-rupa. When his health was deteriorating, he would use this condition as a Dhamma teaching
on impermanence and non-self. As it turned out, he became a “human vegetable,” unable to
communicate and take care of himself, for almost ten years, and so the monks who took care of
him around the clock had the opportunity to see this once wise and wonderful teacher as
nama-rupa, as changing and deteriorating phenomena without a permanent, separate self. And yet
many Thais didn’t want him to die due to their deluded attachment; some even took comfort in
believing that the Ajahn Chah they once knew was actually teaching the devas or spirits in their
deva world or dimension since he was now unable to teach in the human world. I guess my
comforting idea about my mother taking a long journey through the galaxy was no different from
their idea about Ajahn Chah – it’s just human nature.



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    I also recall that when my mother died, I felt happy that her suffering was over, namely her
mental-emotional suffering and conflicts; I didn’t see it as a personal loss and so there was
minimum sorrow and grief. Later, I came to understand that this was the virtue and freedom of
loving kindness and compassion, the freedom of non-self and non-clinging. Again, I read Ajahn
Chah: “Mindfulness, awareness, attention is nama [mental phenomena] which arises with a
wholesome moment of consciousness. There’s no person or individual, only different namas and
rupas appearing one at a time, and they do not stay or last. Clinging to people brings sorrow;
eventually we shall have to take leave of our loved ones and friends, nothing is permanent.
Through the development of insight, clinging to the concept of a person who exists can be
eradicated. The Buddha saw that at the very root of suffering was the belief in a self which is
separate and permanent – because of this belief we are compelled to protect and gratify and worry
about it. At the deepest level, the Buddha responded to the suffering he saw by helping people to
awaken to the realization of selflessness/emptiness, impermanence and unsatisfactoriness.”


May 9, 2000
     Today is the official celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and passing away.
Vesak Day is now a public holiday in Hong Kong as in SE Asia and many devotees and sightseers
are expected to visit. I’m inspired to attend both the early morning chanting and the mid-day
chanting; the latter will be the main ceremony of the celebration when all the lay devotees will be
present and this will take place in the main shrine hall. I also have to leave this afternoon to meet a
Dharma friend in Kowloon. He’s originally from Malaysia and married to a local lady; he’d
attended my sessions two years ago and we were able to get together afterwards for a meal and
discussion. Glen had come to Dhamma Garden earlier to see me before the retreat began but he
was unable to attend the few days due to his work schedule. He and his wife had attended two of
the public talks in Kowloon.
     The early morning chanting is lovely and inspiring; there are more lay devotees attending
having stayed overnight in the guesthouse. I think Ven. Sudhammo has been invited to the Thai
temple next door for their Vesak Day celebration; they’ll be having Pali Chanting, a Dhamma talk
and meditation session, and a big lunch prepared by the Thai devotees who are working in HK. It’s
likely that in the afternoon, they’ll be playing a few talks on cassette tape by well-known monks in
Thailand.
     Min Hui’s voice doesn’t sound good; it sounds raspy and tired and I’m sure he’s quite relieved
that the extra chantings end today. It’s been a long tiresome week for him and the other monks.
After breakfast, I go for a walk with him and Min Tong, the cool fresh air and exercise feel
wonderful. I remind Min Hui to gargle his throat with warm salt water and to use a lozenge. Before
the Vesak Ceremony begins, Min Tong and I sit in the Chan Hall for the last time and I think of the
Buddha lying on his right side in the forest in Kushinagar, northern India, and being surrounded by
many monks, nuns and lay devotees, a lot of them in tears and emotional conflict.
     By then, those who were closest to the Buddha [apart from Ananda] had already died: his
closest disciples, Sariputta and Mogallana, his son, Rahula, and his former wife, an enlightened
nun. When these people died, the Buddha was able to remain calm and serene, unshaken by grief
or sorrow – personal craving and attachment. He was able to go beyond the idea of birth and death
with his profound understanding of dependent origination and emptiness. When some of the
immature monks beseeched the reclining Buddha not to die and leave them without his guidance,
he calmly said, “Let the Dhamma and Vinaya [rules of conduct] be your teacher and guide after I

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am gone. Be lights unto yourselves, seek no other refuge but your own intuitive understanding and
wisdom. When you see the Dhamma, you see the Buddha.” Ananda, his close attendant, was very
sad and upset at the thought of the Buddha’s demise and so the Buddha said to him, “Enough, O
Ananda, do not grieve, do not weep. Have I not been teaching you that we all have to separate and
divide and sever ourselves from everything that is dear and pleasant to us? O Ananda, you have
done much merit. May you soon be freed from defilements and suffering.”
    The Buddha addressed the disciples and said, “If there’s any doubt as to the Buddha or the
Dhamma, or the Sangha, or the path or method, question me and repent not afterwards thinking –
we were face to face with the teacher, yet we were not able to question the Tathagata in his
presence. When he spoke thus, they were silent. For the second and third time, the Buddha
addressed the disciples in the same way but they remained silent. Then he said, “Perhaps it may be
out of respect for the teacher that you do not question me. Let a friend, O disciples, intimate it to
another.” But they remained silent. Then he said before passing away, “Subject to change are all
component/fabricated things. Strive on with diligence for your own salvation.”
    The main shrine hall is full and there are many people standing outside on the balcony on all
four sides, many walking around the courtyard, some offering joss sticks to the Buddha, some
visiting the Buddha statue on the hill, some taking photos, and so on. The alter is full of fresh
flowers and bowls of fruit. Also on the balcony near the main door is a large, clear plastic bowl
with water and some flowers floating in it and a baby Buddha statue standing in the middle with his
right hand raised and his index finger pointing to the sky; there are also two plastic ladles resting in
the bowl. The bathing of the baby Buddha ceremony will commence at the end of the chanting
ceremony. The monks and nuns are wearing their special yellow outer robes over their black
gowns and the abbot is wearing his special red outer robe over his yellow gown plus his long
ornamental jade bead necklace that is unique to Chinese Mahayana tradition. This big official
ceremony reminds me of the Chinese New Year Ceremony four years ago and I’m unable to tell
the difference in the chanting for it all sounds the same: wonderful, uplifting, devotional,
meditative and sincere. Although I’m from another tradition, I feel so fortunate to be here among
these Pure Land devotees and I feel deeply the unifying force of loving kindness and compassion,
tolerance and respect, goodwill and peace – the universality of human virtues as taught by all
religious/spiritual teachers.
    Although I’m officially of the Theravada tradition, I consider myself a devotee and student of
the Buddhayana tradition, the way of the Buddha, the forest monk and seeker of truth. I say this
because people get hung up on labels and concepts and easily lose sight of the Buddha’s message,
and so I don’t have blind attachment to the Theravada tradition although I can appreciate some
aspects of it. The ceremony ends with a series of bowing with slow chanting in between and the
gongs and drums never sounded better. Then in single file, everyone move out onto the balcony
area and forming two lines on either side of the bowl, each person ceremoniously baths the baby
Buddha statue by scooping water from the bowl with the ladle and pouring it onto the statue in the
middle of the bowl. This is one of the traditional ways of celebrating the birth of the Buddha and
children can also participate in this simple, lovely ceremony.
    There are several hundred people at Po Lin today and it’s difficult to get an exact estimate.
There are also two television camera crews in the courtyard area filming the event and
interviewing people on camera including the abbot and one of the other monks. I look at the
crowds of devotees and sightseers and feel their happiness; it’s a special day and a public holiday
from work and the stress and pollution of HK. There’s no special lunch banquet like on Chinese
New Year but lunch in the dining hall is special and delicious with quite a few more dishes plus a

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fancy cake for dessert. After lunch, I sit with Min Hui for a chat and to say goodbye. He tells me
again how tired he is and I suggest again that he go visit his parents for a few days; he says he
might be able to leave Po Lin now that the Vesak Celebration is over.
    I take a short rest, pack my bags, say goodbye to Min Tong and the other monks and head out
to catch the minibus to Silvermine Bay. Goodbye Chan Hall, goodbye monastery, courtyard and
shrine halls, goodbye giant Buddha statue on the hill, and goodbye Lantau Mountain. It’s a
crowded day at Po Lin and I’m leaving all the excitement behind. I meet a tall attractive lady with
long black hair holding a microphone and a cameraman standing behind her. She speaks fluent
English with an American accent; she’s American Chinese and a reporter for one of the
English-speaking TV stations in HK, and she’s looking for a story about the Vesak Day
Celebration. She has no idea about Buddhism whatsoever and she wishes to interview me on
camera. She first asks me about my background, then about the Buddha, and then about the
significance of Vesak Day. This will be my first time on national TV and none of my family
members and friends in Canada and SE Asia will be able to see me – that’s life.
    From Silvermine Bay, I take the ferry to HK island and then the famous Star Ferry across to
Kowloon. It’s a lovely, relaxing and scenic journey, experiencing HK from the ocean and seeing
the many boats, ferries and sampans, the sea gulls, the tall skyscrapers, the houses and apartment
buildings on the hillsides, the high mountains on HK island and the small islands in the South
China Sea. One great thing about HK is that if you want to get away from the crowds and noisy,
polluting traffic, all you have to do is hop on a ferry and visit one of the islands for a day or go
hiking in the hills. After being on Lantau island for a few days [it feels like two weeks], the city
environment is an assault on the senses but it’s exciting nonetheless – so many people, eating
places and stores! After Kowloon, I’ll be able to appreciate Dhamma Garden even more; there’s so
much to see and buy, so little time and money! This is the mentality of worldly people; for me it’s
easy to practice non-craving and detachment as my needs are few and I have to keep my
belongings to a minimum since I have to carry them around.
      I have an hour before I meet Glen and I’m in the area of Chung King Mansion, a popular place
for backpackers, budget travellers, and businessmen from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It’s in a
tall, apartment building and it offers dormitory beds, single and double rooms. The ground floor is
a colourful, aromatic area with Indian eating places, stores, money-changing booths, and open
stalls selling clothes [mainly T-shirts and jeans], footwear, magazines, disposable cameras and
films, souvenirs and postcards. On this street are also stores selling designer clothes and items,
expensive jewellery and watches, and perfumes.
     I step inside one store selling only wristwatches just to have a look, not to buy anything since I
don’t wear them. But I do use those small quartz alarm clocks; they’re good for travelling and for
telling time during Dharma-meditation sessions. This store is flashy and attractive, and most of the
watches are from Switzerland and Japan; all the well-known name brands are here – Bulova,
Omega, Tissot, Timex, Citizen, Seiko, Swatch, Rolex [silver and gold models], and Patek Phillipe
– although some of them might be fake, this is something I don’t have to worry about. There are
also some digital models including specialized ones for outdoor adventurers who climb high
mountains, explore deep oceans and caves, and who venture to the north and south poles.
    There are so many kinds of watches here, different styles and designs and price range, all
lovely and fascinating to look at but there’s no desire to buy or possess any of them and so there’s
no anxiety or frustration. I can look and appreciate their beauty and elegance in the same the way I
can look at minerals and semi-precious stones at a museum. If I wish to buy one, then my mind
would be conflicted and confused from having to make a choice: less choice, less conflict and
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confusion. I remember my father buying Tissot watches in HK for my brothers and I some years
ago and although I found them elegant and interesting, I didn’t like wearing one; it felt
uncomfortable physically and mentally. Once I had to wear a watch at work [lent to me by my
supervisor] because of my scheduled activity but at the end of the day I would take it off; for me it
was just a timepiece and not personal ornament. Watches, cameras, jewellery, designer clothes,
handbags, shoes, boots, etc. – “only seeing, seeing, seeing.”
     I meet Glen at one of those modern, fast food places that reminds me of the North American
city landscape. His unique Malaysian accent is familiar and pleasing to my ears; although he’s
Chinese and speaks Cantonese, he’s very different from your average Honkie as he grew up in a
very different environment: slower, more gentle, and not so materialistic. Needless to say, he finds
living in HK very challenging and he’s here because his wife is a local person; they’d met some
years ago when she and a friend were in Malaysia on a holiday; they have no children. Glen is
working in her family’s company and he would like a change and to work somewhere else, but it’s
not easy to find another job especially with the economic downturn.
    We discuss the virtue of patience as Dharma practice and using mindfulness to deal with
mental-emotional states in daily life and seeing them in the light of impermanence,
unsatisfactoriness, and emptiness/non-self. I ask him how the marriage is going and he says OK
but occasionally his wife gets jealous as women find him attractive; fortunately, she’s also
involved in Dharma practice and she’s learning how to deal with her insecurities. They’re both
involved with the Goenka Vipassana group and attend their meditation retreats when possible.
He’s aware of their cultish attitude and their attachment to Goenka’s “sweeping technique” in
realizing the impermanent nature of sensations in the body. He says some of the members are so
fanatic about this method that they cover up the windows so there’s no breeze to create
unnecessary sensations on the body thus distracting meditators from observing sensations within
the body.
     Although Goenka’s technique has its merits, it also has its limitation as they ignore the third
and fourth foundations of mindfulness on mental states and mental objects, respectively. Goenka
talks about these foundations to his senior students but he doesn’t know how to teach these
important subjects since he only knows the sweeping technique, which is limited to the sitting
posture. Some people like the long intense sittings, of course, but many find it too intense and
tiring as there are no periods for mindful walking which was a part of the forest tradition during the
Buddha’s time.
     Glen has also noticed that the assistant teachers [from western countries] have an arrogant
attitude, they lack spiritual understanding and loving kindness. They’re more like Goenka’s robots
and technicians since they’re not allowed to teach as such and share the Dharma from their own
experience and insight. A friend in Taiwan who was helping at one of the Goenka retreats tried to
have a discussion with Goenka about meditation practice and he said Goenka didn’t know how to
listen, he just wanted to talk like an authority and have you listen to him; he sounded more like a
businessman trying to market his technique than as a spiritual teacher. Goenka is the big authority,
the big cheese, the “god” of vipassana meditation. So it goes in Goenka Land.
    We have a nice chat about India and my recent visit to Malaysia and Singapore before coming
to HK. He tries to visit his family whenever possible and he still has a few friends in Penang, Ipoh
and Kuala Lumpur. It’s getting late and I have to return to Dhamma Garden. We say goodbye and
promise to keep in touch by e-mail. The traffic in Kowloon is still busy and intense. I catch the
express bus to Yuen Long and then the mini-bus to Dhamma Garden. It’s dark and quiet and I’m
shy about waking up Ven. Sudhammo but he says he has been meditating, not sleeping. It’s good
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to see him again and to listen to the night insects and small frogs. There is peace and safety in the
village.


May 10, 2000
    Today is a rest day at Dhamma Garden. At breakfast, I tell Ven. Sudhammo about my
experiences at Po Lin temple and my downhill walk to Po Lam monastery plus some stories about
my previous visits to Lantau island. He says he has to visit some people in the Kowloon area and
won’t be back until late afternoon. It’s a good time to blindfold myself and try to experience what
Robert has to experience every day for the rest of his life. Without seeing consciousness, I would
like to move around Dhamma Garden and “see” how I manage. I’ll be using a walking stick to help
me with this experiment. I have breakfast and put aside some food for lunch so I don’t have to try
and cook, this would be dangerous and unwise. I decide to begin in the guest room as it’s my
“home base,” you might say, and explore from there. I secure the blindfold and at once there’s the
awareness of the “inner world” – images, thoughts, breathing sensation, hearing sounds, the
sensation of the blindfold around my head, and the touch sensation of my feet on the floor. It’s like
closing your eyes for several seconds; the “outer world” temporarily disappears.
     The moment I start to move, automatically my left hand reaches out to feel and intuitively
know where the door is, my right hand is holding the walking stick and I have to get used to using
it so I don’t depend only on my left hand. I walk gingerly out onto the patio area and at once I feel
lost and helpless like I’m suspended in boundless space without a map of reference because my left
hand cannot touch anything. This is where I need to use the stick and touch/feel the concrete
surface and this makes me feel more confident and “grounded.” It’s not surprising that blind
people have to learn to use the walking cane.
    Using my memory of the patio area, I know there’s a wall and door to my right leading inside
to the library and office area, and the stairs leading up to Ven. Sudhammo’s private living room
and bedroom. On my left at the edge of the patio is a low wall where people can sit and hang out. I
move towards this sitting wall and find it easily with the stick. I feel for the flat surface with my left
hand and sit for several minutes, so far, so good. With seeing consciousness, there’s an immediate,
intuitive knowing of the environment and its objects; for a sightless person he/she has to depend on
touch, hearing, smelling, etc. to know the immediate surrounding and its objects. Because I’m used
to sitting with eyes closed, I easily enter a meditative space or state of being aware of things
happening in the present: one’s breathing sensation, thoughts and images coming and going,
sensation of my bottom on the low wall, one’s feet on the ground, my hands holding the stick, and
the sound of birds in the trees and a car horn in the village plus the occasional breeze passing
through. It’s interesting how one can be aware of many things at the same time – the phenomena of
nama-rupa. Concentration is a different mental activity during which one is focused on one or two
things at the most at the same time; with awareness, there’s a wider and more relaxed field of
attention.
     It’s time to visit the two smaller halls, not far from my room and the toilet. But first, I ought to
visit the library area close by and climb the stairs up to Ven. Sudhammo’s private living area; it’ll
be good practice. I stand up and make my way across the patio using the stick to locate the wall and
the door to the library, automatically my left hand is ready to touch the wall and feel for the door.
My mental reference is the image of the building I have from memory. Once I touch the wall, I try
to find the door with the stick; I sway from side to side until I find the gap in the wall, then my left
hand reaches out to feel and confirm the entrance to the library and office area. I step carefully into

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the room so I don’t trip and fall and my feet feel the cool, smooth, linoleum floor, my left hand
reaching out to my left to feel for the glass doors of the bookcases containing library books.
     Finding the knob, I open one of the doors and run my hand over the books feeling the different
textures of the covers, so many words of profound wisdom and I’m unable to read these words and
teachings, so near and yet so far, I muse at the irony. I think of the Braille language and the genius
of its invention. Suddenly, I remember a blind student at university who was able to attend his
classes and lectures, taking down notes in Braille, and eventually graduating with an arts degree. I
haven’t thought about him in years as we were never friends but he was a part of the campus
landscape for four years, he and his white walking cane. I’d completely forgotten about him and
yet suddenly his memory is here in consciousness: the brain is indeed a computer, a long forgotten
information stored in the memory circuits and still accessible after all these years – triggered by a
sightless experience, amazing! I wonder what happened to him? Is he still alive? Did he become a
schoolteacher for blind children? Did he find a suitable partner and get married? Did he become a
parent, I wonder?
    I move slowly around this room touching objects and noticing how the sense of touch becomes
more sensitive with dependability and its intricate connection to perception and the brain;
perception is the ability of the brain to recognize an object via the sense organs. I feel a small sofa
that I know from memory, a small side table and lamp, two chairs, a desk with pen and paper on
top, also a telephone and a photocopy machine. I “see” that there’s only touching/feeling and
knowing, that there’s no feeler separate from these sensations, likewise there’s no thinker separate
from thoughts; this insight is a state of non-duality, seeing ‘what is’ from moment to moment –
touch sensations arising and fading away, thoughts/images arising and fading away, leaving no
trace or reminder. I find the stairs to the left of the sofa and I climb the steps with lowered head so
I don’t hit it on the cutout floor above.
    Once upstairs I find the TV on the linoleum floor with bamboo mats plus a hanging mosquito
net. During the retreat the female participants slept here using foam mats for cushioning. Ven.
Sudhammo’s bedroom is off this living space. Carefully, I descend the stairs and move outside
onto the patio. I turn left and walk towards the guestroom tapping the ground and running my left
hand along the wall. I find the wall and door to my room, then I move to the left so I can walk on
the paved path to the toilet building where I feel for the two doors, later I’ll come back here to use
the toilet. To the right, a little downhill, I tap and feel for the tree to the left of the path, it has a
lovely trunk and large roots. I run my left hand over the trunk and a low branch, feeling its rough
texture and bumps and observe images of the tree in my mind’s eye.
     Consciousness is not some fixed aspect of the mind that’s separate from the senses but rather it
depends on whatever arises at any given moment; consciousness is its content – at the moment
there are images of the tree and touch sensations and hearing the bird calls, that’s all. There’s no
seeing, tasting or smelling at this time. For sighted people, we get a lot of pleasure and impressions
from seeing things, for blind people more pleasure is gotten from the other senses and their objects,
naturally. Robert sees a lot of mental images from memory since he lost his sight at twenty-eight
years of age. I also feel some leaves above my head with my fingers and derive pleasure from their
soft texture and my mental image of them but I find the sensation more pleasurable when I touch
the leaf with my face and also experience the smell of the leaf. It seems the face is more sensitive
as its closer to the brain and there are more nerve endings; now I can understand why blind people
like to touch certain things with their faces including the hands of close friends. And it’s so natural
for them to want to touch the face of a loved one.


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    I find that when moving around [without sight] and touching things, one is rarely caught in
memories or projections since one is more alert to the present. I turn around and walk uphill
tapping the paved path with the stick passing the toilet to my right and I get to the short steps
leading up to the patio area where we’d eaten our vegetarian meals in silence during the retreat.
From here, there’s a lovely view of the nearby hills and trees but I’m not able to see them except in
my mind’s eye [images from memory] but I can hear the birds close by in the quiet environment.
One’s sense of hearing and touch become more sensitive as the brain compensates for the lack of
sight. From this patio, I move farther uphill on the paved path and easily find the small halls on the
right and left of the path. I feel the closed windows and doors and enter the hall on the right. I feel
rubber padding on the floor, it’s soft but firm on the feet; this padding consists of green square
pieces with uniform jigsaw puzzle edges so they fit tight and snug together; they’re a good
substitute for carpeting and easier to move around if necessary.
     This hall is empty except for the padding. I walk along its four walls and feel the windows on
all four sides, then I exit this building and walk across to the other small hall. Rubber padding is
also on this floor and in one corner I find some round, woven mats stacked high; we had used these
for sitting during the retreat and for the talks in Kowloon. And close by against the wall is the
high-fi system with its two speakers which I’d used to provide music for the yoga and chi gong
sessions; now it seems abandoned and unloved. I also walk along the four walls and touch the
windows, then I exit this hall and turn left and walk farther uphill tapping the walkway until I find
the concrete steps and metal handrail that take you up to the top hall where most of the sessions
were held. Ascent is easy with the handrails and after about twelve steps I get to the balcony
outside this larger hall that goes around three sides of the building. The view from this balcony is
really beautiful but at the moment I can only see it in my mind’s eye. I stand and hold the railing
and breathe deeply and mindfully.
    Although I cannot perceive and enjoy the view, I can feel the space and peace that comes from
silence and the awareness of the present; also, the gentle breeze blowing uphill helps to give one
the feeling of altitude and spaciousness. It’s a nice place to be and I recall standing here with
Robert during the lunch break and having a nice chat and admiring how well-adjusted he was with
his sightless condition. He said that when he looked up at the sky he could see a little glare in the
darkness but that was all; the optic nerves had deteriorated thus preventing the images at the back
of the retina from being transmitted to the visual center in the brain. He said he felt so fortunate to
have had good training at the Blind Institute, to have met his wife there, and to have come across
the Dharma and meditation. He said he liked all the practices we’ve been doing: the yoga asanas,
the rhythmic movements of the hands, the noting method, and the chi gong exercises which he
found easy to do as the feet could remain stationary.
    I walk on the balcony along the three sides of the hall running my right hand along the railing
in one direction and using the left hand in the other direction; because of the railing it’s easy to do
walking meditation here – breathing in, one step, breathing out, other step. Sometimes I stop,
breathe mindfully, and listen to the sounds in the silence: insects, birds and sometimes a honking
horn from a car or minibus in the village; these sounds come and go but the silence and
spaciousness remain; likewise, waves rise and fall incessantly but the ocean remains the same. To
rest in that silence and spaciousness is to know the Unconditioned or Original Mind.
    I enter the hall and there’s also rubber matting on the floor; there are also windows on all four
sides and I open all the windows on the side facing uphill. I lie flat on the floor and do the ‘corpse
position,’ the yoga asana of total relaxation, arms to the sides, palms facing up, and being aware of
the rising and falling of the stomach-chest area as the body breathes in and out, and the touch

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sensation of the body on the floor: the back of the head, the upper and lower back, the arms and
back of the hands, the buttock area and back of the legs and heels on the rubber matting. There’s
also the awareness of the heart beating and the blood flowing through the system. It’s a total body
awareness in the present moment and one has to be very relaxed and focused, the wandering mind
doesn’t come into play; this is one of the wonderful, beneficial things I’ve learned from Indian
culture – Hatha Yoga and calming meditation which is a good foundation for insightful wisdom
and the simple life.
     It’s easy, of course, to do yoga asanas blindfolded as you’re stretching slowly and mindfully
and relaxing in between each posture, you’re not going anywhere and even the standing postures
are uncomplicated like the chi gong exercises. Also, I only do the basic asanas, not the advanced
ones that make you look like “rubber man.” I hear that people in North America are now doing
yoga more like a vigorous, strenuous workout than as a calm, relaxing spiritual practice and
meditation, but that’s their problem and loss. I do six to eight asanas slowly and mindfully with the
relax position in between, and I feel completely in another world or dimension being on the firm
rubber floor in this quiet hall all alone except for insects, birds and trees around me. In the sitting
position, I do the alternate nostril breathing which is energizing and calming at the same time, and
then I do the SO-HAM breathing practice: saying SO mentally with the in-breath and HAM with
the out-breath. Using SO-HAM helps to focus the restless, wandering mind on the breath. Some
people use BUD-DHO or IN-OUT, and so on.
    Once the mind is calm and focused, one can let go of the syllables, they’re just useful tools,
skillful means. So-ham is an ancient Sanskrit word that means “thou art that” – pure awareness in
the present moment. Sometimes I’m aware of the blindfold and sometimes not, you get used to it.
After doing yoga asanas, sitting meditation is wonderful and effortless; the body is relaxed, the
mind is calm and focused. It’s very likely that the ascetic Gotama did yoga asanas before his
enlightenment since this was a part of the forest tradition in Ancient India but I’m sure some
traditional Buddhists from Asia would disagree since they’re ignorant of the Indus Valley forest
tradition. They would say that yoga is a “Hindu” practice, that it’s not Buddhist; this shows their
ignorance of the Buddha’s path and tradition.
     I stand up and stretch, close the windows and move out on to the balcony closing the door to
the hall. I walk mindfully sliding my hand again along the metal railing, and also feeling the breeze
and hearing the insects and birds, and I’m aware that I’m smiling to myself; there’s no other place
I would rather be right now than here on the balcony despite my inability to see the view. I walk
back and forth for some time and I’m aware that time by the clock is relative and manmade; yes, it
can be convenient but unfortunately we have become slaves to this mechanical/electronic device. I
stop and hold the railing with both hands and breathe mindfully without effort or choice, and I
again reflect on the world as this body-mind process with its six senses and their objects and the
sense consciousnesses that arise, and how this “world” is constantly changing.
    Because I cannot see at the moment, the world as I know it consists of touching and tactile
objects, hearing and sounds, thinking and images, and feeling the humid heat. At the moment, I
“see” that HK and Kowloon, Lantau island and Po Lin temple plus people that I know are just
mental images from memory. Later, when I’m having lunch, the world as I know it will also
include tasting flavours and smelling odours; the world as such is really the immediate experience
of the senses and their objects, that’s all. The world is really myself as nama-rupa via the six sense
doors, and it’s this world that the Buddha said that we should see as changing and impermanent,
unsatisfactory, and empty of a permanent, separate self.


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     The external, empirical world is also changing but how we perceive that external world very
much depends on one’s mental-emotional state. For example, if I’m feeling happy the world will
seem a beautiful, wonderful place, and if I’m sad and depressed, it’ll seem tedious and dull, if I’m
angry and upset, it’ll seem irritating and confusing, and if I’m hungry all I’ll think about is food.
So, the world is really a mental state that is causing us suffering and conflict, and it’s this
mental-emotional world that we learn to let go of in Dharma practice. When you’re leading a busy
life, you take the senses for granted and you’re busy reacting to what you’re seeing, hearing,
tasting, smelling, touching and thinking with a self who is liking or disliking, wanting or not
wanting or hating/resenting; thereby we feel separate from the world as such since thinking and
using conventional language create the illusion of division and duality. It’s only when we really
slow down like being on a retreat or being blindfolded that we begin to see the world as the senses
and their respective objects, and the changing nature of consciousness and the five aggregates.
You are the world and the world is you. Your consciousness is the consciousness of the world.

    There is pressure sensation in the bladder area; using conventional language, “I need to pee.”
I’m tempted to pee off the balcony around the other side that’s more private but I decide to walk
downhill and find the toilet. I walk down the steps using the handrails, then I tap the walkway pass
the two small halls and patio area, and find the toilet on my left as before. I pull the latch, open the
door, feel for the toilet seat and sit down; it’s more convenient this way. I close the door but don’t
lock it as there’s no need. The pee begins to flow and I feel the relief of the pressure going away. I
reflect on the act of peeing as non-self, it’s just the water element expressing itself or doing its own
thing; it’s only a condition of nature, not ‘me,’ not ‘mine’ – hence the phrase “the call of nature.”
Likewise, defecating is just the earth and water elements expressing themselves as a result of
having to eat food and drink liquid. And if the urine is fresh, you can feel the fire/heat element in it.
     I stand, turn and flush the toilet. I wash my hands at the tap, open the door and step down one
step to the ground and find the walkway close by. I turn right and move uphill again until I find the
concrete steps and climb up to the balcony of the top hall. I sit on top of the steps and enjoy being
immobile once again and I can really appreciate having this quiet place to move around in without
being able to see. I start remembering people from the retreat including Derrick, the translator,
Susan, and Jerry, and I start thinking about family members and friends who I’ll be seeing again
soon in Toronto; this is the movement of thinking in time, as past and future, as remembering and
projecting.
      I’m starting to get hungry – correction, hunger sensations are beginning to arise in the stomach
area and so it’s time to have lunch. The kitchen and private dining area is in the bottom building so
it’s the first place you get to when you’re walking up the road from the bus stop. I walk downhill
tapping the paved walkway, sometimes the stick hitting the dirt beside the path and it’s really
amazing how the brain can so quickly tell the difference between those two touch sensations: one’s
hard and the other’s not so hard but then I realize that hearing is also involved and the brain can
easily tell the difference between the sharper sound of tapping concrete and the duller sound of
tapping dirt. This human mind and body with its sense organs, the phenomena of nama-rupa, is
truly miraculous!
     I pass the toilet and tree with the big roots on my left, and on my right is the small shower and
laundry building, and just below that is the entrance to the kitchen and private dining space. My
left hand finds the door and I tap the concrete floor as I enter, remembering that the small dining
table is on the left farther back and the fridge and gas stove is on the right about three feet farther
back where the room ends. I feel for the wooden stools and I sit on one of them, leaning the

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walking stick against the wall behind me. It feels good and stable to sit again and I reach for my
lunch in the middle of the table where I left it earlier after having breakfast.
     Lunch is in a deep bowl and it’s covered with a plastic plate; it’s fried noodles with vegetables
and pieces of tofu. It would be a big surprise if the bowl wasn’t there, if some mystery person had
come and eaten it while I was in the top hall doing yoga, but this is just irrational thinking. Beside
the bowl is a small plastic bottle of spring water. The food is cold but I don’t mind, and I decide to
use chopsticks instead of a fork since it’ll be more interesting; eating with my fingers would be the
easiest as it’s the most natural way, which I’m used to doing having lived in Sri Lanka and India,
but it wouldn’t be as challenging. I bring the bowl up close so I don’t drop any food on my lap or
on the floor.
    I smell soya sauce and roasted sesame seed oil – that’s the perception of smell in action. I touch
the fork and chopsticks on the table and it’s amazing how quickly the brain recognizes these
objects – that’s the perception of touch in action. I pick up the sticks and hold them in my right
hand in the way I’m used to, which is a little different from the popular style, and I begin to eat in
a way that takes a great deal of hand and mind coordination and practice yet it seems so natural and
effortless at this stage in life like writing and forming letters, and it’s so difficult remembering
learning to write and to use chopsticks even though they were not easy tasks. It’s interesting how
the Chinese culture evolved using sticks to eat with whereas the south Asians continued using their
hands.
     Effortlessly, there’s the awareness of tasting, chewing and swallowing; without sight, it’s easy
to have moment to moment mindfulness and there are less distracting thoughts. At the moment
there’s only the occasional image of Ven. Sudhammo, thanks to his energy and devotion this place
exists. As I eat there’s the awareness that the hunger sensation is fading away. After some minutes,
I decide to eat with my right hand for a change and the experience is, of course, very different; it
feels more natural, intimate and organic, touching the noodles, vegetables and tofu with the
fingers, without having aversion to having them soiled, you get used to it. Using your fingers and
being sightless, you can easily tell how much food is remaining in the bowl and it’s easy to get
everything without leaving any bits of food behind. I recall fondly eating rice and curries off
banana leaves in south Indian restaurants in Kuala Lumpur and in Madras.
      I remember as a child growing up in Jamaica and seeing an elderly lady next door eating with
her fingers and thinking how primitive it was; and later seeing Europeans in Sri Lanka being
disgusted at seeing the locals eating with their hands and thinking such behaviour was primitive
and dirty – it’s just what you’re used to. When you’re using your fingers, you simply wash them
before and after eating. Interestingly, in Sri Lanka, although you normally eat with your fingers,
it’s considered bad manners to lick them at the end of the meal. As mentioned before, young
human primates naturally use their fingers before they’re told to do otherwise by their parents.
Evolution and change has given us many things: cities, technology, medicine, cars, radio, TV,
computers, Dharma teachings, etc., as well as chopsticks, spoons, knives and forks. So it goes on
planet Earth.
    This has been an enjoyable, peaceful, intimate meal by myself. I lick my fingers lightly to
remove any bits of food that might be on them and in the process I feel like a cat or dog or jungle
primate, not a civilized person in polite company. I reach out for the bottled water on the table with
my left hand, find it, bring it towards me, unscrew the cap and then drink slowly using my right
hand. Water has never tasted more delicious and satisfying – sky juice, another gift of nature; I
reflect on the elements: earth, water, fire and air. There’s a full, satisfied sensation in the stomach
but I know that hunger sensations will arise again later. I stand and move over to the sink against
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the opposite wall. I place the bowl and chopsticks in the sink, turn on the tap, and wash my right
hand, the cool, wet sensation feels wonderful, then I feel for the sponge and washing liquid on my
right and wash the eating utensils feeling the cool, wet sensation and smelling the scented dish
liquid. When you’re mindful and calm, washing the dishes is a delightful activity; I think of Thich
Nhat Hanh and smile mindfully.
     I turn off the tap, put the bowl and sticks on the drying rack to my left, dry my hands on the
towel also to my left, then I turn to my left facing the fridge and walk slowly over to it using my left
hand to reach out as I’m not using the stick. I find the door handle, pull it open and I feel the cool
air coming out and smell a mixture of smells: cooked food, vegetables and fruit. I feel around
inside and I recognize two medium-sized bowls covered with plastic wrap, a few bottles, and on
the bottom shelf are some vegetables and fruit, apples and oranges. Initially, I thought of having
some fruit but I think I’ll have some later this evening. I stand, close the fridge door, turn around
and walk towards the table and stools, feeling them as I move around towards the wall to find the
walking stick leaning against it. I walk through the entrance and I’m once again on the paved
walkway, turning left I walk uphill tapping the concrete. I have an image of the tree and toilet on
my right and the shower-laundry room on my left.
     A little farther up, I tap and find the path to my left that leads to the library building, the
guestroom and the patio area with the short wall for sitting and hanging out. The birds are still in
the trees and their calls in the silence give space and delight to the mind. I find the low wall at the
edge of the patio and sit for several minutes. It seems like ages since I sat here, before I went inside
to the library and climbed the stairs and came down again, then walked to the toilet and visited the
tree, then walked uphill and visited the two small halls, one on the right and the other on the left,
then going farther uphill and climbed the concrete steps up to the top hall and balcony where I did
mindful walking outside and yoga-meditation inside. It now seems like a dream long ago, the
present moment is outside of time.
     There’s now a feeling of sleepiness as the lunch is being digested, an extremely complex
process that, fortunately, I don’t have to worry about. Having this body and mind is indeed a
miracle of nature and the Cosmos; just having the ability to hear, to feel by touch, to smell, to taste,
to think and imagine, much less to see the vast blue sky with white clouds is so incredible and
extraordinary, things that we normally take for granted as we run around and lead busy lives trying
to find happiness, security, pleasure, love and satisfaction.
     I stand and tap the ground towards the guestroom. I find the door, pull the latch and open the
door. It is warmer inside than outside. I feel the thin carpet on the floor, putting the stick in the
corner, I sit on the camper mat, reaching out for the small fan and turning it on, feeling the cool
blowing breeze. I feel the mosquito netting and move it to one side as I lie down and feel the body
on the padding. This sensation reminds me of being in the top hall and doing the corpse position on
the rubber matting; I feel very relaxed and drowsy. I resist the temptation to remove the blindfold
and open my eyes, not wanting the light to overwhelm the retinas suddenly. I’ve grown
accustomed to the darkness; I think I’ll remove the blindfold just when I wake up later and first get
use to the glare with eyes closed. Lying here in the darkness, I see that HK and Kowloon is just a
mental state, just images from memory; also Canada, Malaysia and Singapore, India and Thailand.
Now there’s only the breathing sensation, the heart beating and blood flowing through the system,
fleeting thoughts and images as I gently float away into the Great Void where the senses are no
longer operating; they too need a good, well-deserved rest.



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May 11, 2000
    It’s a warm, humid morning and the mosquitoes are buzzing and biting. After breakfast I take
the mini-bus into Yuen Long to post some aerograms and picture postcards, change some local
currency and do some shopping. This township is fairly pleasant, not too crowded and the traffic
isn’t so bad, and all the stores, shops and eating-places are here to make it interesting and
convenient, even two or three bakeries selling bread, cakes, steamed buns with filling and Chinese
pastry. It’s amazing that you can get the same cakes, steamed buns and pastry in the Chinatowns in
San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto, and New York City, just to name a few cities; culture and
tradition do travel with people.
    After doing my chores, I wander around town looking at storefronts with their signs in Chinese
and some in English, and I begin to hear the sound of drumming and clashing cymbals two or three
streets away. It must be some kind of festival and I begin to feel excitement in the air as I walk
towards the sound in the back-street area. There are people lining the street on both sides and a
parade is approaching. This is an unexpected surprise and cultural treat, and I’m told that it’s a
Hakka Festival to honour the Goddess of the Sea; many Hakka Chinese live in the New Territories.
Interestingly, the Taiwanese people [originally from coastal Fujian province] have a similar
festival to the Sea Goddess, Matsu, and I’m sure it’s the same deity but different names. It’s a
centuries-old religious tradition that evolved along southern coastal China among the fishing
communities to express gratitude for all the fish and seafood caught and eaten, and to hope and
pray for bountiful harvests in future. I’m sure the Cantonese people have a similar festival and Sea
Goddess.
    My father and his relatives came from the Hakka people who originally came from northern
China and who moved down to the south in different waves of migration. Hakka [or Kerja] means
“guest” because they would stay in an area for a while and then move on; they seemed to be always
on the move towards the south and so they were labeled as such. Eventually, they settled in their
own villages and kept their culture and language alive. My father could read and write Chinese but
only in the Hakka dialect; nowadays the younger generations can also speak Mandarin and other
dialects depending on where in southern China they grew up in. Some Hakkas went across to
Taiwan like the Fujian/Hokkien people, and some emigrated to Hong Kong, Viet Nam,
Philippines, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, Calcutta [India], the West Indies, Central and
South America, and then to North America. Now there are Hakka and Cantonese Chinese all over
the world.
    Today’s festival takes the form of a big, vibrant, noisy and colourful parade and everyone loves
a parade. It’s energetic, noisy and vibrant because groups of young people are mostly involved
carrying and dancing their colourful dragons and lions to the rhythm of drums and cymbals
through the back streets of the township. The older people in the parade are carrying banners and
flags and pulling colourful, elaborate shrines with offerings on wheels, and there are two Hakka
ladies wearing the traditional black lampshade hats pushing a wooden cart with two roasted pigs
laying on top; roast pig is a favourite Hakka food. I feel so lucky to be witnessing this unique
festival; it was so unexpected and interesting. I lose count of the different youth groups with their
musicians, dragons and lions, and eventually the drumming and clashing fade in the distance as the
parade moves through the township and then it’s all over.
    The crowds disperse and it’s shopping and eating as usual. I walk around for another thirty
minutes or so looking at human activity and more stores and shops, and then I take the mini-bus
back to Dhamma Garden where Ven. Sudhammo is meditating in one of the small halls, in the
quiet silence of the hillside. There won’t be any more retreats until October or November after the
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hot, humid summer is over; until then, there will be a lot of rain and mosquitoes and a possible
typhoon/hurricane or two coming from the direction of Taiwan and the Philippines. There are birds
chirping in the sleepy afternoon.


May 13, 2000
     I leave for Canada in two days. It’s a good day to stay put, read, relax, write, help water the
plants, and do some laundry. Also, Carol Poon is coming today to continue the discussion about
her mental conflict regarding her mother who died some years ago. She arrives at the perfect time,
after my afternoon siesta; we have coffee and Chinese tea and have a brief chit-chat sitting on the
patio area under the trees. I tell her about my visit to Lantau island and Po Lin Temple and my hike
up Lantau Mountain; she hasn’t been there since the Buddha statue was inaugurated in 1993. She
tells me briefly about her visits to the USA and I tell her briefly about my recent visit to SE Asia
and India.
   “You were saying the last time we spoke that the Buddha taught about the nature of suffering
and the freedom from suffering. What did the Buddha say about guilt?” she asks.
    “First, you must realize that when your mother died sixteen years ago, all her suffering was
over – physical, mental and emotional. But today she is still suffering in your mind, you are
suffering with guilt and regret because you’re clinging to those memories of your sick mother and
you don’t know how to let them go. Your mind is very obsessive and you need to train it through
meditation practice and come to some understanding of your thought process and who you really
are otherwise you’ll just keep living in the past and keep feeling guilty, right?”
   “Do you mean that I should completely forget about my mother?” she asks, somewhat
bewildered.
    “Of course not! That would be impossible anyhow unless you happen to have Alzheimer’s
disease. What I mean is that with meditation practice or mind training, there is more awareness or
attention, more order in the mind so that you live more in the present moment and less in the past,
you become less obsessed about your mother. You see, thinking is a response to memory, past
experience and knowledge, and it projects itself into the future. If you observe your mind, you’ll
see this simple fact: that you’re either thinking about past memories [often with regret], or you’re
thinking, planning, worrying, etc. about the future, right? And whether you’re thinking in English
or Cantonese, it’s the very same thought process, isn’t it? Now, awareness or attention or
mindfulness is a different aspect of the mind, it’s always in the present moment. It’s not related to
the past or future, it’s the unconditioned state of being, often referred to as ‘original mind.’ Also,
you’re not a permanent and concrete ego-entity, neither is guilt a permanent mental state.”
   “I find that hard to believe because my ‘I’ is always there and this guilt feeling is always in my
mind.” she responded.
   “This is actually an illusion created by thinking. Tell me something, when you’re sleeping, is the
‘I’ or guilt feeling still there?”
   “No, I don’t think so but that’s only because I’m unconscious during that time and I cannot
remember anything,” she replies.
    “That’s just my point. It’s only when you wake up and start thinking again that the ‘I’ or ‘me’
arises, that the ego-personality comes back into being. And when you begin thinking again about
your mother, only then does the old guilt feeling come back, right?”

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    “Yes, I think I’m beginning to see what you’re trying to say. Thinking is related to memory and
so is the ‘I’ personality, is that correct? But doesn’t the ‘I’ also exist when we’re dreaming?” she
asks.
    “Yes, it does because our dreams are coming from our memories, the stored information in the
brain, but they tend to be all mixed up when we’re dreaming. The ‘I’ or ‘me’ center is really just a
collection of memories put together by the thinking process. For example, we’re meeting now and
we’re talking about ourselves, what do we talk about? Past experience, memory, isn’t that so? We
cannot speak about ourselves without referring to the past. So, the ‘I’ or self and the guilt feeling
when you remember your mother only seem permanent because thinking, being such an automatic,
mechanical, repetitive process, keeps bringing back the memories with their associated emotions.
    Thinking as memory gives continuity to past events, pleasurable or painful, even though those
events have long gone. That’s the amazing thing about thoughts, emotions and memory. We think
we exist in the past simply because we have memories, ideas, perceptions and images about
ourselves. But in truth there’s really no permanent, concrete ego-personality or entity who existed
in the past and who’ll exist in the future. Physically, mentally and emotionally, we’re not the same
person from one moment to the next. We are, in fact, a constantly changing mental-physical
process and we can only realize this when we learn to slow the mind down and observe ourselves
with awareness or calm attention. So, the person you were sixteen years ago, mentally and
physically, is obviously not who you are today, at this moment, right? Likewise, who you were
before and after your mother died were not the same person, do you see that now?”
    “Yes, that’s so interesting and amazing, so true! Now I’m beginning to see how I’ve been
totally caught up in all this delusion of thoughts; my mind has always been very restless and
agitated and driven by desire, worry, fear and regret. There are moments when I see things
changing, even moods and emotions, but in my restlessness I don’t have the time to sit down and
reflect on these things. Besides, I’ve never met someone like you before who can explain the
workings of the mind so clearly. Our mental world is so powerful and misleading. Yes, I really
need to do meditation practice regularly, not only sitting but walking as well plus the dynamic
practice of the hand movements you showed us, and the chi gong exercises which are wonderful.
Please, can you explain further about past and future?”
     “We said that thinking is a response to memory, past experience and knowledge, yes? And
how it projects itself into the future as plans, ambitions, hopes and dreams [often causing worry,
anxiety and feelings of insecurity] that’s simple enough. So, thinking is a movement in
consciousness as time, as past and future, right? So, when we are remembering someone or
something from the past, those thoughts and images are actually happening in the present moment.
Likewise, when we’re thinking and obsessing about the future, those very thoughts and images are
happening now, in the present. For instance, the memory of your mother are just thoughts and
images happening now, they’re just thoughts. The thoughts or images are insubstantial; they’re
just electrical impulses in the brain connected to memory. It is our emotional attachment to their
content [your mother] which makes it seem so solid and permanent. Do you see this?”
    “Yes, I do. I now realize how I’ve been living in the past and clinging to the memory of my
mother and feeling guilty mainly due to my restless mind and my inability to free myself from the
past due to my lack of awareness and calm attention. As you say, my emotional attachment to my
mother and how I treated her have resulted in my obsessive mental state.”
   “We identify very strongly with memories: sixteen years ago...; ten years ago…; years ago…;
one year ago…; - our personal history. We have diaries, journals and pictures; photographs taken

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when we were children, when we were in public and high school, when we were in college, when
we got engaged to be married and so on. Now we have videos to record the past. We like to show
these pictures and say, ‘This is me twenty years ago, I was so skinny back then, now I’m so fat.
This one was me five years ago, my hair was so short then,’ and so on. We like to feel safe, solid
and secure when we think that we existed in the past. But with awareness and reflection, we begin
to see that thoughts, emotions and memories are not permanent and solid. They come and go like
clouds in the sky, like the stars you see when you rub your eyes.
     In fact, everything is happening, coming and going, in the present moment, we can’t get out of
this dimension even though it’s constantly changing; the present is not a fixed and static state. The
energy of awareness or attention keeps our mind in the present moment whereas the energy of
thinking takes us away from the present; the two energies are very different. The former is restful,
spacious and immediate while the latter is restless, scattered, linear and confining. In that state of
calm attention, we’re able to see more intimately the changing, impermanent nature of mind and
body. Normally, we are caught up and swept away in the rapid ‘mind stream,’ in the fast-flowing
movement of thoughts and images. So it’s difficult to see things clearly; we’re led astray, deluded
by our mental activity. It’s like when we’re travelling in a fast-moving vehicle, it’s difficult to see
the passing landscape clearly especially those objects that are closest to the road. But if we drive
slowly or if we’re taking a walk, then it’s easier to see things as they pass. Likewise, when we can
calm our minds by focusing on the breath, we’re able to see our thoughts and images more clearly
and objectively instead of being caught up in their story or content. Guilt, anxiety, hope, worry,
insecurity and fear are all connected; they’re created by self-centered thinking and the strong
desire to have, to become, to achieve, or to get rid of.”
    “Yes, I can see what you’re saying. During the meditation session, I noticed how anxious I was
to achieve something, how quickly I wanted to calm my mind and have a blissful, enlightened state
even though you had told us at the beginning to be patient and not try to control the mind or
achieve something. Yes, I see now that I’m such an impatient, impulsive person because of this
restless, craving mind. But I don’t see how guilt and fear are related.”
    “In your case, guilt is the fear of being considered a ‘bad daughter’ by the rest of your family
and relatives – shame and guilt usually go together: the fear of public opinion, of what others say
or may say and think about you. Do you see that? Good. This fear is because you have an image of
yourself [as being this ‘bad daughter’] and you think and believe that this image is a permanent and
solid entity, do you see this?”
   “Yes, I do. I see clearly now how thinking has created this image from the past, from sixteen
years ago, and how thinking sustains this image even up to today. The mind is so amazing! Only
now I’m understanding this and finally I’m beginning to see some light out of this darkness I’ve
been having. But even without my family around, I would still have this negative image of myself.
Why do you think that is so?”
    “Because you are too judgmental, too hard on yourself. You have to forgive yourself for being
human. As human beings we all have weaknesses, shortcomings and limitations; we’re not
‘perfect.’ When you recall the past with your mother, you’re thinking, ‘I should have been a good
daughter. I shouldn’t have been so selfish and immature. I should have spent more time at home
caring for her. Why was I so blind and stupid? I’m such an awful person, such a terrible human
being!’ Isn’t that so? Perfection is only a concept, an ideal that we silly humans create and cling to
out of ignorance and delusion. It’s just a mind-created fantasy not unlike the belief that we, as a
solid, permanent ego-entity, existed in the past, and that this same ‘me’ will exist in the future.


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    You know, I’ve noticed that people in Hong Kong, not everyone of course, tend to be very
arrogant and judgmental. It must be a cultural conditioning of this greedy, competitive society.
Being judgmental and critical make us feel superior, that we’re better than others; it feeds our
pride, arrogance and conceit – that’s the illusion of the ego! It’s a great defilement in the mind
which can only result in suffering and conflict. You see, it backfires on us sooner or later because
we end up being too judgmental and critical of ourselves, it’s a learnt and habitual behaviour, isn’t
it? And so, we suffer from guilt and remorse, insecurity and inferiority complex – fear!”
    “Yes, I see how judgmental I am. I think I’ve been like this all my life, easy to criticize others
and to judge and condemn myself. I also see that to compare myself to others or to an ideal that I
should live up to is unhealthy. Yes, comparison breeds inferiority and insecurity, conflict in the
mind. I also see that a part of the guilt was for feeling resentful of my mother for being sick and
bed-ridden; I wasn’t aware of being judgmental. I was so stupid and ignorant but I was young and
immature and didn’t know any better. Of course, I’m now aware how I’m being judgmental of
myself; this is really a revelation! Thinking about my poor, dear mother makes me feel so sad but,
as you so wisely pointed out, I have to forgive myself – correction, I have to forgive that young,
immature person who existed more than sixteen years ago for not being patient and considerate for
her sick, helpless mother. That’s correct, isn’t it?”
   “You most certainly are!” I smiled.
    “At the public talk you mentioned that the Buddha was a psychologist and psychotherapist; I
didn’t understand it at the time but now I see what you mean. This is really a journey into
discovering who we really are, self-understanding which, of course, includes the thinking process
and our conditioned behaviour. This is all so amazing and interesting! Normally, we’re thinking all
the time and we certainly need it in our daily activities but we don’t realize that most of our
problems are caused by this very same thinking process. I see now that I have to be more accepting
of myself and others. To be forgiving, compassionate and patient, and to make the effort to train
and cultivate this restless, confused and deluded mind.”
    “I would like to suggest that you do the loving kindness meditation at least twice a day: once in
the morning after your sitting practice and just before you go to bed at night. You’ll feel much
better and you’ll have less fear, anxiety and guilt. And remember to include your mother and those
with whom you’re having conflict with.”
   “Do you think my mother is able to receive this loving kindness if I send it to her?”
    “I’m not surprised that you ask this question as the Chinese believe in ghosts and spirits, don’t
they? You think your mother is a hungry ghost floating around somewhere, don’t you? Yes, I
thought as much. No, your mother, as you knew her, doesn’t exist any longer except in your mind
as memory. The loving kindness meditation is more for your benefit so that you can be more
compassionate, accepting and peaceful which will naturally improve your relationship with your
other family members, friends, and with the rest of society at large. But if it will make you feel
better believing that your mother is able to receive your kind thoughts, why not? Also, loving
kindness meditation helps us to go beyond our self-centered world which is really a small,
confining space. Because in that small, narrow space breeds fear, worry, craving, attachment,
guilt, hate, resentment, jealousy, and so on.
     Loving kindness and compassion is freedom from the self. It makes you aware that you’re not
the only person in the wide world who’s having problems; most people suffer from craving,
attachment, frustration, regret, guilt, sadness and sorrow, right? Compassion is to empathize with
the suffering of others. Loving kindness is not self-centered desire, attachment or pleasure; it’s the

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sincere wish for others to be happy and peaceful; to be free from problems and harm. This practice
will help to alleviate anxiety, resentment, fear and guilt because these mental states are the result of
self-centered thinking, right? So when you think of your mother with kind, compassionate
thoughts, you won’t react with guilt and regret. With loving kindness and compassion, there’s the
ending of time [freedom from past conflicts and hurts], guilt, fear and sorrow. May you be well and
happy and free from suffering.”
    “Thank you so much. You have been most patient, kind and compassionate. I feel like a new
person today!” she smiles radiantly. She can now look at the trees and nearby hills and listen to the
birds and delight in their beauty and grandeur. This is the benediction of a free and innocent mind.


May 15, 2000
    Today I leave HK for Toronto via Korea because I’ll be flying with Korean Air. It seems like
ages since I took this airline from Toronto to Korea and then on to Thailand where this journal
began. This travel journal writing ought to end at the end of this journey, when I return to Canada,
but I think I’ll continue until the time feels right to stop, we shall see. Ven. Sudhammo and I have
a very pleasant breakfast before I leave Dhamma Garden. I thank him for his kind hospitality and
for arranging the three talks in Kowloon and the retreat program at Dhamma Garden, and he thanks
me for my teachings and yoga and chi gong sessions. He’s not sure when he’ll be able to visit his
siblings again in Toronto but I hope to come again to HK and Dhamma Garden in another two
years or so. He’s hoping to visit Thailand again and also Taiwan. He says he has a lot of work
ahead in trying to build four more meditation halls.
    He follows me on the minibus to Yuen Long and helps to put my luggage on the airport bus to
Chek Lap Kok, then it’s a fond farewell and a waving of hands as the bus pulls away. I admire his
effort and dedication in establishing Dhamma Garden as I don’t have that energy and focus; I seem
to be taking the easy path of travelling around and visiting temples and Dharma centers instead of
just staying in one place. I did feel somewhat settled at the Buddhist Library in Toronto but in the
end I had to leave; I had to let go of clinging, conflict and suffering. If and when I get tired of
moving around, I’ll find a place and stay put but until then I feel I still have a lot of moving around
to do.
    Speaking of Korea, I’ve been receiving e-mail from a Korean monk who’s doing a Ph.D.
program at Oxford University and he’s having a very difficult time learning Sanskrit and dealing
with his mental-emotional states as he lacks Dharma practice; perhaps I’ll visit him next winter
since I’ve not been to the UK in a long time, not since August, 1981, when I was still a lay traveller
and returning to the west from India.
    The bus goes along the new highway and through the new tunnel towards downtown Kowloon,
then it takes the exit to the airport via the new suspension bridges to Lantau island; the
infrastructure and view from these bridges are mighty impressive and fantastic, not to mention
awesome and amazing. I also have to bear in mind that these bridges were specially designed with
yearly typhoons in mind. I did come this way before but in the opposite direction when Ven.
Sudhammo and his friend came to meet me at the airport last month, but it was nighttime so I
couldn’t really see much apart from the illuminated road, parts of the bridges and lights
everywhere in the darkness. Now I can see the view that I was unable to see when I took the
express train from Kowloon to Lantau island which had travelled in the enclosed space under the
highway. The high hills can easily be seen on the island from the double-decker bus and I think of
Po Lin Temple and the giant Buddha statue up in those hills somewhere.

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    The highway along the coast towards Chek Lap Kok is as scenic as the train ride and there are
many boats and ships on the sea. Soon, we arrive at the most modern and massive airport in the
world, and definitely one of the busiest. It is already warm and humid outside, and inside its
humongous structures is cool air-conditioning, lots of it! I can only use the words ‘awesome’ and
‘amazing’ to describe the size and design of the arrival hall. I check in early and my luggage will
go straight through to Toronto as I’ll only be in transit at the new airport near Inchon, close to the
west coast of the Korean peninsula. The check-in person informs me that the flight from Korea
will be late so she gives me a food coupon so that I can have lunch at one of the restaurants
upstairs. This gives me a lot of time to walk around, hang out, read and write, check out the many
stores, look at passengers coming and going, and planes taxiing, landing and taking off, plus gaze
fondly at the high hills of Lantau island through the panoramic windows of the terminal building.
     It’s amazing to think that the Lantau island I once knew and experienced in 1979-’80, 1996
and ’98 is not the Lantau Island I’m now experiencing with the new airport and infrastructure
connecting the island to Kowloon, New Territories, and HK island. The changes and new locations
with respect to people arriving and leaving HK are truly phenomenal and fantastic. Apart from
Cathay Pacific, there are Singapore Airlines, MAS from Malaysia, Japan Airways, Air Canada,
Quantas from Australia, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, Pacific Airways, China Airlines
from Taiwan, several airlines from mainland China, Thai International, British Airways, Air
France, Lufthansa from Germany, and so on. So, where is Korean Air? A few hundred passengers
and I wait patiently; at least the complimentary lunch was good. It is sunny with many clouds;
there will be more turbulence at this time of year than during the winter months as the heat and rain
clouds start to build up over the northern hemisphere. Every so often, I see a monk or two passing
by and we bow to each other with palms held together and smile; each of us having a different
history and lifestyle, a different perspective and understanding of the Buddha’s profound and
timeless teaching. So, where is Korean Air?
      Eventually, our plane from Korea lands safely and from where I’m sitting I can see the
blue-painted, high-tech, long-range and wide-bodied Boeing 777 jet slowly taxiing towards me;
it’s a beautiful and impressive aircraft with two large, impressive engines. Chek Lap Kok has two
runways, one for landing and the other for take off; it’s easier and less congested this way.
Eventually, we board, taxi to the end of the runway, and take off with a great deal of power and
thrust, speed and elegance; those newly designed engines are impressive indeed! The flight is over
one and a half hours late; I hope the connecting flight to Toronto will wait for its connecting
passengers. My last view of Lantau island is of the high hills and low clouds, the coastline and
some boats on the blue South China Sea below. What amazing technology and perspectives we
have these days! Farewell Hong Kong. I look forward to summer in Canada and the unknown. The
flight is pleasant, uneventful apart from some turbulence, and being late. Although I’m not hungry
like some of the other passengers, we all eat the late lunch anyway simply because we don’t have
to pay extra for it; that’s life. After three and a half hours, we land at Inchon airport and some of us
have just enough time to catch the connecting flight to Toronto, a jumbo-jet, long-range Boeing
747-400, very modern, very high-tech. I hope my luggage has also made it on time for this flight; I
have to relax and trust the efficiency of Korean Air. By the time we taxi and take off, it’s around
8:30 p.m. local time; and by the time we land in Toronto, we will have crossed many time zones
and yet arrive on the same day since HK and Korea are twelve hours ahead of Toronto.
    As we fly over Seoul with its large population and many lights below, I recall the time I spent
at an International Buddhist Center in that city during the autumn of 1995; it seems so dreamlike
now since I’ve been in transit twice in Korea since then but I’ve not been back to Seoul and that

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Buddhist Center. I feel unconnected to that past somehow and I’m not sure if and when I’ll ever
visit Seoul and that center again. This center was started by a Korean monk who could speak fair
English and a European nun who was too ambitious for her own good. I’d met her in Sri Lanka and
she’d invited me to come and teach at their center in Seoul. I knew she was very aggressive by
nature but I’d underestimated the degree of her neuroses and insecurities; in short, she wasn’t
really qualified and suited to be running an International Buddhist Center and the negative karma
she created was an indication of that fact. Eventually, she had to leave the center and Korea but I’m
still not inspired to go back again mainly because I have other places and countries to visit. The
Korean monk has since passed away.
     The flight will be making a long arc up and over Alaska and the Yukon, then over northern
Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and then into Ontario airspace. It will take over twelve hours to
reach Toronto, a shorter flight time than going in the opposite direction since we’re going with the
jet stream and not against it. We’ll be landing in Anchorage, Alaska, for refueling and a change of
flight crew; Cathay Pacific from HK to Toronto also does this brief stop over. In-flight service
includes beverage, hot meals, instant noodle snack, and movies. At around 2 a.m. [HK and Korea
time], you can already see the golden sunrise at 38,000 ft. since we’re flying eastward, the view of
the morning sky with the planet Venus and the ocean of clouds below is vast, stupendous, and
out-of-this-world. Sitting on the left side, you get a spectacular view of Alaska before landing in
Anchorage: as you fly up the wide inlet towards the capital, you can see the highest mountains in
North America covered in snow, and vast areas of pine forests, lakes and rivers; Alaska is also
known for its wildlife including flowers and insects during the summer months.
    It’s a small airport surrounded by pine forests and mountains that you can see from the transit
lounge. We have an hour stopover and it’s a good time to walk and exercise after the six and a half
hour flight. Two other flights have also landed: Cathay Pacific from HK and Asiana Pacific from
Korea; they’re heading to Toronto and Los Angeles, respectively. There are stores selling locally
made clothes and sweaters, and packets of smoked salmon. It’s a bright, clear, spring morning and
you can see melting snow in the distant fields and snow on the mountains; it would be nice to visit
Alaska this time of year and later in summer. After taking off, we fly over the northern region of
the Rocky Mountains which is all snow, ice and rock with its awesome beauty, then we are over
the Yukon Territory which has vast flatlands with countless small lakes that have all melted in the
spring climate.
     [P.S. After the Sept. 11th terrorist attack on New York and Washington, D.C., 2001, a Korean
Air flight was unable to land at Anchorage since all airports in the U.S. were closed, even in far
away Alaska, and it had to land in Whitehorse [in the Yukon] under very dramatic circumstances.
Because of the media hype and scare, the officials in Whitehorse thought this flight had been also
hijacked by Al Qaeda members and some fighter jets almost shot the plane down, and most of the
town was quickly evacuated in the panic believing that the jetliner was about to crash in downtown
Whitehorse. This was the most excitement that sleepy Whitehorse had gotten since the gold rush,
and since that incident Korean Air no longer make a stopover landing in Anchorage although they
continue to fly over Alaskan airspace. With their long range jets, they can fly non-stop between
Korea and Toronto/New York, the flight crew only have to work longer hours, that’s all.]
    When I get to Toronto, I’ll be staying with Wayne Choy from Guangdong province, southern
China. He has been in Canada for some years now, studying English, computer science, marketing
and business administration; he’s working in the computer field at this time. I’d stayed with him
before; now having left the Buddhist Library, I’ll be spending the summer months at his flat until
he leaves for Burma in the fall. I first met Wayne when he attended one of my classes at a Chinese

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temple in downtown Toronto. He was friendly and curious and had many questions about
Buddhism, Indian culture and Dharma practice. He became interested in the Dharma after
experiencing a great deal of mental suffering living in Toronto – loneliness, isolation, craving,
frustration, despair, anxiety and worry, and he chose to remain single after witnessing the bitter
breakup of his sister’s marriage; his mother lived with the sister and her two daughters who were
not allowed to see their father. Wayne was about thirty-four years old, intelligent and inquiring
with an innocent charm. He said many Asians suffered from loneliness and isolation living in
Canada as they were more used to having family and friends around them most of the time in their
native countries. He said that when he was working in China, he lived with his colleagues in the
company’s hostel so they also ate and played together like one big extended family.
    In Toronto, he was living on his own and feeling lonely and frustrated trying to be successful in
the society, and this is how he began going to some of the Chinese temples in order to meet
spiritually-minded people. We met two more times after that first meeting and then I had to leave
for Vancouver in order to check out three Buddhist contacts I’d gotten in Taiwan. Wayne invited
me to stay with him if and when I returned to Toronto as he could use the company, and this I did
some months later since none of those contacts in Vancouver had worked out. I’d wanted to live on
the west coast because of the milder winters plus the mountains and hiking trails and forests, but
the conditions were not right – perhaps later they will be so.
     Flying over Lake Superior is most impressive with its vast blueness reflecting the light of the
sky, and flying over Toronto with its sprawling suburban areas after dusk is spectacular with all the
lights. At passport check and immigration, I tell the officer I’ve been away for six months
travelling and teaching in SE Asia and HK, plus being on pilgrimage in India, and that I’m only
carrying personal items, clothes and books mostly, no gifts – I don’t get searched. I pick up my
bags and head for the exit sliding doors using a trolley cart. It’s been about thirteen hours since I
left Korea and about twenty hours since I left Dhamma Garden and Yuen Long township. I’ve
arrived on the same day in Toronto [9 p.m. local time] as when I left HK, so you can say that this
has been a very long day indeed.
     I’m met by Wayne and two mutual friends who are originally from HK, and it feels good to be
back in Canada. I’m very jet-lagged, of course, but it doesn’t really hit me until after we have
dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the city. As a traveller, jet lag and I are old friends and I’ve been
on some long flights between Canada and SE Asia via the Pacific Ocean. I don’t mind being
jet-lagged unless people expect me to be erudite and articulate. For me, the disorienting effect is
not as bad flying west to Asia over the Pacific Ocean as it is flying east to Canada; it takes me
longer to recover from the latter, about two weeks for me to feel normal again.
    Having dinner with Wayne and friends is interesting and dreamlike; I know I’m back in
Toronto but I feel I’m somewhere between HK, Korea and here – very disorienting indeed. I show
them postcards of Thailand and the Ganges river at Varanasi and relate some of the stories
connected to my experiences plus the Buddha’s journey to Sarnath. I also tell them about Dhamma
Garden and Ven. Sudhammo, and my visit to Po Lin temple again. They tell me some local news
and what the past six months have been like. The food is delicious but I cannot eat much – my
biological clock is all messed up. Towards the end of the meal, my eyes glaze over and I can no
longer speak clearly.
    I sit there in the Twilight Zone and listen to my companions chat and laugh in both English and
Cantonese. I feel very tipsy and floating somewhere above the world. Eventually, we leave the
restaurant and we get dropped off at Wayne’s place. I thank them for meeting me at the airport and
for dinner. Wayne and I climb the stairs to his flat on the second floor and again it’s very familiar
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but dreamlike after being away for six months and being jet-lagged. The senses have experienced
so much since I left this place and there’s nothing permanent remaining – only fleeting images
from memory.
    It’s good to see Wayne again and he tells me he’ll be going for sure to Burma/Myanmar next
winter, good for him. I tell him he can go visit Ajahn Kosin’s monastery in Thailand and Ven.
Sudhammo’s center in HK; he likes that idea. Before retiring on a sponge mat on the floor of the
small living room, I listen to the radio and it’s good to hear familiar stations again: local ones on
FM and American ones on AM. I guess I’m back in southern Ontario, after all. Yes, it’s been a
long day and as I float away into the Great Void, there are fleeting images of Alaska, Chek Lap
Kok airport, Dhamma Garden and Ven. Sudhammo, the Ganges river, Malaysia, Singapore, hiking
in northern Thailand, and the giant Buddha statue at Po Lin temple, Lantau Mt. and the misty fog.




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Canada


May 17, 2000
     I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep which is not surprising so I
listened to the radio: Radio Sweden, Radio Africa from Johannesburg, Radio Austria, BBC, Radio
Netherlands, etc. on CBC radio overnight – international broadcasts consisting of local and
international news, current events involving the arts, science research and religion. On AM, I can
pick up Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, Pittsburg, NYC, Chicago, Boston and a few others, and
there’s a most interesting program called Coast to Coast, hosted by Art Bell and others, where they
bring on people with the most strange, interesting and controversial ideas and theories regarding
the natural, scientific, social, and spiritual/religious world, and the supernatural, paranormal, and
cosmic dimension.
    It’s a call-in show and this morning someone was talking about cryptic zoology [elusive,
mythological creatures like the Yeti in the Himalayas, Big Foot in the forests near the Rocky
Mountains, werewolves, human vampires, and so on]; some nights they talk about UFOs,
extra-terrestrials, people from Atlantis, the ancient Egyptians, the yogis in India, Hinduism,
Buddhism, reincarnation, haunted houses, the Bermuda Triangle, psychic powers, the Occult,
conspiracy theories, time travel, and so on. It makes interesting listening especially at that time of
night or early morning when you cannot sleep. Eventually, I fell asleep again and now it’s after
twelve noon.
     Yesterday I woke up early even though I was still very tired, stayed up for a few hours listening
to the radio, calling two or three friends and family members, going for a walk to the park in the
cool, spring air, looked at the new leaves and early flowers, all very lovely and familiar yet
dreamlike – I’m here but I’m not really here, know the feeling? One’s perception is so distorted by
jet lag, another aspect of nama-rupa in the age of jet travel. I started to get sleepy again around 1
p.m. and I slept soundly for about seven hours, then had a chat with Wayne who’s taking a course
in Chinese medicine, watched some evening TV, and then slept again before waking up at 3 a.m.
    This summer I plan to work on the book I started over three years ago in this very room on
Wayne’s old computer; he now has a new computer and the console has a larger screen, and I also
have access to his Internet service. It seems I’ll never be able to finish this book although getting it
in print seems like a good idea and desired goal. Why? Because an old friend whom I’d met in
India during 1980 and I’d met again in Vancouver in 1996 had suggested that I write a Dharma
book because he said it would give me some credibility as a travelling monk and teacher. He also
said it needn’t be a thick book, a thin book would suffice, something with my name on it. So, I took
up his suggestion and started writing when I left Vancouver and began staying here with Wayne
during early 1997.
    At the same time, I began typing out Dharma handout material from notes I’d made in Sri
Lanka, using the teachings of various teachers, thinking that this would be a good easy way to
disseminate the Dharma to students and to the general public at large. I had already started to
prepare such material when I was staying at the well-known Fo Kuang Shan temple in southern
Taiwan and teaching at their Buddhist College during the summer of 1995, and I wished to
continue this enjoyable and beneficial activity since it was winter and I had to spend a lot of time
indoors.



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     Now, when I go through the files and read the five sections I’ve written so far, I realize they’re
no way ready for publication – they need rewriting, editing, not to mention proofreading. For
editing and proof-reading you do need a second or third pair of eyes to see the material more
objectively and clearly; after a while it’s difficult to see obvious mistakes as everything becomes
blurred and distorted from the constant mental involvement; you get tired and fed-up after awhile
and I believe most writers experience this. I’ll need a lot of patience, perseverance and mindfulness
to deal with discouragement and doubt, plus the anxiety and fear of wanting to achieve an end
result and to become a famous teacher – the dukkha of becoming in the future. Slowly, slowly, I
remind myself. I’m also hoping to visit Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast for the first time
with a Chinese monk who has a temple in Ottawa.
     Wayne is very kind, hospitable and supportive, and he has come a long way in Dharma practice
and understanding since we first met. Because of my encouragement, he’ll soon be making his first
trip to SE Asia and doing his first long retreat at one of the well-known international meditation
centers in Myanmar. He has already received an invitational letter from one such center and he’s in
the process of applying for a meditation visa at the Myanmar Embassy in Ottawa. He has already
done a few short retreats with various teachers and he’s familiar with the Mahasi Sayadaw method
of mindfulness and insight using mental noting during sitting and walking practices. After five or
six years in the computer field, he’s already disillusioned with it and there’s a good possibility he
might enter the monkhood in future since he’s also disillusioned with the worldly life as such.
    Because I’ve been a sporadic writer since starting this book, sometimes I forget that I’m
writing it and a few months will go by without thinking about it and this is why I could never be a
professional writer. I don’t have the mental energy and discipline to follow through with what I’ve
started. In fact, I once thought of becoming a writer instead of being a nine to five employee, and I
did start two books based on my travels and spiritual search but I gave up after a few chapters, and
I easily got discouraged each time I visited a book store and saw so many books in print. However,
I continued writing travel journals until I took ordination in Sri Lanka. Then when I started to
travel and teach in SE Asia, Taiwan and Korea, I began using a schedule date book that would
include short journal writings.
    The five sections I have to work on this summer are 1. Awakening [a fairly short
autobiographical account of my spiritual search that lead me to India and Nepal, and eventually to
monkhood in Sri Lanka]. 2. Questions and Answers [I got this idea after seeing two books in
Malaysia that were written by western monks, and thought it was a good format]. 3.
Self-knowledge and Freedom [a talk I’ve given during my travels and at the University of Toronto]
4. The Nature and Ending of Fear [a talk I’ve also given during my travels and at the University of
Toronto] 5. Travels in SE Asia [a travelogue based on an article I’d written for a Buddhist
magazine].
     I phone a friend, May Ling, who’s in charge of the Student Buddhist Association at the
University of Toronto [U of T]. She asks me if I can conduct a meditation session next week
Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the International Student Center; it’ll be advertised in a popular free paper
that features current events in the city. I’ve been associated with May Ling and the student
association since 1997. Before leaving for SE Asia and India last fall, I was able to conduct some
yoga and meditation sessions at U of T which were well attended and well received, and in a way it
was a pity that I had to leave for the winter but May Ling was able to find some people who could
continue these classes throughout the school year.
    Now lectures are over and exams are about finished but we can still have one or two sessions at
the student center before the start of summer. Through May Ling, I was also able to visit a group of
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inmates at the Warkworth Correctional Institute, the largest prison in Canada. It’s a medium
security place where the inmates can work, study, attend courses, tend gardens during the summer,
play sports, and invite spiritual/religious teachers. Unfortunately, I cannot take public
transportation to Warkworth – I have to depend on a driver – otherwise I would visit the group
more often. If it were in the Toronto area I would visit on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, for sure.


May 18, 2000
      I’m still jet-lagged, of course, getting sleepy at different times during the day and night. I’m
still in the Twilight Zone, so to speak, but I’m used to the experience; luckily, I don’t have a nine to
five job to go to. I have an open invitation to stay at one of the two Sri Lankan temples in the
Toronto area but it’s too busy and they’re mostly involved with traditional ceremonies; only a
handful of devotees are interested in Dharma practice and study, and the weekly meditation class is
attended by mostly local Canadians, not Sri Lankans. I used to attend some of the house dana
ceremonies and give talks in English but enough is enough.
    These ceremonies are usually to commemorate the death anniversary of a family member, and
the idea is to invite monks to the house, offer them lunch and gifts, thereby acquiring merits and
then transferring those merits to the departed. It’s a nice idea and gesture but it has very little to do
with Dharma teachings, and the people have gotten so attached to this house ceremony that they
believe that this is the only way to deal with mental-emotional problems and this is quite
demanding on the monks who have to perform such ceremonies on a regular basis.
     Many believe that this ceremony is absolutely necessary in order to remember their departed
family members so much so that they’ll go to any length to have it done, otherwise they’ll end up
feeling very upset, confused and conflicted with guilt, worry and fear. It would be too unfeeling
and dogmatic to say that the Buddha was against all rites and rituals and so these ceremonies
shouldn’t be done, but when people get too attached to them and ignore the Dharma, then one
should question such practices regarding blind attachment and dependency. Mind you, ceremonies
have their place in religious observances and they can be wonderful and inspiring, and a good way
of bringing people together in harmony and mutual focus and understanding, but, unfortunately,
people have come to think that this is the only way to be a Buddhist.
    For example, a family was very upset when their pet dog died and in their grief they wanted the
monks to come to the house for a dana ceremony as if the dog had been a human family member; it
was the only thing they could think of doing to give themselves some consolation and comfort;
they didn’t have the Dharma understanding of impermanence and the practice to let go of sorrow
and attachment. Normally, in Sri Lanka, this ceremony is not done for an animal but the abbot of
the temple could not refuse such request since the family were supporters and he was unable to
give spiritual guidance to them. So, he invited me to attend the house ceremony explaining the
situation and I decided to go, out of compassion, which gave me the opportunity to speak on death
and impermanence, and the benefits of meditation practice and loving kindness in dealing
skillfully with sorrow, attachment, craving, worry, anxiety, anger, and so on. I also mentioned that
it was better to depend on Dharma practice than on the monks and the ceremony otherwise they’ll
be wanting another ceremony if and when their cat or pet hampster died.
     Sometimes, families will request a house ceremony simply because they have holidays and it’s
something to do with their friends and other family members, but I can tell you, many monks find
it tedious and a waste of time as they have less time for private study and practice. Some monks
like to attend these ceremonies, of course, because they’re not interested in Dharma study and

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reflection; due to their temperament, they prefer to be engaged in traditional Buddhism, and that’s
fine too.
   This afternoon, I’m visiting Alan at Casey House, a well-known hospice for AIDS patients in
the downtown area; the staff and volunteers are wonderful and compassionate, and they have to
face the daily reality of this chronic disease and the fact of death. Alan is happy to see me after six
months; I’d sent him a letter from Malaysia after my visit to India. I show him my postcards of
Thailand, India, and Hong Kong, and relate some of my travel stories and anecdotes. He has been
feeling low for the past six weeks despite the medication and he has to wear disposable diapers.
Everyone is fond of Alan, myself included. He’s intelligent, charming, gentle, considerate and
spiritual, a real gentleman.        He has two grown daughters and an ex-wife, and he used to be a
schoolteacher and became infected with HIV through same-sex encounters.
    I first met Alan last year while I was visiting another patient at Casey House named Dario,
originally from South America. Dario had been involved with Tibetan Buddhism for some years
and had asked to see me since one of the volunteers had attended one of my classes at U of T. He
wanted to meet a Buddhist monk and we had a lot to talk about; he once thought of ordaining in the
Tibetan tradition but his teacher’s unwholesome behaviour eventually discouraged him. Dario had
come to terms with his condition and he had no regrets; he was in good health for ten years with
HIV, then he came down with full-blown AIDS. He had spent some months at a general hospital in
the city, and now he was happy and content to stay at Casey House.
     He appreciated our Dharma discussions and I would bring him tapes of Dharma talks and
chanting from different traditions, plus handout material from the teachings of Ajahn Chah, Ajahn
Sumedho, Thich Nhat Hanh, and so on. He especially liked the story of how the Buddha was able
to find a cure for sickness, ageing and death. After several weeks of visiting Dario, he became
weaker and weaker as the cocktail mixture of drugs was not working well and eventually he
slipped into a deep, peaceful state of coma before passing away a few days later. Knowing that
hearing consciousness was the last sensory experience to go, I would hold his hand and chant the
three refuges softly close to his ear for a few minutes at a time; afterwards I would put on a CD of
Tibetan chanting to play continuously by his bedside. I was not present when he died but I was
informed by phone by one of the staff nurses, and I felt happy and thankful to have spent some
quality time with him.
    Alan became interested in the Dharma through his association with Dario and he was happy for
me to visit him before and after Dario died. At first, he was naturally curious about my life story:
family background, how I became interested in the Dharma and how and why I became I monk –
the usual questions. Then I began to relate to him the story of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths,
and how he was able to find a psychological cure for sickness, ageing and death. Alan grew up
with an inquiring mind and soon lost interest in Christianity and the church especially regarding
their emphasis on blind faith and their conservative view of homosexual behaviour. He said he
wished he’d come across Buddhism much earlier. I began to bring him reading material and tapes
of Dharma talks, chanting and meditation music. He enjoyed discussing the belief in reincarnation
and rebirth, and dependent origination, and how the Buddha was able to go beyond the notion of
birth and death.
     After my visit with Alan, I have a brief chat with one of the nurses I know and she asks some
questions about my trip to SE Asia and India. She tells me that Alan’s not doing so well and that
it’s likely he’ll die within the next three months. That’s life. On the way back to Wayne’s flat, I’m
riding the street car and thinking fondly of Alan, and I’m starting to feel sleepy again as I watch
people getting on and off the public vehicle and seeing people on the sidewalk going about their
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business. And suddenly I remember being on a bus in 1976 and feeling very sad and numb after
just hearing of the death of a close college friend from Costa Rica who’d died in an early morning
hotel fire in Toronto. I remember looking at people on the sidewalk going about their business and
wondering why they weren’t sad and upset like myself; because my sadness was so all-consuming,
my perception of the external world was coloured by this mental state and so I irrationally
expected everyone to be also sad, not realizing at the time that the general public seemed
indifferent simply because they didn’t know my friend!
     Later, upon reflection, this experience underscored the fact that the world as we know it is
indeed a mental state that is constantly changing and empty of a permanent, separate self. I also
remember hearing this friend’s death announcement on the radio and thinking that to most people
listening to the radio his death was just another statistic but to myself and others who knew him it
was a different matter because of our personal attachment to him. And that too is life and another
interesting aspect of the human condition.


May 22, 2000
     It’s about a week since I’m back in Toronto and I’m still affected by jet lag, but that’s to be
expected. It usually takes me around twelve days to fully recover after flying through twelve time
zones – one day for each time zone. The spring weather has been pleasant and it’s nice to see
people enjoying the outdoors after the long winter. The new leaves and spring flowers are indeed a
delight to the eyes, so lovely and yet so vulnerable.
     Yesterday I went for a walk to the park again and then to the supermarket to get some
groceries, and while I was shopping I suddenly found myself being keenly aware of the ageing
process in people around me and in myself. And I began to feel a certain degree of sadness about
the inevitability of old age and death but I think this mental state had to do more with being
jet-lagged and weary than with my recent visit to the Casey House Hospice to see Alan. And later,
when I was watching the evening news on TV, I clearly saw how the media presenters had aged
since I first saw them some years ago including the movie and TV actors I’ve known over the
years. Some had even died when I was away travelling. I remember watching movies during my
younger days and never imagining those beautiful actresses and handsome actors up on the screen
would become old and feeble and die one day; and some were to die relatively young from car
accidents, drowning, various diseases, murder, and from drug and alcohol abuse. That’s life.
     I’ve been going over the book material again, only reading and making a few corrections but
I’m not energetic and focused enough to write and improve on it. I’ve been also phoning people
and resting when I feel sleepy. This afternoon I’m visiting Alan again at the hospice. One patient
with a brain tumour is no longer receiving visitors; he wants to die without emotional attachments.
He was involved with Tibetan Buddhism earlier at a center in Montreal and he told me he’s able to
face death with peace and acceptance. Alan’s two daughters are also visiting, one is blond and the
other is dark brunette; they could easily be cousins as there’s no facial resemblance. You can see
that they love their father very much and we have a pleasant chat together. Alan’s in good spirits
despite his physical condition and after they leave we have an inspired discussion about the five
aggregates, non-self, and realizing nama-rupa in daily activity. Before I leave, I read him Kahlil
Gibran’s poem on death from his well-known book, The Prophet.


   For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

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   And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides,
   that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
   Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
   And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
   And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
   For life and death are one as the oceans and rivers are one.
   [Be still and serene in the oneness of all things].


   Alan finds this poem most inspiring and poignant and he says he would like this read at his
funeral service. I give him a copy of the poem and leave him listening to a chanting tape from
Taiwan.


May 25, 2000
    The meditation class at the International Student Center last evening went well. It was
advertised as a session to deal specifically with stress, mental and emotional. We had a good
attendance and we began the session with chi gong exercises, then sitting, walking, sitting,
dynamic hand movements, discussion, and loving kindness meditation. One person sitting next to
me was a young lady from Mexico and she has been suffering from stress, anxiety, worry and
confusion, and after the session she told me she was feeling so much better. I showed the group my
postcards of Thailand and Varanasi, and related some travel stories and some stories related to the
Buddha. It was a most pleasant evening together.
    This morning I call Trinity Hospice Association and the staff would like me to conduct another
mindfulness session with them. I initially applied to be a volunteer for their home-visit program for
terminally-ill patients and during the interview I happened to ask them how they were dealing with
stress in the workplace, and this is how I started to conduct meditation-mindfulness sessions with
them. They really enjoyed the sessions and Dharma teachings and so I never became one of their
volunteers. I also call the Blue Heron Dharma Group in Hamilton and they would like me to
conduct a one-day retreat at the Friends Meeting House next month.
     I’m also planning to meet again a Therapeutic Touch Group that operates at the Casey House
Hospice, and there’s another such group that meets at a church building in North York; all its
members volunteer at different hospitals and old folks homes in the Toronto area. Being spiritual
individuals, they can appreciate meditation/mindfulness practices, loving kindness meditation, and
Dharma teachings; they find it complimentary to their therapeutic touch practice, which they do by
slowly passing their hands over the patient’s body, sometimes lightly touching certain areas, and
sometimes resting their palms on a certain area for several seconds or longer if the patient requests
it. Next month, I’m also invited to give two talks at Dharma Friends, a downtown group consisting
of gay and lesbian members plus gay-friendly people; this group was started by a few individuals
with HIV/AIDS, and they’d heard about me from one of the volunteers at Casey House Hospice
who’d attended one of my sessions at the University of Toronto.
   When I was staying at the Buddhist Library, I used to be invited to give talks on Buddhism to
grade ten students in high schools as a part of their World Religions course and some Catholic
Schools would invite me to conduct meditation sessions during their annual three-day retreat

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program at the Catholic retreat center in Mississauga. It was good to meet students with inquiring
minds who were surprised and inspired to learn that Buddhism was a spiritual path that didn’t
require the belief in a creator God and blind acceptance of someone as a personal saviour. Once I
participated in a school program where people from different religious backgrounds gave
presentations to the staff members so they could have a better understanding of the cultural
backgrounds of the students who were coming from middle-eastern and Asian countries. One
teacher in particular was impressed with Buddhism since he had an inquiring mind and never felt
comfortable with Christianity.


May 26, 2000
     This morning I’m taking a walk in the park. It is sunny and mild and the flowers are bright and
lovely; there are insects buzzing about. Listening to the bird songs in the silence is a wonderful
exquisite balance between stillness and sound, between the formless and form. Awareness,
silence, wisdom are aspects of the formless, so is timelessness, the eternal present. Thinking and
time and the mind-made sense of self are aspects of form, mental forms. Language and labels,
including our names, are aspects of form, namely human convention, so is money, financial
institutions and world economy.
     Without awareness and wisdom, right understanding and view, being caught up in the world
of form and convention can only result in mental suffering, frustration, worry and confusion
because it is the nature of all forms, mental, emotional and physical, to change. When you demand
that a person or place or situation should make you happy, then you’re bound to experience
frustration and eventually despair. Without awareness and wisdom it’s easy to be deluded by
thinking, concepts, beliefs, language and labels; and money can easily become an object of
obsession and greed. So balancing the world of form with the formless is indeed important and
beneficial to one’s mental well-being, peace and contentment.
     When we totally identify with the world of form, including the physical body and other
people, then the fact of death is terribly frightening, isn’t it? One’s attachments are limitless. You
can understand why the belief in an after-life or reincarnation is an old and popular idea. The
Buddha would encourage his devotees to do this reflection as a daily meditation – I’m of the nature
to grow old, there is no way to escape growing old. I have to accept this fact [instead of avoiding or
suppressing this truth, look directly at it with calmness and understanding]. I’m of the nature to
have ill-health, there is no way to escape having ill-health. I have to accept this fact. I’m of the
nature to die, there is no way to escape death. I have to accept this fact. All that is dear to me and
everyone I love are subject to change and impermanence, there is no way to escape being separated
from them. I have to accept this fact. My actions are my true belongings, I cannot escape the
consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand, so I have to take
responsibility for all of my actions and speech.
     To practice this way takes courage and acceptance because of mindfulness, a calm and firm
state of mind. It is a clear and serene encounter with reality, with what is. There is fear due to a lack
of mindfulness and understanding, because of ignorance and delusion from habitual reaction from
conditioning. One can look directly at these “unpleasant” aspects of the human condition without
fear, dread or aversion. There is peace and compassion and freedom from dukkha.
    When I was growing up in rural Jamaica, the older generation of African descendants had a
great deal of common sense – natural, intuitive wisdom – even though the majority of them were
unable to read and write. These illiterate folks were mostly farmers and labourers, and some were

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domestic workers; but, by and large, they had a good understanding of life and human nature, and
they were simple, warm-hearted and happy-go-lucky people. I remember they used to tell me two
things: “Time takes care of everything; some things last longer than some but in the end time takes
care of everything.” In Dharma language, they were saying that all things are indeed impermanent.
And the second thing was: “If you take yourself seriously you are going to have problems in life.”
In Dharma language: attachment to self or ego results in suffering and conflict. Is that wisdom or
not? This shows you that Dharma is universal truth; it’s about the laws of nature and the human
condition. These Jamaicans had never read books on Buddhism and yet their natural common
sense gave them that understanding.
     Simple common sense is not so simple for those with complicated minds. Many educated
people lack common sense because they’re too intellectual, too caught up with language, words,
labels, ideas and concepts, ideals, views and opinions; and they take themselves way too seriously.
And being self-centered, they tend to identify strongly with their mental, emotional, physical and
material world in terms of ‘me’ and ‘mine’… and so there’s a lot of ignorance and delusion,
self-centered craving and attachment in this society. It’s not surprising that North Americans
suffer from chronic insecurity and discontentment – people trying to find permanent happiness and
security in material wealth, sense pleasures and romantic relationships, but can these things last?
The increasing interest in Dharma teachings and practice is a result of people’s dissatisfaction with
the material world and sometimes the anguish of romantic relationships.
     I grew up with a lot of kindness and affection and so I intuitively felt that people were far more
important than money and material things. Human civilization is caught up in the world of form, in
thought forms and in things, in mental concepts, ideas and beliefs and in material objects. People
in this consumer society are lost in material things; their sense of self is totally identified with what
they possess, what they are planning to buy and what they have lost. People in North America are
spoiled with so many conveniences and they don’t even know it. We live in a land of plenty and
have become so accustomed to the abundance surrounding us that we are oblivious to it. We are
inundated by material goods to the point that we have become greedy for things we don’t really
need. The fevered mind of entitlement reigns large in this consumer society – if we want it, we feel
we deserve it, and therefore we should have it right now! The unbridled consumerism of this
culture fosters the belief that all we have to do to the happy is to satiate our desires. Consumerism
is surely an addiction.
     We are bombarded with images, slogans, and all sorts of signals by the media and by
educational, economic, political, and other institutions, leading us to believe that unless we have
this or that particular item, we are nothing. And so we strive with all our efforts to acquire those
things that we consider conditions for our attainment of happiness. An underlying assumption of
the dominant mode of life is that “you are what you have.” I have, therefore I am. I shop, therefore
I am. Shopping has become an addiction for many; compulsive shopping has become a modern
disease for those who believe that buying things can alleviate their mental suffering – it does, but
only momentarily; when the pleasant feeling of acquirement fades [as all experiences and things
are impermanent], then the craving mind wants to go shopping again in order to have that pleasant
feeling once more – shopping becomes like a drug, and these compulsive shoppers end up in debt
owing thousands of dollars, thanks to the convenience of the credit card!
     Instead of being satisfied, our cravings and frustrations increase. As our cravings increase, our
distressing hollowness grows. As with any addiction, the first step in overcoming it is to recognize
it, we need to see that happiness or contentment comes when we can let go of desire instead of
increasing our wants. Mindfulness practice provides a skillful way of dealing with craving and

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becoming. This is the practice of voluntary renunciation in a modern context. Habitual craving
with its frustrations make the mind and body tense, confused, unbalanced and depressed; the
craving mind is restless, agitated, obsessive and compulsive, not calm and focused. The fulfillment
that comes through spiritual development does not lie in the realm of desire, expectation and
possessiveness but in the purification and absence of desire, of wanting. This is because desire
simply cannot be quenched by satisfying them; they tend to proliferate if we choose to run after
them. The satisfaction that comes from gratified desire is brief, short-lived and illusory, and is
always followed by an increased demand for more.
     Chasing after desire is like drinking salt water, our thirst only increases and only discontent
remains, not peace and contentment. This is not to imply that we shouldn’t have desires, that we
shouldn’t enjoy any of life’s many pleasures, but it’s the constant craving and the compulsive habit
to satisfy that craving, to chase after that desire, that is the source of suffering and dis-ease,
frustration, disappointment and despair. Initially, it’s not easy to transform habitual behaviour
born from craving, greed and attachment. Dharma practice and reflection provides a path through
the morass of longing that surrounds us; it’s a skillful way of dealing with
desire/craving/expectation using mindfulness and the understanding of impermanence,
unreliability and non-self; we can become less vulnerable to the ego’s vocal, incessant demands
and insecurities.
     People in movies and TV talk about being ‘in love’ as something more important that loving
kindness and compassion. People say, “I love you but I’m not in love with you.”.…this is pure
Hollywood, isn’t it?….this ‘in love’ experience implies romantic love based on infatuation and
sensual excitement and pleasure, self-centered desire, expectation and attachment, even obsession,
jealousy, and possessiveness. And what I find sad in this modern society is how natural physical
affection is often interpreted as sexual desire or intimacy. As human primates, we need to be
touched and when we don’t get enough of this physical contact in childhood we end up becoming
neurotic, tense, lonely, and thereby confused about intimacy. When we are brought up with a lot of
physical affection and warmth, then we tend to have less problems and obsession regarding sex
and intimacy. For example, I find it quite natural to spontaneously touch someone on their arm or
shoulder when I’m speaking with them as a gesture of warmth and affection but I’m sure this
gesture has been misinterpreted by people who don’t know me well.
     I remember sitting in a forest in Sri Lanka and observing a large troupe of monkeys passing by
on the ground, some coming quite close to me without fear, and they were frequently touching
each another as a way of communicating and reassuring each other during a period of potential
danger. When primates touch each other in a natural, friendly, non-sexual way, we instinctively
feel that we are not alone, that we’re not isolated ego-personalities, but a part of the human/primate
family and I think this is why people in North America and northern Europe are so attracted to pet
dogs and cats because they can be physically affectionate with them without the threat of sexual
craving and mental discrimination and judgement; they don’t get enough affection from other
human primates so pets become the object of emotional warmth and unconditional love.
     I’m pleased to see that people are hugging more in public as a spontaneous display of
emotional warmth and affection and this I see as a healthy and positive thing in human
relationship. The Dalai Lama is a wonderful example of human kindness, warmth and compassion,
and he’s always willing to hold hands with anyone he’s communicating with in public.




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May 28,2000
     This afternoon I’m visiting a friend, Chris, at his backpackers hostel in the downtown area. I’d
met him three years ago when he attended my Dharma sessions at the International Student
Center. The hostel is very busy with local and international travellers; many Americans come to
Toronto on the weekends especially during the summer. Chris is very stressed, needless to say, and
I’m happy to do a yoga-meditation session with him on the rooftop of one of the buildings. Later,
we have dinner together and catch up on the past six months; he has been busy renovating one of
the buildings and he was able to spend a week in Cuba cycling along the south coast. He reminds
me that I have some stuff in the basement that he has been keeping for me since I left the
educational center last summer, and I decide to have to look at some of my worldly possessions.
     When I arrived back in Canada during the spring of 1996 [after being away for six and a half
years] I had only two bags of things to my name: mostly monk’s clothing, a few books, some notes
and cassette tapes. Later, when I began staying at the Buddhist Library in North York, I stared to
accumulate things like there was no tomorrow and when I left the place I had to move it all! Some
of it ended up at Wayne’s flat and some in Chris’s basement. Later, when I have to move from
Wayne’s place I’ll have to find another place downtown to store those things. I’m now very aware
of the burden of material possessions especially that I no longer have a base in Toronto.
    Chris opens the basement door where my stuff is stored and leaves me to go through them, and
I’m really shocked by the amount of stuff that’s there especially after travelling in SE Asia and
India with only one bag plus a shoulder bag. I find four boxes of books and handout material, a TV
and video machine that Wayne gave to me, another video machine that someone else gave to me, a
desktop computer and console, many cassette tapes, some clothing and footwear, two Walkmans,
and an AC-DC converter. What am I going to do with all these things? I tell Chris to use the
computer, TV and video machines; he’s too busy to read the Dharma books. I take some cassettes
tapes, one Walkman player, and the AC-DC converter.
    When I get back to Wayne’s flat, I check to see what I have there: more clothes and footwear,
more books that I had shipped from Malaysia, a ghetto blaster, a tall ceiling lamp, an electric rice
cooker, a duvet cover, four meditation cushions, four umbrellas, a collection of paper material
including photos and post cards, and a round mosquito net with its accompanying umbrella that are
used by forest and travelling monks in Thailand. Like the electronic items, most of these things
were given to me by friends and devotees in Toronto; the mosquito net was given to me by
someone in Malaysia.
    I reflect on the fact that if I should die suddenly, all these things, my so-called personal
possessions would be useless to me including my monk’s clothing and robes, and that attachment
to things and people is rooted in the grasping/clinging mind, that the idea of ownership is only a
temporary mental state, a changing condition of mind, and no where else. Then there are those
naked Jain monks in India from the Nigambara [sky-cladded] sect who refuse to have any worldly
possessions, not even a cup or eating bowl. When devotees offer them food, these renunciates eat
out of their outstretched hands like jungle primates. And here I am in the modern world with so
many material possessions to think and worry about. I ought to give things away: the books I can
donate to a temple or public library. But what if I should start my own center one day, won’t I need
these books? Aha! Attachment, attachment, clinging, clinging, grasping, grasping!
   It is said that possessions possess us more than we possess them; our mental attachments are a
burden and source of suffering and worry. Less things, less problems. This reminds me of a story
about Ryokan, a Zen monk, who lived the simplest life in a little hut at the foot of the mountain.

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One evening a thief visited the hut, only to discover there was nothing to steal. The monk returned
and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you
should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered. He
took the clothes and slunk away. Later, Ryokan sat naked on the floor, watching the enchanting
full moon through the window. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “ I wish I could give him this beautiful
moon.”


May 31, 2000
     Today I feel the jet lag effect is finally over and I feel normal again and fully adjusted to being
back in Canada. I feel more energetic and clear in mind and thus inspired to do some writing. After
lunch, I go for a walk to the Beaches and it’s a lovely area during the summertime; beach
volleyball is a popular sport here and a great place for jogging, roller- blading, playing tennis,
picnicking on the grass, and walking on the boardwalk beside the sandy shore of Lake Ontario.
It’s amazing to realize that all the leaves on the trees are new leaves, nature’s phenomenon and gift
of the spring season. Just north of the Beaches is Little India and I plan to take Wayne there for
lunch or dinner soon and to show him the religious items in the Hindu shops; they’re quite
interesting and colourful to see plus there’s the wonderful smell of spices and incense.
    This evening I’m attending a gathering at the International Student Center to mark the end of
the Dharma activities for the summer, organized by the Student Buddhist Association and May
Ling. I’m asked to give a short talk and a Sri Lankan monk will be leading a short meditation. It’s
interesting to be back at this center after six months; it’s a very busy place during the school term
with many different groups meeting here and the Buddhist group has to book early for a room and
desired time for weekly sessions. I began conducting Dharma sessions in this building over three
years ago and I was able to hold weekly classes for an entire school year during the winter of 1998
-’99. After I left Toronto last autumn for SE Asia and India, May Ling was able to get Ven.
Saranapala to conduct a few classes at another location on campus.
     Last autumn, we were unable to get one of the bigger rooms on the ground floor and we had to
use one of the smaller rooms on the second floor; the yoga sessions were held in a spacious
basement room in another building that is used by other religious groups. The student association
tries to have a Buddhism Awareness Week during October when possible; there are exhibits, book
displays, Dharma handouts, talks and lectures, meditation workshops, video and slide
presentations, and informal discussions with the students about Buddhism and Dharma teachings.
I enjoy participating in this program as it’s an easy way to meet students with inquiring minds and
I can encourage them to attend the weekly meditation sessions at the student center plus visit the
various temples and Dharma groups in the Toronto area when possible.
    Someone at the gathering asks me about deva spirits since she has been reading about them in
a book on Buddhism. Do devas really exist? Good question: many people in South Asia and SE
Asia still believe in devas. Devas were and are nature spirits that people believed exited as a way of
explaining the phenomena of the natural world. This is often referred to as animism, the earliest
religion in human consciousness.
    As the early human brain became increasingly more complex, the natural environment became
more mysterious and intriguing. Lacking scientific knowledge, they were unable to understand, for
instance, why plants grew, why trees produced fruits, why rain clouds would appear and produce
lightening, thunder and rain, why fire burned, why rivers flowed, why the ground shook
occasionally, why animals and people existed, why they moved and breathed, and so on. They

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explained these phenomena of energies in terms of spirits or devas. So, they said the plant spirit
caused the plant to grow, the tree spirit caused the fruits to grow, the sky spirit produced the
clouds, lightening, thunder and rain, the fire spirit created the fire that gave light and heat, the sun
became a deity all on its own, each specie of animal had its own spirit – the snake spirit, the
antelope spirit, the buffalo spirit, and so on. There was the river spirit, of course, the mountain
spirit, the forest spirit, the spirit in humans, the spirit in rocks, and so on.
    In the rice-growing cultures of SE Asia, they still have little shrines beside the paddy fields to
the rice spirit to which they make offerings to ensure good harvests. Those who experienced an
earthquake believed that the ground or earth spirit was angry or restless, those who experienced a
volcanic eruption believed the fire mountain spirit was angry – this is easy to understand. When
the native American Indians killed a buffalo for food, they would offer a ceremony for the buffalo
spirit asking forgiveness for having to kill the animal; the coastal Indians would return the fish
bones to the ocean spirit in the hope that it would produce more fish; when someone in the tribe
died, they believed that his spirit went to the Great Hunting Ground in the Sky – their idea of
heaven, a place of peace and plenty. When early man’s awareness grew, he saw the
interdependence and interconnectedness of all things in the natural world and so his spirituality
was based on this holistic vision and sensitivity, and living in harmony with the environment.
    Interestingly, when the “white man” came to North America from Europe, his view of the
natural world was anything but holistic. European civilization had become greedy, aggressive,
expansionist, arrogant, and insensitive to the natural environment. Influenced by the Christian
belief in a personal and creator God, the “white man” saw nature as something to be used and
exploited for personal gain; he saw himself separate from nature, and not surprisingly, he saw the
native Indians as primitive savages because their lifestyle and beliefs were so different from theirs.
For instance, when the native Indians hunted buffalo, they only killed what was needed and they
used every part of the animal for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. The “white man” began killing
the buffalo en mass for their skin to be sold for personal gain and profit while leaving countless
carcasses on the plains to rot; they only respected money, material wealth and the superstitious
belief and fear of the Christian God. This kind of mentality was totally strange, irrational, shocking
and irreligious to the Indians. Spiritually, the “white man” was very primitive, ignorant and
deluded indeed.
    In India, devas evolved from being just nature spirits into celestial beings that became included
in the Hindu mythology as associates of the Hindu deities. People began to speak of the Deva
World or Deva Realm, a world of invisible beings that could be seen clearly in their minds’
imagination. Interesting, no?


June 4, 2000
    We’re now in the month of June and the weather is mild and sunny. This morning I’m listening
to Shakuhachi flute music from Japan while sitting and having tea and making notes. This
profound and unique sound, evoking a wonderful feeling of spiritual aloneness in nature, reminds
me of my early exposure and experiences with Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and zazen [sitting
meditation]. Zen is a form of Buddhism that developed in China and was taken to Japan [and
Korea] in the twelfth century AD by travelling monks. Here it flourished and, over the following
centuries, influenced many aspects of Japanese culture and character. In the twentieth century, Zen
spread to Europe and America and has now become one of the most popular and influential forms
of Buddhism in the West.

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   The first book on Buddhism I picked up and bought was by Christmas Humphries, a high court
judge in London, England, in a bookstore in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was a long-haired traveller in
India and Nepal in 1975 and I wanted to learn about Buddhism which seemed, at the time, ancient
and mysterious, and being a spiritual seeker, I liked at once the open, rational and questioning
approach to self-understanding and wisdom. Soon, fellow travellers began recommending other
books: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, Freedom from the Known by J. Krishnamurti, The Second
Krishnamurti Reader [published by Penguin], Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki, books by Alan
Watts, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones [compiled by Paul Reps], and Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.
    When I returned to Canada some weeks later, I bought these books immediately and began
reading with fascination and delight – there was the joy of exploration and discovery. I was very
inspired and transformed by my experiences in South Asia and so reading these spiritual books
was not only to understand better those experiences, but also a beneficial way to overcome the
unsettling reverse culture shock I felt coming back to Canada, where life seemed so sterile,
materialistic, petty and superficial, unfriendly, isolating, and self-centered. My initial reaction was
the strong wish to turn around and return to India and Nepal but I had run out of travellers cheques,
so that option wasn’t possible, and so I had to learn to be peaceful and harmonize myself with the
environment. Apart from reading, I began to practice Hatha yoga and sitting meditation, and
learning to play the sitar, which was a form of spiritual practice in itself. These activities were most
beneficial indeed, and I look back on those early days of spiritual exploration with fondness and
wonder.
    When I read Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, I was delighted by those old stories from China and Japan
[some of them I told during the retreat in Hong Kong] and the Ox-herding pictures about someone
taking the journey from ignorance, craving and fear to spiritual peace, wisdom and compassion.
Their charming wisdom resonated with one’s intuitive common sense, and Zen Buddhism along
with the teachings of the Way [Tao] spoke to my recent awakening to spacious awareness,
suchness, emptiness, the Unconditioned, Beginners Mind, and the timeless present moment –
states of experience I’d had during early childhood growing up in rural Jamaica but had lost during
primary and high schools; states of being I remembered but didn’t quite understand or appreciate.
    These books were expressing things that I had felt and thought about since childhood but far
better than I could have expressed them. They had helped me to better understand the many layers
of conditioning one had accumulated through the years including the ego’s obsession about the
future and the desire to become. I could appreciate the teachings of going beyond words, labels,
preconceived ideas and concepts, selflessness, spontaneity, peace and harmony, freedom from
clinging, equanimity, softness and flexibility, oneness, emptiness, balance, non-doing,
ordinariness and simplicity, playfulness, paradox and suchness.
    The use of paradox and koans in Zen Buddhism like, “What is the sound of one hand
clapping?” or “What is your original face before your parents were born?” is to awaken an insight
that is beyond the intellect. This is why Taoism and Zen initially seem so confusing and abstract.
The deliberate cultivation of confusion is intended to bring about an awareness that is neither
logical nor linear, thinking being a linear process. The result is a clear state of attention that is
intuitive and spontaneous rather than rational and tedious. You can say that the paradox of the
koan is to trick the mind out of rational thinking to a state of intuitive awareness and knowing in
the present moment.
   In Korea, they follow the Rinzai School of using koans and I’m told that most practitioners
never have a genuine breakthrough. The two main koans that are used are: “Who am I?” and
“What is this?” It’s not an easy method of awakening and this is why some Korean monks and
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nuns are now travelling to Myanmar and Thailand to practice the way of mindfulness and insight.
The Soto School of Zen doesn’t use the koan method; it focuses mainly on sitting meditation to
express one’s Buddha Nature, clear awareness and knowing, as opposed to meditating in order to
achieve awakening. The awareness that arises naturally from diligent and patient sitting practice is
carried over into daily activity without the burden and confusion of illogical, irrational thinking
that causes mental suffering, conflict and dis-ease.
    I recall one of my early attempts at zazen [sitting meditation]. One morning, while doing
zazen, my mind suddenly became empty; all mental activity stopped by itself and this unexpected
state of consciousness caused the novice mind to panic – it wasn’t used to not having thoughts or
images as a reference or mental object. It’s like you’re watching TV all day long with its endless
images and suddenly the screen goes blank without warning. How would you react? So, there was
panic and bewilderment and quickly I opened my eyes with a gasp for breath. Wow! What was
that? While I’d already experienced that state of total stillness and silence of the mind in India
some months previously, this experience was different in that my eyes were closed at the time and
I was sitting in a room, while during the experiences in India, the eyes were open and I was sitting
by a river or trekking in the mountains. I no longer panicked after that first time of emptiness
during zazen. Not surprisingly, a few meditators have had similar experiences with similar panic
attacks. Live and learn.
     In Chinese literature, the Tao has been described as mysterious, unfathomable and limitless; to
me, the Tao is the natural flow of things that includes the complex, multi-dimensional phenomena
of existence, interdependent and interconnected. It also means a state of inner serenity combined
with an awakened state of being intuitively aware of constant change and dependent co-rising, and
harmony. Ritualistic Taoism is very different from the mystical teachings from the Tao Tse Ching;
it became a folk religion in China based on animism – the worship of nature spirits including
animal spirits, and heavenly beings. Taoist priests would conduct ceremonies for the living and for
the dead, sometimes celebrating auspicious events with rites of fertility and the warding off of
harmful spirits. The Taoist temples I visited in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan were
most interesting and ornate, and very smoky with offerings of burning incense, candles and special
paper money to be used in the spirit or deva world.
    The use of haiku poetry is meant to express the spirit of Zen and Tao: awareness, simplicity,
spiritual solitude and contemplation, and the beauty, mystery and wonder of life in the present
moment. Here are a few haikus from an old notebook:


The old pond,            From what flowering tree        How many, many things
a frog jumps in          I know not,                      They call to mind,
- plop!                  But ah, the fragrance!           These cherry blossoms.


Spreading a straw mat,        Hanging a lantern            Evening cherry blossoms:
I sat and gazed               On a blossoming bough,       Today also now belongs
At the plum blossoms.         What pains I took.          To the past.


Yes, spring has come;             They spoke no word;               To pluck it is a pity,

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This morning a nameless hill          The visitor, the host,              To leave it is a pity,
Is shrouded in mist.                  And the white chrysanthemum.        Ah, this violet!


Completely imprisoned in the spring rain,           The hut leaks when it rains,
I am all alone in the solitary hut,                  And I am wet;
Unknown to mankind.                                  I think of the kindly visit of the moonlight.


In the June rains,                When the peonies bloomed,                 The short night;
One night, as if by stealth           It seemed as though there were        The peony opened
The moon, through the pines.          No flowers around them.               During that time.


In the same old notebook, I find these Chinese Proverbial Wisdom sayings:
    The wise person embraces the One [Tao] and sets an example to all. Not putting on a show, he
shines; not justifying himself, he is distinguished; not boasting, he is acknowledged. He does not
quarrel, so no one quarrels with him.
    We barely know that which is highest. We know that which we love, that which we fear, and
that which we despise. Who does not trust enough will not be trusted. He who knows others is
wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.
    Who has little shall receive, who has much shall be embarrassed. Those who know honor but
practice humility will be as a valley receiving all the world into it. Achieve, but do not glory in the
results; achieve, but do not boast of the results; achieve results, but not through violence – force is
followed by loss of strength. Understanding comes to those who have realized their true Self.
Realization of their true Self comes to those who have gained understanding. To him who has
reached the Tao and is master of his true Self, the universe shall be dissolved. Should he find
himself in the company of loud and aggressive persons, he is like a lotus flower growing in muddy
water – touched but not soiled.
     Life is but a bridge to cross over, build no houses on it. With deep Self-realization, one
influences the universe with subtle vibrations and remains unaffected by the ebb and flow of
events. To attain Self-realization on earth, is to live a dual existence; one performs worldly duties
conscientiously, but is inwardly immersed in spiritual peace. Human life is full of sorrow and
conflict until we know the Way, whose course may be confusing to the ego. He who knows that
enough is enough will always have enough. Divine contemplation must not be made an excuse for
material carelessness.
    To go wrong and not to alter one’s course, can definitely be defined as going wrong. What the
world calls repose, the sage does not. His repose derives from his mental attitudes; it becomes the
mirror of the universe. Nothing disturbs his tranquility, hence his repose. The superior man when
stands alone is without fear. If he must renounce the world, it does not matter. Care not what
people say, care for the beauty of nature and the universe. The high wind does not last all morning,
neither does a sudden rain last all day. Heaven and earth are not able to make things last forever, so
how is it possible for man?


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    Do not look outward and seek the treasures of others, open your own treasure house and use
those treasures. The wise man seeks everything in himself; the ignorant man tries to get everything
from somebody else. He who puts forth his strength and keeps back his weakness, is like a deep
river into which all streams flow. His virtues shall increase until he is once again as pure as in
childhood. The sage cares not for himself, but responds to the need of others. Be good to people
who are good; to those who are not good, be also good. This goodness is achieved. Be sincere to
those who are sincere. To people who are not sincere, be also sincere. Thus all shall be sincere.
    If one does not begin with a right attitude, there is little hope for a right ending. If happiness is
in your destiny, you need not be in a hurry. Though you amass 10,000 pieces of silver, at death you
cannot take with you even a copper penny. A wise person makes his own decisions, a weak one
obeys public opinion. Silence is golden – only fools chatter. Music in the soul can be heard by the
universe.


June 7, 2000
     Today is a lovely summer day. I’m working on the book material and the writing is going well,
good focus and energy. This evening, I’ll be giving a talk at Dharma Friends in the downtown area
at 8 p.m. I call Mr. Fong from China and he says that Ven. Yin Seng, the monk who has a temple in
Ottawa, is still in China and won’t be back in Canada until August. I tell him I’m hoping to go to
Halifax with Ven.Yin Seng as he’d invited me when I met him last year in Ottawa, after I’d
conducted a day-retreat with the Dharma group in that city. He said to call him again in early
August as he’ll know when this monk will have arrived back in Ottawa.
     I send e-mail to Hassan in Ottawa to inform him that I’m back in Toronto and I would be
happy to conduct another day-retreat with the Dharma group during August. Hassan grew up in a
Muslim family in East Africa and now he’s a Dharma practitioner; because of his religious
upbringing he can get too serious and controlling at times. I hope he’ll be able to improve himself
with proper guidance and practice. I remember a similar young man in Sri Lanka, a former
Muslim, who was put temporarily in charge of a meditation center and he created a lot of problems
for the visitors because he was too uptight, serious and controlling.
     Dharma Friends have a weekly gathering for meditation practice and discussion except when
there’s a guest speaker. The venue is in the party room on the second floor of an apartment
building where the tenants are HIV positive. The room is large and spacious and the seating is in a
circular fashion and over thirty people are present. Everyone is curious about the speaker as this is
my first visit. After a short introduction, I give a short talk about the Buddha’s radical way of
teaching, then there’s a sitting meditation for about thirty minutes so that people can calm down
and focus after a long, busy day. There’s a hum in the room from the air-system and I find this
quite soothing and centering; some people initially find this hum disturbing but they eventually get
used to it. Only hearing, hearing, hearing.
     My main topic is on the teaching of non-self and the understanding of the conditioned self
relating to thinking, memory, past experience and knowledge, which includes the conditioned
habit of identifying with the body, feelings and emotions, thoughts and ideas, material things and
people, and sexual desire or preference. I speak about the limitations of labels, of seeing yourself
primarily as a “gay” or “bisexual” or “straight” person as opposed to a human being with a certain
sexual orientation. In Dharma practice, you see that desire, sexual or otherwise, is only a
temporary mental state and devoid of a permanent, concrete self, and so to label yourself according
to an impermanent desire or feeling is misleading and limiting; and it becomes yet another way of

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reaffirming the ego. Clinging to a sexually identity is really clinging to the idea of a permanent
ego-self. It’s like going around and telling people that you’re a “vanilla ice cream person” or a
“pizza with pepperoni person” or an “orange person” simply because you sometimes like to eat
those food items. It would be silly and immature, wouldn’t it?
    In Dhamma practice, we’re left with the existential reality of our humanity. We’ve still got
these primordial drives, sexual desire and anger. But with more awareness and understanding we
take them less and less personal. With self-view, we’re always judging our sexual desires, and our
anger, jealousy, resentment, aversion and fear, and making them personal. But now we can look at
them for what they are. They’re energies, they’re a part of being human, of having a human body
and mind. We begin to see and understand the nature of lust, greed, anger, hatred and delusion,
because we don’t identify with these temporary mental states anymore, the attachment to them on
a personal level. We see that these energies arise and cease according to conditions.
     We all have these primordial drives as human beings. They are common to all of us. They are
not a personal identity. Our refuge is in awareness rather than judging these energies that we’re
experiencing. When sexual energies arise, we can be aware of them and don’t act on them. They
arise and cease just like everything else. Anger and resentment arise and pass away. They are all
impermanent, unsatisfactory and uncertain, and non-self. This is the insight and freedom of the
Dhamma.
     Why do we identify so strongly with gender and sexual orientation in modern society? Perhaps
if there were less discrimination, prejudice and ignorance there would be less clinging to gender
and sexual identity. Perhaps we take ourselves and sexuality too seriously and because of this we
tend to become distraught when our physical appearance changes and our sexual stamina
decreases due to ageing and certain conditions. Interestingly, when a man in India begins to lose
his libido, he considers it a blessing; whereas when a western man experiences the same decline in
sexual energy he considers it a curse, a loss of his manhood, a cause for worry and conflict. In
India, that has a long spiritual tradition of renunciation and mental development, sexual desire is
seen as a necessity for having children but also, as a hindrance to spiritual peace and bliss, so the
loss of libido is seen as “good riddance!” Interesting, yes?
     In a society that glamourizes sexual lust, a modern man in western society sees the drug,
Viagra, as a blessing, a miracle cure for one of nature’s “curses.” Likewise, we try to fight the fact
of ageing with cosmetic surgery, botox facial injections, and a wide variety of anti-ageing
products. Modern medical technology is trying to prolong life as much as possible – death being
viewed as something to be avoided at all cost. We do indeed suffer from ignorant and delusion. It’s
not surprising that many teenage suicides in North America are a result in this over-identification
with sexual feelings and the over-importance people give to sex. This is why it’s important for
parents with teenage children to reassure them that whatever their sexual feelings are, that they
love them, that it’s natural and nothing to feel bad or guilty about, that sexuality is only one aspect
of human nature, and that what is more important are kindness, respect and compassion.
    One reason for this emphasis on sex in modern western society, I feel, is that most people here
don’t have to worry about the basic necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter – and so they can
afford to indulge in sexuality, consumerism and entertainment, thereby becoming more shallow,
fussy and obsessive in the process. Sexuality should be seen with humour and compassion, the
same way we view people’s eating habits, belching, scratching ourselves, going to the toilet,
sleeping, and so on; we’re human primates, after all. Not surprisingly, there’s also homosexual
behaviour in the animal and insect world, and so to say that it’s “unnatural” and therefore a “sin” is
obviously due to ignorance and brainwashing from cultural and religious upbringing.
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    When we cling to labels, we forget our basic humanity, we ignore the fact that we are all
human beings with the same goals and problems; people, regardless of their sexual preference,
experience happiness and sadness, greed and frustration, loneliness, anger, disappointment, envy,
jealousy, pride, arrogance, and so on.
     People who are homophobic and narrow-minded obviously suffering from ignorance and
delusion; they lack the virtue of loving kindness and compassion and are therefore unable to
accept homosexual behaviour in humans. Blind obedience and attachment to religious authority
and traditional ideas not only violate our integrity as decent human beings but it perpetuates fear,
intolerance and violence. I hope the day will come when people’s sexual orientation won’t be an
issue, when people’s sexual preference will be seen in the same light as one’s preference for brown
rice instead of white rice, or for pizza instead of hamburgers – nothing special, nothing to fuss
about, nothing to cling to.


June 15, 2000
    This morning I’m having toast and a spicy Indian snack made with lentils that I bought in Little
India yesterday when I took Wayne for a vegetarian dinner at one of the Punjabi restaurants. The
smell and taste of this savory food item suddenly triggers images and sensations from the past,
from my first visit to India, namely, the teeming city of Bombay. This unexpected reality shift into
the past, over twenty-five years ago, caused by smelling consciousness primarily, is a good
indication of how the brain works like a computer: the spicy smell and taste are able to bring up a
distant memory in an instant, like clicking onto an old file on the computer screen – simply
amazing!
    Bombay [now known as Mumbai]. It’s the last day of January, 1975. It’s a time of great
adventure, discovery, openness, wonder and joy. My two Swedish travelling companions and I
have landed in Bombay from Karachi, Pakistan, and it’s after sunset. I had met them on a bus in
Iran and we had visited Quetta and the Indus Valley together [in Pakistan] where we had seen the
ruins of an early civilization at Mohejo-daro. We had stepped back in time where there were old
villages and the modes of transportation consisted of bicycles, horse and ox carts, and camels.
People planted wheat, legumes, mustard, sugar cane, chillis and vegetables, and kept goats and
chickens; cows were still revered and not eaten as in the Hindu culture. We came to learn that this
area was where the tradition of the forest monks/yogis began many centuries before – the spiritual
path of renunciation, mental cultivation and wisdom. By this time, I’m speaking English with a
Swedish accent and enjoying the up and down inflection of the Scandinavians very much as part of
the great adventure we are having in South Asia.
     At Bombay airport we meet a young Sikh from the Punjab, Narinder Singh, and we share a taxi
together to the nearest train station where we take a crowded suburban train into the city, arriving
at the voluminous Victoria Station, built during the time of the British Raj. There are people,
beggars, street dwellers, snack vendors everywhere. There are the smells of stale urine and sweat,
fried spices, acrid smoke from diesel exhaust and beedi cigarettes, and exotic incenses. Narinder is
in Bombay to help some Sikh farmers get work permits so that they can find employment in the
Middle East. This initial experience of India is most intense and mind-blowing; it’s an assault on
the senses – namely, sights, sounds and smells.
   Narinder takes us to a Hindu temple/ashram where his friend is staying and we are surrounded
and followed by street children with outstretched hands seeking for alms, “Baksheesh, sahib!
Baksheesh, sahib!” they chant, touching their hands to their mouths, charading hunger and

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suffering but then they start laughing and jostling with one another, competing for attention and
generosity from us westerners. Narinder shouts at them, “Jao! Jao!” [go away! scram!], while
advising us not to give them any money otherwise a riot will ensue. The kids fall back at this
reprimand, some of the older ones continue to call to us, some making faces and laughing; it’s like
a fun game they’re playing.
    We get to the temple and Narinder asks us to wait outside while he goes inside to meet his
friend and to ask the monks if we can also stay there for a few days before we take the boat down to
Goa, a former Portugese colony and a popular destination for western travellers. We sit on a low
wall and are immediately approached by more street kids with outstretched hands chanting,
“Baksheesh, sahib!” Some of them touch us for attention as begging is a competitive business for
these children and I wish I had some food to give them. Some of their parents and younger siblings
are nearby sitting and lying on soiled material and/or sheets of cardboard on the pavement.
    It’s really another world from the streets of London, Amsterdam, Athens, Rome or Istanbul.
You feel that you’re in an ancient land and complex culture, a place of extreme wealth and
poverty, beauty and ugliness, where there’s the weird, wonderful and the sublime, a land of ancient
spiritual traditions, rites and rituals, many languages and dialects, a land that has known many
foreign invasions from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Western Europe. We are totally in awe
and amazement and we can’t help joking with the children and giving them a few coins.
     Narinder returns and we are allowed to stay at the temple/ashram, no problem. We take an old
elevator up to the shrine room and living quarters. The elevator gate opens and we are greeted by
two young smiling monks with shaved heads and wearing orange robes, and there’s a large portrait
painting of their turbaned guru on the wall; the frame is garlanded with long strings of marigolds
and the air is fragrant with rose and jasmine incense. It’s like entering an oasis of peace and
enchanting mystery in the midst of teeming humanity, dirt and poverty. Narinder’s friend is also
from the Punjab but he’s a Hindu with short hair and a shy smile, gentle and affectionate, and he
has an office job in a small company. When Narinder takes off his red turban, his long, uncut hair
is tied up in a bong on top of his head; this is the custom of most Sikh men and he also has a
well-groomed beard and moustache, and he wears a steel bracelet on his left wrist.
    We all have a wash and Narinder changes into white pajamas [an Indian invention and name]
and takes us out for an evening meal without wearing his turban; yes, Indian men and boys
sometimes wear pajamas as an evening dress outside: it’s cool, loose and comfortable. The
hygiene conditions at the restaurant don’t seem up to western standards but the vegetarian food is
delicious; Narinder wants to offer us chicken and fish curries but we decline.
     Young men and boys, often from distant villages, are working in Bombay and in this
restaurant, bringing various dishes, hot chapattis and mango lassis [yoghurt shakes] to our table.
It’s a popular eating-place and people are staring at us, especially at my Swedish companions with
long blond hair and blue eyes; I have long black hair and they think that I’m a visitor from Japan.
Narinder and his friend are equally curious about us as we are of them; we see each other as foreign
and exotic but friendly and gentle. We give them some personal history and tell them of our
overland journey to India from Europe, and that we are on a spiritual adventure in their country and
that we’re also planning to visit Nepal via Agra, Delhi, Rishikesh and Varanasi.
    Narinder tells us about the Sikh religion and about the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and about
how progressive and hard working the Sikhs are in India. It’s a most pleasant and welcoming
evening together and it’s very fascinating to observe the street life and colourful stores as we
slowly walk back to the temple – so many sights, sounds, tastes and smells. Despite the poverty

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and street dwellers, we feel safe somehow and we’re greeted with friendly smiles and questions
like, “ Hello, what is your country? What is your good name? What is your qualification? Where is
madam [your wife]?”
      For the next three days, Narinder takes us sightseeing around Bombay by taxi and treats us to
all meals, giving us the royal treatment, not allowing us to pay for anything! It’s Asian hospitality
at its best. We’ve just recently met and he’s treating us like old friends or relatives reunited; his
spontaneous kindness and hospitality reminds me of relatives and family friends when I was
growing up in Jamaica during the 1950s and sixties. It’s really wonderful to have Narinder as a
friend and guide around Bombay and certain images come to mind: We are sitting on the grass
somewhere and watching an endless stream of humanity and traffic passing by. Some pedestrians
are wearing western clothes [shirt and pants, etc.], the women are beautiful, exotic and graceful
with large dark eyes and long, braided, black hair made shiny with coconut oil, and wearing
colourful saris, gold and silver bangles and nose jewellery. The men are slim and handsome, many
sporting moustaches.
     Some men are urinating against the side of a building in the squat position, and an old man is
squatting and defecating for all to see; perhaps he’s mentally retarded or just doesn’t care. Street
children and deformed individuals approach us with outstretched palms, some are lepers; this time
we have bananas, tangerines and glucose biscuits to give them along with friendly, accepting
smiles. Travelling overland to India has helped us to adjust and accept these unfortunate members
of society; they would have appeared shocking and scary had we flown directly to Karachi or
Bombay or Calcutta from Europe or North America. Some westerners are traumatized by their
initial experience and reaction to Indian street life; travelling overland to India has its benefits and
advantages, for sure.
     We are inside a sea aquarium and looking at colourful, exotic fishes of all sizes, shapes and
temperament. One moment we’re on the crowded street with noisy, polluting traffic, and the next
moment we’re in this quiet, enchanting world of marine life and coral reefs. We are walking on the
beach before sunset and looking at the sand sculptures of Hindu deities, the artists are asking for
donations for their effort. There are more deformed people and street children asking for alms.
There’s a man with a performing monkey on a leash and he’s beating a small drum to attract
attention. There’s a snake charmer with three performing cobras in their individual baskets; the
cobras have been defanged for obvious reasons. There are children playing on the beach, some
have helium balloons. There’s an acrobat with his two performing acrobat children. About twenty
feet away is a man balancing a tall bamboo pole on his forehead with a baby tied to the opposite
end; people gasp with shock and amazement, then they applaud and throw a few coins at his feet
on the sand.
    In the same area of the beach is a man performing an unusual act: he first drinks a large
container of water and shows off his extended belly, then he swallows two small frogs and a snake,
drinks more water, rubs his big belly again, then he vomits up the water and reptiles which are still
alive – this is a popular seaside attraction. Near the water’s edge are large cawing crows and
hungry sea gulls searching for food. In the evening sky there are yellow-tinted clouds slowly
changing to orange, and there are young couples strolling or sitting on the sand, enjoying the
cooler, cleaner air of the seaside. We’re in the bazaar-market area; it’s a busy, crowded, colourful
and exciting place – so much to see, hear, touch, smell and taste! This bazaar reminds us of the
bazaar in Karachi but more crowded. Because we’re backpack travellers, we’re limited by what we
can buy and carry. At this stage of my journey, I’m still a bit conservative and hesitant about
wearing Indian dress and I’m content to keep wearing jeans and shirt for now.

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    One evening, we’re invited by the Hindu monks to attend the chanting ceremony in the
fragrant shrine room of the temple. It’s a beautiful, blissful experience. The devotional songs
[bhajans] to the various deities are accompanied by harmonium [a small pump organ], drum and
cymbals. These bhajans have a purifying effect on the mind-heart: they help to transcend
self-centered thoughts and feelings, and to dissipate harmful emotions like anger, fear and ill-will.
Afterwards, we have a pleasant chat with the monks; they tell us that they don’t drink tea or coffee
as they’re unhealthy stimulants, and that their guru, belonging to an ancient tradition of spiritual
teachers, has many thousands of devotees across India; he’s travelling and visiting some of his
temples in western India at the moment.
    It’s the morning of our departure from Bombay. We pack our belongings and say goodbye to
the monks. Narinder pays the taxi driver to take us to New Jerry Wharf so we can catch the boat to
Goa. He has been such a kind and hospitable friend and we can’t thank him enough: for Narinder,
he is simply doing his religious duty by being kind to visitors to his ancient country; we promise to
keep in touch. The boat ride down the western coast of India is lovely, relaxing, and mesmerizing
as we sit on deck all day and watch the waves, sea gulls, drifting clouds, and the coastline in the
distance. And we chit-chat with fellow travellers from Canada, Brazil, Germany, England, France
and Belgium. Watching the sunset is a sublime and moving experience. The journey takes around
twenty-four hours; we sleep on deck using our sleeping bags.
    Goa is famous for beaches, coconut trees, fishing villages, beautiful sunsets, and full moon
parties. There is a persistent rumour that either Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones is going to show
up and play at one of these parties. My friends and I get to stay with a family in one of the fishing
villages at Colva Beach, and it’s wonderful to be in this tropical environment after many weeks of
travelling overland from Europe; the jeans and boots are set aside, and I’m wearing T-shirt and
lungie/sarong.
     One evening I’m sitting alone on the beach and watching the sunset, the mind is quiet and
spacious, and as the last half of the large orange sun is slowly sinking below the horizon, there is
the realization that it’s the planet that’s turning on its axis and not the sun actually moving and
setting. Because the mind is still, silent and empty of activity, one can actually see and feel the
motion of the Earth as it’s moving around the sun and so for the first time the solar system becomes
a three-dimensional reality instead of being a two-dimensional impression or idea.
    There is the experience of immense space in which the sun, the Earth, the evening star [the
planet Jupiter shining brightly in the darkening blue sky] and the rest of the planets are happening.
There is a tremendous sense of freedom, beauty, innocence, bliss and oneness. The duality of the
‘me’ center and the Universe is transcended. One no longer feels like an isolated individual or ego
entity who’s separate from Nature, the world and the Cosmos. One is an aspect of the Cosmos
being aware of itself. One has gone beyond the idea that one’s a physical entity which is separate in
space and time from all other forms of life. All exist as part of a wonderful stream of life, a
multi-dimensional phenomena of Cosmic Energy, interconnected and interdependent – interbeing!


June 17, 2000
    In honor of Father’s Day my siblings and their families will be visiting our father’s gravesite
this afternoon and then meet at my sister’s house for a family get-together and dinner. My father
passed away in 1990 – how time flies! Usually, a few friends and relatives will join the gathering.
I won’t be attending this year. Instead, I’ll think of my father and mother during my meditation
with fondness and gratitude, send them loving kindness, and reflect on the nature of non-self and

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dependent co-rising – that all things manifest due to causes and conditions and that they
disintegrate when those conditions no longer exist, that all things are interdependent and
interconnected, constantly changing and empty of a permanent self.
    A certain Zen koan/kung-an comes to mind: What is your original face before your parents
were born? Previously, this illogical question seemed quite puzzling and annoying to my young,
inquiring mind; now I can smile at it and say, “But of course!” Likewise, I can now smile at the
well-known koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Easy as pie.
    When I last visited my father’s gravesite my sisters brought flowers, we stood in a circle, held
hands and recited The Lord’s Prayer, which only seemed natural since we were brought up as
Christians. Although I gave up Christianity long ago I didn’t mind saying this prayer with the
others: it was the feeling of togetherness that seemed important and not individual beliefs and
understanding. Interestingly enough, this prayer did bring up some emotions in me: I think it was a
combination of childhood sentiment and being once again with family.
    In traditional Chinese culture, visiting gravesites is definitely more intriguing and interesting.
First, they believe that people exist in spirit-form after death and secondly, it’s important to make
offerings to appease them and to connect with them in a personal way. Apart from the Hungry
Ghost Month of August, the Chinese consider the Ching Ming Festival, during April, to be the
most auspicious time to visit family gravesites and make traditional offerings. The Hakka Chinese
refer to this custom as “Ghasan.” I recall once during childhood going with my father to the
Chinese Cemetery near Kingston, Jamaica, where he and his cousins cleaned the gravesite of their
uncle, lit some joss sticks, made food offerings, poured a bottle of wine on the grave, then lit some
firecrackers so as to drive the malevolent spirits away. To my young mind it was so intriguing and
interesting; the exploding firecrackers made it more exciting.
    This reminds me of going on Ching Ming with a friend and his brother while visiting a small
town in Malaysia. That morning we had four gravesites to visit – those of their grandmother,
father, little sister and mother, in that order – in four different cemeteries. Upon entering each
cemetery we had to seek permission of the Guardian Spirit of the place by paying respect, palms
held together, and offering lighted candles, joss sticks, and “gold currency” in the form of burning
squares of paper dabbed with gold-coloured paint. The shrine either had a picture-drawing of a
bearded diety or a few Chinese characters painted on white or red paper. Then we proceeded to
find the gravesites.
    The graves had a unique round shape unlike the ones I was used to – this style originally came
from Guangdong and Fujian provinces in southern China. And there were frangipani or plumeria
trees with their fragrant flowers of many colours, which reminded me of Sri Lanka, Indonesia and
Hawaii. Most of the graves had photos of the deceased and each grave had to the side a small
shrine to the Earth God or Spirit, who protected the gravesite and occupant. Before making
offerings to this spirit my friend’s brother placed two coins on the marble below the relative’s
photo – one showing head, the other showing tail. What was this for, I wondered? Then to the
Earth God, a lit candle, two joss sticks and more paper money [set on fire] were offered., giving
thanks and respect. Similar offerings were made to the spirit of the family member, also giving
thanks and respect. They then told me some of the family history and I felt deeply touched, feeling
love and compassion for their deceased relatives and for all the other beings who had lived and
died and whose remains now laid in the ground.
    I observed the desire to dig up one or two of the graves in order to see the remaining bones and
skulls but this would have been illegal in Malaysia. In China it used to be a custom to dig up a

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relative’s grave after a few years, retrieve the bones, clean them, place them in a ceramic jar and
then place the jar in a shrine built on a hillside or inside the family home. The Chinese like to
situate cemeteries on hillsides as they believe these locations have good feng shui – harmony
between the elements of wind and water.
    With all the appropriate offerings over with, the final ritual was the throwing of the two coins.
My initial question was soon answered. The first throw came up two heads: this meant that we
could not leave the gravesite just yet – the spirit of the relative desired for us to stay a bit longer.
Two tails indicated the same message. This was indeed intriguing. So my friend and his brother sat
and chatted for a few minutes before throwing the coins again; this was an exercise in love and
respect and patience. Meanwhile I took the opportunity to slowly walk around and look at the other
graves, reading the English inscription of the names and the two dates regarding birth and death
when possible – I don’t read Chinese – looking at the photo-images and reflecting on their
seemingly brief lives. It was all so dreamlike including my constantly changing experiences from
day to day as I move from place to place and meeting different people. Some of the graves had
food offerings left behind by family members – stale cakes and buns half-eaten by ants, bugs and
birds.
     Some families would bring a picnic lunch, first offering the food and beverage to the spirit [so
that he/she can consume the essence of the meal] along with candles, joss sticks and paper
currency, then they would partake of the picnic in a leisurely manner, enjoying the peace and
beauty of the area. It would be like having a family reunion, of sorts. No firecrackers would be
used to drive away the bad spirits since these small explosives are now illegal in most countries. I
also enjoyed collecting some of the fallen frangipani flowers, smelling their wonderful fragrance
and admiring their beauty and fragile nature. Flowers are lovely and poignant reminders of
impermanence and non-attachment. Two or three old graves were obviously abandoned, but most
of the other graves had small squares of coloured kite-paper placed all over them and held down by
small stones to prevent them from being blown away – this indicated that these graves were
recently visited and traditional offerings made.
     When I returned to where my friend and his brother were they were still chatting and waiting to
throw the coins again – the last throw came up two tails. In this case, their father’s spirit required a
longer visit from his sons. They hadn’t brought with them the coloured squares of kite-paper to
place on their relatives’ graves at the end. They didn’t think these were necessary. Their father was
born in Fujian province, southern China, and came to Malaysia as a small child. He grew up,
started a business, got married and fathered eleven children. After some time the business began to
fail and he died soon after that, leaving his family quite poor and insecure. My friend’s brother,
being the oldest son but third in the family, had to go to Kuala Lumpur to work in order to support
the family until the other siblings were old enough to support themselves. For this reason my
friend had a great deal of respect and love for this brother. My friend’s younger brother had a
mysterious fever that doctors and bomos [traditional Malay healers] were unable to diagnose and
cure, and so he passed away after several months in a very weakened state. Death is indeed the
ending of suffering. His body was cremated.
   The next throw of the coins came up head and tail – we could now leave the gravesite; the spirit
was satisfied at last. My friend commented that these traditional rites and rituals had nothing to do
with the Buddha’s teaching, that these were just customs they were brought up with. I answered,
“Why not? They’re harmless and interesting, and they’re a nice way to remember your loved ones
and connect with them through your kind thoughts and intentional actions, right?” I smiled. They
smiled. We all smiled and gently laughed light-heartedly. It was a most pleasant morning.

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    My friend’s little sister had died before he was born, so he never knew her except from an old
photograph and from stories his mother had told him of her. She was a pretty and quiet child, and
she was six years old when she died in 1953 – that seems a long time ago by human measure. I was
almost four years old at the time and existing on the other side of the planet. That I managed to
survive childhood in the tropics was indeed a result of good fortune and good medicine. Her
gravesite was close to the road with trees close by. The closest grave to hers was several feet away
so her grave looked somewhat alone and isolated by the trees. It was indeed a small, plain and
old-looking grave, oblong-shaped and without a photo-image and a small shrine to the Earth God.
     Unless you were a relative you wouldn’t want to stop here out of curiosity; you would just see
it and walk by without a second thought; it did look old and abandoned. But today it did have
visitors with good intentions and kind sentiments. Some time in 1953 [47 years ago] this would
have been a fresh grave with flowers and grieving family members present, now her parents have
since passed away and her then young siblings have all grown up and have raised families of their
own. She has been dead much longer than her short life-span. Even a person living for a hundred
years will be dead much much longer than that life-span.
    Compared to the age of the sun and solar system, a thousand years is but a blink of the eye. My
Dharma Mind wanted to dig up this grave to see the old coffin and its content, to reflect on the
elements which temporarily came together to form a human being, to reflect on impermanence and
non-self – the little girl no longer existed excepted in her siblings’ minds whenever they happened
to think of her. But alas, my wish to see her remains wouldn’t have been made possible unless I
risked upsetting some people and possible police arrest. My friend offered a candle, joss sticks and
paper currency, while his brother made offerings to the shrine of the Guardian Spirit close by. No
coins were tossed and no flowers were placed on the grave.
    In contrast, their mother’s grave was modern and attractive with a few painted tiles depicting
colourful scenery. It was round-shaped with a photo-image and writing in both Chinese and
English. She died around thirteen years ago at the age of seventy-eight. There were many graves of
similar design close by and they were situated on a small hillside. The view from the site was
lovely with trees and hills in the distance with lofty, enchanting clouds above the landscape, like
gigantic scoops of vanilla ice cream floating in limitless space. Close by was a chicken and pig
farm. I told my friend that this would be a good place to spend a late afternoon [when the sun is not
too hot] to meditate and reflect on death, read some Dharma, drink tea, and enjoy the peace and
beauty of the area. During my next visit to Malaysia, we’ll come back here for sure, to meditate,
relax, drink tea, and make offerings even if it’s not the auspicious time of Ching Ming.


June 18, 2000
     It’s 3:30 a.m. and I’m listening to the program, Coast to Coast, on AM radio with Art Bell. The
topic is about personal encounters with ghosts and spirits, the supernatural, and I’m usually not
interested in this subject matter as I see these experiences as the power of the imagination and
common delusions of the mind. A lady calls in and says that she had a son who used to enjoy
bringing her roses on occasion and he happened to die in a car accident. A few days after his death,
her front door suddenly flew open and when she got up to close it, she smelled the strong odour of
fresh roses and she believes it was the spirit of her son visiting her and this experience gave her a
lot of comfort. Most interesting.
    The next caller is a middle-aged man from a town in Arizona and he says that as a child he used
to have the most terrifying reoccurring experience during the night [or was it just a very vivid

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dream?] of being lifted off the bed by some powerful demonic force, and when he tried to call out
to his parents, he was unable to do so. He used to tell his mother about this frightening experience
and she told him that she used to have a reoccurring dream as a child of her popping out of the top
of her head and floating around the house and outside in the backyard. As he tells this story, he
sounds quite serious and spooked by the memory of it, and he’d like to know if others have had a
similar experience or dream; you can tell that he believes it was an actual experience than just a
very vivid nightmare.
     Well, I used to have the exact same dream [or experience] during childhood and occasionally
in later years but it evolved as I got older or let’s say, how I reacted and behaved during the
dream/experience changed with time. This terrifying dream/ experience would begin by my head
and entire body starting to buzz with a strong energy and me being pulled down this deep, dark
hole, and as this is happening I’m trying desperately to wake up in order to escape this awful
ordeal. Once in a while, I would be able to wake up and feel this huge sense of relief but most of
the time I would be unable to do so, and this strange, demonic force would completely envelope
me as I try desperately to call out to my parents for help but unable to do so. As you can imagine,
I’m very afraid and tense, and then this terrible force would slowly life me off the bed as I remain
in the lying position on my back. I would be raised about six feet above the bed and I would be
totally paralyzed yet conscious, my entire being buzzing with this terrifying energy and I’m totally
at the mercy of this force.
    This demonic energy was so tangible I would feel that it was trying to communicate with me
somehow but I’m unable to understand it due to my fear and resistance. Where did it come from, I
used to wonder? Is it a local entity or did it come from somewhere else? What does it want from
me? Eventually, the intense energy would begin to decrease and dissipate and I would begin to feel
more relaxed and peaceful, and then I would be back on the bed feeling quite relieved and safe, and
then I would wake up briefly at this point and then return to sleep and have the most pleasant,
interesting dreams.
    Unlike this man from Arizona, I never told anyone about this frightening dream, not even my
mother, but I can understand why he believes it was an actual experience rather than just a very
vivid nightmare because the physical force or energy one felt was so powerful, frightening and
visceral! And it felt demonic in nature mainly because of the fear involved, the fear of the
unknown! Now what is most interesting about this unique dream/experience is that after a few
times I started to get used to it and so I became less and less afraid of this force or entity and instead
of resisting it and trying to escape by waking up, I would begin to relax and welcome the energy
taking over my entire being and I would feel this force lifting me off the bed as usual but I was no
longer afraid and tense. I stopped trying to call out for help, and I began to feel that this mysterious
force was no longer demonic but benevolent and compassionate in nature. I made friends with it,
you might say. I began to enjoy the experience instead of being desperately terrified of it; it was no
longer a dreaded ordeal.
    Interestingly, the last time I can remember having had this dream was during my first year of
monkhood at the condo-cave in Sri Lanka and it was when I was recovering from a tropical virus
and fever. I was having these incredibly vivid and imaginative dreams [that would have made
fantastic movies!] and one night, quite unexpectedly, this mysterious but familiar energy came
back after many years absence and I relaxed and welcomed it like an old friend. The energy was
less powerful than before but it was very loving and reassuring as it again lifted me off the bed, and
this time something different happened: it became a blue light [or was it ultraviolet?] and it began
to scan the length of my body up and down several times as if it was healing it of diseases and

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infections. It was a wonderful dream experience and the following few days I felt so peaceful and
calm and free from any kind of mental stress or concern.
    I haven’t thought of this dream for some years until I heard that man from Arizona telling of his
similar experience on AM radio this morning. Amazing coincidence. I’m sure there are others
who’ve had the same frightening dream experience but I’m not sure if some of them eventually
made friends with this mysterious, overwhelming energy as I did. Upon reflection, I have a hunch
that this mysterious “demonic” force was an actual physical phenomenon caused by the brain itself
as an electro-chemical surge of energy during sleep; some children have them and some don’t,
that’s just nature. And this surge of energy not only seemed terrifying and overwhelming but it
created the sensation of being physically lifted up from the bed because I remember when the
energy or force began to dissipate I would begin to feel peaceful and relaxed again and being back
on the bed. Another interesting phenomenon of nama-rupa that began in childhood, eh what?


June 21, 2000
     This afternoon I’m meeting Roberta who’s affiliated with a Dharma group that is keen on the
Theravada tradition, namely the Thai forest tradition. I first heard about this group when I was in
Taiwan, and I thought they would welcome me when I got to Toronto since I was a Theravada
monk and they were a Theravada group. But when I contacted them and left a message on their
answering machine introducing myself and mentioning that I had taken ordination in Sri Lanka
there was no reply. After a couple of weeks, I left another message and still no reply, so I decided
to let them be: let sleeping dogs lie, as they say, although I must admit that I was a bit surprised at
their snobbery which I found unusual. Only later did I find out that not only were they were
attached to monks/nuns of the Thai forest tradition, namely from Ajahn Chah’s tradition of which
Ajahn Sumedho was the most senior monk in the west and who resided at Amaravati monastery in
the UK, but they had a particular, if not unhealthy attachment to a certain Canadian monk of that
tradition so much so that many of them would only attend his talks and retreat sessions and no one
else’s. I began to wonder what kind of Dharma they were practicing?
      I first met Roberta at one of the talks given by this Canadian monk and since I was wearing a
Mahayana Chinese smock instead of Theravada robes hardly any one noticed my presence. I was
sitting at the back and with some of the people attending my Sunday sessions at the educational
center. Before the talk I spoke with Roberta mainly because she was obviously not originally from
Canada and after briefly introducing myself, I mentioned that I was conducting a weekly
meditation class at the International Student Center at U of T and she seemed interested to attend.
So, Roberta began attending my sessions at U of T and she appreciated my style of teaching and
what I had to offer which included, ironically, readings from the teachings of Ajahn Chah and
Ajahn Sumedho.
    Being from Asia, she was more open-minded than the local Canadians who lacked travel
experience and exposure, plus she was in charge of Dharma activities for the group and wished to
find different teachers to come and share their understanding and experience although she was
aware of their immature attachment to this Canadian monk, especially the older members of the
group and some of them were on the committee. Once she invited the members to attend one of my
day-retreats at the educational center and only four of them showed up, including herself, and they
were all recent members but somehow I wasn’t surprised. It’s not easy to let go of personal
attachment and craving!


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    Roberta and I have a pleasant chat over coffee and because she has been to India and Thailand
several times, she’s interested in my recent experiences and perceptions of those two countries.
She can definitely relate to the crowds, poverty, dirt and pollution, and she, too, finds it more
challenging to be in India as the body gets older and more sensitive. I tell her about my challenging
experience during alms round in Thailand on the king’s birthday and having to carry so much food
and bottles of water, she laughs like crazy shaking her head in disbelief and at the cultural irony of
the Thai people giving compulsively in order to make merit for their future lives and totally
ignoring the plight of the suffering monks. So it goes in modern Thailand.
     Roberta and I then discuss the clinging behaviour of many of the Theravada group members
including their strong infatuation with this particular monk. From listening to his talk on tape, I can
see why people are attracted to him: he’s very personable, gentle and charming, but I still feel that
it’s unhealthy and immature to be too attached to a particular teacher because he/she becomes
more important than the Dharma. I’m reminded of the story about a particular monk who was very
infatuated with the Buddha and he just wanted to look adoringly at the Tathagata for long periods
of time; you can say he became obsessed with the Buddha’s appearance and the sound of his voice,
and so the Tathagata had to reprimand him to go away and seek the Dharma in his own mind and
body for what he was looking at was only the physical form that was subject to sickness, decay and
death. I feel that when people lack travelling experience and exposure, they mostly remain
insecure and self-centered even though they’re exposed to the Dharma, and so they behave like
ducklings clinging to the mother duck when they meet a teacher whom they like. It’s called the
“duckling syndrome.” Many westerners behave in a similar fashion with Tibetan lamas – this is
not surprising.
    What is also interesting about this Theravada group is that they want the cultural tradition of
chanting in Pali, and if this particular monk is not available, then they only want monks or nuns
from Amaravati Monastery who are trained in the Thai Forest tradition. And they want these
monastics to follow the vinaya precepts as strictly as possible, as if they’re living in a Thai forest
monastery. Imagine! This blind attachment and rigidity is an indication of their ignorance and lack
of common sense; they naively believe that they can only learn the Dhamma from strict Thai forest
monastics, but really they’re just following their defilements and confusion. They’re too idealistic,
naïve and uninformed. I get the feeling that the committee members are quite conservative,
uptight, narrow-minded and insecure, and it’s best that I stay away from them. I wouldn’t be
surprised to hear that they end up having a lot of conflicts among themselves and with some of the
visiting monastics – it’s bound to happen, sooner or later. They’re clinging to the outer form of the
tradition and ignoring the essence of the Dharma. When you see the Dharma you see your own
mind and it’s defilements.
     I find the Dharma groups in the UK more open-minded and welcoming even though their
main teachers might be monks and nuns who are connected to Amaravati Monastery and its
branches. There’s even a popular Tibetan Buddhist Center in south London that invites Theravada
monks to conduct Dharma sessions, which is amazing to think of it because most Tibetan Buddhist
Centers in North America would never invite a non-Tibetan teacher or someone from another
tradition. People in the UK have had a longer exposure to Buddhism and its various traditions, and
more spiritually-minded people have travelled to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and SE Asia, not to
mention China, Japan and Korea. I mention to Roberta that I’m thinking of writing a letter to this
Canadian monk since only he might be able to help them deal with their attachment to him and to
the Thai Forest tradition and she thinks it would be a good idea. We shall see.



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    This evening, I’m meeting with Dharma Friends again and the focus is on mindfulness and its
benefits. As before, the gathering is well attended [close to forty people] and we begin with the
calming breath for five minutes and then a meditation sitting for twenty-five minutes; this is
sufficient time for people to calm down and focus after the day’s activities. As before, I find the
hum from the air-system quite soothing and centering, and I’m feeling calm, clear and confident
after the sitting; perhaps the coffee I had with Roberta also has something to do with it. I begin by
handing out a few raisins to each person in the large circle and together we take two of the dried
fruit and slowly chew on them being mindful of tasting, chewing, and swallowing using the
method of mentally noting, “chewing, chewing”, “tasting, tasting”, “swallowing, swallowing.”
Then we repeat this mindful eating with the rest of the raisins and continue noting the experience.
This is a novel and intriguing experience for everyone present and I explain the origin and purpose
of the noting method in being mindful and going beyond the conditioned duality of experience thus
gaining the insight of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self.
    I also mention how we are easily caught by sense objects in daily life especially seeing and
visible forms, hearing and sounds, thinking and thoughts/images, and how the mental noting can
help us to let go of the habitual grasping, craving and aversion. For example, it’s very easy for
desire, infatuation or sexual lust to arise in consciousness from just looking at an attractive person,
and then we chase that craving and get all hot, bothered and confused like children in a toy or
candy store simply because we don’t know how to let go of that desire. Mentally noting, “just
seeing, seeing, seeing” and “craving, craving, craving” or “lusting, lusting, lusting” can help you
to be more mindful and objective and easier able to let go of that craving or infatuation and practice
restraint without struggle or conflict. Likewise, when hearing unpleasant words, mentally note,
“just hearing, hearing, hearing.” I encourage this noting practice in daily life as an aspect of mental
training using skillful means and detachment.
    An important teaching of the Buddha is called the Fire Sermon. He said, “ O monks, all
dharmas are on fire. What is on fire? The six sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and
mind – are on fire. The six objects of the senses – form, sound, odour, flavour, touch, and mental
objects – are all on fire. The six consciousnesses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and
thinking/imagining – are all on fire. They are burning from the flames of desire, aversion, and
delusion. They are burning from the flames of birth, sickness, old age and death, and from the
flames of pain, anxiety, frustration, worry, fear, despair, hatred and ill-will. Feelings are burning
whether they are unpleasant or pleasant. Feelings arise and are conditioned by the sense organs,
objects of the sense organs, and the sense- consciousnesses. Feelings or sensations are burning
from the flames of desire, hatred and illusion, etc. Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by the
flames of desire, hatred and delusion. See the impermanent and interdependent nature of all
dharmas in order not to the enslaved by the cycle of birth and death created by the sense organs,
objects of the senses, and the sense-consciousness.”
     This teaching is, of course, related to people’s perceptions, reactions and behaviour in
relationship to the world at large and the disharmony and conflicts existing in society. Dharma
practice is about training the mind in order to cool the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion;
nirvana/nibbana means coolness of mind. These days when people find someone sexually
attractive, they say that that person is “hot.” When we are mindful, we begin to see that the ‘heat’
or ‘hotness’ is only in one’s perception, in one’s mind; one’s senses are indeed burning with the
fire of desire/craving and delusion.




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July 4, 2000
     We are now in the month of July and the weather has not been too warm and humid. I open an
old notebook and find these summer haikus:


In the midst of the plain           The sparrows                     The swallow
Sings the skylark,                  Are playing hide and seek        Turns a somersault;
Free of all things.                 Among the tea-flowers.           What has it forgotten?


Sneezing,                 A kite,                    The thunderstorm having cleared up,
I lose sight           In the same place             The evening sun shines on a tree
Of the skylark.           In yesterday’s sky.         Where a cicada is buzzing.


Oppressive heat;                        I sit cooling beneath it,      How long the day:
My mind in a whirl                       Looking up                    The boat is talking
I listen to the peals of thunder.       At the great tree.             With the shore.


With the evening breeze              What happiness,                  A stream
The water laps against              Crossing this summer river        Flowing through the town
The heron’s legs.                    Sandals in hand.                 And the willows along it.


The butterfly is perfuming           The butterfly                    Distracted with the flowers,
Its wings, in the scent               Even when pursued,              Amazed at the moon,
Of the orchid.                        Never appears in a hurry.       The butterfly!


The butterfly having disappeared,          A fallen flower                 The long night;
My spirit                                  Returning to the branch?        The sound of the water
Comes back to me.                          It was a butterfly.             Says what I think.


Moon gazing:                                 Tonight’s moon!              The cool on the bridge;
Looking at the moon, it clouds over;         Unthinkable                  The moon and I
Not looking, it becomes clear.               That there is only one!      Alone remain.


The midnight moon,             The moon in the water;               The moon in the water
A ball                         Broken and broken again              Turned a somersault

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Of coolness?                 Still it is there.                 And floated away.


Being chased,              After the moon-viewing,               Fields and mountains
The fire-fly               My shadow walking home                Drenched with rain,
Hides in the moon.         Along with me.                        A cool day-break.


How cool it is!                      Billowing clouds;               The silence!
The clouds have great peaks,         White sails                    The voice of the cicada
And lesser peaks.                   Crowding in the south.           Penetrates the rocks.


Warm afternoon;                   Buying him a kite,               The beggar,
The cicada buzzes through         The child is fretful,            Has Heaven and Earth
My sleepy imagination.            In the unending rain.            For his summer clothes.


The evening haze;               Calm days,                The stones at the bottom
Thinking of past things,        The swift years           Seem to be moving:
How far off they are!            Forgotten.               Clear water.


The moon has no intent to cast its shadow anywhere,                Tranquility:
Nor does the pond design to lodge the moon –                        Walking alone;
How serene the water of the lake!                                   Happy alone.


This is all there is;            Among the grasses,           My eyes, having seen all,
The path comes to an end         An unknown flower            Came back to
Among the parsley.                Blooming white.             The white chrysanthemums.


Though not consciously trying to guard the rice fields from intruders,
The scarcrow is not after all standing to no purpose.


Just simply alive,         Gentle evening surf,
Both of us, I              The cry of a searching gull pierces the silence,
And the poppy.             Blessed solitude.




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July 5, 2000
    Last evening someone again asked me the question, “Where do I go after I die? What happens
to me after death?”
    “Well, why don’t you wait and see, be patient, then you’ll know for sure! Everything else is
just speculation, isn’t it?” I responded.
   “Oh, I’m just curious; some people believe in reincarnation or rebirth, and some books talk
about life continuing after death. I’m actually confused about this, I don’t know what to believe.”
    “Tell me, where do you go when you’re sleeping? What happens to the ‘I’ or self in deep
sleep, before the dream state?”
   “Well, I don’t know because I’m sleeping. I’m unconscious.”
    “That’s just my point. It’s thinking that creates the ‘I’ or ‘me,’ so in deep sleep there’s no
thinking and therefore no self. Likewise, in death there’s no thinking consciousness and therefore
no self.”
   “You mean, when I die that’s it?”
   “That’s it.”
   “You mean, I don’t come back at all? That’s scary!”
   “OK, wait and see, then you’ll know for sure. Now you know why people want to believe in
reincarnation or rebirth; it gives them a sense of continuity, security and comfort; it helps them
deal with the fear and uncertainty of death, doesn’t it?
     Instead of this common belief the Buddha taught instead the law of dependent origination or
dependent co-rising – that things arise due to causes and conditions and things disintegrate when
those conditions no longer exist. But many Buddhist books and teachers speak about rebirth the
way Hindus and Tibetans speak about reincarnation, the only difference is that the Buddhists say
that it’s the khammic energy that takes rebirth into a new body and not the self since the Buddha
said that there was no permanent, concrete and separate self.
    Actually, the question you originally asked is due to your sense of self being caught up in the
thought process and so you think and believe that you are a separate, independent entity apart from
nature and the elements. Thought is linear reality, the immensity of life is multi-dimensional,
thought cannot possibly grasp this reality, this immensity and complexity. Thought is limited,
isolating, divisive and fragmentary. You see, thinking and language can be misleading. For
example, we tend to say things like, ‘ I came into this world’ or ‘We came into this world’…..this
implies that we actually came from another solar system and landed here as aliens, unconnected
and unannounced. This is the illusion of separation and duality. But in fact, we didn’t come into the
world as separate, independent entities but rather we came out of the world, out of the elements
and solar energy, like leaves from a tree or waves from the ocean. Understand?”
   Some people say that consciousness continues after death but this shows that they do not fully
understand the five aggregates of experience that constitutes a person – form, feeling, perception,
mental reaction and consciousness. These five factors are interdependent and interconnected –
consciousness cannot exist by itself when the other four are no more. You cannot separate your
nose from your face.
   The Buddha said, ‘I only teach one thing: the truth of dukkha [suffering and unsatisfactoriness]
and the quenching of dukkha.’ Whether or not there’s rebirth or reincarnation is not really

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important. We should be focusing more on the arising of dukkha and the quenching of dukkha.
This is why the Buddha taught about anatta [non-self/emptiness]; once anatta is fully realized,
there’s no more dukkha and dis-ease. The teaching of anatta is essential to the ending of dukkha.
Arguments and discussions about whether there’s rebirth/reincarnation or not are really a waste of
time. Actually, when you ask the question, ‘Where do I go after I die?’ or ‘What happens to me
after death?’ – it’s actually thinking that’s asking the question, do you see this?”
   “No. What do you mean?”
   “Thinking is a response to memory, past experience and knowledge, and it projects itself into
the future – as plans, ambitions, hopes and dreams, right? It’s a movement in time, from past to
future; this is just the nature of the thought process. Death is the great unknown and because we’re
thinking beings, we experience the psychological fear of death, fear of the unknown, and we don’t
want to give up or lose all that we know – our family, friends, possessions, knowledge,
experiences, achievements, status, position, reputation, our hobbies and interests, life-style, libido,
and so on. So, out of fear, attachment and uncertainty, thinking projects itself beyond death and
thereby finds comfort and security in various beliefs – reincarnation, rebirth, Heaven, Eternal Life,
the Pure Land, and so on. So, the question you’re asking [Where do I go after I die?] is really
thinking projecting itself as the ‘I’ or self beyond death, right?
    In the silence of meditation, when thinking stops by itself and ceases to operate, this question
does not arise! This stillness of the mind is psychological death and the unknown – there’s freedom
from the known, time, becoming, fear and sorrow. Also, with calm attention, you see that the
question and other statements like, ‘I believe in reincarnation/rebirth’ or ‘I believe in God’ or ‘I
don’t believe in God’ are just impermanent conditions of the mind, only a string of words or
thoughts that arise and pass away. They arise and end in the mind. In fact, they’re just electrical
impulses in the frontal lobe of the brain, that’s all. Nothing to cling to or take seriously. Without
mental training, we remain imprisoned and deluded by the thinking process and so we want to
believe in reincarnation or rebirth, as it gives us psychological security and comfort. I tell people if
they wish to have this belief, go right ahead but they must realize that the Buddha taught something
quite different – the truth of suffering and the ending of suffering.”
    Speaking of rebirth, I find that many Buddhists, including educated Sri Lankans, put too much
emphasis on this belief in rebirth in a similar way that Hindus believe in reincarnation, and I find
this to be a major distraction to the Dhamma. [I say Sri Lankans because I meet them more often
than I meet Thais or Burmese, but I’m sure all the Theravada Buddhist countries believe in rebirth
and the idea of future lives]. One reason is their cultural conditioning: they blindly accept what
they read or hear from monks who they see as authority figures. They ignore the Buddha’s advise
in the Kalama Sutta, about not accepting things merely because of tradition, popular reports,
hearsay, authority of texts and popular teachers, personal preference, and so on. Devotees of
Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism are told by their teachers that in order to be a true Buddhist you
have to believe in reincarnation – hence the difficulty in appreciating the Kalama Sutta and
understanding the Dhamma without beliefs and concepts.
    Some people have said to me, “If there is no rebith after death, then what is the use of doing
Dhamma practice in this life? I might as well be ignorant and selfish and do unwholesome actions
– steal, rob banks, etc.” I find these comments quite irrational and silly, don’t you? Likewise, “If
everyone decided to became monks and nuns, don’t you think the human race will come to an
end?” I cannot help but laugh!



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    To me, mental rebirth makes more sense – i.e., the repeated arising of craving and clinging,
aversion, ill-will, and delusion – our mental defilements that cause suffering and conflict. So the
aim in Dhamma practice is to lessen this mental rebirth by learning to let go of these mental states,
thereby having more peace and wisdom in our lives.
    I remember once meeting a monk in Sri Lanka, a retired professor, and he was quite concerned
about the local Buddhists being converted by the Christian groups, plus he’d read about similar
groups in Thailand doing the same. He was anxious about Buddhism being endangered by those
aggressive Christian missionaries and he wasn’t sure what to do about this problem. I told him that
he should focus more on learning the Dhamma through meditation and reflection [he’d obviously
read and studied a great deal already] in order to overcome his fear and worry, since this was the
actual teaching of the Buddha. I reminded him that the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths and
the Four Foundations of Mindfulness in order to overcome Dukkha – mental suffering,
dissatisfaction and discontentment, dis-ease. The Buddha didn’t teach “Buddhism” as such, he
taught the Dhamma, the truth and ending of Dukkha.
    Buddhism in Sri Lanka is mostly devotional anyway, with emphasis on traditionally
ceremonies – poojas – so if some people find more satisfaction and contentment in the devotional
path of Christianity or Sai Baba, then good for them. So, you, as a monk, should be focusing on the
Dhamma, the path of wisdom, simplicity and detachment, and not worrying about trying to save
Buddhism for that is just craving and blind attachment. I also mentioned that the state of Buddhism
in Sri Lanka was in decline and this was the main reason why some Buddhists were turning to
Christianity and to Sai Baba for spiritual inspiration and guidance. They can see that many monks
are more interested in politics and material wealth than in the Buddha’s way. If people had a good
understanding of the Dhamma, they would naturally be taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and
Sangha, and not in Christianity or Sai Baba, right?
    This evening, I’m meeting Dharma Friends again for another talk and discussion. One of the
founding members of this group had mentioned earlier that some of the people who were at the last
session on mindfulness didn’t like the dynamic practice of the rhythmic hand movements but I
realized later that it was he who didn’t like the practice. Perhaps the medication he’s taking for his
AIDS condition makes it difficult for him to focus on the movements and let mental activity go.
You can’t please everyone!
    After the thirty-minute meditation, I do the hand movements again for the benefit of those who
were absent at the last session and the feedback is very positive. And again, I speak about the
importance of seeing thoughts more objectively and training the mind to let go of illogical,
irrational thoughts that cause suffering, conflict, and dis-ease. My main topic for the evening is on
the nature of fear and the use of skilful means in dealing with fear and other mental states. The talk
is well received and the discussion is lively and humourous, and I stress again the benefits of
loving kindness meditation in overcoming conflict and negativity, lustful desire, fear and
insecurity.


July 10, 2000
    This morning, a nurse at Casey House calls to inform me that Alan passed away last evening
with his family members and close friends around him; he’d been in a coma for three days. I’m
happy that his suffering is over and that his family members were very loving and supportive; the
staff and volunteers will remember him with fondness and compassion. I’m having some regret
that I wasn’t able to spend more time with him before he went into coma but I see that this is

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self-indulgent and that it’s only a temporary mental state. Regretting, regretting. Thinking,
thinking.
    I open my notebook and read again the poem on death by Kahlil Gibran – “For what is it to die
but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing but to free
the breath from its restless tides that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only
when you drink from the river of silence, shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the
mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall
you truly dance. For life and death are one as the oceans and rivers are one. [Be still and serene in
the oneness of all things].”
     I continue reading …“Birth, existence and death are just parts of a process in a much vaster and
timeless reality…we are temporary apertures through which the Universe becomes aware of
itself…birth is the beginning of suffering, death is the end of suffering…Everything on earth, on
this beautiful planet, lives and dies, comes into being and withers away. To grasp this whole
movement of life requires intelligence – not the intelligence of the intellect or books or knowledge,
but the intelligence of love and compassion with its sensitivity. Death isn’t some horrific thing,
something to be avoided, something to fear, to be postponed, but rather something to be with on a
daily basis. And out of that awareness comes an extraordinary sense of love, mystery, joy and
immensity. [J. Krishnamurti]
    The Buddha saw that births and deaths were but outward appearances and not true reality, just
as millions of waves rise and fall incessantly on the surface of the ocean while the ocean itself is
beyond birth and death. If the waves understood that they themselves were water, they would
transcend birth and death, and arrive at true inner peace overcoming all fear and anxiety. This
realization enabled the Buddha to transcend the net of birth and death. The contemplation on the
empty nature of all phenomena is truly wondrous. It leads to liberation from all fear, worry and
suffering. It will help you transcend the world of birth and death. [Thich Nhat Hanh]
    This month on the full moon, the traditional Rains Retreat will begin in Theravada countries
and it will be also observed by monks in North America and other western countries from Burma,
Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam and Sri Lanka, to varying degrees of strictness; it’ll
officially end on the full moon during October, after three months. This tradition began during the
time of the Buddha when he wanted the monks to stay in one place during the annual monsoon
season and concentrate on their practice and Dharma study since the wet climate and frequent
flooding in northern India were inconvenient for moving around. During this retreat period, monks
can leave their abode for no longer than seven days in case of important matters to attend to. Some
monks follow this rule very strictly and some are more flexible depending on the temple or
monastery, and the country. Although there’s no monsoon season as such in western countries
during July - October, this period is still observed to varying degrees by the Theravada monks
around the world because it’s traditional. A few places in the west have sensibly adapted the winter
months for their retreat period since the cold and often dreary weather is more conducive to
introspection/reflection, study and practice.
    Then there’s the Kathina Ceremony where the lay devotees will offer robes and requisities to
the monks after that period. Actually, most monks these days in SE Asia and foreign countries
don’t really need new robes and the huge amount of requisites that are offered – soap, toothpaste,
toothbrushes, towels, mouthwash, plastic shavers, shaving cream, even aftershave lotion, writing
pads and pens, pencils and note books, flashlight and batteries, skin lotion, etc, etc. Most temples
are filled with these things plus many unused robes, but tradition is tradition and it’s a good excuse
to have yet another ceremony and social gathering, so why not, eh? Whenever I visit a Sri Lankan
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temple in the west, sure enough, I’ll find a closet full of towels, soap, toothpaste and tooth brushes,
etc., plus a big pile of robes; and the kitchen cupboard will be full of packets of white sugar and tea,
plus loaves of white sliced bread in the kitchen.
    Devotees will habitually bring these items, namely the white sugar, bread and tea to the temple
without bothering to ask the monks what they really need. It’s not surprising that many monks
have diabetes! And at the house dana ceremonies, people tend to offer the same things: towels,
soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, plastic shavers, and so on. In the end, it’s really a waste of money; it’s
giving without wisdom and awareness. I feel it’s more practical for the devotees to give pocket
money so that when the monks need something they can buy it themselves without having to
depend on lay people, who are busy enough these days with work and family affairs, to get the
monks these specific things. I don’t have a problem using money; it’s just something to be used
and not something to get obsessed about. Monks and nuns of the Thai forest tradition don’t touch
money and they have to depend on lay devotees to get them everything including travel tickets.
      This afternoon, I’m visiting some friends whose son has a obsessive, compulsive, behavioral
problem: he’s afraid of dirt and is constantly washing his hands. This condition has caused him to
stop his university studies and it has forced him to remain at home, and he’s only twenty-two years
old. It’s unfortunate because he’s smart and charming and his parents don’t know what to do about
it. I speak with Calvin’s mother about getting him professional help and she says she would have to
take his case to a medical board before having him admitted for treatment. She knows this would
cause him a lot of suffering and resentment and this would make her feel very guilty and upset. She
once took him to see a doctor and he refused to have the doctor touch him from fear of
contamination. Calvin believes that he’ll be OK as long he remains at home but his idea of security
is irrational and unreliable simply because his parents and siblings are not permanent.
     I stand at the bathroom door and watch him wash his hands using liquid soap for several
minutes, then he starts to wash the taps and faucet and then back to his hands. It’s like a religious
ritual of purification that he has to perform throughout the day and this seemingly innocent act is
preventing him from leading a normal life. I remember being a teenager in boarding school in
Jamaica and having periods of mental obsession with different things but somehow they always
went away.
     I have a yoga-meditation session with Calvin and a discussion afterwards and he seems
perfectly “normal” and cordial except that his hands are noticeably very dry and scaly from over-
washing. I mention that I have a friend in Singapore who had the same obsessive, compulsive
behaviour but she was able to cure herself of it by using mindfulness and a great deal of
determination. I explain mindfulness to him and the noting method but I realize that my occasional
visit to see him will not be enough to motivate him to overcome this mental condition; he’ll need
daily instruction and guidance plus perhaps some medication if he’s willing to get medical
treatment, which I doubt he’ll agree to for the time being. He’s hoping his mental condition will go
away somehow, as if by magic, and that he’ll be able to finish his university course, get a job and
eventually move out on his own. His family members are also hoping the same, but I have a feeling
his condition will get worse than better without medical treatment and proper guidance and
therapy.


July 13, 2000
  Today, May Ling and I are visiting the Dharma group at Warkworth Correctional Institute.
We’re invited to attend a lunch put on by the inmates and the warden will be present along with the

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person in charge of the Chaplaincy Department. Two days ago, I called Calvin’s mother and she
said Calvin doesn’t think the yoga-meditation is of any use but she did notice that he was much
more relaxed than usual during the evening after my visit. I told her to call me if Calvin was
interested to have another session with me.
    I first heard of this Dharma group in prison from May Ling three years ago; they had written to
her c/o the Student Buddhist Association requesting Dharma books and a possible
English-speaking teacher to visit them. The founder and leader of the group, Karl Sommer, had
previously invited some Thai monks in the Toronto area but their English was limited and they
were only able to do some chanting, which the group appreciated nonetheless. In order to visit this
group, I had to fill out an application form, giving references, send it to the Chaplaincy Dept. and
then wait for security clearance.
    For my first visit, my driver was Fong, May Ling’s friend from Hong Kong, and he also had
security clearance so he could accompany me inside the prison. During the two-hour drive, going
east on the 401 HWY and then turning off and going north towards the town of Campbellford, we
had a pleasant chat about Hong Kong, Dhamma Garden and Ven. Sudhammo, Po Lin Temple and
the giant Buddha statue, Malaysia, Thailand and India, his education and employment in Canada,
plus our shared excitement and mild nervousness about visiting a Correctional Center for the first
time. I observed the nervous excitement with calm attention and knew it was only a temporary
mental state and empty of self. I also observed the mental images of prison movies I’d seen
through the years – the gang violence and intimidation, the anger, fear and frustration, the brutality
of the guards – and reminded myself that they were only images [only thinking, thinking, thinking]
and that it would be different inside Warkworth Correctional Institute; one’s preconceived ideas
and images about people and places are usually very different from reality and direct experience.
Besides, Kingston Penitentiary is a maximum-security prison while Warkworth is a medium
security place; it should be fine, I reassured myself.
     Along the highway, we looked out for a large sign indicating the turn off for the Correctional
Center and found none. We got to the town and they told us that we had to turn back because we’d
missed the turn off and the small sign – it wasn’t a large, bold sign as we’d assumed. Eventually,
we found the turn off and the sign was purposely small and unassuming – the authorities obviously
didn’t want to attract a lot of attention –it’s no wonder we’d missed it the first time we drove by.
The countryside was lovely with trees, wild flowers and open uncultivated fields; there were no
farms along this road. After a few kilometers, we got to a large open area devoid of trees and there
were large buildings scattered over several acres of green fields. The entire area was surrounded by
tall fences, just like in the movies except that there were no guard towers with security men with
guns. So, this was the largest prison in Canada containing 600 to 700 inmates and it was medium
security. The location was scenic and ideal for such a place but out-of-the-way; now I could
understand why getting here by public transportation was out of the question.
     Fong and I drove with anticipation towards the main entrance and then we saw a large, bold
sign indicating exactly where we were. Yes, we were indeed going inside this prison to meet the
Dharma group and the nervous excitement was palpable; it was an adventure into the unknown for
both of us and there was no turning back. We came to a very large parking lot and it was full of
private vehicles belonging to mainly employees and officials. Prisons employ a lot of people. We
parked the car, got out and then walked to the main gate. There was a sign that said, “Please wait
for the gate to open.” We stood there for a few seconds taking deep breaths, trying to stay calm and
cool, then the gate slid open electronically sideways and we stepped inside and walked towards a
second gate as the main gate slid back into closed position behind us. Yes, indeed, there was no

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turning back! We stood in front of the second gate for a few seconds and it also slid open and then
closed behind us. There were now two closed gates between us and the parking lot. Then we
entered the entrance area through an electronic door that buzzed before we could open it and with
a red light going on above the door; the sign had said: “Please wait for the light to go on before
opening door.”
    Inside the entrance area we were greeted by a lady in uniform. We told her we were here to
meet the Buddhist group in the Chaplaincy and she checked her list of expected visitors and sure
enough, our names were there. Then she proceeded to check both our Driver’s Permits and the
contents of my monk’s bag. Then she placed our ID cards inside a machine to see if there were any
traces of drugs on them. Negative. Apparently, a lot of drugs were brought inside the prison by
visitors and employees, mainly by the latter. Then she phoned the Chaplaincy Department to
inform them we had arrived and that we were on our way. Through the glass, I could see a security
officer sitting in a booth on a higher level; he was in charge of opening and closing the outer gates
and the inside gates leading from the entrance area to inside the prison itself. The lady officer then
placed visitor badges on our lapels for security reasons and then she told us to walk slowly through
the metal detector and then stand in front of the inside gate and wait for it to open, then the second
gate would open and close behind us. Once we got inside, we were to proceed along the walkway
and then turn left and walk all the way down to the Chaplaincy Department. Easy as pie.
    A few inmates were walking around wearing light blue shirts and light grey pants. Along the
way, we were met by a man of medium height, with a brush cut hair style and a big smile, who
greeted us in the traditional Thai manner with palms held together saying, “Sawadee krap” and
then shook our hands enthusiastically. This was Karl Sommer, the founder and leader of the
Dharma group at Warkworth, who thanked us profusely with a German accent for coming all the
way from Toronto. Karl was curious about my background, naturally, and I learnt that he came
upon Buddhism while travelling in Thailand some years ago before eventually marrying a Thai
lady and having a son. He informed us that our visit was a special social occasion for the inmates as
they had contributed funds for a special lunch, which was prepared by Karl himself, who was fond
of cooking. He led us to the Chaplaincy area that had flower beds and vegetable gardens, an office
building and a chapel for Sunday services.
    Inside the office building we were met by the two supervisors of the department and I had a
chat with the head person in his office. He was naturally curious about Buddhism as he was only
exposed to Christianity, and he informed me that most of the inmates were serving around five
years for theft, extortion, physical or sexual assault, and drug possession. Karl was serving ten
years for trying to bring drugs into Canada from Thailand for the purpose of trafficking so he could
support his wife and son; had he been caught in Malaysia or Singapore, he would have gotten the
mandatory death sentence.
    Before lunch, I met the inmates briefly, around twenty-five in number, in the hall inside the
office building, and then I gave a talk on the three defilements, the three qualities of the Buddha,
and the benefits of mental cultivation and loving kindness meditation. Then we had a question and
answer period mainly about meditation practice and learning to deal with mental-emotional states
which was quite lively and inspired, and they expressed their wish for me to visit again in the near
future. We ended the session with loving kindness meditation, and then we had an amazing lunch
and finished it off with chocolate cake and ice cream plus tea and coffee. It was quite a feast and
sometimes it was hard to believe that we were actually inside a prison. Karl was quite the cook and
organizer. I was told by the head supervisor that the warden liked to encourage these
social-religious/spiritual events at Warkworth as they helped the inmates a great deal. Karl told me

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that the regular meditation group was about fifteen in number and that they met for group
meditation and discussion/reading once a week at the Chaplaincy; the person in charge of the
Dharma books would bring them in a box to the meetings so that the members could borrow and
return books.
    The gathering that day was quite international: people from Europe, India, West Indies, China,
Hong Kong, Philippines, Viet Nam, and some local Canadians. Fong was able to chat with the
Hong Kong inmates in Cantonese. One pleasant chap I met was called Jim; he was a keen Dharma
practitioner, thirty-five years old, and had already served eighteen years for killing someone when
he was seventeen years old after losing his temper; he had seven years to go to complete his life
sentence. Jim spent the first ten years of his sentence at a maximum security prison, then he was
transferred to another place for six years, then he came to Warkworth two years ago when he met
Karl and joined the Dharma group.
    Another interesting person was a sad young man, Chu, from China, who was noticeably
suffering from remorse and regret, and had not been in touch with his family because of this. He
never told me what his crime was but he might have killed someone after losing his temper like Jim
or he might have been involved in a gang-related murder. Karl had taken him under his wing, so to
speak, and was encouraging him to get involved with Dharma practice. After a few visits, I was
able to encourage him to write to his family to say that he was fine and not to worry about him; he
found the loving kindness meditation very beneficial and he was able to smile again.
    After that first visit with Fong, I was able to visit the group several times during the summer
and fall of 1998 with a friend, Victor, who was happy to drive me to Warkworth. We were able to
have yoga and chi gong sessions in the chapel plus Dharma discussions before having a group
lunch organized and prepared by Karl. Sometimes I brought them incense, small pictures of the
Buddha and Quan Yin, and handout material, and some individuals requested small statues of the
Buddha, which I was unable to bring. One person belonged to the Wicker group and wanted me to
visit them, and another belonged to a 60 + group and wanted me to visit that group but I was unable
to do so due to my dependency on Victor for transportation and my schedule in the Toronto area.
     It’s nice to be back at Warkworth and to meet Karl, Jim, Chu, and others again. I had written a
letter to Karl from Thailand last December and he’s happy to see my postcards of Thailand, India
and Hong Kong; he had also been to India before going to Thailand. Needless to say, he misses his
wife and son very much and he’s hoping to be free by 2002. Jim tells me that he and another inmate
from the Dharma group are to be transferred soon to a minimum-security place north of Toronto
where they’ll be allowed to go out shopping once or twice a month, see an afternoon movie, do
some volunteer work, meet family members in the town, and so on; it’ll be a gradual adjustment
period for them during the next five years to face life outside a Correctional Institute after twenty
plus years behind bars. They’re hoping to start a similar Dharma group at this new place and hope
that I’ll be able to visit them when possible.
    Today is a big social lunch where friends and family members are invited plus the Chaplaincy
supervisor and the warden; again, it’s put on by the inmates and Karl is the main cook and
organizer, they’ve even managed to do a barbecue with potato and garden salads, pasta, boiled
corn, a grand dessert with ice cream plus tea, coffee and juice. Before the meal, the supervisor says
grace and at the end I’m asked to give a short speech after the warden’s speech of thanks, and I end
by chanting a blessing in Pali. During the meal, May Ling and I have a pleasant chat with the
warden who is an intelligent, progressive and compassionate man; he says that he would like to
have more of these social events involving family members and friends at Warkworth because


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they’re not only pleasant occasions that the inmates can enjoy and participate in, but they help the
inmates feel better about themselves and this is very important and beneficial in the long run.


July 15, 2000
   This morning I’m reading The Three Refuges – The Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha – by Ajahn
Sumedho of Amaravati Monastery in the UK. It is a good reflection indeed.
     Refuge in the Buddha. What is a refuge? A refuge is a place of safety, a secure place where it is
peaceful and sane, not crazy, insane and confused. A place where there is understanding,
intelligence and harmony, away from the world of confusion and disharmony, craving and greed,
hatred and ill-will, ignorance and delusion. Because people’s minds are restless and confused, they
are caught by craving, resentment and delusion. And so they take refuge in the wrong things: they
kill and hurt others, they steal and cheat, they compete with others and get angry and upset, they
say bad things and spread rumours.
    People behave very selfishly, only thinking about themselves and what they possess; they only
think in terms of ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ Their minds are caught in this illusion of self or ego and so they
cause problems for themselves and for others. Most people do not understand themselves,
understand their own minds and the laws of Nature and are therefore restless and confused,
constantly grasping and clinging to worldly things including to ideas, concepts, ideals, views and
opinions. They do not know about the Dhamma, the nature of the world and the way things are.
    The more we understand the Dhamma through study, reflection and meditation practice [mind
training and cultivation], the more we begin to realize the profundity, the depth and vastness of the
Buddha’s teachings. And it becomes a real joy, very exciting and wonderful, to take the three
refugees in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and this inspires in the mind. Many traditional
Buddhists in countries like Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka constantly repeat or chant the three
refuges during their ceremonies but it’s just a habitual repetition of words – it doesn’t mean
anything after awhile. It’s just a habit.
    Similarly, the taking of the five precepts by the lay devotees has become a habitual part of the
ceremony; it becomes empty and meaningless after sometime. So they keep taking the five
precepts at every ceremony and they keep breaking the precepts. It’s nothing special. People do not
bother to reflect, to think over, and actually find out, investigate what they mean: what Refuge
mean, what Buddha mean, and so on. Just repeating words is not enough: we have to calm the
mind first and then reflect, contemplate on what they mean.
    The word BUDDHA is a lovely and interesting word. It means ‘the One who is awake’ or ‘the
One who knows,’ the person who is alert and wise, intelligent, clear and peaceful, patient, kind and
compassionate. And the first refuge is in the Buddha as the personification, the human symbol and
example of wisdom and compassion. What was the Buddha awake to? He was awake, alert and
sensitive to the problems, confusion and suffering of the world. He understood the truths of
existence and nature of the human condition.
    When we take refuge in the Buddha, it doesn’t mean that we take refuge in a person or in a god
or some savior; we take refuge in that which is wise, intelligent, sane, kind and compassionate in
the world, in the universe, in human nature, in our own minds and hearts. it means that we dedicate
ourselves to the noble path, to the way of understanding, peace and wisdom. It means that we want
to follow the Buddha’s example, the example of Siddhartha Gotama, in seeking the highest truth,


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enlightenment, so that our minds can be free of worry, fear, anxiety, sorrow, craving, hatred and
delusion [mental suffering] and we can become peaceful and joyful human beings.
    The Buddha was a healer, a doctor of mental-emotional problems, and in teaching the
Dhamma he wanted us to understand our own minds and to take responsibility for our own mental
health and sanity and not to depend on others. He wanted us to awaken our own Buddha Nature,
our own wisdom mind.
     Some people worship the Buddha as a god, as a supernatural being, asking for good luck in
business and family matters, and then asking for more money and wealth. They pray and wave joss
sticks at the Buddha statue. This is called joss stick Buddhism! This is only superstition caused by
fear, uncertainty, insecurity and craving/desire. They want the Buddha, as a powerful, outside
agent, to help them fulfill their wishes and dreams. This is not the true meaning of taking refuge in
the Buddha. Superstitious people also want charms and talismans to protect them from ghosts and
spirits, bullets and knives, etc. They often ask monks to give them these things and they are willing
to pay a lot for them. This is taking refuge in fear and superstition, and this doesn’t help us because
fear will come back again and again to trouble us. Dealing with fear takes a lot of awareness and
insightful understanding.
    People in western countries are now more modern and sophisticated, they don’t take refuge in
magic charms. Christians take refuge in the belief that there is a God and eternal life after death.
People take refuge in money, in the bank, in the stock market, in lottery tickets hoping to win a lot
of money. People take refuge in material possessions, romantic relationships and sense pleasures,
they believe these pleasures will give them true and lasting happiness and security. Some take
refuge in their physical beauty, good health and strength. But that is still taking refuge in things
which offer no real safety because these things are impermanent, temporary and uncertain. These
things and conditions around us and in us can change at any time. We cannot guarantee what will
happen in the future.
    Life is uncertain, always changing, only death is certain. Our bodies and physical looks have to
change. We have to grow old, experience illness, and we all have to die someday. Our health and
strength have to change, this is the law of nature. So there is no safety in the material and physical
world. Our parents, spouses and children, and friends also have to grow old and die someday.
    Taking refuge in the Buddha, in wisdom, in right understanding and view, when we understand
the conditions of this world, when we live and act wisely, we can accept these natural changes, the
ups and downs of life with peace, humility and equanimity. This is our real place of safety, our real
home: a peaceful and wise mind that understands and accepts the changing conditions of existence.
This is the Buddha mind.
     Refuge in the Dhamma. It is to walk in the footsteps of the Buddha and other wise and noble
beings, to follow their example. It is to devote one’s life to spiritual growth and understanding, to
clearly realize the nature of existence so that we can become like the Buddha – wise, peaceful,
patient, kind and compassionate. The Dhamma is not separate from daily living, it is not a subject
that you read in books about Buddhism and philosophy. It has to do with the nature of the world
and the human condition and not what our conditioned minds think or believe it to be. Our
conditioned minds prevent us from seeing the world as it really is. It is limited and is caught in the
illusion of thoughts, ideas and concepts, and images. Hence, our confusion, greed, anxiety, fear,
prejudices, anger and so on. It is our conditioned mind that gives us problems.
   So taking refuge in the Dhamma is to follow the path of self-knowledge, wisdom and freedom.
The Buddha did not invent or create the Dhamma, some new philosophy about life; he was simply

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awakened, enlightened to the truths of existence, the laws of Nature and the human condition,
which existed before the Buddha and still exist today. So when we are awakened, when we
understand the Dhamma, we too become Buddhas. We become timeless, unconditioned and free.
The practice of Dhamma is not dependent on being a monk or nun, it depends in right understand
and view. The Dhamma is timeless, eternal Truth or Reality. It is beyond the conditioned mind,
beyond the thinking process and the concept of self. It is always here and now like the air and sky.
    Refuge in the Sangha. Sangha means a community of monks and nuns, also lay devotees, a
spiritual group of friends. People who can encourage and inspire you to lead a noble life towards
wisdom and peace. The Buddha encouraged people to have noble friends for guidance, support
and inspiration. A teacher should be a noble friend and guide. Following the example of the noble
ones, we do good deeds, avoid bad, unwholesome actions, and we purify the mind through training
and cultivation. We try our best to observe the precepts.
     We take refuge in virtue, in that which is good, decent, kind, generous and compassionate.
Patience is a virtue. We don’t take refuge in those things in our minds that are mean, nasty, cruel,
selfish, jealous, hateful and resentful, and greedy. In our relationships we strive to be kind, patient
and understanding so that there is peace and harmony, no division and conflict. If someone gives
us problems we don’t hold a grudge, we don’t get angry and cling to negative emotions. We
forgive and let go, we let go of conflicts and bad memories and hurt feelings. If we cling to these
things, we only suffer. Our minds will not be peaceful, our hearts will not be open and loving.
     We all have good thoughts and feelings, and sometimes bad thoughts and feelings. Conditions
in the world are changing and impermanent, good and bad thoughts and feelings come and go, they
change. But we take refuge in virtue, in goodness rather than in hatred, resentment and aversion, in
bad conditions of the mind. We take refuge in our wholesome states of mind which are kind,
compassionate and loving towards ourselves and others. Actually, when we reflect more, we begin
to see that the real enemy, the real problem in life are our own defilements and unwholesome
states, our anger and aversion, pride, arrogance, selfishness, and so on.
     So refuge in the sangha is a very practical, useful refuge in everyday living. We can have
peace, goodwill and harmony with others and with ourselves. We don’t blame other people for our
problems, for the way we feel. We have to take complete responsibility for our mental-emotional
states, for how we live, for our speech and actions. it is easy to blame others, our family and
friends, our parents, our politicians, our society, our country, our teachers: “If only they were wise,
intelligent, kind and understanding, etc,. then I wouldn’t be having these problems!”
     When we take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, we realize that to blame others for
our problems, for the way we feel, is immature and a complete waste of time. We have to take
responsibility for our won life and live it with intelligence and wisdom. Even if we had bad or poor
parents, it still doesn’t matter. There is no one to blame but ourselves, our own ignorance,
selfishness, pride, arrogance and conceit. We forgive, we let go of those bad memories. Here and
now! We free the mind of defilements, unwholesome thoughts and feelings. This is the path of
maturity, truth and peace, the path of wholesome living, mind training and cultivation, and
wisdom.


July 20, 2000
   The five precepts that are voluntarily taken by the lay devotees are – to refrain from harming
and killing, to refrain from taking that which is not given or offered, to refrain from sexual

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misconduct, to refrain from harmful speech, and to refrain from intoxicants. These precepts are
meant to be guidelines so that we can live more mindfully and skillfully in body and speech so that
there is more harmony and consideration in relationship and society. You can see them as a way of
training ourselves to be more alert and aware instead of behaving heedlessly and selfishly,
following our habits and impulses. They are not meant to be rigid, inflexible rules that you’re
condemned to hell if you break any of them. They are standards that we can reflect on and use so
that we are more responsible for what we do and say.
      Regarding the fifth precept about intoxicants, people often ask whether it’s bad or not to have
a drink at a wedding or party, or a glass of wine with a meal. As mentioned, precepts are guidelines
and not rigid rules or commandments, so moderation is the important and sensible thing to
consider. Getting drunk, binge drinking, becoming violent, driving under the influence, etc.
obviously has its problems and possible dangers, yes? And if one is involved in meditation
practice, refraining from intoxicants is indeed beneficial, needless to say.
     Another version of the five precepts is – to be aware of the suffering that comes from harming
and killing, to be aware of the suffering that comes from taking that which is not given, to be aware
of the suffering that comes from sexual misconduct, to be aware of the suffering that comes from
unskillful speech, and to be aware of the suffering that comes from talking intoxicants. So
awareness, compassion, mutual respect, peace and harmony go together. This is a skillful and
mature way to live in relationship.
     Zen is simply every day life lived with awareness, spontaneity, naturalness, and inner
freedom. When a Zen Master was asked about Zen, he replied: “When you are hungry you eat,
when you are thirsty you drink, when you meet a friend you greet him, and when you’re tired you
rest.” So, why are Theravada monks not supposed to eat solid food after 12 noon? Isn’t this rule
going against the spirit of Zen and spontaneity? And why is this rule still important in Theravada
countries even though it’s not a problem for monks to obtain food during the evenings? Isn’t this
one of the minor rules that the Buddha had wanted to get rid of before he died? These are relevant
questions that people ask from time to time and ones that I have to address when I’m visiting
Theravada temples in the west and in Thailand.
     As I’d mentioned earlier in part one of this journal, during the hiking adventure in northern
Thailand, this rule about monks not having an evening meal came about because of the conditions
during the Buddha’s time. The forest monks often stayed some distance from the nearest village or
town and so it would often take a good two to three hours to do the alms round, sometimes even
longer depending on where they were staying. So it was even more inconvenient to collect food
during the evening since they would have to return to their part of the forest in the dark especially
with wild animals and poisonous snakes about, not to mention a few bandits waiting for potential
victims.
     Initially, the monks went out during the late afternoon or early evening but after some time,
the Buddha felt that it was too time consuming and so they had less time for Dharma activity and
meditation practice. Then one evening a monk showed up at this one dwelling after dusk and a
pregnant lady got frightened by his presence believing he was either a bandit or ghost; she had an
accident and miscarried the baby. When this incident was reported to the Buddha, he then decided
that monks should not go out for evening alms round, that once in the morning was enough. So,
that’s how this rule about monks not eating during the evening came about.
     The Buddha, of course, didn’t have a Seiko watch and so he wasn’t obsessed about having to
eat before the auspicious hour of 12 noon the way many monks are today. The Buddha, wouldn’t

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have been obsessed about anything, right? He said that monks should eat when the sun was high in
the sky simply because that was when people usually had their lunch and main meal.
     I recall one incident in Sri Lanka when the monks were invited to a house dana. The family
was busy and late, so by the time they brought us to the house by van the time was already 11:50
a.m. and everyone was freaking out, monks and lay people, because there was no way we were
going to finish eating before 12 noon even if we were to start eating immediately. Also, there’s
usually a short ceremony before lunch so we would eventually start eating after 12 noon anyhow,
and not before. Two of the western monks who were prone to neurotic behaviour said they weren’t
going to eat, that they would rather go hungry than break the Golden Rule; two of the Sri Lankan
monks just sat there wringing their hands helplessly, not knowing what to do; the other local monk
who was more sensible said that the time wasn’t so late and that we should proceed with the
program; and I said my usual thing: that the Buddha didn’t have a Seiko watch, and that we ought
to be flexible and use our common sense and wisdom.
    The hostess, who was flustered and worried, and feeling guilty for running behind schedule,
began to feel better and came to her senses. She pointed to another clock in the room that was
running slow – it said 11:30 a.m. – and she suggested that we follow that clock instead. Everyone
was relieved and we proceeded with the program. The sky didn’t fall on our heads and the Buddha
didn’t send a bolt of lightening from somewhere to strike us dead, for crying out loud! We have
become slaves to man-made time and tradition indeed, even monks who say they’re meditating
and studying the Dharma! Freeing the mind of conditioning is hard work indeed. Yet all it really
takes is more awareness and simple common sense.
    Theravada lay devotees are equally attached to this 12 noon rule because it’s tradition and they
dare not break it due to fear and superstitious, irrational thinking – call it blind attachment. Of all
the countries involved, the Thais and Burmese are the most strict and rigid when it comes to these
time restrictions; these two cultures are coming from a long history of militarism and warfare;
reverential, ceremonial behaviour towards kings, noble men, the Buddha and Buddhist monks,
strong traditions and many superstitious beliefs. I’m told that they are also quite strict in Cambodia
due to their military history.
     Once some Burmese devotees came to visit a Burmese monk who was staying at a Sri Lankan
temple in London, England. Some Sri Lankan devotees had brought lunch dana for the monks and
the latter were performing the traditional ceremony in the shrine room before being served lunch
by those people. This was finished a few minutes after 12 noon and then the monks proceeded to
the dining room to have the meal. No problem: they were flexible with the time. The Burmese
visitors were shocked and upset by this disregard for the Golden Rule, the auspicious 12 noon
schedule, and they never returned to visit the Burmese monk again – thinking and believing that
Sri Lankan monks were no good, that the Burmese monk was also no good for following their
style, that they weren’t real monks and so didn’t deserve their respect and support. Is this blind
attachment or what? Those types of devotees we can definitely do without, no?
     U Thittila was a Burmese monk living in London during the war years. When the Germans
were bombing London he volunteered to help the wounded as an ambulance assistant. He had to
remove his outer robe and put on a hospital smock since this dress was more practical, and his
service was much appreciated by the locals and much praised by the Buddhists in England.
However, when the people in Burma heard about this, they immediately blacklisted him; they no
longer considered him to be a real monk. That he removed his outer robe and wore something else
in public was breaking an important rule, they fussed. That he most likely helped to carry wounded
females in the process was another major disregard of the precepts. It was only some years later,
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while living back in Burma, that he was again accepted and respected by the Burmese sangha. So
much for loving kindness, compassion and common sense.
    To be honest, I’m not surprised that Burma has such an awful military government given the
military mindset of the lay people [and monks] and their blind attachment to the outer form of their
religion and Buddhist culture. To the Burmese people, including scholars and monks, the words
“metta” and “karuna” – loving kindness and compassion –are only Pali words that they read about
in the texts: noble concepts, no doubt, but very few of them really know how to express these
virtues in practical terms. They are so caught up in the outer form of tradition and rules that they
are ignorant of the essence of the Buddha’s teaching. Also, they like to put the senior monks
[Sayadaws] on very high pedestals and treat them like royalty. It is not surprising, therefore, that
many of these Sayadaws begin to feel and behave like they’re “little gods in robes.” Also, not
surprisingly, Burmese monks and lay people do not consider Mahayana monks and nuns “real”
monastics, for they eat an evening meal and they don’t wear Theravada robes. These people in SE
Asia are really living in the “dark ages.”
     A Burmese monk told me that when he was a young novice at his monastery, the rule about
not eating during the evening was very strict and they would be so hungry and miserable night
after night – so much unnecessary suffering! And for what? Just because of a rule that came about
over 2500 years ago due to the conditions in ancient India during the Buddha’s time. And no one
dared to change it even though the Buddha, before he passed away, had wanted the monks to be
more flexible with the minor rules. Instead, the senior monks decided, after much heated debate,
bickering and confusion, to play it safe and keep all the rules intact, simply to end the fuss and
confusion, and to preserve the status quo. A seemingly simple but unwise, conservative and
cowardly solution.
     A British monk told me that he was once staying at a Thai temple in the Chicago area during
the freezing winter and he was understandably wearing a woolen hat inside the temple and some of
the Thai devotees became upset by that. They told the abbot that the monk should not be wearing a
hat inside the temple as it was disrespectful to the Buddha and, of course, no one wore a hat inside
a temple in Thailand. But this is Chicago in winter! And the abbot, instead of giving them a lesson
in kindness and compassion, complied with their demands for fear of losing their support and told
him not to wear the offending hat. Sri Lankan devotees would never do that; they’re a softer, more
compassionate people, less hard-nosed and irrational.
     I remember attending an international conference once at a large Chinese temple in Taiwan; it
was a dialogue between Buddhists and Catholics, and one of the cardinals from the Vatican was
attending. One of the participants was a Thai monk, who had travel experience, spoke fair English
and had previously attended similar gatherings. He seemed friendly and open-minded but he
would always leave the meetings around 11 a.m. so he could eat lunch before 12 noon, regardless
of what was going on or how interesting the program was. One day I approached him about this
and said that he was being too fanatical about the time; that this was a Mahayana temple in Taiwan,
where no one cared about not eating before noon, that it would be nice for him to have lunch with
the other participants instead of eating alone because of this inflexible rule in his country, plus
evening meals were generously offered, no problem. Why the fear and blind attachment especially
when he was in Taiwan?
    He was actually happy and relieved that someone had said this to him, a fellow Theravada
monk, because he was so programmed by this time schedule, that it was a major offense not to eat
before 12 noon, regardless of where he was. I encouraged him to take it easy and lighten up, to be
brave and not be so rigid and anxious about the time, otherwise he was just wasting his time
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attending these conferences. After that, he chose to have lunch with me and the other participants
after 12 noon – good on him.
     And speaking of conferences, sometimes there are international sangha gatherings for monks
and nuns of all traditions, and you can imagine the problem Theravada monks have during the
evening meal in the banquet hall sitting there sipping liquid and feeling miserable but pretending to
be content and serene while the Mahayana and Tibetan monks and nuns are partaking without
hindrance in the sumptuous meal of many dishes. The sponsors and organizers are, of course,
eager to please everyone and so they would like the Theravada monks to also have the specially
prepared dinner but, alas, there’s this unspoken rule about their tradition, and it’s interesting and
funny to see them looking at the other monks eating away, and then looking at each other furtively
and hoping against hope that some of their fellow Theravada monks will be brave enough to start
eating so that they, too, can join in – each monk wanting to eat but restricted by this minor rule and
the fear of peer pressure and public opinion.
      I would say that most of the monks would wish to have something, even a light snack; they’re
human, after all. This restriction is so outdated, unnecessary and really pitiful, when you think of
it. One sensible European monk of the Theravada tradition has found a wise solution to this
dilemma during these conferences: during the day he wears Theravada robes, and during the
evening he wears Mahayana dress so he can partake of the dinner without hindrance, fear or guilt.
Quite easily done. Needless to say, he’s deeply envied by some of the more traditional monks from
SE Asia who wouldn’t dare to put on Mahayana dress especially with other Theravada monks
around. It’s a funny world, even for Buddhist monks.
     Theravada monks are officially allowed some evening food if they’re sick or have a chronic
heath condition; this is regarded as “medicinal food.” I’m told that some monks in Burma won’t
even take medicinal food if they’re sick, even if the doctor advises them to do so. And even if they
do eat something, they feel that they have to do it behind closed doors for fear of shame. Even the
much-revered teachers who are regarded as wise and compassionate are subject to blind
attachment and the fear of having a tainted self-image – so much for wisdom, compassion and the
freedom of enlightenment!
     During my travels, I’ve stayed in quite a few Mahayana temples, namely, Chinese and
Vietnamese, and taking a light evening meal is never an issue; it’s as natural as the sunrise, sunset,
the rain and the wind, breathing in and out, and going to the toilet This is the spirit of Zen. It’s not
surprising that Zen developed in China and flourished in Japan and Korea, and not in Burma or
Thailand. Different people and temperament, different climate and culture, different beliefs and
conditioning, different set of priorities, different historical influences. It really amazes me
sometimes that people of the Theravada tradition are still harping on this eating schedule even after
2500 years and contrary to the Buddha’s sublime teachings and sensible wishes. So it goes with the
human mind.


August 7, 2000
    We’re now in the month of August and it’s been a pleasant and interesting summer so far. This
morning I get e-mail from a friend and former student, Steve Morley, and he has gotten a teaching
position on the west coast, north of Vancouver, and he’s inviting me to visit him when I travel to
the west coast this coming winter. My tentative plan for the winter is to visit Vancouver, then visit
Tricia and friends in Seattle, Washington, whom I’d met in Northern Thailand last December
when we went jungle trekking together, and then proceed further south to the San Francisco Bay

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area in northern California, and then onto southern California to visit an old college friend from
Toronto, plus visit some temples in the Los Angeles area. Tricia in Seattle is keen to arrange some
Dharma sessions and mindfulness workshops for me, and I’m looking forward to visiting the many
Dharma centers and temples in the Bay Area. This will be my first time to Washington state and
California, and I’m hoping to make better Buddhist contacts in Vancouver this time.
    I call Mr. Fong and he informs me that Ven. Yin Seng has arrived back in Ottawa but he won’t
be going to Halifax until the end of this month. He gives me his number in Ottawa and I inform
him that I’ll be conducting a day-retreat for the Dharma group there on the 26th. I also plan to spend
a few days with an old Japanese friend, Koichi, who’s operating a soya food business in Hull,
Quebec; I’d trained with him for two days during 1986 in preparation for my stint as a
development worker in Sri Lanka. We had a reunion last summer in Ottawa after the day-retreat
with the Dharma group, and we had a lot of catching up to do after thirteen years. He and his
Canadian wife had divorced and their two sons had grown up and the younger one was living and
working with him in the business.
     This evening I’m at the lakeshore near Ontario Place to see a free fireworks display. I had seen
a spectacular fireworks display in Taiwan to mark the end of the Chinese New Year Celebration
and I wish to repeat this fantastic, pleasurable experience. This is the nature of the craving mind,
wanting to recreate a pleasure remembered from the past. However, this is harmless fun and an
infrequent event, so why not? There’s a large crown and the display begins at 10 p.m. It begins
with a single skyrocket illuminating the night sky to indicate the start of the show and the crowd is
excited, naturally. Then the dazzling display of colourful explosions proceeds in coordination with
carefully synchronized music. The effect is incredible, almost unbelievable, beyond words, and all
you can hear in the crowd are people going, “Wow! Ooooh! Aaaaaah!” I hear myself going,
“Wow!” while shaking my head slowly. This is so wonderful, I think to myself.
     Then I’m aware of the strong, anxious craving in consciousness because the firework
explosions are so spectacular, colourful and short-lived, that the anxiety to see more explosions is
most visceral and addictive indeed. They say that smoking crack cocaine is very addictive because
the high you feel is so incredible yet so short-lived that the craving to get high again is
overwhelming. I can see the similarity between the two addictive cravings. The show goes on for
about twenty-five minutes, that’s many thousands of dollars literally going up in smoke, and it
takes a much longer time getting home by streetcar, subway train and a bus. Was it worth it, I
wonder?


August 10, 2000
     Today is a good day to visit the park, to take exercise and to appreciate the green grass and
trees, flowers, butterflies and birds, clouds and the vast blue sky. Since my early experiences in
India and Nepal, I find more beauty and peace looking at the natural environment than, say,
looking at art objects. You could be in a spectacularly beautiful place but if your mind is
preoccupied or emotional upset that beauty has very little meaning. One has to be totally present,
quiet and receptive, for the bliss of meditation to arise. As long as we are caught in the movement
of thought the sacred has no meaning regardless of where we are.
     It is really an interesting world when you consider people’s relationship not only to ideas,
concepts and beliefs, but also to material things, namely art objects, antiques and memorabilia.
People put so much value in these inanimate things because of craving, attachment and delusion;
this also includes precious and semi-precious stones, gold, and so on.

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     Recently, I’ve been hearing on the news about art objects being auctioned off for millions of
dollars, even a bottle of wine of a certain vintage for a great deal of money; people go crazy about
memorabilia and autographs, objects that are connected to famous people and certain events; even
old comic books have become valuable collectors’ items. Obsessively collecting things has
become an emotional crutch for many people, an illusion of security in a changing, insecure world.
The Dharma teaches us that we cannot find security outside ourselves, and certainly not behind
walls of clutter.
     During my early days of travel in the UK and Europe, I used to visit art galleries and museums
but these days I prefer to look at natural scenery, at the unlimited beauty and wonder of nature.
Now I find art galleries and museums boring, lifeless and tiring; it must be the ageing process and
the changing nature of perception. When we don’t know how to look at nature with a quiet,
receptive mind, then art objects and antiques become more important than the beauty of clouds,
trees, sunlight and shadows, flowers, rivers, ocean waves, the radiant moon and the night sky full
of stars. Of course, we can appreciate paintings and other works of art but it’s ignorant to think that
beauty can only in found in these things.
     Often, works of art are valued not so much on the quality of the work but on the name and
fame of the artist – Picasso’s signature was enough to make a painting worth thousands of dollars
whether or not it was pleasing to the eyes: such is the nature of attachment and delusion. Paintings
by Vincent Van Gogh are now worth millions of dollars and ironically, he died a very poor,
depressed, and mentally disturbed artist. The insurance value of the Mona Lisa has gone from five
million to what – 50 million? From an alien perspective, the mentality of the Art World makes no
sense! Not to mention the marketing of diamonds and other precious stones, plus the world of
European cuisine and fashion. Speaking of which, diamonds in Sierra Leone and oil in Nigeria
have sadly become a curse – greed, violence and corruption – for these two countries.
     Regardless of the fame and value of a painting, I cannot forget that, in essence, it’s just a piece
of canvas with some dried paint on it, but that’s just me: an ‘alien’ on this planet, a simple monk in
modern society. And then you have those mentally disturbed individuals who are feeling lonely
and isolated and desperately in need of attention, and so they go and attack well-known paintings
and sculptures that are getting more attention than them – interesting, no?
     I remember watching a fashion show on TV after spending many months in India and it
seemed so ridiculous and superficial that I had to shake my head and have a good laugh at the fuss,
hype and money involved. Are these people for real? After being in India, even TV commercials
for facial tissue, bathroom cleansers and toilet paper seem ridiculous! With so much emphasis on
glamour and physical beauty via magazines, TV shows, commercials and movies, it’s no wonder
that women, especially young women, are subject to anxieties and conflicts related to body image.
In a society that places so much value on success, money and material wealth, not to mention
physical beauty, it’s not surprising that there’s tremendous fear of loss, along with the fear of
sickness, ageing and death, plus the increasing popularity in cosmetic surgery. And what I find
interesting is that the people who make a difference in someone’s life are not the ones with the
most credentials and certificates, the most money or the most awards or trophies or records but the
ones who care, the ones who are kind and considerate without expectation.
     We live in a world of conventions, human conventions – money, credit cards, travellers’
cheques, words, labels and language, formal education, units and scales of measurement for
lengths, widths and heights, weights, distances and temperatures, and statistics. We even rate
movies, hotels and restaurants on a scale from one to five, and at times, people on a scale from one
to ten. This is the conventional world. The Buddha often spoke about the importance of
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understanding conventional reality as opposed to Dharma reality in order to gain insight, wisdom
and freedom from attachment, clinging and delusion, from ignorance and suffering.
      For instance, money is a human invention, a convenient way of exchange and barter. Before
paper currency and coins, we had pieces of silver and gold; some cultures used beads, salt,
animals, and even humans during the time of slavery. Money is a symbol of wealth, it is not wealth
in itself; it’s only useful when you can exchange it for food, clothing, shelter, and so on. If you’re
stranded in the middle of a forest or desert or on a small island with a million dollars, you’ll starve
to death unless you can use the money to buy some food, yes?
     Having a lot of money can have its conveniences but it doesn’t guarantee happiness or
contentment, and, of course, you cannot take any of it to the grave, right? It has its place and
purpose in human society but it has its limitations as well. Likewise, thoughts, words and language
have their place and purpose in daily living but they have their limitation as well, and like money,
they can be a source of mental conflict, confusion and suffering – greed, obsession, anxiety,
hatred, ill-will, and so on. The Buddha said that when we take conventional reality as permanent
and concrete, like the conventional use of the label ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘my,’ we get caught in ignorance
and endless suffering. Mindfulness, wisdom, and reflection help us to understand the difference
between conventional reality and the way things are. Simplicity, detachment and contentment are
the result of this understanding.
    Although we say things like ‘our’ thoughts, ‘our’ feelings, ‘our’ emotions and moods, ‘our’
bodies, ‘our’ children, and so on, but in reality they don’t really belong to us – they are just
temporary mental and physical states; they belong to nature and it’s changing conditions. They are
non-self. When we identify and cling to them as ‘me’ and ‘mine’ there is dukkha, mental suffering
and dis-ease. We must see things exactly as they are – feelings are just feelings, thoughts are just
thoughts [only thinking, thinking, thinking], emotions and moods are just emotions and moods.
This is the way to end dukkha and suffering. A wise person still thinks and feels, however, he or
she knows that feelings, emotions and thoughts are impermanent, unsatisfactory and empty of a
permanent self.


August 15, 2000
     This morning I’m reading about the five aggregates that make up human experience – the
physical body with its sense organs, feeling/sensation, perception, mental reaction, and
consciousness – and how we tend to cling to these factors as ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ which results in
suffering and conflict. Reflecting on this teaching, one can see how humans are constantly being
fooled by what they perceive, jumping to the wrong conclusions, getting the wrong impression or
idea, sometimes becoming suspicious and upset, clinging to that perception as absolute reality or
truth, reacting with anger and acting with violence and aggression, and so on. And I’m reminded of
an experience I had in 1974 while travelling in Europe with a college friend and visiting the
Vatican in Rome.
     I was looking at one of the Swiss guards wearing his blue and orange medieval dress and
standing near a door and holding a tall medieval lance with his right hand, trying to look
purposeful and to be as still as possible. Quite unexpectedly, he suddenly lifted his left arm up
slowly and back down again, then he lifted his head slowly up towards the ceiling, then back down
and then slowly turning his head to the left and then to the right and then back to the normal
position looking straight ahead. His slow deliberate movements made an impression on me and I


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thought, “Oh my God, that Swiss Guard is a robot, a mechanized statue, it’s not a real human! That
is so amazing! How clever of the Vatican to use a robot instead of a live person!”
      I was so surprised and amazed, and naturally I turned to my friend and told him excitedly that
he wasn’t going to believe this but that Swiss Guard was not a real person but a very advanced and
realistic-looking robot that the Vatican had designed and put there as a substitute for the real thing.
Wasn’t that amazing and clever of them! My friend took one look at the standing figure, laughed
and said that I was totally crazy and ridiculous, that I must be hallucinating, that I should put on my
glasses and look again. No, I didn’t need to put my glasses on; I saw him move slowly and
deliberately like a mechanized robot and so I was sure he was indeed a robot. Robotic science was
very advanced these days, I told my friend. And why not? It was much cheaper and less trouble to
use robots as ceremonial guards than to use real people; it seemed very logical to me.
     And then the argument started. My friend was incensed by my misperception and my totally
illogical, irrational conclusion and statement, and so he felt he had to try and convince me
otherwise, at all cost. He was right and I was wrong, no two ways about it. I was sure it was a robot
and he was sure it was not a robot – what drug had I taken with breakfast, he mused? Not being one
to argue, as I feel it’s a waste of time and energy, I would say, “OK, Dave, you say it’s a real person
and I say it’s a robot, you’re right and I’m right, let’s leave it at that. OK?” But Dave couldn’t just
accept the ambiguity, this Zen-like statement of Cosmic Wisdom. He would get very animated and
tried in vain to convince me that I was indeed wrong and perhaps going a bit cuckoo from too
much Italian food, wine and culture.
     For the rest of the day, after we’d left the Vatican, Dave tried to argue with me whenever the
subject arose and I would tell him to please forget about it, that it wasn’t really important, that it
was just a silly robot pretending to be a Swiss Guard, all right? No, it was not all right for Dave,
and he would get animated and serious again, and I would just laugh at his behaviour. After one or
two hours, it just didn’t seem important after all. Sometime during the night or the following day, I
realized that my perception had been wrong, that the guard had slowly, deliberately moved his arm
and head because of stiffness and discomfort which is only natural, having to stand immobile for
hours at a time. He was instructed to move slowly when necessary. But I never confessed this
realization to Dave because he would get so worked up about this matter and I wanted him to
simply let go of the idea that he was right and that I was wrong and that he should convince me of
this. Let’s just say that I enjoyed playing the Devil’s advocate and eventually the subject wasn’t
interesting anymore. We had other things to talk about during the rest of our journey through Italy,
and then through Greece and Turkey.
     This experience taught me the uncertainty of perceptions and impressions, how easily we are
deluded by the senses, how easily we jump to the wrong conclusions about people and situations,
how easily we get wrong ideas that cause conflict, suspicion, craving, aversion, hatred and ill-will.
Also, that when we cling strongly to these mental states [along with the physical body, feelings,
emotions, moods, likes and dislikes] and take them too seriously, too personally, we end up with a
great deal of suffering and anguish. And even if we are right or correct about something, so what?
Is that perception or feeling or idea permanent? Can it give us permanent happiness or satisfaction?
No, it cannot. Also, people, situations and conditions change, so do our perceptions, impressions,
feelings, emotions, like and dislikes. Due to ignorance, we tend to cling to ideas, concepts, labels,
impressions, and so on, and believing them to be permanent, concrete reality, thereby behaving in
deluded ways.
     For example, Hindus in India often see images of Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati, Krishna, Durga,
Kali, etc., Buddhists often see images of the Buddha, and Christians often see images of Jesus,
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Lucifer, the crucifix, most Catholics see the virgin Mary, and so on. We tend to have images of
what we are conditioned by since childhood; this is just the way the human brain and mind works.
And this is an important aspect of Dharma practice: to understand this source of ignorance and
delusion based on our conditioning and habits, and using awareness and intuitive knowing to wake
up and free ourselves from ignorance and delusion and suffering.
    Recently on the news, people have been seeing holy images in the most unlikely places and
becoming deluded and carried away by these mental impressions. Someone saw the image of
Mother Theresa in a pastry at a cake and pastry shop somewhere in Europe and made a big fuss
about it as she’s now considered a saint by many; needless to say, the “holy pastry” was not eaten
and I think the now famous pastry has a special place on the person’s household shrine, preserved
and enshrined for posterity. A more famous case is of the image of the Virgin Mary on an old
tomato and cheese sandwich which, after much publicity and business dealing, has been sold on
E-Bay for quite a bit of money, considering that it’s really just an old sandwich and not some
beautiful image etched on a piece of gold or silver. This is the power of delusion, attachment and
good old American capitalism, eh what?
     Then there is this image of Jesus that a man saw while cooking an omelette in his kitchen, he
made a big fuss and called in the media. I’m not sure if he was able to consume this particular
omelette or whether it has been preserved and enshrined somewhere. Not long after that, a man
was about to eat a baked potato and guess what he saw? He saw the cross and proclaimed it to be a
miracle and blessing, a sign from God! Praise Jesus! There were three Catholic nuns in Europe
during 1917 who claimed they saw the Virgin Mary and this got them a great deal of public
attention and reverence. Even some Buddhists become obsessed with Buddha statues and get
involved with idol worship, but that’s to be expected of superstitious people who are not in touch
with the Dharma teaching and practice.
     While it is perfectly natural to have impressions and ideas about people, places, situations and
things, we must try to bear in mind that they’re only ideas and impressions, that they’re
impermanent and subject to change, that they’re therefore uncertain and unstable, not concrete
reality; and so to cling to them is ignorant, unhealthy and unintelligent. Thoughts are just thoughts,
images are just images, feelings are just feelings. They’re impermanent and empty conditions of
mind. This is the way to end ignorance, delusion, suffering and conflict.
     I quote Ajahn Chah of Thailand: “People are always looking outwards, at others and things.
They look at this hall, for example, and say, “Oh, it’s so big!” Actually, it’s not big at all. Whether
or not it seems big depends on your perception of it. In fact, this hall is just the size it is, neither big
nor small. But people run after their perceptions and feelings all the time. They are so busy looking
around and having opinions about what they see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, that they have no
time to look at themselves. They have no self-awareness. We get carried away with our restless
minds and chase our thoughts and ideas, our feelings, emotions and moods – we get caught by
them, and so we create a lot of problems for ourselves and for others. Some people get totally
carried away and do crazy things, even commit crimes and murder. We are often victims of our
own mental-emotional states simply because we don’t know how to watch our minds with
awareness and wisdom and let these mental states go.”
    And speaking of people getting carried away, I reflect on the continuing crises in the Middle
East, the violence, the anger and hate, young men getting angry and acting with violence and
aggression instead of keeping calm and patient, which is not an easy thing to do when you’re
brought up in an emotionally volatile culture. Then there are the suicide bombers who believe their
reward for helping the ‘noble cause’ is instant access to Heaven, which is only a mental concept
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and image – such is the power of delusion and craving. Also on the news are men who end up
killing their former spouses or girlfriends because they couldn’t let go of the fact that they had
been rejected – such is the nature of ego-pride, resentment, clinging and obsession, anger and
ill-will.
     There was even a case of a medical doctor in Canada who ended up killing a nurse, a former
lover, in the hospital because she had ended their relationship against his wishes. Despite his
medical knowledge and training, his mind was subject to obsession, craving, clinging, resentment
and ill-will. Then there are those headstrong people of Northern Ireland who just can’t let go of
their self-image and pride and ideas about the past – such is the nature of ignorance and delusion,
clinging, hatred and ill-will. People’s senses are on fire, burning from the flames of
craving/clinging, aversion and delusion. So it goes with the human mind.


August 20, 2000
     This morning I’m recalling a visit to a new meditation center in southern Malaysia. A friend
had taken me there and it was built in a former palm oil estate. All the trees were cut down and the
place looked like a resort with new buildings and paved roads. In a hot country trees are very
important for shade and coolness but in Malaysia they can afford electric fans and
air-conditioning. The meditation hall was open on all sides with ceiling fans spinning and blowing
the warm, humid air around.
    There were a few yogis meditating in the hall after lunch; they were not allowed to rest after
the meal. The resident teacher was following the strict Burmese style of his teacher, Pah Auk
Sayadaw, a well-known meditation teacher. Not surprisingly, most of the yogis were nodding off
under the ceiling fans. The Burmese have a lot to learn about the Middle Way, the path of
moderation and common sense.
     The teacher was doing walking meditation in an open-aired shelter not far from the meditation
hall. I walked over to say hello and pay my respects. There were lovely potted plants in the shelter
area. I greeted the monk and quickly recognized him and he likewise. We had met at the Sri
Lankan temple in Kuala Lumpur in 1994. I was wearing Theravada robes that day since I was
staying at a Theravada temple, and today I was wearing Mahayana dress as I was staying with a lay
friend. I’m flexible that way; I’m not attached to a particular dress or tradition. I consider myself a
modern international monk and devotee of the Buddhayana tradition, the way of the Buddha.
    Suddenly he got very angry at me, “Why are you wearing Mahayana clothes? You are a
Theravada monk, you should be wearing Theravada robes! What kind of a monk are you? That is
not good!”
       I looked at him calmly. He was all hot and bothered and deluded. I guess it had not occurred
to him that I might have taken Mahayana ordination since we had met in 1994. He was simply
reacting from his superficial perception of my appearance and his memory of me six years ago –
this is the nature of mental grasping, clinging and delusion. I began to wonder what kind of
meditation he was teaching at this place – anger meditation? Malaysians are usually friendly,
polite people; this Malaysian monk was behaving most unusual indeed. He obviously took himself
too seriously as the resident teacher of this new meditation center and his pride and feeling of
self-importance was causing him suffering. His behaviour was so unexpected that I didn’t react at
all; I was the model of serenity and detachment – perhaps this partly had to do with the humid heat
and me not having the energy to get excited and bothered. I was hot and sweating enough already.

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And because I didn’t react he quickly realized that he was behaving like a deluded person, not like
a decent meditation teacher, and he soon calmed down. He became a polite Malaysian again, not
some arrogant Theravada teacher-monk, and he invited me to sit down where we proceeded to
have a pleasant conversation.
      I didn’t comment on his deluded behaviour because I felt compassion for him. I understood
where he was coming from, his training experience in Burma with Pah Auk Sayadaw, and his lack
of worldly experience outside of the strict Theravada tradition in Burma. When I met him in 1994,
he had become a monk because he was unhappy with his life as a young man; this was before he
went to Burma to practice with this teacher. Quite a few people I’ve met who have practiced with
this Burmese teacher end up being very tense and confused. His method of practice is to sit for
long periods in order to get into deep jhana state or one-pointedness and then reflect on the
elements with respect to the different parts of the body.
     Yogis are encouraged to focus on the light in the mind [known as Nimitta] in order to get into
this deep state. I think this is the cause of their tenseness. Some can see the light and some are
unable to do so. Beneficial practice is to see this light [and other mental objects] as just temporary
phenomena and let them go – non-clinging is the key to freedom and peace. Those who cannot see
this light will naturally become anxious if they’re to follow this method; and those who can see this
light will naturally become tense concentrating on this mental object in order to achieve
one-pointedness – awareness or calm attention is different from concentration. I have listened to
Pah Auk Sayadaw’s teaching on tape and I find it very boring and tedious, and his books are very
complicated and technical since they’re based on the Abhidhamma. I’m sure some people are
fascinated by the Abhidhamma, especially the scholarly types, but it’s really not my cup of tea.
The teaching of Ajahn Chah is more directly related to the Four Noble Truths.
    This Malaysian monk only knows this meditation method and style of teaching and his sudden
anger at my dress is an indication of the limitation of his training and conditioning, and his lack of
loving kindness and compassion. You can say that his brain has been programmed by his Burmese
experience and teacher, hence his narrow-mindedness and attitude. He had even adopted the
Burmese attitude that Mahayana monks and nuns are not real monastics, hence his aversion to my
dress.
    The Buddha had advised, “When you see, just see; when you hear just hear.” This is the way
of non-grasping, non-clinging, and freedom from suffering and discontentment, dis-ease. This
doesn’t mean that if you see a car coming towards you you should just stand there like a zombie.
No, if you see something that is life-threatening you act according, intuitively. This teaching is
about not reacting with craving, aversion and delusion when seeing and hearing either pleasant or
unpleasant visible objects and words. I wonder if Pah Auk Sayadaw is really encouraging his
students to understanding this simple yet important teaching of the Buddha, or is it just this monk’s
lack of understanding and maturity?
     The meditation and reflection on the elements and the various parts of the body is an ancient
practice, one that I like to do and teach, like the reflection on nama-rupa – mental and physical
phenomena – and the five aggregates that create human experience. To do this
meditation/reflection a certain degree of calmness is beneficial, but one does not need to sit for
long periods and concentrate on the light that may appear in the mind. When we first hear or read
that the body is composed of the four elements – earth, water, fire and air – we usually can accept
this at the intellectual, superficial level. But when we calm our mind and slowly reflect on the
various body parts with respect to the elements then there is a deeper understanding of this
profound reality, likewise the intuitive recognition of nama-rupa, mental and physical phenomena,
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a deeper reality than the conditioned idea of self or ego entity. There are actually five elements if
you include the element of space, for without space nothing could exist and there is indeed space
in different areas of the body and space outside of the body.
     Hair on the head and body contains the earth element, also the fingernails and toenails and
teeth – minerals, proteins, etc. They also contain the water element. Tears, saliva and sweat have
the water element, of course. Tears and sweat also contain the earth element – salt, sodium
chloride. Urine also has the earth element – salt, urea, and so on; and if it’s fresh there is the fire
element, the element of warmth or heat. The skin, flesh, muscles, sinew, internal organs contain
the four elements, also the bones – calcium, magnesium, oxygen, water, heat. Blood also consists
of the four elements – water, minerals, salt, iron, oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and heat. The
heat element is related to the metabolism of the body and you can feel it rising during physical
activity and exercise. There is space in the mouth and ear cavities, in the nostrils and oesophagus
or windpipe, in the stomach and intestines.
    There is also space in the mind when it is silent and still, and when one looks at the
environment with this quiet state of mind there is the experience of spacious awareness – the
unconditioned state of being. A cluttered, preoccupied mind has no space; it has tension, worry and
anxiety. As long as the mind is condemning, judging, liking or disliking, forming opinions and
conclusions, it is neither sensitive, open and awake. So space, silence and calmness go together.
     There is also space outside the body, space in the room that is created by the four walls. There
is physical space between us. The distance between here and the train station, between the
shopping center and your house, between this bank of the river and the other side, between London
and Oxford – all that is space. There is also space between this planet and the other planets,
between here and the sun. There is vast space between the sun and the nearest star and other stars,
and there is immense space between the Milky Way galaxy and other galaxies in the Cosmos.
      All bodies are composed of the five elements. When they come together and form a body we
say it’s a male or female, giving it names and so on, so that we can identify each other more easily.
But actually, there isn’t anyone there, no permanent, concrete and independent entity – only
mind-body process, only earth, water, fire, air and space. Don’t get excited over it or infatuated by
it. If you really look into it, you will not find anyone there.
     Our life is an assembly of the elements. We use conventions to describe things, but we get
attached to the conventions and take them to be something real – permanent and everlasting. For
example, people and things are given names and labels. We could go back to the beginning before
names were given and call men “women” and women ‘men” – what would be the difference? But
now we cling to names, labels and concepts, so we have the war of the sexes and other wars as
well. Meditation and wisdom is seeing through all of this, through conventional reality, through
human conditioning. We can then reach the Unconditioned, clear spacious awareness and intuitive
knowing and be at peace, not at war. [Ajahn Chah]


August 24, 2000
    Today I’m taking the train to Ottawa; it’s a four-hour journey from Union Station. The ride is
pleasant and you can see the flat vastness of southern Ontario as the train goes along the northern
shore of Lake Ontario and then heads northeast towards Quebec. I sit beside a friendly young lady
who grew up in Brantford, Ontario. I had a college friend from Brantford who became an
elementary school teacher in his hometown and she says he taught at her school. Small world. He

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was the friend I went travelling with in Europe and Turkey but eventually we had split up in the
latter country since I wanted to head east to Iran and India, and he wanted to return to Europe in
order to visit London and Paris since we’d missed those two cities during our movements from
Amsterdam, Holland, to Luxemburg, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
     Coming from a small town, he was conservative in temperament, and I was thirsty for
adventure and spiritual learning; it was good that we parted ways. I last spoke with him on the
phone in 1977 after our mutual friend from Costa Rica had died in a hotel fire. It would be
interesting to see him again after all these years. Last year, I was invited to attend a multi-faith
gathering in Brantford; I was unable to attend but I did think of this college friend and the
possibility of having a reunion after some years.
    I’m met at the Ottawa train station by Hassan; he’s surprised that I’m wearing a Chinese
Mahayana smock instead of my Theravada robes. I tell him that it’s more practical for travelling
and it draws less attention from the public. We have coffee somewhere and I show him my photos
and postcards; I’d written him an aerogramme from India which he was happy to receive. Then he
takes me to Koichi’s house where I plan to stay for a few days until I hook up with the Chinese
monk, Ven. Yin Seng. A Vietnamese nun is now staying at the Pagoda Temple where the
day-retreat will be held day after tomorrow; I was able to stay there last summer.
    It’s good to see Koichi again and he has cooked us some Japanese food for dinner which we
have sitting on mats on the back patio overlooking the garden and a few trees. It is a pleasant
setting and meal and we talk mainly about travelling and cultures; he has been to Thailand and
South America but not to India or Malaysia. In fact, he’d met his former wife while they were
travelling through Peru and Bolivia. They’d had a brief affair and when they were about to split up
and head back to their respective countries, she found out she was pregnant and this is how Koichi
ended up in Ottawa running a soya food business in Hull, where his former wife came from. The
divorce was difficult on their two sons but he said she was too demanding and strong-headed, so
unlike the women in Japan. He now has a Japanese lady-friend who has her own business in
Ottawa and his younger son is still staying and working with him in the business; the older son is
living and working in Montreal. Koichi would like me to speak to his son while I’m here and he
would like to have some yoga – meditation sessions with me to help him with the daily stress of
running a business.
     I had sent Koichi a postcard from Thailand last December and it’s strange somehow to see it
again being stuck on the door of the refrigerator and held by a small magnet. It came from so far
away, from a different country and culture, and now some months later, after Malaysia, India,
Singapore, Hong Kong and Toronto, at this house in Ottawa, it seems vaguely familiar with some
degree of detachment and wonder. Later, in the guestroom, I was to find two postcards I’d sent to
Koichi: one from Sri Lanka in 1987 and the other from Singapore in 1988, and it was indeed very
strange and spooky to see the familiar pictures in front and to read what I’d written so long ago –
time, memory and past lives, spooky indeed!
    Later in the evening I meet his son, Gary, who’s now twenty-one, short and small-built with
dark, curly hair. He’s been through a lot since his parents divorced when he was a young teenager,
but now he’s more settled living with his father and working in the soya food business. He’s
curious about my life as a monk and he has many questions about Buddhism, my travels around the
world, and about the soya food project I was involved with in Sri Lanka before I took ordination.
He’s also interested about my early travels and adventures in India and Nepal and the cultural
traditions of Hinduism. He says his mind is too restless to learn meditation but he’s willing to try at
a later date.
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August 25, 2000
    After tea, Koichi and I have a yoga-meditation session on the carpet in the living room. It’s
much appreciated and he sees the benefit of doing this on a regular basis. After breakfast, he and
Gary drive to Hull where the soya food factory is located. Apart from Gary, he employs four
people to make plain and herbal tofu, and tofu burgers with different flavours. These products are
packaged and distributed across Canada.
     I have the whole day to myself. I go for a walk to check out the area and it seems that Ottawa
has many quiet neighbourhoods with lovely trees. I phone Ven. Yin Seng and inform him that I’m
in Ottawa to conduct a day-retreat tomorrow and will be free after that to go with him to Halifax.
He says he’s trying to get his car fixed for the journey to Nova Scotia and it’ll take a few more
days. I read, write and watch some TV. Hassan calls to remind me to wear my Theravada robes
tomorrow for the retreat program. I laugh and tell him not to worry – yes, he’s very anxious and
controlling! I also inform him that I plan to do some dynamic practices during the afternoon
session and he’s not agreeable that I want to change his schedule. How to deal with these uptight,
clingy individuals? I spend the rest of the day observing this conflict in my mind and I decide to go
ahead with my plan and if he objects I’ll just have to be direct and assertive with him as I’m sure
the others would not support his controlling attitude.
     In a way I blame myself for his behaviour because I went along with his schedule last summer
even though I found it too tight and rigid; I should have been assertive from the start and make
some changes accordingly instead of being diplomatic and agreeable. He’s too “organized” for his
own good, especially when it comes to retreat programs. I prefer things to be more loose and
relaxed when it comes to Dharma practice and learning, and I reflect on the fact that the Buddha
had never conducted any meditation retreats as such with fixed schedules and with long, intense,
painful sittings as some teachers and traditions are keen to promote. Also, I’m sure the Buddha
didn’t have some anxious, uptight organizer sitting beside him and telling him how he should
conduct his teaching sessions. I’ll just have to more direct and assertive when necessary as an
aspect of “skillful means.”


August 26, 2000
     Koichi gives me a ride to the Pagoda Temple; it’s in a quiet neighbourhood of Ottawa. There’s
a small pagoda in the backyard and this is why the temple has this name. The Dharma group uses
this place on Saturdays since the Vietnamese devotees have chanting and meditation on Sundays. I
recognize some of the people from last year; some are Sri Lankans and they tell me the Sri Lankan
temple that I’d previously visited in Ottawa was having some problems and they’re happy to be
part of this Dharma group. I greet Hassan and he graciously informs me that I can do the dynamic
practices as I had wished, good for him; he did realize, after all, that he was being too uptight and
controlling, too anal.
     The group had a visit last May from Bhante Gunaratana from the Bhavana Society in West
Virginia, and since then, they would like to use Pali in the initial ceremony of taking refuge and the
five or eight precepts; before they did the ceremony in English. No problem. The retreat goes well
and there’s a beneficial discussion after the morning talk about the noting method and the activities
of thoughts relating to hopes, desires, images, obsessions, vanities, worries and fears, regrets,
resentment and ill-will. During the day, I do readings by Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho, and J.

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Krishnamurti, and I speak about the connection between silence, spacious awareness, emptiness
and non-self.
    We cling to certain beliefs, ideas and concepts because they give us comfort and a sense of
security and permanency, and because we are caught in habitual patterns of thinking – we are
imprisoned by the thought process and we cannot see beyond that. It’s like the needle on an old LP
record being stuck in one of the grooves because of dirt or a bad scratch – our minds are like that
when there is no awareness; only awareness can free us from those habitual patterns of thinking
and our identification with those thoughts.
      The mind contracts when it gets caught by desires, obsessions, fixations or moments of
irritation. One can experience this quite viscerally as a contraction of energy. It can be a fleeting
identification with a momentary thought or image, or with a stronger emotion or with a
mini-drama. But with practice, all of them can happen in a context of greater spaciousness,
non-judgment and acceptance. Experiencing this change gives one great inspiration to continue
practicing. In order to free the mind from the contraction of identification with thoughts and
emotions, there needs to be acceptance. If we’re not allowing ourselves to feel them, that very
resistance feeds them and lock them in.
     With choiceless awareness, we simply let them come and go. One is feeling the emotion –
grief, sorrow, joy, peace – but instead of identifying with it, the mind rests in the awareness of
whatever arises and passes away. We don’t have to let go, we simply have to not hold on. Freedom
is to be able to feel without the added notion of identification that “this is me, this is happening to
me, this is who I am, my emotions” etc. because in truth it is not. It is actually ‘empty phenomena
rolling on.’ It is really what’s happening. It’s empty phenomena with no being or entity behind it,
no one to whom it’s happening. The mind is conditioned by habit to impose the ‘I’ or ‘me’ onto
what is happening in the moment and this is the cause of division, duality and hence conflict. We
get attached or react in aversion and that’s where we get caught in the story.
The thought ‘my mother’ is not my mother; it’s just a thought. The thought or image is
insubstantial; it’s just an electrical impulse in the brain responding to memory. It is our attachment
to the content that makes it seem so solid and permanent. [Joseph Goldstein]
      I read this lovely and unique Tibetan meditation – The mind is like the sky. The drifting
clouds are like our changing thoughts and ideas. The grey dark clouds and wind are like our
emotions and moods. The thunder and lightening are like our anger and temper. The falling rain
like our sadness, sorrow And tears. But above the ever-changing clouds and weather is the clear,
blue sky. Similarly, above our constantly changing mental states is awareness, mindfulness – clear,
vast and peaceful. The sky is clear and unaffected by what is happening. The clouds and wind
come and go. So does the rain and sunlight. But the sky remains clear, vast and peaceful. See the
mind as the clear blue sky or the night sky filled with stars. And let everything arise and pass away,
come and go on its own. Then the mind will stay balanced, peaceful and free, observing the flow of
events and our temporary mental states. Such is the nature of awareness, mindfulness – calm, bare
attention.


August 28, 2000
    This morning during meditation I’m recalling the two koans or kung-ans that are used in
Korea during meditation retreats – Who am I? and What is this? When your mind is calm and
focused and you say mentally, What is this?…it is to help you to be more mindful of what is

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happening in the present; you are not expected to ‘answer’ the question, per se, but simply to
intuitively know what is occurring presently. You could even use, What is happening now? It is
simply an aid to being more aware of mental and physical processes – thoughts, images, sensations
in the body, sounds in the environment, a smell, a memory, a future projection, stillness and
silence – things arising and passing away in that stillness and silence.
     Asking, Who am I? helps you to have insight into the nature of ‘I’ or self. First, you begin to
see that the ‘I’ is simply a label we use to communicate, an aspect of human convention, likewise
our names. Names are just labels that were given to us by our parents, for easy identification. But
we tend to forget that fact and so we get upset when someone forgets our name or call us by
another name. Why? Because we identify so strongly with that name, the attachment to it is very
strong because we believe that name represents who we really are – a solid, permanent ego entity.
But this is an illusion. The ‘I’ or a name is simply a convenient label to refer to this constantly
changing process of mind and body, nama and rupa. This is why it makes more sense to say to
someone, “I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten your label.” More sensible, yes?
    The main reason why the ‘I’ seems permanent and concrete is simply because we are using the
same label ‘I’ to communicate all the time. Just in one day alone you can use this ‘I’ a few hundred
times if you are talking a great deal, right? This constant use of this personal label creates the
impression in the mind that this ‘I’, this ‘me’ center, is rock solid and everlasting regardless of the
constant changes we see around us. But this is an illusion that we can see through using
mindfulness and intuitive knowing. At times I like to say that if we could open up our heads and
look inside, there wouldn’t be ‘anyone’ home, no little man or woman sitting there and saying,
“Look at me, I’m the boss here, I’m at the center of the universe, I’m in control.”
     Also, when we reflect on this ‘I’ or self we begin to see that this self is simply a collection of
memories based on past experience and what we have learned or remembered. And with that
includes a few ideas about the future – hopes and dreams, certain goals and plans. This is our
human conditioning. And you see this fact clearly whenever you meet someone for the first time
and you talk about yourselves. What do you talk about? Personal history, right? – family history,
education history, work history, travel experiences, places you would like to visit in future, books
you have read, movies and TV programs you have seen, pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and
so on. This is why it is so unnerving and confusing when people suffer from amnesia – no memory,
and therefore no idea of who you are, right?
     And then there is the unconditioned self or state of being – clear, spacious awareness and
intuitive knowing. With wisdom one can rest more in this awareness than in the mind-made sense
of self with its memories, ideas and views, likes and dislikes. So even if you are experiencing
amnesia you won’t be so spooked and confused because you are comfortable with present
awareness and knowing. You might not remember your name or where you live but you’ll be calm
and relaxed, not anxious and confused.
     Yesterday was Sunday and a good day to relax. Koichi and I had another yoga-meditation
session in the morning and later I got to meet his Japanese lady friend who came over to cook
dinner for us. This morning I went with Koichi and Gary to the soya food factory to see the
operation; the location of the factory was at a different place when I trained with him in 1986 [he
was still married then and the kids were young and cute]. I recognize the stainless steel equipment
that Koichi had imported from Japan to make soya milk; it’s the best of Japanese food technology:
you put soaked soya beans in one end and fresh, hot soya milk comes out at the other end that is
collected in tall, stainless steel buckets.


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     A coagulant is then added to the hot liquid and the resulting curds are strained off and pressed
into tofu which is cut into small blocks and cooled in a stainless steel tank of cold water. For the
herbal tofu, the herbs are added to the hot milk before the coagulant is added; this product is quite
unique and very tasty. Gary’s in charge of the tofu burgers: spices and grated vegetables are added
to mashed-up tofu and shaped into burgers by a special machine; they are then deep-fried in
sunflower oil, cooled, and then vacuum-packed, two to a package, and refrigerated for shipment
and distribution. The plain and herbal tofu are also vacuum-packed and chilled immediately.
     This afternoon, I phone Ven.Yin Seng to find out about the car and he says it’s too old and
unstable to get us to Halifax so he’ll check on the cost of flights and trains to the east coast. During
the evening, I meet Gary and one of his friends, Ivan, who has had an inquiring mind since
childhood and who became dissatisfied with Christianity and the church like myself. He would
like to travel to Asia and learn about Buddhism and meditation practice. We have an in-depth
discussion about the Buddha and his spiritual path of the Dharma, our three mental defilements,
and the Four Noble Truths. I tell him about the Dharma group in Ottawa but he’s living outside the
city and is unable to attend their meetings. I suggest some books for reading and he’s inspired to
explore the Dharma.


August 30, 2000
    Ven. Yin Seng calls to inform me that we’ll be taking the train in two days to Bathurst, New
Brunswick, via Montreal. Two Vietnamese friends will be meeting us in Bathurst and taking us on
a tour of the province while visiting a few Vietnamese friends along the way. He invites me to
come this evening to his temple where I’d visited last summer with Hassan to meet him for the first
time; I also met the principal of the Buddhist College in Taiwan where he’d studied plus two
colleagues who were visiting Canada with the principal. They were able to translate for the
principal who spoke only Mandarin and we had a pleasant chat about Taiwan and my experience
with Prof. Cheng at Torch of Wisdom in Taipei whom he knows. They had visited the temple in
Niagara Falls and they agreed that the Chinese monk who had built that place and who was also
building a seven-storied pagoda beside it in order to create a kind of Buddhist Disneyland for the
tourists was only wasting money in order to show off.
     The monk in question or should I say the ‘monk-turned-businessman’ is an interesting,
eccentric and sad phenomenon in the Chinese Buddhist Community in Toronto. Along with
money, he’s obsessed with buying property in Ontario and countless statues from China. He’s not
interested in education or social service or charity work, only in possessing property and lifeless
statues, and there are not even enough monks or nuns to stay at all those places who can put them
to good use. But as long as his temple doors are open, devotees will continue to come and pray,
chant and bow, have vegetarian meals and donate an endless flow of cash.
     Koichi gives me a ride to the Chinese temple and I meet Ven. Yin Seng again after a little over
a year. It’s a house temple in another quiet neighbourhood of Ottawa and the place was lent to him
by a wealthy businessman originally from Hong Kong. The monk is of medium height and on the
chubby side; he’s kind and hospitable and has a nervous temperament. For a young monk, in his
early 30s, he’s already in charge of two temples but he tells me that he would like to spend more
time in solitude to practice and study further; he has taken on too much responsibility too quickly
and this will definitely prevent him from becoming a calm, mature and confident monk.
   He readily offers me a spare Mahayana gown-like brown robe from Taiwan and I put it on to
make him happy and comfortable. He’s fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese because

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his parents grew up in Viet Nam as members of the Cantonese Chinese community in Saigon and
his parents had sent him to a boarding school in Guangzhou, South China, when he was young, so
his education was mainly in Mandarin. This is why he prefers China to Canada and he likes to hike
in the mountains in China and visit the old Buddhist and Taoist temples as he’s full of youthful
energy.
    After exchanging personal histories, he tells me the reason he didn’t want me to visit the
Chinese temple in Halifax by myself was because the devotees had had a bad experience with a
Chinese monk who was also from Viet Nam. He had cheated them by confiscating the property
they’d bought outside of Halifax by cunningly getting the lawyer to sign over the place to him.
This “monk” was ordained by a monk in Toronto and he was so arrogant and self-centered, that his
teacher asked him to leave the temple but, unfortunately, the teacher unwisely didn’t disrobe this
unsavoury character before kicking him out and so this so-called monk was let loose on the
unsuspecting public to do “monkey business.”
     Ven. Yin Seng tells me that when this monk heard that the Chinese devotees had started a
temple in Halifax, he became upset and jealous because he felt that that temple should have
belonged to him – imagine! Such is the nature of the deluded, craving, covetous mind! I wasn’t
surprised when I heard later that he was having a lot of mental suffering and fear living on that
property outside of Halifax. Apparently, some Vietnamese devotees in Halifax have been going
there for the Sunday chanting and so he’s getting some support from them, and occasionally, he
goes to Toronto and collects funds from the Chinese Buddhist community who believe he’s a
sincere and virtuous monk.
     Yin Seng also tells me that a well-known monk and meditation teacher from Malaysia was
invited to the Halifax temple and he behaved very badly towards the people and so he won’t be
invited back to Halifax. I told him I could easily get this monk’s address in Malaysia and that I
would write him a very direct but constructive letter about his rude and demanding behaviour so
that he can improve himself if he’s going to travel abroad again and teach the Dharma. I believe
that monks like him behave like that because people allow them to get away with such behaviour;
devotees are usually too polite and respectful to say something and so such monks really think and
believe that they’re “little gods in robes” – power in any form is indeed corrupting!
     In Sri Lanka, the devotees believe that it’s bad luck or bad karma to reprimand a monk for his
bad behaviour and so immature monks continue to behave with defilements instead of improving
themselves since they rarely get constructive feedback or criticism from others. A sincere and
intelligent monk should be open to such feedback from other monks and mature lay devotees so
that they can be more aware of their defilements and make the effort to purify their minds of
defilements.


September 5, 2000
    It’s the month of September and I’m now in Halifax and staying at the Chinese temple on
Windsor Street with Ven. Yin Seng and Han Bao; one block away is the Commons, a large, open
grassy area that is used for summer picnics, relaxation, walking, and team sports during the early
evening. The temple is a former Baptist church and it was bought by a scientist from SE Asia, Mr.
Oh, who had studied in Halifax some years ago. It still looks like a church from the outside but
when you go inside it’s a totally different world: it’s a spacious meditation hall with a beautiful,
hardwood floor and a gold-painted Buddha statue from China above the shrine with fruit, flower
and lit oil lamp offerings on the altar.

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     Similar to the altars in Chinese temples around the world, there’s a bowl gong on the right and
a carved-out wooden drum on the left. There are meditation mats and cushions placed against the
walls around the room like a Zendo, and close to the street entrance is a lovely bell from China and
two standing guardians, one on either side of the entrance area, with lit oil lamps and fruit offerings
at their feet. When the bell is struck, the sound is deep and resonant and the humming vibration
goes on for quite a long time. Following the tradition in Taiwan, Ven. Yin Seng will hit this bell
several times before bedtime and chant the night blessing which has a beautiful and haunting
melody.
    The side door to the hall leads to the tearoom done in Japanese style with sliding doors made
with wooden frame and rice paper, and there are potted plants, Chinese wall hangings, and a Yuan
Yin statue with similar offerings in front of it. This is a pleasant room for tea ceremony and chat,
yoga and private meditation. Next door is a small dining area and kitchen, and close by is the stairs
leading up to the monks’ quarters and to a small backroom with a shrine for ancestral spirits and
recently departed family members. Near the side door to the hall is the door to the outside
Zen-like garden with a wooden fence and a gate that leads on to Windsor Street.
    Han Bao is a student from China and we met him on the train from Montreal to Bathurst, New
Brunswick, and Ven. Yin Seng invited him to stay at the temple for a few days until he’s settled in
Halifax. He was working in Toronto for six months in Chinatown and he’s planning to do a
Masters degree in food technology; he has a young family in China and he misses them very much.
His English is quite good.
     After meditation and breakfast, Yin Seng and I go for a walk to the public gardens and then to
the university campus and back to the temple; during the walk he tells me again about the rogue
Chinese monk who cheated the devotees in Halifax. The gardens are beautiful with many flowers
and trees and I would like to spend more time there by myself as Yin Seng tends to be on the
speedy side with hyper energy not unlike an energetic teenager. At the university campus, we run
into two Sri Lankans who are doing doctorate programs; one of them, Indra, is the organizer of
Buddhist events for the Sri Lankan community in Halifax and a good friend of Yin Seng’s. He
would like to visit us at the temple with his family; his wife has a Ph.D. in economics and
marketing and she’s a lecturer at one of the colleges here; she’s also a member of the Sai Baba’s
group that meet at the Hindu temple. This doesn’t surprise me since many middle-class Sri
Lankans in Colombo are attending the devotional chanting at the Sai Baba temple even though
they’re Buddhist by birth; being more devotional by nature, they find these gatherings more
satisfying and uplifting than passively listening to the monks chanting in a language that they don’t
really understand.
      Yin Seng cooks us a delicious lunch of several dishes in record time; this is one of his talents
and he’s very energetic. He’s also good with Chinese herbs and he has been able to save Mr. Oh’s
life from an almost fatal brain-shrinking disease by using a special mixture of herbs; he was able to
consult a few doctors during his visits to China about Mr. Oh’s brain condition. After lunch,
someone takes us to see Mr. Oh who lives in a large house in a quiet neighbourhood of Halifax. His
wife is away and they have two sons, a doctor and a pharmacist, who are still living at home. Mr.
Oh needs a walker to get around and his speech has been affected but he’s quite alert and able to
read, use the computer, and meditate everyday.
     He says he had a work colleague who had the same brain condition but he died after three
years; the doctor had also given him three years to live but thanks to Yin Seng and those Chinese
herbs, he’s still alive after more than six years and doing fairly well considering. Coincidentally,
I’ve been to his hometown in Malaysia and he’s surprised that I’ve been all over his native country
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visiting the various Buddhist Associations; his brother is a doctor in that town. He came to Halifax
many years ago to study oceanography and later he began working for the Ministry of Fisheries.
He tells me how he and his wife were keen to have a Buddhist temple in Halifax and how he was
able to purchase the old Baptist Church and renovate it; there are a few churches on the same
street.
    Yin Seng cooks more tasty dishes for dinner and our dinner guest is Popo [which means
‘grandmother’ in Cantonese]; she’s ninety-six years old, in good health, and is mentally sharp; her
English is limited but she’s a delightful person with an open and free mind, and she likes Dharma
teachings and meditation practice. Popo is originally from Hong Kong and lives by herself since
her husband passed away some years ago; she has children and grandchildren in Halifax and in
China. When Yin Seng is in town, he likes to invite Popo for meals and she appreciates the
company and delicious food very much.


September 8, 2000
     The morning meditation in the hall with Yin Seng has been deep and beneficial; I haven’t been
sitting regularly during the summer in Toronto as I’ve been focusing mainly on working on the
book. Yin Seng sits for forty-five minutes and I’m inspired to sit for an hour. I’m not a compulsive
meditator: I don’t feel that I have to sit every morning and evening in order to be a “good monk.”
Unless I’m doing a retreat, I’ll only do sitting practice in a spontaneous way, when I feel the need
to do ‘nothing’ and be still, otherwise my practice is just being mindful of ‘what is’ without choice
or effort from moment to moment. I’ve met practitioners who feel guilty if they don’t meditate at
least once a day but this is craving and clinging to the idea of a self, as a ‘meditator’ who has to
meditate in order to become or achieve something – hence the resulting guilt and fear. This is the
conflict of duality; meditation is the ending of the ‘me’ center, the meditator, with its desires,
self-images, and conflicts; it is a movement in attention, intuitive knowing and freedom.
     Very often someone will ask me how many hours a day do I meditate [meaning the sitting
practice], for being a monk, people expect me to meditate every day, like expecting a priest to pray
every day otherwise that priest is seen as a ‘bad priest.’ When I reply that I meditate twenty-four
hours a day, people go into shock and disbelief. So it goes with people’s expectations and ideas.
It’s a funny world.
     The conditioning of the human mind is like the programming of a computer – the brain has
been programmed! It is the programming of the brain, as a result of family, social environment and
education, tradition, that makes a person identify with a particular religion or belief or superstition,
or become an atheist, or adopt one of the political parties. Each thinks according to a particular
program which dominates him or her; each is caught in his or her particular “network of thought.”
The ‘I’, ego or self, the personality is no more than the selfhood of a programmed network of
thinking. Thinking is a material process, the functioning of the brain; it is not in itself intelligent.
Freedom is to be free from the program which has been imposed upon one’s brain. This means
pure observation of the nature of one’s thinking. It means observing the movement of thought from
moment to moment without being caught up in it. Observation, attention, is an action in itself; it is
intelligence which gives freedom from illusion, desire and fear. Loving kindness and compassion
are not related to thinking.
     Meditation is a process of freeing the mind of its conditioning, its programming. The mind is
constantly being conditioned by experience, knowledge and accumulative memory, desires,
opinions and ideas, hurts and sorrow, conclusions, infatuations and fantasies. Meditation is a

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movement in silence and the unknown and bliss, beyond the dimension of thoughts, feelings and
emotions. It is the awakening of compassion, goodness and beauty, always fresh, new and
innocent. It is the understanding of the mind and going beyond it. This is wisdom and intelligence.
[J. Krishnamurti]


September 10, 2000
     Today is Sunday and there’s a morning meditation for the general public: two sittings of
forty-five minutes each with fifteen minutes of walking meditation in between; this is the Chinese
Chan tradition that Ven. Yin Seng learnt in Taiwan and there are two lay people present, they’re
non-Chinese. They have been practicing for at least two years so they don’t find the sittings too
long; in Taiwan they also do the fast walking in between the sittings like in Korea and Japan. I do
a reading from Ajahn Chah regarding the practice and we have a short discussion before we end
the session with bowing. Ven. Yin Seng normally doesn’t do readings in Chinese or English; he’s
mainly concerned with the practice. Some of the Chinese devotees usually attend the Tuesday
evening meditation. When the monk is absent, the meditation is conducted by one of the temple
members.
    Around 10:30 a.m., the devotees begin to arrive for the chanting ceremony and vegetarian
lunch. Ven. Yin Seng prepares a few dishes in a short time and some people bring more food for
the potluck meal. I’m introduced to the devotees I’ve not met before and they’re about fifteen in
total; these are the regular members who meet every Sunday for chanting and lunch even if Ven.
Yin Seng is absent; some of them are in the restaurant business. Mr. Oh and Popo are present. For
the Chinese New Year, most of the Chinese in Halifax will attend the temple ceremony and pray
for good luck in the new year, give a donation, have the vegetarian lunch, and not come back until
the next Chinese New Year. I join the chanting ceremony and afterwards we have an enjoyable
lunch. The devotees are happy to see Yin Seng again and partake of his wonderful cooking plus
they’re naturally curious about me.
    After lunch and clean up, I’m invited to give a talk in the shrine/meditation hall since I’m a
new visiting monk; one of them volunteers to translate into Cantonese for the older members,
about four of them also speak Mandarin. My talk is about the Buddha’s radical way of teaching
and the nature of mental suffering and delusion, and using mindfulness to overcome them plus the
benefits of loving kindness. The talk is well received and there’s a question and answer period.
Afterwards, individual donations are offered in red envelopes and some devotees are looking
forward to the meditation on Tuesday evening.
     After a short rest and tea, someone takes us to Lighthouse Park for a walk and to see the ocean.
Halifax and Dartmouth are situated on opposite sides of an inlet that forms a natural harbour; there
are two bridges and a regular boat service that connects the two cities although Dartmouth is more
of a township with suburban areas than a large city. The park is a great place to walk, go jogging
and sit by the water, but Yin Seng, with his hyper energy, is eager to get back to the temple and
prepare supper; he’s not one to sit and enjoy the natural environment. Although he has invited me
to go to China with him, I don’t think I would be a suitable travelling companion because I know
his hyperactivity would get to me sooner or later, and my laid-back nature would irritate him to no
end – we’re just operating on different energy levels. It’s that simple.




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September 12, 2000
     After morning meditation, breakfast and walk, Yin Seng, Han Bao and I watch an amazing
series on DVD about one emperor of China living in the Forbidden City in Beijing. It’s a Chinese
production and Yin Seng and Han Bao take turns translating from Mandarin for me. The script,
acting, directing, production design and costumes are truly wonderful and I find myself
transported into another time period and culture, far away from the small temple on east coast
Canada. There’s another series of stories from the Sung Dynasty [960 – 1279 A.D.] and I hope to
watch this also.
     In the library, there’s also a video about Fo Kuang Shan temple in Taiwan, a place I’d spent
one very hot, humid summer in 1995 teaching summer school, and it’s exciting to see familiar
images of this well-known temple complex outside the southern city of Kaoshiung, the largest
Buddhist center in Taiwan. Fo Kuang Shan [Buddha Light Mountain] has over fifty branch
temples in Taiwan and about the same number of international temples abroad. They had invited
me to join their international section, learn Mandarin and represent them in various countries but
I’m not suited to be part of such a large Buddhist Corporation; some monks, nuns, and lay devotees
are happy to belong to such an ‘empire’ but it’s just not my style.
    This evening we are having meditation at 7 p.m. Eight Chinese devotees are present including
Popo. After the two sittings with walking in between, conducted by Yin Seng, I introduce the
dynamic hand movements and speak about their benefits; then we finish the session with loving
kindness meditation. Later, before bedtime, Yin Seng hits the bell several times, and chants the
night blessing he’d learnt in Taiwan; the sound vibration and voice transporting one to an ancient
Chinese temple in the hills shrouded in mist and far away from the noise and activity of the towns
with their many attractions and vices.


September 14, 2000
    Today I receive e-mail from a friend in Singapore and he’s having a dilemma he wants to
share with me. He has achieved all the goals he’d set himself since high school and medical college
and now he’s beside him with anxiety about what to do next. Should he take a Bachelor’s degree in
something? Also, his department at the hospital wants him to become the head supervisor which
would entail long hours of administration work and therefore less time to spend with his young
family of two kids. Any advice?
    Coincidentally, I had recently read about individuals like my friend, who also began to panic
after they had managed to achieve all their life’s goals, hopes and dreams. What to do and achieve
next? This is the craving to become, to achieve, to have, with the resulting fear and anxiety of not
becoming, not achieving, not doing, not having. I pointed this out to my friend and added that this
was the perfect time for him to sit on his ass and meditate and learn how to be still – to experience
the peace and contentment of just being. This is freedom from craving and becoming. Also, I
mentioned to him that life was short and that he should spend as much quality time with his family
as possible; therefore he shouldn’t accept that position as head supervisor at the hospital regardless
of the big salary. So, to be or not to be, that is the question – I wonder who first said that?
    This evening I’m invited to give a talk at the Hindu temple by the Sai Baba group and it has
been arranged by Indra’s wife from Sri Lanka. It’s well attended and I first speak briefly about the
Buddha’s radical way of teaching and his profound insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness,
and non-self. Then I speak on our mental defilements and the three qualities of the Buddha which

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are antidotes to these defilements, namely: wisdom and mindfulness, simplicity and renunciation,
loving kindness and compassion. There is a Q & A period and we end with loving kindness
meditation and a reading. The presentation is very well received and many of those present are
keen to attend the meditation at the Chinese temple on Tuesday evening.
    The reading is titled, Dhammavadaka – “Remember always that you are just a visitor here, a
traveller passing through. Your stay is short and the moment of your departure unknown. None can
live without toil, and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without
rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you, and you will be denied the joy that comes from
labour’s end. Speak quietly and kindly and be not forward with either opinions or advice. If you
talk much, this will make you deaf to what others say. You should know that there are few so wise
that they cannot learn from others. Be near when help is needed, but far when praise and thanks are
being offered.
    Take small account of might, wealth and fame, for they soon pass and are forgotten. Instead,
nurture love within you and strive to be a friend to all. Truly, compassion is a balm for many
wounds. Treasure silence when you find it, and while being mindful of your duties, set time aside
to be alone with yourself. Cast off pretense and self-deception and see yourself as you really are.
Despite all appearances, no one is really evil. They are simply lead astray by ignorance and
delusion. If you ponder this truth always you will offer more light, rather than blame and
condemnation.
     You no less than all beings have Buddha Nature within. Your essential mind is pure.
Therefore, when defilements cause you to stumble and fall, let not remorse nor dark foreboding
cast you down. Be of good cheer and with this understanding summon strength and walk on. Faith
is like a lamp and wisdom makes the flame burn bright. Carry this lamp always and in good time
the darkness will yield and you will abide in the light with peace, compassion, harmony and joy.”
    Afterwards, I’m invited down in the basement for a buffet-style dinner and it’s nice to have
home-cooked Indian vegetarian food again and Indian desserts. I get to meet the Sai Baba devotees
and some of the Hindu members of the temple; they’re all friendly and welcoming and inspired by
the talk. Not all the Hindu devotees are members of the Sai Baba group. One of the organizers is
Yassin Sankar, a lecturer at the local university, and he would like me to conduct a session at his
house before I leave Halifax and also give a talk to some of his students at Dalhousie University.
He and his family have been to Sai Baba’s ashram in southern India twice. Yassin and his wife,
Ahillya, are originally from Guyana of East Indian ancestry, and both of them had studied at Mc
Gill University in Montreal, Quebec; being fellow-West Indians we have an instant connection
and, as it turns out, they’ve been to Jamaica several times during the winter.


September 19, 2000
     This morning during breakfast someone asks me what I think about euthanasia or assisted
suicide. Many Buddhists think and believe that this is a bad thing because it goes against the first
precept about refraining from harming and killing. As mentioned earlier, the precepts are meant to
be guidelines for skillful living and not rigid rules to obey for fear of being punished. Euthanasia or
assisted suicide is an act of loving kindness and compassion for a person’s suffering. We can easily
do this for animals so why not for humans as well? There is really no difference – suffering is
suffering, no? But humans have a soul, the Christians will tell you, and the Asians will say that it’s
bad karma and that you’ll suffer in your next life because of this action – human conditioning, no?


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     Many people in the west have fear and guilt regarding this issue because of their Christian
conditioning and so it will never be made legal in North America and the UK, for example. Asians
have the same fear due to their conditioned beliefs. For when there is true compassion there is no
fear or guilt. Holland and Switzerland have a more sensible and compassionate attitude for
terminally-ill people asking for help and I’ve been told that people in the UK are now going to
Switzerland to receive help to end their suffering. Fear is an irrational mental state. Loving
kindness, compassion, freedom and intelligence go together. There is nothing more to say.
    Today, two devotees have the day off and they’re taking us on an outing to Lunenburg via
some small coastal towns. It’s a well-known place in Nova Scotia for summer visitors and there
are many Germans living in the area. Lunenburg has quite a few gift-shops and restaurants and a
lovely harbour and we get to see some fishing and sailboats. We have lunch at a popular restaurant
near the harbour and then we head back to Halifax. On the drive back, I notice that Yin Seng has a
controlling behaviour towards people and I light-heartedly tell him to relax and enjoy the ride as
the driver knows what he’s doing. The devotees are too polite to say anything to him. So it goes.
    When we arrive back at the temple, there’s a young man, a local Canadian, sitting on the steps
waiting for us to show up. His name is Stanley and he’s very keen on martial arts and would like to
visit Shaolin Monastery one day to learn kung-fu from the monks there. He’s short and athletic,
twenty-one years old, and he’s studying to finish high school which he was previously unable to do
because his parents were constantly moving around Ontario and this disrupted his high school
education. He’s curious about Buddhism and the temple, and after I give him a short tour of the
place that includes my hitting the melodious bowl gong and the hanging bell, I have a long
discussion with him and then we have a thirty-minute meditation after I give him some instruction.
    This evening I read some teaching by Ajahn Chah – “To study the workings of our own sense
perceptions, our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind, in an immediate and wakeful way and
cultivate mindfulness is the path to insight and wisdom, the path prescribed by the Buddha. Look
at what makes up our world – the six senses, the process of mind and body. These processes will
become clear through examination and an ongoing training of attention. As you observe, note how
fleeting and impermanent are each of the sense objects which appear. You will see the conditioned
tendency to grasp or to resist these changing objects. This is the place to learn the path of balance,
the Middle Path.
    Fear, aversion, dissatisfaction, frustration, etc. are not the path of the true Dhamma student but
the path of worldly people. The tranquil person walks the Middle Path of right practice, leaving
grasping on the left, and fear and aversion on the right, towards equanimity and freedom.
    We do not examine ourselves; we just follow desires, caught in endless rounds of craving,
hoping and fearing, wanting to do just as we please. Whatever we do, we want it to be at our our
ease, on our own terms. If we are not able to have pleasure and comfort any longer, we are
unhappy, angry, irritated, resentful, aversion arises, and we suffer, trapped by our deluded minds.
Our thinking follows sense objects, and wherever thoughts lead us, we follow. Yet none of these
objects, images, etc, are substantial. All are impermanent, unreliable – the source of suffering –
and empty of a permanent self. Just cut them short and dissect them into these three characteristics.
    When the mind experiences sense contact, it grabs hold! When it grabs hold, the one who
knows, awareness, must teach it to let go, to contemplate the cause and effect of each situation
until the mind sees clearly and free itself from its own conditioning, habitual reactions, impulses,
and so on. True tranquility is found in activity, in the midst of sense objects. When you make
contact with sense objects – visible forms, sounds, smells, flavours, tangible objects, thoughts and

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images – contemplate: impermanent, unsatisfactory, empty of self. Throw everything into three
pigeon holes, file everything under these three categories, and keep contemplating. Do not trust the
mind, challenge it! This is the awakening of wisdom and intelligence.
     Most people still don’t know the essence of meditation practice. They think that sitting and
walking meditation, and listening to Dhamma talks are the only practice. These are only the outer
forms, preliminary stages of practice. The real practice takes place when the mind encounters a
sense object. That’s the place to practice, when sense contact occurs. When people say things we
don’t like there is resentment or hurt, if they say things we like we experience pleasure. We get
caught by insult or praise. Now this is the place to practice! When people criticize us we should
listen. Are they speaking the truth? We should be open and consider what they say. Maybe there is
a point to what they say, perhaps there is something blameworthy within us. They may be right and
yet we immediately take offence. Some people cannot accept criticism, they are proud, arrogant
and conceited, they become defensive and uptight. Instead they turn around and argue. If people
point out our faults we should strive to be rid of them and improve ourselves. This is how
intelligent people will practice.
     The practice of Dhamma isn’t something you have to go running around for or exhaust
yourself over. Just look at the feelings which arise in your mind. When your eyes see forms, ears
hear sounds, nose smells odours, tongue tastes flavours, body feels sensations, mind creates
thoughts, ideas and images, they all come to this one mind, “the one who knows, who is aware.”
Now, when the mind perceives these things, what happens? If we like that object we experience
pleasure, if we dislike it, we experience displeasure. Craving or aversion may arise. That’s all there
is to it.
     So, where are you going to find lasting happiness in this world? Do you expect everybody to
say only pleasant things to you all your life? Is that possible? No, it’s not. If it’s not possible then
where are you going to go? The world is simply like this. We must know the world, know the truth
of this world. The world is something we should clearly understand. The Buddha lived in this
world, he didn’t live anywhere else. He experienced family life and many pleasures in his father’s
palace but he saw their limitations and detached himself from them. If you persevere with the
practice you, too, will see the limitations of this world and be able to let go. No more grasping and
craving and attachment.”


September 21, 2000
     Today someone asks me my age and I reply that I’m timeless. I get a puzzled look and I
explain my answer. I recall now that when I was in Singapore some months ago several people had
asked me the same question. I had hesitated in answering simply because I don’t get asked that
question often and I stopped counting my age some time ago. No one had asked that question when
I was in Malaysia; they were too polite, no doubt. Singaporeans are more westernized. So when I
replied that I was timeless you can imagine the puzzled expression on their faces. They were
expecting a number and I had no number to give them. They either thought that I was being a “wise
guy” or a “smart ass” or that I was being “mysterious.”
    But the truth is that I do feel timeless, ageless. The idea of time as past and future and age is an
aspect of human conditioning and the thought process. And when one has understood the nature of
conditioning, then one can rest in the Unconditioned – spacious awareness and the eternal,
timeless state of being. Only the present moment exists. Age and birthdays are no longer
important. If you’re living a worldly life and have a regular job being timeless and resting in the

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Unconditioned has very little meaning if any at all. Only if people are on a restful holiday or on a
spiritual retreat close to the natural environment do they get a taste of it.
     Interestingly, there is no self that is born – a young baby only yawns and sleeps, drinks milk
and excretes. The parents give it a name and put the birth date on a birth certificate; this is human
convention. The idea of self, of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ is slowly conditioned, programmed into the
child’s mind, also the idea of age and birthdays. And birthdays are wonderful fun indeed – parties,
cake and ice cream, and presents. There are some rural cultures in SE Asia where birthdays are not
important; people in the towns and cities are more influenced by western traditions, especially if
they have been converted into Christianity.
    Conventionally speaking, we say, “I was born on such and such a date and so I’m X number of
years old.” But really, there is no self that is born, no self that is sick, no self that grows old, and no
self that dies. Birth, sickness, ageing and death are physical phenomena, conditions of nature. They
are not suffering where there is no attachment to “my birth,” “my sickness,” “my ageing,” “my
death.” At the moment, we are grasping at birth, sickness, ageing and death as “ours.” This is
wrong view caused by habitual conditioning. If we don’t grasp and cling and take things
personally, they are not suffering. Birth, sickness, ageing and death are only bodily changes. With
right view, right understanding, birth, illness, ageing and death disappear – only changing
conditions of nature – and the “my” disappear at the same time. There is no longer any grasping or
identification and these conditions are not suffering. There is peace, acceptance, freedom and
detachment. This is the way to overcome birth, sickness, ageing and death. No one and nothing can
free you but your own understanding.
    A visiting Zen student asked Ajahn Chah of Thailand, “How old are you? Do you live here all
year round?” “I live nowhere, “ he replied. “There is no place you can find me. I have no age. To
have age, you must exist, and to think that you exist as a permanent self is already a problem. Don’t
make problems; then the world has none either. Don’t make a self. [Don’t take things
personally].There is nothing more to say.” Profound indeed.
    When you understand non-self, then the burden of life is gone. You’ll be at peace with the
world. When we see beyond self, beyond ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ we no longer cling to happiness and
security, and then we can be truly happy and secure. learn to let go without struggle, simply let go,
to be just as you are – no holding on, no attachment, no grasping – to be light, innocent, joyful and
free. Know your own body, heart and mind. Be content with little. Don’t be attached to teachings,
to books, ideas, opinions and words. Don’t go and hold onto feelings and emotions. Let it all go.
When happiness arises, don’t be overjoyed, and don’t get carried away. When suffering comes –
sadness, depression, loneliness, etc. – don’t despair, don’t lose yourself in it. See that they have the
same value – impermanent mental states, changing and empty conditions of the mind. When
suffering arises, understand that there is really no one to accept it. If you think suffering is yours,
happiness is yours, you will not be able to find peace and joy.
    We belive that a self exists, that there’s a permanent, concrete, separate and independent
ego-entity which sees, hears, tastes, smells, feels and thinks. We believe that a self lives and dies,
we believe that other selves exist. We say that someone passes away or passes on. This is incorrect
view of reality! In truth, it is nama-rupa, mental and physical phenomena shutting down, or the
five aggregates shutting down. In reality, there is no ‘me,’ no ‘he,’ no ‘she,’ these are just labels for
social communication. We spend our lives dreaming about things that do not exist. Our wrong
view causes us attachment and suffering. We have expectations of ourselves and others and if
these do not come through we suffer from frustration, disappointment, resentment, anguish, etc.
We are afraid of death and we do not know what happens to the self after death. It would be most
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beneficial if we could see our life as it really is – only changing phenomena. Then we could face
with right understanding wisdom, old age, sickness and death.
     All phenomena in ourselves and around us are only two kinds of realities – mental [nama] and
physical [rupa]. Nama experiences or knows intuitively, rupa doesn’t know anything. What we
take for self or a person are only changing phenomena, only nama and rupa. This includes animals
and insects – dogs, cats, rats, ants, cockroaches, lizards, flies, etc. I had mentioned this teaching
during my visit to Sarnath, India, last February in part one of this journal. Emotions are also
transitory and empty of self. Our whole life is like a chain of moments of consciousness arising and
falling away. When we realize that our life is actually nama and rupa which arises due to
conditions, we become more patient even in difficult situations.
    During sitting meditation the physical sensation of the breath is rupa, and the awareness of that
sensation is nama. During walking meditation the movement of the feet is rupa and the awareness
of that movement is nama. Mindfulness, awareness is nama [mental phenomenon] which arises
with a clear moment of consciousness. There is no person or individual, only different namas and
rupas appearing one at a time, and they do not stay or last. Clinging to people brings sorrow and
frustration, eventually we shall have to take leave of our loved ones and friends, nothing is
permanent. Through the development of insight, clinging to the concept of a person who exists can
be eradicated. The Buddha saw that at the very root of suffering was the belief in a self which is
separate and permanent – because of this belief we are compelled to protect and gratify and worry
about it. At the deepest level, the Buddha responded to the suffering he saw by helping people to
awaken to the realization to selflessness, impermanence and unsatisfactoriness.


September 24, 2000
    Today is Sunday and the devotees are here again for the weekly chanting ceremony and
vegetarian lunch. Afterwards, there’s a general cleaning of the temple and Yin Seng is teaching a
Dharma class for the group in Cantonese. I sit outside in the Zen Garden and it’s a cool, sunny day
and you can feel that winter is slowly approaching since the leaves are already changing colour.
    I read and write in my journal, sometimes looking at the leaves and drifting clouds and I’m
aware that I’m feeling mentally weary and uninspired, uninspired to share the Dharma with others
and to travel to the west coast for the winter, and I’m starting to feel that I need to do a retreat and
recharge my energies. If I were staying in a Theravada temple, I would be doing the annual Rains
Retreat at this time for the traditional three months, starting in July. The Theravada monastery of
Amaravati outside of London, UK, does their annual retreat during the winter [January – March],
which makes a lot of sense since they’re busy teaching during the summer and autumn; also the
dreary winter weather is more conducive to Dharma practice and inner reflection.
    Although this visit to Halifax has been most interesting and pleasant, I’m beginning to feel
tired of moving around and I’m thinking of perhaps doing a retreat at Steve Morley’s place north
of Vancouver or at a temple in Vancouver instead of going south to Seattle and California – we
shall see.
   The idea of having a few clones of myself so that I can be in several countries all at once is
appealing right now. This would save me a few airfares and the trouble and energy of moving
around so much. It would be nice and convenient to have a clone in SE Asia, one clone for Taiwan
and Hong Kong, another two just for the UK and Europe, one for New Zealand and one for
Australia, and another two to cover all of Canada – one for the east, the other for the west. Nice

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idea and fantasy, no? I observe the craving mind and smile mindfully. Human existence does
indeed have its limitations. What to do?
   One of the devotees has offered to buy me a plane ticket back to Toronto next week and I’m
very touched by her kindness. Tomorrow evening I’ll be giving a talk at Dalhousie University.
This evening I read a wonderful teaching, How We May Live, which was written by a poet some
years ago.
     “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As
far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and
clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and
aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may
become bitter or vain, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your
achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real
possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs for the world
is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many people strive for high
ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity/dryness and disenchantment, it is
perennial as the grass.
     Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrender the things of youth. Nuture strength
of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with
yourself. You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be
here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the world [and Universe] is unfolding as it
should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him or her to be, and whatever
your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, be at peace with your soul. With all its
sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive on to be happy.”


September, 25, 2000
     It is early morning, around 6 am. The sun has not yet risen but its light has already illuminated
the sky; the air is cool and fresh. It’s a delight to see the moon in its two-thirds phase and it’s easy
to perceive it as a three dimensional object in the vastness of outer space, reflecting the light of the
sun below the eastern horizon. If you cannot see it as such, then using a pair of binoculars will
reveal its true nature as an actual sphere. Before I went to India and opened up the mind to spacious
awareness, the moon used to appear two-dimensional, just a flat image of light in the sky. Now one
can easily see it as three-dimensional whether it’s full, two-thirds, half or crescent new moon.
One’s depth of perception has certainly changed over the years.
     There is the chirping of birds and a few small clumps of clouds have turned pinkish orange as
they catch the early morning light giving delight and beauty to the mind via the senses. How
extraordinary it is to see and hear without a center of experience, without an observer or hearer
creating duality and discrimination in consciousness. This is natural meditation without a
meditator trying to achieve or become something. Formal meditation has its place and purpose in
mental training and cultivation but there are limitations as well. Whenever I’m conducting a retreat
program I encourage people, especially when they’re tired or tense, to go outside, walk mindfully
and then stop to look at the environment with a quiet mind – to just see and hear without mentally
reacting, without labeling, liking or disliking. Then meditation becomes a movement in silence,
spacious awareness, beauty and bliss. This is the essence of Nibbana.

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      I like to remind people that the Buddha and those early forest monks didn’t live inside a
temple or meditation center, that they spent most of their lives outdoors. That looking and listening
to the environment with a quiet, relaxed mind was also meditation. Life at that time was very
simple, slow and relaxed; there was no fixed schedule, there was only natural time – no watches,
radios, TV, computers and Internet, and no cell phones. Imagine that.
      Sometimes people ask me if I’ll ever disrobe? Well, only if I’m able to stay in a quiet, rural
area with hills, where I can plant flowers and vegetables and go for long walks, and I don’t have to
work full time. Actually, one thing that I do miss, as a travelling monk, is cultivating a garden of
vegetables and flowers. I miss using my hands in the dirt, pulling weeds and carrying water –
simple, physical and healthy activity using simple, effortless mindfulness. What can be more
natural and beneficial? Such activity would be a good break from reading and writing, using the
computer and Internet, and meeting people. It is so peaceful and wonderful to be quiet and mindful
while gardening, to put aside mental activity and useless chatter. Strict Theravada monks will not
do gardening for the fear of “harming” plants, weeds, insects and worms, but that’s their business
and concern, not mine. Some people have said that I behave more like a Mahayana monk than as a
traditional Theravada monk – in some ways, they’re right.
     Because I meet people all the time, I appreciate more and more being alone and quiet. At times
I have to remind people not to forget that monks are also human beings with shortcomings and
limitations. People expect too much of monks, nuns and priests. I’m only human. Nobody and no
place are perfect. A perfect person, a perfect community, or a perfect teacher is nowhere to be
found. Perfection is only a concept in one’s deluded mind. We are not all wise, so sometimes we
make mistakes. I don’t think we have to feel guilty for the rest of our lives for the misdeeds we
have done in the past.
    I’m growing older or let’s say the body is ageing; there’s no doubt about that. I see it in my
face, the back of my hands, and the grey hairs that have started to emerge on my head. I will die
one day and I’ll be dead much much longer than my lifespan. Our lives are very very brief, like the
blink of an eye, compared to the age of the planet and solar system, not to mention that of the
galaxy and the rest of the Cosmos. We are indeed temporary apertures through which the Universe
becomes aware of itself.
     The Buddha would encourage the monks, nuns and lay practitioners to practice this reflection
every morning – I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way to escape growing old. I have to
calmly accept this fact. I am of the nature to have ill-health; there is no way to escape having
ill-health. I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death. I have to accept this fact. All
that is dear to me and everyone I love are subject to change and impermanence; there is no way to
escape being separated from them. I have to accept this fact. My actions are my only true
belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I
stand. So I have to take responsibility for all of my actions and speech.
    To practice this way takes courage because of mindfulness, a calm and firm state of mind.
There is fear due to a lack of mindfulness and understanding, because of ignorance and delusion
from habitual reaction from conditioning. You can look directly at these “unpleasant” aspects of
the human condition without fear, dread or aversion. No suppression or avoidance. There is more
detachment to self-image.
    Someone once wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is true indeed. Mental
suffering or dis-ease, dukkha, is a part of life, an important aspect of the human condition. We
cannot really learn and grow if we don’t reflect on dukkha, otherwise we constantly blame others

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and conditions for the way we feel. From the deep understanding of suffering and dukkha comes
compassion, loving kindness, patience, acceptance and forgiveness. When I’m experiencing
suffering, mental dis-ease and conflict, I can now do so with calmness and dignity. I don’t try to
blame others and create negativity in the mind for that only increases the suffering. I remind
myself that “this too shall pass” and let it go. I see that whatever I’m experiencing in the moment is
a temporary mental state, a changing condition of the mind, and not self. Then I do loving kindness
meditation – metta bhavana.
    One teacher has written, “These days it’s easy to worry about the world. But what is world?
The Buddha’s approach was not to believe in the perceptions and views we hold, but to look into
what it is we actually experience. We can learn to see what the world, as we experience it in the
present moment, is made of. Our perceptions, our assumptions, ideas, thoughts and images,
feelings and sensations – whatever the relative truth of the picture of the world they provide us – all
these can also be seen just for they are: the basic experience of form, of feeling, perception, mental
fabrication, sensory consciousness happening right now. The world can be seen for what it is, not
something ‘out there’ within which we live but as physical and mental processes we are
experiencing in awareness.
     The end of the world is here in the mind. For it is in the letting go of our habitually grasping
relationship to this ‘world’ that the end of suffering is realized. That may be essentially simple but
it’s so subtle and profound that we need to dedicate ourselves to this practice, which goes against
our usual social values based on self-identity and attainment. It is necessary to still the mind, let go
of what we are grasping, and persue and investigate this matter ourselves.”


September 27, 2000
    It is getting chilly in the hall and so Yin Seng and I have been meditating in our rooms upstairs
where there’s electrical heating. They’ll turn on the furnace heating downstairs for the Tuesday
evening meditation and the Sunday chanting and lunch. The talk at the university the other evening
went well even though the attendance wasn’t so good; Yassin said that most of the students are
busy during the Fall term and the weather was cold and rainy. I spoke about the Buddha’s radical
way of teaching, the three characteristics of existence, and the nature of self and it’s conditioning
with respect to the thinking process, memory, past experience and knowledge, and the habit of
identification.
    During the talk, I noticed that I began to feel quite warm and energetic which was amazing as
I’d been feeling tired, cold, and slightly fluish all day. Then later, I remembered that Yin Seng had
given me a small bowl of Chinese medicine to drink before I went to give the talk that he had
boiled up from a few roots including fresh ginger. Back at the temple, I asked Yin Seng what the
Chinese herbs were and he wrote them down for me; he said this mixture was good to take during
the winter months, which is exactly what I need.
    This evening I’m conducting a session at Yassin Sankar’s house for a few of their friends.
There are two couples from South India and an American couple from Boston, Albert and Maria.
After meditation, we have a discussion about the thinking process and its limitations, its
constructive and destructive nature, the benefits of mindfulness and understanding non-self and
the conditioning of self, and impermanence. Albert finds this teaching of non-self and
impermanence radical and disturbing since he believes in reincarnation and in a permanent and
continuing self or soul like most Hindus. The two Indian couples also believe this ancient idea but
they’re less vocal and argumentative. I mention that this insight of the Buddha is radical indeed

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and it takes a lot of mental training and reflection to understand non-self/emptiness but in the end
what we choose to believe is not so important: what is important is that our mind is peaceful and
free from suffering and conflict.
    Albert and Maria become very animated and mention that their first son has been suffering
from mental problems for the past six years from having had two very bad experiences from
ingesting magic mushrooms, and that their lives have been very challenging and stressful since
then. How can the Buddha’s teaching help him, they would like to know? I reply that I’m not sure
about their son but it can help them deal with the situation much better if they meditate regularly
and keep patient and positive. Yassin suggests that they all come to visit me at the temple and have
a meditation session there and a discussion about their son, David, who’s now living on his own in
a small apartment and taking medication. We end the evening session with loving kindness
meditation and we plan to meet again at the temple this Friday evening.


September 29, 2000
     This morning, after meditation and breakfast, I go for a walk by myself to the Commons and
up the fort hill overlooking the inlet and bridges and part of the downtown area. The Commons is a
large open field with footpaths across it; during the summer months many people use this space for
team sports, mainly baseball and Frisbee football, and for relaxation and picnics. Close by are
tennis courts. I slowly walk up the fort hill that was built by African slaves taken from Jamaica;
apparently, material was taken from out of town in order to build this hill plus the fort on top as a
strategic defense position to protect the town and natural inlet harbour. Descendants of some of
those slaves plus escaped slaves from the United States are now a part of the Halifax population.
     The view is lovely from the hill and you can also see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance beyond
the inlet. During the summer when it’s warm in Halifax, the ocean and coastline will be chilly and
windy with people surfing with wetsuits on. There are two bridges across the inlet with Dartmouth
on the other side, and beyond Dartmouth is the airport. You can spend hours on the hill looking at
the scenery and the vast sky with clouds, and reading a good book. This would be a great spot to
watch the evening sunset. The clock tower on the hillside is a well-known landmark.
     This evening, Yassin, Ahillya, Albert, Maria, and a friend, Mary, are coming to see me and to
have a private session of meditation and discussion, and to talk about the mentally disturbed
David. Although I’m feeling tired and weary of life and human problems, I have no choice but to
get involved. Call it the practice of ‘no preference’ – acceptance, patience, or simply going with
the flow, not wanting things to be otherwise. First I give them a tour of the temple which includes
demonstrating the wonderful sounds of the melodic bowl gong and the hanging bell. After basic
instructions, we meditate for half an hour and have a short discussion about the practice and the
importance of patience in mental training.
     Later, we move to the kitchen and sit around the dining table sipping herbal tea. I answer the
usual questions about how I became interested in Buddhism and the monkhood, and how I came to
know about this temple. Then I ask Albert and Maria about their son, David, how he first ended up
in the hospital’s mental ward. Before coming to Halifax, David and his two brothers grew up in
New Mexico and their main interests were playing electric guitar and basketball. David had a
competitive nature and he dreamed of becoming a professional musician or basketball player.
     Then one day he and a friend took some magic mushrooms and he had a very bad experience;
his brain chemistry was not compatible with the psychedelic mushroom and he simply flipped out

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believing that the whole world was decaying at a rapid pace. His mind became unstable after that
and his behaviour became erratic, which shocked and puzzled his family since he hadn’t told them
of his frightening experience with magic mushrooms. His hallucinations continued on and off and
he began to believe that if he took the mushrooms again he would somehow manage to straighten
himself out; he would be able to get his mind back to normal again. Huge mistake! He didn’t
realize that it was his brain chemistry that was the problem; many people have taken magic
mushrooms without having bad experiences and the delusional after-effects.
     His second experience was worse than the first time and this was how his parents got to know
what he’d done before and this is how he was admitted to the hospital mental ward. He lived at
home for a while but his behaviour was so unstable and at times abusive and threatening, that they
had to get him to live by himself in a small apartment with occasional home visits. He was on
medication, of course, but he didn’t like taking it on a regular basis and his mental delusions would
start up again. Not surprising, his prior interest in guitar playing and basketball has faded with his
mental disturbance and lack of focus.
    His parents and family friends have been very supportive of David but they have all been
subjected to abusive behaviour from him. Albert, Maria and the two brothers have been through a
great deal of stress, needless to say. I mention that there are programs for mentally-disturbed
people where they take them to the natural environment and have them do a lot of physical activity
plus yoga and meditation in order to help them get out of their mental state and get them more in
touch with the body, breathing and intuitive awareness. Unfortunately, there are no such programs
in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. I tell Albert and Maria that I would be happy to meet with
David if he’s willing to see me, plus have another meditation session with them before I leave
Halifax. It’s been a very nice evening of sharing and mutual understanding.


October 2, 2000
    Today I’m meeting David at a coffee shop for a chat and to see what I can offer to help him
deal with his mental condition. David is tall, athletic, with short brown hair, a long face and nose,
and he carries a serious facial expression. It’s not hard to imagine that he once was an avid
basketball player and that he has been through a great deal of mental disturbance and confusion.
After some encouragement from his parents, he has agreed to meet with me and he’s naturally
curious about this Buddhist monk. I can, at once, sense his feeling of isolation and loneliness,
having this mental condition, and I’m happy that I was able to overcome my initial reluctance to
see him. I introduce myself and buy us two cups of coffee.
      In order to break the ice, I tell him about myself, how I grew up in Jamaica, how I came to
Canada to study, how I travelled overland to India and Nepal, how I became interested with
Buddhism, yoga-meditation, and Indian classical music, and how I eventually became a monk in
Sri Lanka. Knowing of his musical background, I show him two old photos of myself playing the
sitar and I explain the difference between learning to play the sitar compared to the guitar. I also
tell him of my earlier interest in playing classical and flamenco guitar music. I’m as casual, relaxed
and friendly as can be. His initial serious facial expression slowly lightens with shy smiles and
curious questions mainly about Indian classical music and playing the sitar. He says he plays the
guitar occasionally but it’s not the same as before.
    I then relate something of the Buddha’s life, before and after his enlightenment, and how he
taught in a most radical way, and about his radical teaching about impermanence, suffering,
unsatisfactoriness, and non-self. Knowing from his parents’ account that he has always had a big

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ego problem, I carefully explain the connection between mental conflict and the mind’s
investment in clinging and protecting the ego, and how mental training and cultivation can help to
overcome this mental suffering and dis-ease with the right effort and determination. Although I
know that David’s a special case, I remind myself that he’s basically no different from your
average neurotic person who’s trapped in compulsive, delusional self-centered thinking.
    Then I proceed to explain the nature of thinking and how logical, rational thoughts are
necessary in daily life, and how our thinking can become completely irrational and destructive
when they create fear, worry, craving, clinging, hatred, resentment and ill-will. And how
meditation practice and awareness can help us overcome this irrational and delusional aspect of the
thinking process, explaining the difference between thoughts and
awareness/attention/mindfulness.
     Up until now, David has been fairly attentive and listening patiently but when I start
mentioning about the destructive aspect of the thought process he begins to get defensive,
animated and argumentative, not surprisingly since he’s very trapped inside the world of thoughts,
images, ideas and the belief in a permanent self or ego center. His tense forehead reveals a very
powerful, compulsive mental process, and I know that it’s initially very threatening to hear about
another way of being than one’s own mental world and one’s strong identification with thoughts
and feelings, self-image, desires, aversions, likes and dislikes, plans for the future, the physical
body, personal possessions and so on. He cannot relate to anything that doesn’t involve the thought
process and so he naturally defends the right to think and think and think. Such is the nature of
compulsive thinking; it’s like a dog going around in circles trying to catch its tail; some refer to this
as the “mind loop.”
     At this point of the conversation, I feel the need to tell him of my past experience with
marijuana during university days when I was experiencing a great deal of anxiety about the future
and feeling this tension in my stomach all the time, and how smoking this herb had helped me to
slow my mental process down so I could begin to relax and feel more peaceful and happy in the
present moment despite my initial reluctance to try marijuana because of its illegal status in the
society. David can easily relate to this experience as he had obviously smoked marijuana since he
was a teenager and he can recall feeling very happy and content and carefree and how it had helped
his creative energy while playing the electric guitar with other members of the band. This was, of
course, before his unfortunate experience with the magic mushrooms when his brain chemistry
became discordant with the molecules of psilocybin in those mushrooms. He recalls his thinking
process slowing down which changed his perception of time and he felt more focused in the
present moment; this was also my experience with marijuana. And he can recall having this state
of attention while playing basketball and not having to think so much. That’s good.
    I then say that the meditation experience is similar to this state of calm attention in the present
moment but this is achieved without any outside agent involved, and with this awareness one can
have more freedom and less influence from unnecessary thoughts that create mental suffering and
problems. I tell him that there are different ways of calming and focusing the mind, not only
through sitting meditation but walking, tai chi, chi gong, and hatha yoga, as well. He says that
when he was in the mental ward and taking heavy doses of tranquilizer drugs, he wasn’t allowed to
do any physical activity even though there was a gym in the hospital; there was a shortage of staff
and there was no one to supervise the gym activities.
     He spends a lot of time inside his apartment feeling very lonely and isolated; yes, thinking by
its very nature is self-isolating, divisive and fragmentary. I encourage him to do more walking and
running and to look more at the trees and the sky to help open his mind to spacious awareness,
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thereby releasing some of the mental tension in his head. I also suggest him doing some volunteer
work which would help him relate to people in a beneficial way and to feel better about himself.
    After a long discussion, we decide to get up and walk around the hill and up to the top to see the
view. David is feeling more relaxed and open, not so mentally involved as before. Unfortunately,
I’m leaving very soon and I won’t be able to have a chi gong-yoga session with him; at least this
meeting is a good beginning. We get to the top of the hill and I mention how wonderful it is to see
this marvelous view and feel the open space of the landscape, the inlet harbour, the Atlantic Ocean
in the distance, and the clouds in the vast blue sky. David laughs and says this open space is
wonderful indeed.


October 5, 2000
    Today I’m heading back to Toronto by air. Last evening, the devotees had a farewell dinner
for me at one of their members’ restaurant; it was a kind gesture and I was touched by the
gathering. I invited the student, Stanley, to join us and I paid for his share of the dinner; he was
very happy to be a part of the farewell party and afterwards we had a long walk around the temple
area, discussing many things, as we had eaten a fair amount of food and needed some exercise. I’m
not used to eating a big meal during the evening.
     Yin Seng cooks us another tasty meal for lunch and we plan to meet in Toronto later this
month since he has to come from Ottawa to buy a lot of Chinese herbs in Chinatown and ship them
to Mr. Oh in Halifax. I thank him for his kindness and hospitality, and one of the devotees gives me
a ride to the airport via Dartmouth. On the flight to Toronto via Montreal, I meet a friendly couple,
Michael and Gloria, who are going to visit one of their daughters in Toronto, and they’re very
curious about Buddhism and my life as a monk. I tell them about the Chinese temple in Halifax and
about the Shambala Center; we have a pleasant chat all the way to Toronto and we plan to keep in
touch and get together when I visit Halifax next summer.
     I’m met by Louie, a friend who lives in the west end of the city, not far from the airport, and
we have dinner at a Chinese vegetarian restaurant near Wayne’s place. Louie works as a counselor
at a drug addiction center, being a former drug addict himself, and I tell him about my experiences
in Halifax including meeting David with the mental problem. Afterwards, he drops me off at
Wayne’s landlord’s house and I meet Wayne again in the second floor flat. He has gotten the
meditation visa for Myanmar/Burma and he has starting to pack up his stuff and slowly preparing
to move out at the end of next month; his flight to Myanmar via Hong Kong is on December 7th,
and I’m happy and excited for him. I tell him about Yin Seng and our visit to the Chinese temple in
Halifax, plus my plan to spend the winter out on the west coast.


October 8, 2000
     It’s the autumn season and the leaves are changing from green to red, orange, yellow, and
various shades in between. Another lovely miracle of nature, something that most people in the
tropics will not likely experience in their life-time; I think fondly of friends in Malaysia and
Singapore and wish I could share this magical phenomenon with them. It feels good to be working
on the book again after a six-week break. I had sent e-mail to Steve Morley on the west coast
informing him that I’ll be able to visit him for a few weeks on the way to Vancouver and perhaps
Seattle, and he’s enthusiastic to see me and have some meditation practice and Dharma teachings.


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    May Ling informs me that the Student Buddhist Association won’t be have a Buddhism
Awareness Week this Fall as most of the student members are too busy but she has invited a
Canadian monk from northern Ontario to give some talks at the International Student Center. She
was trying to contact me last month but I was away in Halifax. I tell her that I’m planning to spend
the winter on the west coast, we shall see.
These autumn haikus are from an old notebook:


The autumn wind                    Some of these leaves         Leaves falling,
brings enough fallen leaves        are the same colour          Lie on one another,
to make a fire.                    as my robes.                The rain beats on the rain.


On a withered branch          The mountain grows darker,       It is deep autumn:
A crow is perched             Taking the scarlet               My neightbour –
In the autumn evening.        From the autumn leaves.           How does he live, I wonder?


Distant lights:               The autumn mountains:           Under the water,
There they live               Here and there                  On the rock resting,
This autumn night.            Smoke rising.                   The fallen leaves.


The stillness:                        The quietness;                   An autumn eve:
A bird walking on fallen leaves:      A chestnut leaf sinks           There is joy too,
The sound of it.                      Through the clear water.        In being alone.


I walk over it alone,              Autumn evening,
In the cold moonlight:             A distant bell rings:
The sound of the bridge.           The silence deepens among the leaves.


October 21, 2000
     Today I’m going to visit a special place that gave me a lot of inspiration some years ago, when
I was feeling frustrated and discouraged from weeks of trying unsuccessfully to find a job. It was at
this time of year and the autumn leaves were lovely beyond words. This special place is the
Rosedale Cemetery, off Yonge Street, north of Bloor St. and south of Eglinton Avenue; and it was
a day like today – cool, sunny and perfect for walking. I’ve always liked cemeteries ever since I
can remember; across the road from my childhood home in Jamaica was an Anglican Church and a
cemetery. I sometimes used to play there with friends, joking and laughing about ghosts and spirits
in order to overcome the fear of the unknown, reading the tombstones and trying to comprehend
the mystery of death with my young, inquiring mind.

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     In Malaysia, I was fascinated by the graves in the Chinese cemeteries with their unique oval
shape; some of these cemeteries were situated on hillsides thought to have good feng shui
[harmony with the elements]. I was also intrigued by the Chinese writing on the tombstones and
the photos of the deceased; not only of elderly folks, but also of young people – children and
teenagers, even babies, people in their twenties and thirties, and so on. These photos underscored
the fact that death was common to all age groups, and not only to the elderly. Also, that death
existed simply because of birth – this is just the way things are. I would also see similar photos in
Chinese and Vietnamese temples at the shrine of Ksitigarba, the Bodhisattva of Departed Spirits. I
find these shrines deeply moving as I look at each photo and reflect on the truth of impermanence
and emptiness, and the brief lives of all living things on Earth.
    Some years ago, I was looking for work for some weeks without success, as mentioned
previously, and I was feeling very down and frustrated. I had just visited the Employment Office
[at Yonge and Eglinton] yet again without much luck, and I decided to walk along Yonge St. down
to Bloor St. instead of taking the subway train. It was a beautiful fall day and I needed the physical
activity. My mental state was in such contrast to the beauty of the day – the sunshine, the
enchanting blue sky with cotton clouds, and the gorgeous trees with their changing colours. And
this was when I came upon the Rosedale Cemetery on my left, a place I’d totally forgotten existed
in this part of town. It was so unexpected that I was pleasantly surprised and soon relieved of the
mental burden I was carrying. I simply had no choice but to enter its gates and slowly stroll
through this lovely, serene place, despite its association with death, sorrow and loss.
     I was immediately transported into another dimension, mentally and spiritually. The city with
its many buildings, office workers and shoppers seemed very far away; I was in a place of peace
and silence, graves with human remains, autumn leaves, flowers, and bird songs with the blue sky
above. One by one, I read the epitaphs on the gravestones, as if searching for a story; some had
died fairly young, some in their twenties, thirties, forties, and so on. Like the Chinese graves in
Malaysia, death had no age limit; it didn’t discriminate on the basis of social status, personal
wealth or fame. Birth and death were inseparable. Reading these stones, I tried to imagine what
lives they had led, however short or long. Were they good people? Were they kind and considerate
or were they self-centered, insecure and needy? Were they intelligent and intuitive or were they
delusional and confused? Did they find some degree of peace and contentment or were they
frustrated and anxious? Did they die peacefully without fear and confusion? Were their deaths
accidental or from disease?
     Once they were all alive; once they experienced the same emotions – happiness, sadness,
anxiety, worry, fear, desire, frustration, expectation, disappointment, attachment, anger,
resentment, hope, guilt, regret, loneliness. And now they were gone with only bones remaining. As
I reflected on the truth of impermanence and non-self, emptiness, I felt a deep sense of love and
compassion with its beauty, energy, freedom and joy. I felt as if I was walking on a cloud high
about the world and close to heaven. The self with its desires and concerns had been transcended.
     Today I return to this special place, a place of beauty, peace and understanding, a place where
the reality of death and impermanence can transform one’s ignorance and suffering into wisdom,
acceptance and compassion. This time I’m not feeling frustrated and discouraged about finding a
job [that was indeed a past life], only tired and world-weary. The graves are still there, of course,
including more recent ones, and the trees are as colourful and magical as before. It would be
interesting to visit this place during winter with snow and bare trees; it would be quite different,
more austere without the green grass, flowers and autumn leaves, but the epitaphs would still be
there to be read and pondered over.

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     I slowly walk through the cemetery with its autumn trees and read the stones as before. Some
I recognize from eighteen years ago and some are like new, but all of them tell a story, however
brief. These were lives that once existed with hopes, dreams and regrets, laughter and tears, and
now only silence, bones and dust remain. Once they were regarded as individual personalities but
in fact, they were just mental and physical phenomena, subject to sickness, ageing and death, and
without permanent, concrete, separate selves. I think of the Zen koan: “What is your original face
before your parents were born?” Is there anything permanent before and after death?
     I smile at the mystery of existence, and the beauty and joy of kindness and compassion. So you
can say that we die and we don’t die. That’s correct understanding. Conventionally speaking, we
do die, and we don’t die simply because there’s no permanent ‘I’ or ‘me’ to be found – only
changing phenomena of mind and body, only the four elements, only vibrating atoms. We are
biological manifestations of Cosmic Energy, and energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can
only change from one form to another, and move from one place to another. And to think that there
are galaxies and galaxies of Cosmic Energy.
     There are a few very old gravestones where the epitaphs have worn away with time; their brief
stories faded into obscurity; their loved ones having passed away and so there are no more
memories, no more attachments. Only the earth element remains – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Gravestones are really for the living, not for the dead; the dead don’t care. People’s
craving/clinging is so strong that sometimes we think and believe that our dead relatives really
need us; this is an interesting aspect of the human condition. As we are born to die, death lasts
much longer than life, and the cemetery, where we go to rest through all eternity, is our true home.
Our house, our neighbourhood, our town or city, are merely temporary stopping places, shelters
along the way. The cemetery, on the other hand, is a permanent residence, the one where a
“person” will lie forever, unless the remains are disturbed and removed to another location, or
scattered on the ground.
    Walking in this open space, the vast blue sky seems everlasting and endless, but I know that it
exists only because of the interdependence of several factors – the sunlight, the planet and
atmosphere, the eyes with their optical nerves connected to the brain, and the phenomenon of
seeing consciousness – all things are inter-being.
    Here’s a poem by Lin Yutang from Taiwan:


As I walk in the cemetery
I read the tombstones one by one;
Although only a few lines each
To the careful eye they tell many stories.
All the things that we worry about, fight for or accomplish,
In the end are reduced to two dates of birth and death!
When we live we are separated by status and households,
by different beliefs, views and opinions;
When we die we come here to lie down side by side.
The dead are my real teachers [wise and profound];

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They teach me through their eternal silence!
A walk through the cemetery simply dissipates all my worries.
The dead cleanse my mind by the vivid example of their existence!
Suddenly I see that life could end at any moment!
Once I realize that I am so close to death
I am instantly free in life.
Why bother to criticize or fight with others?
Let me just be pure in mind and enjoy living!
Anyone we come across is sure to be with us for only this moment;
Let us be kind to each other and make life a merry-go-round!
May all who are lost in the sorrows and worries of life,
Wake up to the fact of the closeness of death!
Once you see impermanence face to face,
You will enjoy peace and freedom for life!


November 5, 2000
    We are now in the month of November and it’s getting colder by the day. Most of the leaves
have fallen and the trees are withdrawing into themselves for the winter. My head and sinuses are
sensitive and I wonder whether it’s a virus or just a seasonal allergy of sorts. Why do we get
headaches?…simply because we have a head; it’s that simple: no head, no headaches. The days are
getting shorter with less sunlight and there’s a certain degree of sadness now that the warmth and
delight of the summer are really over for another year. Looking at the sun’s lower position in the
sky, I can not only feel the tilt of the planet in the northern hemisphere but I can also feel that we
are on a sphere, a big ball relative to our size, and can understand why it’s warmer towards the
equator, in places like Florida and Central America, being closer to the sun, and why it’s now early
summer down under in places like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
    Wayne and I have to move out of the flat by the end of the month and his mother has been
coming over to help pack the kitchen utensils in boxes to be stored at his sister’s apartment until he
returns from Myanmar. He’s been at this flat for six years and he has a few things to throw out. I
have all my belongings at one end of the living room and I’m aware of the stress in the mind about
having to deal with these possessions. I sit and meditate and sometimes I open my eyes and look at
them and observe the mind’s reaction. Suddenly, I have a flash and I’m inspired to give the electric
rice cooker and duvet cover to the Goodwill Store not far from here. And as I’m taking these two
items there, I’m thinking of the possibility of having a place in future where I’ll be able to use the
rice cooker and duvet cover, and I have to laugh at the clinging mind.
    Once I’ve given them to the store, I feel much lighter: two less things to worry about! I also
have another inspiration about the meditation cushions and I call a friend and student who is keen
on Dharma practice and she’s happy to have the cushions plus the tall ceiling lamp and a few books
– great, that’s eight less things to worry about! But I still have a few garbage bags of stuff plus the


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special mosquito net and umbrella from Thailand; I have to call another friend and ask if she has
some storage space in her basement.
     This afternoon, I’m in the downtown area to check on flights and airfares to Vancouver and to
visit The World’s Largest Book Store near Yonge and Dundas. And as I’m walking around in the
cold air and seeing the dull, grey sky, I realize that I’m somewhat depressed and rundown, weary
of life in the big city and of moving around: I long for stillness and non-doing, to be in harmony
with the Tao. I wish to stop seeing people including friends and family members, and I wish to stop
working on the book material. Yes, it’s indeed time for a retreat but where? But before then, I have
to conduct a session at a Chinese Medicine Center in Mississauga and I have to visit the Blue
Heron Dharma group in Hamilton.


November 15, 2000
     Upon awakening the world comes into existence. Opening my eyes there’s seeing
consciousness which gives me the awareness of the room I’m staying in. I can see and recognize
my traveling bag and some of my belongings; there are also some books, a plastic container of skin
lotion, and a small brown wooden statue of the Buddha on the dresser. With hearing consciousness
I’m aware of birds singing outside in the tree close to the window. It is consciousness via the six
sense doors that creates the world as we know it and this world is always changing. Last night
when I fell asleep and lost consciousness ‘my’ world no longer existed. In the deep sleep state, the
world doesn’t exist, our city or town doesn’t exist, our family and friends don’t exist, our house
and possessions don’t exist, neither does our sense of self with its memories and ideas about the
future. This is why we say, when someone is sound asleep, that he/she is “dead to the world” – you
can say that the deep sleep state is temporary mental death. Only when the brain comes out of that
unconscious state that the thought process begins again in the form of dreaming. And because
thoughts are related to memory, past experience and knowledge, you can see that dreams are a
combination of mixed-up memories, fantasies, ideas and wishful thinking, yes?
    Two days ago, I got e-mail from Steve Morley on the west coast saying that it’s not
convenient for me to visit him, after all. Now I’m thinking of doing the winter retreat at Yin Seng’s
temple in Ottawa instead of going out to Vancouver.
     This evening I’m visiting the Dharma group in Hamilton and staying at the Vietnamese temple
on the mountain; it’s a small house temple and the resident monk is Ven. Thich Tam Dang. The
other resident is Kim Nguyen, a lay devotee and supporter, and it’s very nice to see them again
after many months. I first stayed here during the Fall of 1996 when I was invited to meet the
Dharma group who was using the temple for their gathering. Now they are using the Friends
Meeting House in West Hamilton for their weekly sessions.
     I’m having tea and a pleasant chat with Ven. Tam Dang about my travels and activities [he has
been to Thailand but not Malaysia or India] and about the current situation in Viet Nam with the
communist government. I happen to mention that I’m feeling very tired and burnt-out, and that I’m
thinking of doing a winter retreat in either Ottawa or Vancouver. And then he mentions that there’s
an empty room at the temple and that I’m welcome to stay and do the retreat here, no problem. The
temple only gets busy for a few hours on Sundays, when the devotees come for the chanting
ceremony and vegetarian lunch. This is wonderful news and a kind offer, and I feel greatly relieved
since Hamilton is close to Toronto and I don’t have to go all the way out to Vancouver or to Ottawa
, the latter city is four hours by train from Toronto.


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November 29, 2000
    Today I’m moving out of Wayne’s flat with the help of another friend, Louie, with whom I’ll
be staying for a few days before moving to Hamilton. Wayne will be moving tomorrow to his
sister’s apartment and then leaving for Burma/Myanmar via Hong Kong on December 7th.
Needless to say, he’s very excited to be going to SE Asia for the first time to do a long meditation
retreat, and I’m very happy for him on his new adventure. He has been a kind and supportive friend
for the last three years whenever I’ve been in Toronto, and now we must go our separate ways. He
deserves a break from Toronto and the working life, and thanks to my many travel stories and
inspiration, he has gotten the courage to quit his job and take off despite his mother’s wishes and
worry. You only live once, I would remind him, contrary to some people’s belief in reincarnation.
What can I say but thanks for everything and bon voyage.
    This evening I’m alone in Louie’s house and I feel as if my retreat has already begun. Louie is
a counselor in drug addiction and he’s working the late afternoon shift. There’s blessed silence,
solitude and peace; this silence is so healing and inexhaustible, a silence that has existed even
before the world and solar system came into being. Although I’m still in Toronto, I feel far away
from the activities of the city. Tomorrow I’ll have to venture out and get some Chinese herbs in
Chinatown, the ones that were recommended to me by Ven. Yin Seng for the winter blues. I’m
even tired of taking public transportation but one more time on the bus and subway train won’t
hurt.
     I read the Tao Tse Ching: “The five colours can blind our eyes, the five sounds deafen our
ears, the five tastes exhaust our appetites. Chasing desire can drive us mad. Therefore, the Tao
person seeks inner wisdom and peace, lets go of excess, and affirms the truth of the way things
are.” Modern life assaults our senses with noise, colour, shapes, images, and ceaseless appeals to
appetite. It’s easy to lose our balance. Feeling the healing sensation of silence in one way of
reducing sensory overload and the craving for entertainment and the need to acquire things.
     Also from the Tao Tse Ching: “To reach the goal of perfect peace, empty yourself of all
things. All in nature stands before your eyes, the ten thousand things grow and flourish, and then
return to the Source, regaining perfect peace. This is the way of Nature. The way of Nature is
unchanging. He is enlightened who has learned this well. And he who knows of it will be tolerant
and being tolerant is therefore just. Being just you will have an open mind, with an open mind you
will be open-hearted. Being open-hearted you will act with grace. With open mind and open heart
and acts of grace, you will attain the divine. Being divine, you will be one with the Tao. Being one
with the Tao is eternal. The body will die, but the Tao will never pass away.
    Heaven and earth and I are of the same root, the ten thousand things and I are of one substance.
How do I know the ways of all things at the beginning? By what is within me.” Empty-handed I
entered the world, bare-footed I leave it – two simple happenings that got entangled and
complicated in between.”


December 4, 2000
   The retreat at Louie’s house continues. He has offered to drive me to the temple in Hamilton
with my belongings when he can spare the time; this will be most convenient. Until then, I’m
content to sit and enjoy the silence and peace of just being – being nobody special and going
nowhere. I have all the time in the world to do nothing but observe what is happening in this mind

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and body, and to reflect on things. From the stillness, a memory arises, no, two memories arise:
one is of my hiking adventure in northern Thailand, which I described at the first part of this
journal, namely, the part where I’m looking at the clear night sky and the stars of the Milky Way
Galaxy. And the second memory is about looking at the night sky during my first visit to
Vancouver and camping with friends at a national park east of the city, during 1983.
    One friend was quite keen on astronomy and astrology and he was showing me the
constellations, certain stars and some of the visible planets with the aid of a pair of binoculars. I
remember being very impressed when he showed me the giant orange star, Betelguese, for the first
time; he said it was many times bigger than the sun and that it might become a supernova soon. I
wondered if it had planets going around it like our solar system and whether there were any life
forms like on our planet. I’m always wondering about a lot of things, including the evolution of life
on other planets.
     Then this friend looked towards the horizon, using the binoculars, and after several seconds,
said mysteriously, “Oh my God, there it is. I haven’t seen this in a while and I was hoping that it
would be there tonight. Don, you must see this; it is unbelievable!” My immediate reaction was
that he’d seen a genuine UFO or a rarely seen star or constellation. “What is it?” I asked with
excited curiosity hoping it would be a real UFO. He smiled excitedly, handed me the binoculars
and pointed me in the right direction. At first I saw only stars, nothing new, nothing special, only
countless number of stars twinkling in the immensity of space that the human mind is incapable of
comprehending. “I only see stars, nothing out of the ordinary,” I said, feeling a bit disappointed.
“Keep looking in that direction, “ he said patiently, “Do you see a fuzzy disc-like object?” A
disc-like object implied a genuine flying saucer, right? And to my surprise I began to see this fuzzy
disc-like object but it didn’t look like a flying saucer to me. What is that object, I wondered? I’d
never seen such an object before in the night sky. “That,” said my friend with reverence and awe,
“is the Andromeda Galaxy, the farthest object in the Universe that can be seen with the naked
eye!” I almost fainted in shock and surprise! I couldn’t believe it!
     Of course, I was familiar with the Andromeda Galaxy; I had seen time-lapsed photographs of
this awesome star-system taken through powerful telescopes. I knew it was similar to our
spiral-shaped Milky Way Galaxy although a bit larger, that it was a close neighbour in our local
group of galaxies, but I never thought it possible to be able to see it with my own eyes, using
binoculars or not. I was totally flabbergasted! Since I’m shortsighted, I decided to put my glasses
on to see if I could see this distant but relatively close object without the aid of the binoculars.
Initially squinting my eyes a bit, I was indeed able to see this extraordinary, extra-terrestrial
phenomenon, so faint and seemingly insignificant in its remoteness, a mere smudge in the field of
consciousness compared to the brighter stars relatively close to us, and yet in actuality so immense
and mind-boggling big, that we can only compare it to other galaxies since everything else that we
can know in daily existence is infinitely so much smaller. What I find also fascinating and amazing
is that all the countless stars that we can see are contained in our own Milky Way galaxy, and that
this small fuzzy patch of light is an equally massive galaxy completely outside of our star system at
an estimated distance of 2.5 – 2.9 million light years away. It’s really a world of its own, in a
manner of speaking.
     They say that our galaxy is about 100, 000 light years in diameter; that would mean that if it
were about the size of a Frisbee, then the Andromeda Galaxy would be like a bigger Frisbee only
25-29 feet away, just next door, really. It’s just a matter of perspective and relativity. To a small
child, a small room would seem large, and to an ant the same room would seem immense, wouldn’t
it? Someone has said that perhaps the Universe isn’t that immense, it’s just that everything in it is

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so much smaller, so much tinier and minute, even more microscopic. Compared to the size of our
planet, we are like bacteria or viruses on a large grapefruit. On a human scale, a light-year would
seem an incredibly long distance but on a galactic scale it would be a very small measurement
indeed; and on a Cosmic scale, a light-year would be meaningless, considering that there are
countless galaxies spread across the Universe.
    As mentioned earlier, compared to the size of the galaxy, our planet and solar system is but a
minute speck of dust, which is very humbling indeed if our mind is open, inquiring and subject to
awe and wonder, beauty, mystery and vast, unlimited space beyond thoughts and feelings. There’s
limited space around thoughts and the ‘me’ center; meditation is the ending of one’s attachment to
the thought process, it is the process of stepping out of the mind-stream and observing it
objectively. It is the ending of this small space that surrounds thoughts and ideas; it’s a movement
in silence, vast space, beauty and bliss. It’s indeed possible for the mind to be beyond measure and
time; it’s possible for the mind to experience this immeasurable and timeless Universe, and to
know that it is an aperture through which the Universe becomes aware of itself.
    Cosmic reflection has its benefits for it helps us to put things into perspective; it helps us to see
more clearly what our priorities really are, what really matters in daily living. It helps us to view
the human race with its endless social problems and conflicts more objectively and with less
anxiety, worry and despair, and it helps us to realize that the only things that make any real sense in
this vastly immense, mind-boggling Universe are loving kindness, compassion, infinite patience
and peace.
     I read from Verses on the Faith Mind: “The Way is perfect like vast space, where there’s no
lack or excess. Awakening is to go beyond both emptiness and form, all changes in this empty
world seem real because of ignorance. The Way is without limit, beyond the easy and the hard, just
let go now of clinging mind, and all things are just as they are, in essence nothing goes or stays. To
seek Great Mind with thinking mind is certainly a grave mistake, if mind does not discriminate, all
things are as they are, as One, when all is seen with “equal mind,” to our Self-nature we return.
With single mind one with the Way, all ego-centered striving cease; doubts and confusion
disappear, and so true faith pervades our life. There is nothing that clings to us, and nothing that is
left behind. In this true world of emptiness both self and other are no more. The Way is beyond all
space, all time, one instant is 10,000 years. Not only here, not only there, truth is right before your
very eyes – know this and all’s whole and complete.”


December 6, 2000
     It is cold and overcast, a perfect day for staying indoors. The retreat continues. In the light and
space of silence and peace, all problems are dissolved. In meditation, thoughts come and go
without identification and therefore they are without substance or importance, only fleeting words
and images in consciousness, only electrical impulses in the frontal lobe of the brain. The ending
of thought is silence and creation, and that silence has immense depth, a lasting incorruptible
beauty and peace. A mind that is burdened by memory, by the weight of experience cannot be
fresh and innocent. It cannot be simple and alone, quiet and blissful, free from fear, desire and
time. It cannot enter the vast and timeless dimension of silence and the unknown.
    I recall reading a book titled, The Man Who Walked Through Time, some years ago. I cannot
recall the name of the author but it’s about his hiking adventure in the Grand Canyon for several
weeks and recording his impressions and reflections on this unique and beautifully inspiring
environment. He tells of the different layers of rock and the fossils in them that came from marine

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life when this area was once below the ocean, each layer of rock older than the one above as you
descend deeper into the canyon. He tells how after three weeks in this silent and awesome place,
his mind became very calm and silent, spacious and timeless, being far away from the hustle and
bustle of city life, and how he was able to deeply feel the vast time span involved, in the formation
of the layers of rocks with their fossils and the slow erosion of the canyon by the Colorado River
with his whole being, as opposed to this reality being just an intellectual concept or idea. He was
able go beyond our normal mental perception of time related to past memories and future plans,
schedule time and anniversaries. He could feel the age of the earth deeply in his bones, deeply in
his body cells, in his DNA molecules, as it were, as opposed to being influenced by conditioned
time created by the thought process – call this Cellular Memory, if you will, hence the title: The
Man Who Walked Through Time.
     I can relate to this kind of experience. Once I was sitting on a beach in Sicily [southern Italy]
and observing the volcano, Mount Etna, smoking away with some lava flow occurring on top, and
reflecting on this geological phenomenon in connection to the origin of the planet and solar
system. Normally, in our busy lives, we tend to forget that a few kilometers below us is not solid
rock but hot, molten lava, even if we’ve read scientific journals or seen geological programs on TV
related to volcanic activity, tectonic plate movements and earthquakes in various parts of the
world. Scientists who study planetary phenomena are more aware of these things on a daily basis,
naturally. But when you witness first hand a live volcano in action, you can more easily accept the
fact that there’s a lot of hot, molten stuff below the earth’s crust and that from time to time, some of
it gets to the surface via vents and certain holes in the ground, you might say. The frequent lava
fountain and flow on the big island in Hawaii is a dramatic display of this planetary phenomenon.
     So, I’m sitting on this beach in Sicily and looking at this smoking volcano with a very calm,
focused, timeless and reflective mind, and I begin to “see” and “feel” the existence of a once hot
and molten planet, soon after it came into being as leftover material from the formation of the sun,
which I imagine was quite a dramatic event when masses of hydrogen gas came together under
tremendous pressure and temperature so as to ignite a thermonuclear-fusion process, commonly
known as a “star.” I see this newly-formed planet being enveloped by thick clouds of water vapour
that began to condense as rain. No, umbrellas were not needed as yet. You can imagine the amount
of steam and loud hissing sound that occurred by all that water falling on hot, molten material,
except that there were no human ears present at the time to hear that sound…if a tree falls in the
forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Same idea. Incidentally, a falling
tree creates vibrations in the air but they only make a sound if those vibrations are picked up by
human or animal ears, thus causing hearing consciousness to arise, yes?
    So there’s a great amount of steam and hissing sound vibrations in the air [except there was not
an atmosphere at that time, try to imagine]. Eventually, the surface of the planet began to cool
down with crusts forming on top, which eventually became land mass, continents and islands of
various sizes and shapes, and all that early rain eventually became the oceans, lakes and rivers, and
rain clouds. Eventually, the surface of the planet became more hospitable, also the atmosphere,
and life slowly evolved, starting with the manifestation of the DNA molecule, then simple
organisms, then more complex organisms that eventually evolved into fishes, reptiles, plants,
trees, insects, birds and mammals, and the rest, as they say, is history.
    After millions of years of planetary evolution, its interior remains hot and molten and small
amounts of this material come to the surface from time to time as either gentle lava flows or as
violent volcanic eruptions whenever great amounts of pressure from below are involved. Tectonic
plates continue to slip and slide resulting in earthquakes and the occasional tsunami, mountain

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ranges continue to be pushed up, landscapes continue to be eroded and polluted, and human
mammals/primates continue to advance technologically while remaining greedy, fearful and
violent. Some have evolved spiritually along the way. As I was sitting on the beach in Sicily and
silently observing Mt. Etna, all these things came to mind, a story of the planet from its early
origins to present day reality that must have spanned an awfully long time period by human
standard of measurement. One could feel this very deeply, this story of planetary existence and
oneself, as if from cellular memory, and out of this came a tremendous sense of love and
compassion, childlike wonder and joy.
    It’s interesting how many people in North America, including fundamentalist Christians,
choose to reject scientific facts. They say, “I don’t believe in the theory of evolution.” Well, a
‘theory’ is only an idea, a concept. Evolution is not a theory, not some exotic, far-fetched idea, but
rather, it’s a living process of constant change depending on causes and conditions, and this you
have to feel deeply with intuitive awareness and intelligence, wonder and love, to know that it is
so.
     I also reflect on the groups of people who believe that their true home is on another planet in a
different solar system and definitely not this planet called Earth. Their hope is that a spacecraft will
arrive in the near future and take them away from this “doomed” planet. This belief, I feel, is a
result of their inability to understand and deal with their anxieties about the state of the world with
its many problems – over-population, environmental pollution and degradation, famines,
pandemics, etc., plus the threat of an all-out nuclear war. You can say that their belief is a way of
escaping from this feeling of utter helplessness, loneliness and isolation. This feeling of isolation
is, of course, a result of the thinking process that is, by nature, divisive, dualistic, self-isolating and
fragmentary, and the cause of mental fear and anxiety. Many of our fantasies are ways of escaping
present reality be it painful, unpleasant, uncomfortable or boring. Young children who are often
abused by their parents usually deal with their painful ordeal by escaping into various fantasies;
it’s human nature.
    I remember being in Sri Lanka during the communist insurgency and the continuing civil war
between the Tamil Tigers and the Singhalese people, and having fantasies about how to get rid of
the communist insurgents and members of the Tamil Tigers. One way was to imagine them being
sucked up in a vortex of energy like a tornado and then being dumped in the middle of the ocean to
drown and be eaten by sharks. I also have similar fantasies regarding the fate of terrorists, religious
fanatics, dictators, serial murderers and rapists, guerillas, and so on. Sometimes I imagine them
getting dumped in the middle of the desert instead of in the ocean. It’s only natural. I don’t have
guilt feelings regarding these fantasies; they’re just aspects of creative thinking and they, too, are
impermanent conditions of the mind and not self.


December 10, 2000
    The retreat continues. In between periods of silent meditation, I read from the Dharma Sutra:
“We all need to strive for our own salvation. A Buddha only offers us the sequential methods for
spiritual cultivation. Follow the methods with diligence and patience and eventually, you will
attain mental freedom from all external bondage. The purification of our minds depends
completely upon each of us alone. No matter how divine the teacher or the scripture they can only
offer proper methods to guide you onto the road. Purifying your own mind is totally up to your
own self. Nobody else can play your role. This is the best way to distance ourselves from suffering.
Protect your six senses and do not allow desires or aversions to influence your mind. When the

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mind has no room for misconduct and confusion, suffering will have no place from which to arise.
We are masters of our consciousness.
    Do not allow external slander, praise, or adversity to influence your consciousness. We will
also be able to endure abuse and hostility from others. Those of us who calmly accept facts will
attain peace of mind. Calmly embrace life on its terms and we will conquer our anger and
disappointment. Use love to overcome dissatisfaction and resentment. The minds of ignorant
people are attached to external things and fluctuate with environmental changes. How can they
claim to be their own master? Wise ones protect themselves and keep their integrity intact. They do
not change their mind due to others’ judgements and attitudes. Therefore, they are indeed their
own masters. Impurity of mind is the origin of suffering. What makes the mind impure?
Stubborness, pride and arrogance are the mental impurities, which lead to wrong thoughts and
conduct and in turn, the creation of suffering.
     In the past, my mind used to follow sensory stimuli and indulge in seeking pleasures. My body
used to follow the pursuit of desires without rest. Right now, I know I need to abandon temptations
from external stimuli, quietly reflect on myself, and make myself the true master of my body and
mind. This is just like the elephant trainer using a hook to discipline an elephant, which will learn
to listen to its master’s wish through training. Without training, we become dependent on the
external world, being happy when things go our way and upset when things do not. Therefore,
humans must protect their senses and modulate and manage their mind just like an elephant trainer
disciplining an elephant. What is the correct way to train our body and mind? Calmly observe and
protect our mind even when we are in the state of sensory pleasure.
    Do not allow sensory stimuli to invade and confuse the quiet mind. Abiding by precepts allows
the mind to settle down. We then add correct meditation to center the mind at a calm place letting
go of random thoughts - the conscious mind is peaceful and quiet, not creating any kind of craving
and confusion. Because the mind is at peace, it will be able to mirror everything like a clear pond.
In addition, if we understand proper truths and realize the true nature of life, we will be able to see
everything correctly as it truly is. This point of view, devoid of attachment to self and prejudice,
will enable us to see truths ever so clearly. Therefore, we develop wisdom based on centeredness
of mind. This is how wisdom begins to spontaneously unfold within us.
    Some people get upset whenever they see others’ faults. This kind of attitude will only increase
their problems. They will depart further and further from the path of personal purification. People
often like to pursue illusory ideas that have no firm basis in reality. The wise ones who are
enlightened can see the truths and are not confused by illusions. Humans usually cannot see truths.
Rather, they only see personal prejudice from their own perspective. Wise ones have no ego-self
and do not see things from their own point of view. Because the minds of wise ones do not even
have the concepts of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ they see the whole picture instead of one part based on their
own bias.
    Wise ones do not depend on theories. Wise ones do not tie themselves up. They only watch
carefully and listen carefully. Whatever our mind is attached to will trap our mind. Wise ones have
their minds set on nothing. They rest in the unconditioned state of being – calm, spacious
awareness. Therefore, they have no prejudices that they stubbornly adhere to, they do not trap
themselves by not accepting change, and they just adapt to change. Wise ones constantly observe
their own mind and reflect on themselves with clarity. They carefully pay attention to their own
behaviour with discipline. They refrain from indulging themselves and train their own body and
mind diligently.


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    If we indulge our body and mind without self-control, then we will be engulfed by the flood of
craving, greed, anger and fear. With proper training and understanding we are able to become like
castles on high islands that flood water cannot submerge. Then our complete self will truly serve
us. There is no more virtuous merit than loving kindness of the heart. There is no sweeter joy than
quietness of the mind. There is no purer truth than realizing the essence of impermanence and
non-self – emptiness. There is no more noble religion than the development of wisdom and
compassion. There is no greater philosophy than the teaching of the way to test truths for ourselves
in the present moment.”


December 13, 2000
     I’m now back at the Vietnamese temple in Hamilton and settling in for the winter. I feel so
fortunate to be here in this small house in a fairly quiet neighbourhood. If I wish to go downtown,
the bus stop is close by, but for now, I have absolutely no desire to go anywhere, and that’s a
heavenly feeling for a world-weary traveller like myself, you cannot imagine! Although it’s cold
outside, I wouldn’t leave this place and go to Mexico or Jamaica even if you paid me to go first
class. I’m sitting in the small shrine room that once was a garage, and the silence and peace of not
having to do anything special for the next few months - apart from eating, reading, meditating,
reflecting and taking rest - is wonderful beyond words. Breathing in, breathing out; present
moment, wonderful moment. It also feels good to be away from the hype of Christmas shopping.
My family had invited me to their Christmas get-together but I told them I would be doing a
much-needed retreat; they know that I have no sentiments regarding Christmas and so they’ll
understand my absence.
     I have four chanting tapes that I’ll be using during meditation from time to time – Gregorian
Chants, Music from Hildegard von Bingen, Thai Pali chanting and the Gyuto Monks from Tibet. I
also have Zen shakuhachi flute from Japan and classical ragas from India played on the sarangi, a
bowed instrument. And I have some Dharma talks on tape by Thich Nhat Hanh and
Ven.Yogavachara Rahula. What more could I ask for?
     It’s ironic that there are many people in North American society who work so hard to achieve
material success and yet find it difficult to slow down, relax and appreciate what they have. Many
try so hard during their vacation time to have a good time that they get stressed out in the process
and they end up exhausted and frustrated at the end of it. And I’m reminded of a story related to
greed and ambition, as opposed to simplicity and contentment.
     An American executive had just sold his business and was taking some time to think about his
next business venture. He decided to head south and spend the winter season on a beach in
Jamaica. One day, he was standing at a pier, thinking about his next business move, when a small
boat with just one fisherman aboard docked at the pier. Inside the small boat were a few red
snappers. The American complimented the Jamaican on his catch and asked how long it had taken
to get them. The Jamaican said it was only a little while. The American then asked why he didn’t
stay out longer and catch more fish. The man said he had enough to support his family’s immediate
needs. The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The fisherman said,
“I sleep late, fish a little, pick a couple of coconuts, play with my children, take a siesta with my
wife, Girlie, then stroll into the village each evening where I have a little rum and coke and play
dominos with my friends…I have a really good life, sir.”
    The American scoffed, “I have a Harvard MBA, I’ve just sold my company for several
millions, and I can help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a

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bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you can buy several boats, until eventually
you have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you can sell directly
to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product,
processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move
to Montego Bay, then Kingston, and eventually to Miami and even New York, where you would
run your expanding enterprise.”
    “But sir, how long will this all take?” “Not long. Maybe 15 to 20 years.” “But then what, sir?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you announce an
IPO, sell your company stock to the public, and become very rich. You would make millions.”
“Millions, sir? And then what?” “Then you would retire and move to a small place by the coast
where you can relax, sleep late, fish a little and pick one or two coconuts, play with your children,
take siesta with your wife, then stroll to the village in the evenings where you can sip rum and coke
and play dominos with your friends.” “Thanks for your suggestion, sir, but why bother to go
through all that trouble when I already have a good life here?”


December 20, 2000
    It has been snowing heavily for the past three days. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to drive on
the highways in this kind of weather. I can just look out the window and enjoy the beauty and
magic of the snowflakes falling incessantly on the winter landscape. Shoveling snow with Ven.
Tam Dang and Kim has been exhilarating and invigorating exercise. I haven’t seen this much snow
in years, especially in December. After tea, I again sit in the shrine room and return to stillness,
silence and non-doing; this is just perfect. This shrine room, this small house temple, this falling
snow, this breathing in and breathing out, this ever-changing consciousness via the six sense doors,
and much much more are the natural gifts reminding me of the source of dana, generosity and
kindness, inspired by the noble example of the Buddha and other great teachers through the
centuries.
    This warm building with meals, heating and a private room are provided by the Vietnamese
community network. My clothes and books are all offerings from the Buddhist community
worldwide, my travelling expenses included. It is all gift! What isn’t? Given by others, by nature,
by the Buddha Dhamma. And by travelling and sharing the Dhamma, I also try to offer a gift to
others. Even in this materialistic, consumer society, I can take refuge in the Triple Gems: the
Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, and I know with quiet confidence that all will be well, that
I’ll be taken care of, no need to worry. I’m indeed most fortunate. Since becoming a monk, I’ve
been supported by devotees in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Hong
Kong, and Canada. The Buddha and Quan Yin statues in the shrine room are symbols, human
personifications of wisdom, compassion and kindness, and their presence is a reminder of the path
I’ve chosen. I know I have shortcomings as a monk but I’m only human; thanks to wisdom and
compassion, I don’t take these things personally and there’s a knowing that they are only
temporary mental states and non-self. Concepts and ideals regarding self-image are sources of
conflict and suffering; clinging to them as absolute reality is just a silly “mind game,” as they say.
   Once I met a man after a talk I’d given in Singapore and he said he was having a great deal of
conflict and stress running a company in the island state. He was very driven by greed, profit and
production quotas [the whole nine yards], and being a nominal Buddhist from Korea, he was
wondering how the teaching of Lord Buddha could help him. Knowing that his parents were
devotional Buddhists, I said that just praying to the Buddha statue wasn’t enough to help him. I

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suggested that he do physical exercise and meditation to deal with the stress, loving kindness
meditation to deal with fear, anxiety, craving and anger, and that he should practice kindness and
generosity and share his wealth, reflecting on the fact of impermanence and death, and his inability
to take anything, not even a penny, with him to the grave. No, he didn’t have to give up his
business and become a monk [he was single], he just had to practice letting go – kindness and
generosity. Then he would be a happier and more content person. The spirit of dana liberates us
from acquisitive and protectionist habits. It mitigates individualism, self-centeredness, and helps
to nourish community and compassion. Simple yet profound.
    During the evening, I find a set of Xmas tree lights in a drawer and I hang them from a clothes
hanger hooked up from a tall ceiling lamp. The small coloured lights cascade down to the floor and
the effect is lovely and enchanting in the darkened room. After meditation, I can lie and look at
these lights for hours on end, thinking and reflecting, remembering and wondering. I think fondly
back to my first visit to India, how totally different it was to anything I’d known previously, and of
my time sitting by the Ganges river in both Rishikesh and Varanasi and observing the timeless
flow of the water and the people who came to bath and pray, to wash clothes and do ritual
purification, taking sips of its water to bless themselves, and to cremate their dead. They would
also take its holy water back home to bless their family members with and also their household
shrines to the various deities. It’s one of the many ancient rituals in Hindu India, and I’m reminded
of an old story [from India] regarding the impermanent and illusory nature of life:
      A monk is living with a young novice whom he’d adopted as an orphaned child. Their small
temple is situated on the side of a mountain overlooking a fertile plain and a wide river [perhaps
it’s the Ganges]. The novice grows into a young monk and there are some days where he feels
restless and bored with the quiet life of the temple. Every two days, he has to go down to the river
to fetch some water in two containers that he skillfully balances from either ends of a pole
supported on his shoulder. Although it’s strenuous work to carry water from the river up the
mountain, he looks forward to this chore as it helps to relieve the restlessness and boredom he
occasionally experiences. It gives him something useful to do. He usually goes for a refreshing
swim in the river before returning to the temple.
     One day while he’s swimming and enjoying himself, he hears a beautiful voice singing an
enchanting song, and he discovers that it’s coming from a young woman who’s washing her hair
by the river. He swims up to her and introduces himself. He has never seen anyone so beautiful and
enchanting before. She tells him she’s from a village about two kilometers downstream and he tells
her he’s a monk living with his teacher in a small temple up the mountain. She invites him to visit
her village and to meet her family and friends. He’s curious and excited to go with her; it’s like an
adventure compared to his simple life as a monk, and she’s so beautiful and enchanting. He
remembers that his teacher will be waiting for him to bring the water but his teacher can wait a few
more hours; he’s in no hurry to get back up to the temple, and this invitation is too wonderful to
pass up.
    They get to her village and he meets her family and the rest of the village; everyone is friendly
and hospitable and the village is prosperous with fertile fields and animals. Her family then invites
him to stay for two or three days and he readily accepts their hospitality; he figures his teacher can
manage well without him for a few days. All the villagers like him very much and he’s very happy
to help them work their fields and look after the animals. They invite him to stay longer and by
then he doesn’t feel the need to return to his temple and teacher. He falls in love with the young
lady and eventually they get married, and after ten years they have three beautiful children and life
could never be happier and more wonderful. By then, the family and entire village have gotten

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more prosperous; they have built bigger houses and they’re able to sell surplus grain and animals
to the nearest town.
   Then one year the monsoon rains are heavier than usual; the river swells up as never before and
the fertile plain becomes badly flooded, causing the entire village to be swept away during the
night without much warning. The crops are destroyed, the villagers and animals are drowned, and
the young man has lost his entire family including his in-laws; he’s unable to save his loving wife
and beautiful children and barely manages to survive by clinging to a tree somewhere. After two
days, the rain stops and the floodwater slowly recedes, and he’s all alone standing on the bank of
the river; he’s the sole survivor of the village. He’s in shock and devastated with grief and
loneliness at his loss. He was so happy and prosperous and now he has lost everything. He tries to
find the bodies of his family but the floodwater has taken them all far away.
     Vultures can be seen scanning the landscape for carrion. He manages to salvage his former
house and some stored food. He sits by the river day after day, crying and numb with grief and
despair. He just cannot believe what has happened, that he has lost absolutely all that he loved
most dearly; he doesn’t know what to do with his life now; he only knows sorrow and confusion.
It’s as if he’s in a long, bad dream that he’s unable to awake from. He contemplates suicide to end
all his suffering.
    One morning, as he’s sitting by the river lost in despair, he feels a tap on his shoulder and he
looks up and to his utter surprise he sees his old teacher standing there, like a ghost from the past.
He’s so happy and relieved to see a familiar face and exclaims, “Oh master, I’m so happy to see
you! I’m so sorry that I forgot about you and never came back to the temple to see you. All these
years I’ve been living at this village and now it’s completely destroyed. You see, I had this
beautiful wife and three wonderful children, and we were all very prosperous and happy and now
I’ve lost everything in the flood. Now I don’t know what to do with myself. I was so happy and
now I’m beside myself with grief and confusion, and I can only think of ending my life and my
misery. Oh master, please tell me what to do?” The elderly monk looks at him with kindness and
compassion and says, “My son, where are the two containers of water I’d sent you for?”
    Suddenly, as if awakening from a dream, which began so happily and ended so sadly, he
realizes how fleeting and illusory life really is, its impermanent and uncertain nature. He can
remember now going downhill to get some water from the river ten years previously. How he went
swimming and how he met the most beautiful and enchanting young lady washing her long hair
and singing a lovely song by the river, and how she had invited him to visit her village, and how
willing he was to follow her and to forget his teacher.
    He sits there in amazement and wonder. Did this really happen or was it all a dream? He looks
into his former teacher’s eyes, so radiant and full of peace and compassion, and he begins to feel
the sorrow and burden of life lift from his heavy heart. He begins to feel a lightness of being which
comes with understanding and love. And needless to say, he is more than willing to follow his old
teacher back up the hill to the small temple. And he lived peacefully and contently ever after.


December 25, 2000
    Today is Monday and it’s Christmas Day. It’s a White Christmas and I’m sure many Canadians
are happy because of this. The Vietnamese immigrants are not too sentimental about snow,
understandably, even if they happen to be Christians. Yesterday, the devotees came for the
chanting ceremony and the vegetarian lunch was delicious. The children were noisy and full of

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energy but that’s to be expected. I admire the Vietnamese because they’re hard workers, they’ve
been through so much hardship, and they help and support each other. They are kind and
compassionate because they’ve been through shared suffering and hardship; they have known war
and death, and political corruption with its ignorance and delusion. In comparison, I think of
people in North America who are living a fairly comfortable, secure life and how they like to bitch
and complain, taking things for granted, so spoiled and pampered, finicky and fussy, superficial,
self-absorbed, insecure and ignorant.
    As this is Christmas Day, it’s appropriate to reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, and
to realize how similar he was to the Buddha in some ways and the commonality of their teachings
regarding kindness, compassion, forgiveness, patience and peace. I see them as two spiritual
beings who, with diligence and right effort, were able to purify their minds of human defilements –
ignorance and delusion, craving and attachment, hatred and ill-will. And they both lived a life of
simplicity, wholesome behaviour, reflection and wisdom. Growing up as someone who attended
Sunday school, church service and read the Bible, I always felt an attraction to Jesus as a spiritual
person and noble example, but I had difficulty with the wording of the scriptures, as many
inquiring minds have also had through the centuries and in recent times.
    Whenever I mention the similarity between Jesus and the Buddha to Christians, they’ll
inadvertently say, “but Jesus was the only son of God,” which would make the Buddha and all the
rest of the great teachers combined plus the rest of us only mere mortals, mere unfortunate
creatures, subject to sin and hopelessness unless we accept Jesus as our Saviour and repent. This
attitude and belief is, of course, a result of ignorance, blind attachment, pride, conceit and
exclusivity – all mental states that Jesus would not have approved of, I’m sure. Then again, many
Buddhists, as mentioned previously, suffer from the same human defilements as pointed out by the
Buddha. So it goes with the human mind.
    I also remember Francis of Assisi [Francesco] whose life and example I found most inspiring.
Whether or not people consider him to be a “saint” is simply a matter of perspective and the
propensity of humans to impose a label on individuals and cling to that concept. I was never
interested in visiting the town of Assisi when I used to travel in Europe and Italy during my
younger days, until I saw the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, about the life of “Saint Francis.”
And this occurred just before I was to travel to Italy to see some friends with whom I’d left my sitar
that I’d brought to Europe from India. The movie was so inspiring that I just had to visit Assisi, not
far north of Rome, and like in the movie, Assisi was still a lovely medieval town situated on a hill
overlooking cultivated fields of sunflowers.
     During my stay, I was to meet Father Francis, a British priest and local resident, who had met
the director and actors during the filming of the movie, and we had long discussions about the life
of Francesco and his spiritual companions who’d renounced lives of wealth and comfort to
become wandering mendicants, not unlike the yogis and sadhus of India. I saw the cathedral that
housed his remains and the town square where he did his famous act of renunciation by taking off
all his clothes and giving them back to his father, in front of the church officials and town elders, to
show his total disinterest in social status, material wealth, power and corruption.
    I also hiked in the hills above the town and saw the old hermitage, and visited the small church
that he and his companions had built below the town, where he and his devotees would meet for
prayer and discussion. They were also involved in social service to the poor and the sick, and it’s
not surprising that his well-known prayer was the main inspiration for Mother Theresa of
Calcutta’s life of selfless service to the poorest of the poor – “Oh Lord, make me an instrument of
Thy Peace! Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is
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discord, harmony; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is
darkness, light; and where there is sorrow, joy.” And so on.
    Since I’m doing this winter retreat and not going anywhere for a few months, I think this is the
perfect time to end this travel journal. The sound of the falling snow says what I think. There is
silence and peace, stillness and the wisdom of non-doing. These winter haikus come to mind:


There is neither heaven nor earth,       I could eat it! -            Sweeping the garden,
Only snow                                this snow that falls,       The snow is forgotten
Falling incessantly.                     So softly, so softly.        By the broom.


This winter day,          Fields and mountains -             Winter seclusion:
It is warm in the sun,    All taken by the snow,             Once again I will lean against
But cold!                 Nothing remains.                   This window.


Walking in the night;       A winter retreat:                      The thick snow
Snow is falling,             My hut is covered with snow,          Seems to be covering
A farewell to the year.     The silence deepens.                   All the world’s suffering.


    Flash forward, five years. It’s the winter of 2005-’06. I’ve decided to stay in Canada to
continue working on a second book, part two of this travel journal, since moving around sure
disrupts the writing process; otherwise I would gladly have gone to either Australia or SE Asia.
Two winters ago, I went to New Zealand and was unable to write, the flow had stopped, but I was
able to meet Pyrote, the former Thai monk, and do some Dharma work on the north island. I was
unable to visit the south island even after six months. New Zealand – beautiful country, four
million people, forty million sheep.
     Since that winter retreat in Hamilton, I’ve continued to travel, to move around like a rolling
stone. I’ve been back to Halifax, Nova Scotia, twice during the summer. I’ve been again to
Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan for a winter and summer. During that trip, I was finally able to
get the book printed in Malaysia with Sam Hui’s help and it’s titled: An Inquiring Mind’s Journey
into Wisdom, Compassion, Freedom and Silence. It’s on the Internet and it has been reprinted by
the Buddha Education Foundation in Taipei, Taiwan. I also got to visit the UK three winters ago
and last winter, where the Dharma scene is quite active. I decided to go there initially because a
Korean monk friend, studying in Oxford, had asked me to come and help him deal with his
mental-emotional states, as he was having a great deal of difficulty with his Ph.D. program. After
visiting this Korean friend, I moved to London and became quickly involved with Dharma work in
several places, including the well-known Buddhist Society, which was founded by Christmas
Humphries in 1924 and where my mentor, Ven. Anandamaitreya, used to teach during his visits to
the UK. As mentioned before, the first book on Buddhism I’d bought and read was by Christmas
Humphries, and so it felt really nice to be visiting and teaching there.



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    When the September 11th event occurred, I was staying and teaching at the Chinese temple in
Halifax, and when the tsunami event happened last winter, I was staying at a Sri Lankan temple in
London. The tsunami relief work at this temple and at other Sri Lankan temples in the UK and
other countries, plus the overall global response to this event were truly phenomenal and
admirable. I was able to participate in the ceremonies for those who’d perished, giving Dhamma
talks and leading the meditations on loving kindness. It was an extraordinary and beneficial time of
sharing, mutual support and working together as a community. During my time in Sri Lanka, I’d
spent some wonderful times by the sea on the south coast and could never have imagined the
possibility of such an event, such powerful ocean surges coming from so far away – a rare
phenomenon in the Indian Ocean, for sure!
    In Halifax, when I first heard of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I
wasn’t surprised; I guess I’m at that age and stage in life where nothing really surprises me any
more. I thought of the karma, the cause and effect of the USA government and their foreign
policies in their arrogant, aggressive effort to dominate the world, politically and economically,
and I thought of their ineptitude despite their advanced technology, expertise, wealth and so-called
power – they’re only human primates, after all, no? I watched the news on TV and after an hour I
turned it off; it was enough media bombardment for one day. One friend in Toronto had watched
the news for three days straight, without getting much sleep, and he regretted it afterwards – his
mental state was a mess! Flights from Europe and the UK to New York and Washington, D.C.
were diverted to Montreal, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
    It was amazing to see all the planes parked at the Halifax Airport, including Singapore Airlines
who normally wouldn’t be landing there. The local Canadians in eastern Canada responded with
kindness and compassion by opening their homes to many stranded passengers, and this was most
touching and admirable of them. And I also admired all those people in New York, who responded
with such kindness and support, instead of just freaking out and becoming helpless and
traumatized by such unexpected, dramatic events. This was a good example of seeing the
difference between action and reaction. People react and act in different ways depending on their
emotional stability and intelligence, by their ability to go beyond themselves and reach out to
others.
    The curious mind wonders what the world will be like in 50 years, 100 years, 500 years, 1000
years. One can only speculate and wonder. Thanks to the Buddha Dharma, I have no anxieties
about the future of humanity and the state of the planet. I have no children or grandchildren so I
don’t have to worry about “my” descendants. The future and the planet will take care of itself, no
doubt. I know that when I die, the world as I know it, as perception and consciousness related to the
six sense doors, will cease to be. The world as perceived by others will continue to exist, of course,
until they, too, pass away. Consciousness creates the world and this perceived world is
impermanent. To be attached and worried about the external world, as we know it, is to suffer from
ignorance and delusion. Fads come and go, thoughts and ideas come and go, feelings and emotions
come and go, likes and dislikes come and go, memories also come and go. Political leaders come
and go, world economies rise and fall, civilizations also rise and fall; and in the meantime, the
Universe is indeed unfolding as it should.
    I end this postscript by sharing this little anecdote that someone gave to me recently. It’s funny
and poignant, and it shows the changing yet cyclic nature of life, like the four seasons:


At age 04, success is … not peeing in your pants.

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At age 12, success is … having friends.
At age 16, success is … having a driver’s permit.
At age 20, success is … going all the way [sexually].
At age 35, success is … having money.
At age 50, success is … having money.
At age 60, success is … going all the way.
At age 70, success is … having a driver’s permit.
At age 75, success is … having friends.
At age 80, success is … not peeing in your pants.


    And finally, a message from a fortune cookie I received at the end of a Chinese vegetarian
meal in Scarborough, Ontario – Some men dream of fortunes, while others dream of cookies. [Hi
Ho].
    May all beings be well and happy and free from suffering. May all beings be peaceful and free
from fear, conflict, worry and delusion.
    A pine tree lives for three hundred years, a morning glory flower but for a single day, yet both
have fulfilled their destiny.
    The ways of this world are merely conventions of our own making. Having established them
we get lost in them and refuse to let go – clinging to our personal views and opinions. This is
ignorance, endlessly flowing on without completion. But if we truly know conventional reality, we
will also know liberation. Here we find completion.
    We eat, excrete, sleep and get up. This is our world. All we have to do after that is to die. While
living, be a dead man, be thoroughly dead – live without attachments and desires. And behave as
you like, and all’s well.


  The End




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