From everywhere to nowhere 

The Myanmar Way

There are many ways in Myanmar. Much of the culture is intertwined with the food and great Myanmar Recipes throughout the country.

d little drops of Dhamma

Dedicated to Bro Tan & all the facilitators, teachers and beautiful children at Nalanda Dharma School:

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who was very naughty. But when he stepped into Buddhist Sunday School, the little drops of Dhamma seeped into his heart, nourishing his seeds of goodness. He couldn't say it, but how he had yearned to be good!

But it was hard to be good when everyone around tried to be rebellious, clever and strong, sometimes to the extent of harming others. So it was easier for him to be naughty, for him to be in the crowd.

Then he learned that what gave him happiness now could also give him suffering. One cup of ice-cream was bliss, but ten tubs would be yucky hell.

He learned that if he treated his parents kindly, with respect and humility, they would also love him more.

He learned not to judge his friends, or to call them names or look only at their bad points because that would be very mean. And he also has been treated the same way, which wasn't nice at all.

He learned that he wasn't perfect, but that's ok, because the Buddha started that way too! But if he kept polishing his mind and behaviour everyday, one day it would be shining bright.

He learned that if he couldn't be with good and wise friends, it was better to be on his own.

He enjoyed being good, being helpful, being respectful to his elders.
He enjoyed doing good service, being a good and caring friend, and listening to the Dhamma.
He appreciated his teachers, his fellow brothers and sisters and all those who nourished his heart richly with the Dhamma.

He fell in love with the Dhamma,
he fell in love with his virtues.

He learned that it is ok to fail, it is ok if others did not understand us or misunderstand us sometimes. Because as long as he knows himself, with patience, he can show by his behaviour that he is changed. That is most important, to use the Dhamma mirror on himself.

When he realised that he had learned all these,
the little drops of joy
dropped quietly from the corner of his eyes.

"Dad, mum,
Sorry for all that I had done in the past, for all the heartache and troubles I gave you,
Thank you for taking care of me and teaching and guiding me.

I will be a good boy now,
I will grow stronger with the Dhamma,
I will plant good seeds everyday.
I will send love to all my teachers,
I will forgive all those who did me wrong.

Please help me and be patient with me as I try my best to be good.

Thank you, Lord Buddha, the fully enlightened One, Light of the World, Teacher of Gods and Men.

Nathi me saranam annam,
Dhammo me saranam varam!

No other refuge do I seek,
The Dhamma is my true refuge!"

The Little Man

Once, there was a little man. He was little by size, so to speak, a mere one metre tall at an age where everyone was twice that size. Since young, he was unhappy. He hated the sight of himself in front of the mirror – that tiny, scrawny figure that barely looked visible in crowds. He always tried very hard to make himself big. Hold his breath so his chest and stomach would expand, wear many layers of clothings so he looked more ample, experimented with higher soled shoes, placed extra padding on his car seat so he looked tall to passing cars, sat on a high stool before his customer service counter – you name it, he had tried it. But he was still unhappy.

Interestingly, people around him loved him. They loved him for his good heart. But he was still not happy.

One day, he was walking gloomily along the streets after work, trying to think of another ingenious plan to become ‘big’. Suddenly, ‘plonk!’, a small piece of wood fell to the ground before him. He swore and shuddered at the fact that it could have hit him. When he looked to see what it was and where it came from, he looked up and lo and behold, it seemed as if someone up there had answered his prayers (literally!). There hanging inconspicuously under the window of the row of shop-houses, was an old rickety sign that said, “Want to look BIG? Come and have a chat with us.”

His heart leapt with joy, and he fell to his knees dramatically, placed his palms together and quickly chanted, ‘God! Guan Yin! Buddha! Jesus! Sai Baba! Mother Theresa! Guan Gong! Di Gong! Amadeus! and er… president Bush! Hitler!… whoever you are that answered my prayers, thank you!” He closed his tirade of names with a few more violent shakes of his folded palms and quickly darted up the old, dark staircase at the side of the shop-house. Usually he would have been too scared to go anywhere so dark. But this time, he did not care. Ah, an answer to looking big!

When he reached the third floor landing, he quickly located the door labeled prominently with the letters “B.I.G”. That must be it! He quickly knocked on the doors, listening out for any sound inside that might tell him that someone was in. He heard the sound of feet shuffling, a cough and the sound of the door handle turning.

As the door swung open, he saw a pair of eyes staring at him at eye level. At eye level, mind you, he has yet to meet anyone his size from birth till date! Inside his tiny frame, his heart sank. He had expected someone super big to open the door, a testament that the sign outside that window did mean something.

The pair of eyes scanned the little man, then an old wrinkled hand stretched out and held his left arm, “Ah, one of us! Welcome, young man, I have been waiting for you for a long time.” When the door swung open a little more, the light from the room behind showed the face of a kind, serene old lady. He felt more comforted immediately and trusted her enough at that time to allow himself to be led in.

The room inside was small and bare. The old lady beckoned for him to sit down at one of the two bamboo chairs available, and she walked into one of the two rooms in the small apartment. When she returned, she held in her hands, an old photo album.

The little man scanned the whole room quickly. Old as it was, the room was neat and tidy. On the wall, there was a family portrait and he quickly identified the old lady as the beautiful young woman sitting next to a man (her husband?) with a baby on her laps.

The old lady spoke, “Ah, that is my favourite family portrait. My old man has passed on now, and my son is doing well. But I prefer to stay alone and enjoy the peace.” Now she pulled the other bamboo chair to face the little man and sat down slowly. “I know why you are here, as all the other people before you. Before I start, I want to know why you are unhappy with your size. Don’t you have parents who love you? Friends, colleagues, relatives? Do people hate you or look down on you that much?”

The little man blushed. In fact, almost all his family and friends loved him and more than once re-assured him that his size did not matter to him. In fact, his parents showered so much love on him that when they died, they left all their valuables to him. But the hardest truth was that, he could not bring himself to love himself. For the size he was.

“Ha! Ha! Another unhappy one…” The old lady crackled. “You people really know how to bring suffering to yourself. But well, since I started helping people like myself and you, I have seen all kinds. I know how miserable it must feel inside. But I better introduce myself now and how I can help, before you think I’m taking you for a ride.”

The old lady relaxed into her chair and that dreamy look started her reminiscence into days of old. “You see, I was a world renowned seamstress. I trained under the greatest masters of the world. I even got into the World Book of Records for designing, cutting and sewing a full gown in thirty minutes. At the peak of my career, I met the man of my dreams and we married. A year later, my son was born and we were the happiest family you could find. My son grew up quickly with the years, but his stature was so small that his rugby friends always tackled him and he was the target of the school bully. He became a very unhappy and angry boy. One day, he came home from secondary school with a bleeding wound on his head. He stormed into my room where I was sewing the days’ assignments and screamed at me, ‘I hate you! Why did you give birth to me so small?’ Those words broke my heart and I wept. I did not dare to talk to him, to comfort him or even to help him clean that wound on his head. How could I tell him that I had no control over the genes that were imparted while he was in my womb?

For months, my little boy refused to talk to me or my husband and we were distraught. One night, I had a nightmare. I saw my little boy running frantically away from a crowd of huge men. They were bearing up on him, almost catching him and they were so big that they could easily crush him just by sitting on him. Then I saw my boy fall into a hole. The big men surrounded the hole to see where he was. Suddenly, my boy sprung out of the hole. He became so tall! The men were so scared that they quickly ran away. When I woke up, I was amused and also worried for my little boy’s future. But that dream gave me an inspiration. What if? What if I tailored a suit for my boy that would make him bigger and taller?

That was way before the first man on the moon, mind you, with all that space suit stuff. But I began to design and conceptualise a suit that would give both height and breadth to the wearer. My seamstress training only familiarized me with cloth materials, but then I began experimenting with others, with springs and swimming floats, material which were inflatable but yet life-like. My dear husband was a mini scientist and he was very crucial in this process.

In six months, our B.I.G. suit was ready. We happily packed it into a box on Christmas eve and put it under the tree for our little boy. When he walked out of his room the next morning, he was a beaming six footer, looking well-muscled and ample. He kissed and hugged us and went around showing off his new build. He became very popular and as he grew older, he progressed quickly in his career and soon found himself a beautiful looking wife.

When he got married, he became unhappy again. You see, you cannot be wearing the B.I.G. suit all the time. When you shower or when you are with your wife, well, you know what I mean, you cannot be wearing it. So on his honeymoon, his new wife was shocked at how small he really was and it took her some time to get used to who he really was. My son tried all ways and means to shower gifts and affections on her, in desperation to make her love this body he hated. But over time, their marriage broke. There was resentment and anger, but most of all his wife felt cheated. How could he be one man before marriage and another man after?

They divorced and our son became unhappy again. This time, he was not so sure about the B.I.G. suit again. He was two-minded whether to wear it again. It was the cause of a love failed and his love was more important to him than anything else.”

The old lady suddenly looked apologetic and asked the little man, “Oh, sorry for the long story! I forgot to get you tea!”

The little man smiled gratefully and he felt both happy and touched by what this old lady was telling him. His heart was beating so fast with these silent questions “Can I see the suit? Can I try it? Can I? Can I?” He wanted to see how it would look on him. Incredulous as it seemed, it was still the answer to what he had been searching for his whole life!

A cup of tea later, the old lady opened the photo album and showed him her son’s photographs. At school, he was scrawny. Later at college, the picture of a confident, well-built young man flashed across the pages. The little man felt so excited to see what difference the B.I.G. suit made!

Then the old lady took out another newer album and showed him the same man, now more matured looking but small, smiling serenely next to a woman taller than him by a head, clutching her by the waist. There were pictures of them with two little children playing and in all the pictures, they were smiling so beautifully. “This is his new wife. They married five years ago. He met her after his divorce, or rather, she bumped into his arms! Ha! Ha!”

The old lady laughed. “You see, my new daughter-in-law is partially blind. She cannot see beyond her hand held in front of her eyes.”

The little man gasped. Blind! His heart went out to her. He always had sympathy for people with disabilities. He nodded politely.

“But my dear son has never been happier. And he has given up his B.I.G. suit forever.” The most beautiful smile spread across the old lady’s face as she reflected on her beloved son’s happiness.

“You see, when someone small meets someone blind, who can blame the other for being less perfect? But the most important thing is this. When they met, they were meeting each other as they were. They were not wearing any suits. They opened their hearts to each other right from the start, with true honesty and acceptance of themselves and this is important in making relationships work. It also makes your own life easier. You just have to be yourself.”

The old lady pulled her chair forward and held the little man’s hands in her warm, loving hands. “My son, do you still want the B.I.G. suit?”

The little man looked into her kind eyes and…

“YES!!!” the yell of the naughty little boy next door pierced through the early morning calm. “I want Macdonalds! Yes, I want! I want it now!”

The little man jumped up from his bed as he mouthed the words “Yes! Please do let me try the B.I.G. suit!” He looked down at his body which was still the same tiny self and he looked around him in confusion. Huh? A dream!

The disappointment hit him like a huge baseball bat. But it was so clear and real and he could still clearly recall the story and advice of that old lady. Disbelief was in his mind as he stepped bewildered into the shower, playing and re-playing the dream and the message it held for him.

As he stepped out of the shower, a body tinier than his ran into his legs and hugged him, giggling and screaming. “Ah, you little devil!” As he swept the toddler into his arms, the baby kissed him wetly on his cheeks and his heart softened with love. He looked at that wriggling baby in his arm, this little nephew of his, who loved him truly for who he was.

“Son, is baby in your room? Come and have your breakfast. I’ve prepared your favourite nasi lemak.” As the little man walked out of his room, the morning sun illuminated the room with love and clarity. The room of his heart was brighter now. The B.I.G. suit real or imaginary perhaps was not necessary in the first place.

As he tucked into his nasi lemak, he scanned the day’s papers from the sports page backwards. Three letters caught his eye. “B.I.G.” His eyeballs quickly rolled backwards to the obituary column and his eyes nearly popped out with the fishball in his mouth when he made out this caption printed in bold, “Maker of the B.I.G. suit passes away peacefully in her sleep”. Below that caption, was the face of the serene and motherly lady who had spoke to him in his dream (?!).


Are you unhappy with whom you are?

Looking for your B.I.G suit? Or B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L suit? Or E.L.O.Q.U.E.N.T. or R.I.C.H. or I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.T. or S.U.A.V.E or?

You know, we could fill up a whole warehouse with these suits and it will still not be enough. Some of us go through our whole lives looking for such suits, to beautify ourselves outside, to make ourselves feel more secure, to make us think we are happy.

We are always working so hard our whole life so that we can afford to be who we are not.

It does not take that much suffering to be happy!

Just stop, slow down and look inside yourself.

Peace and contentment comes from within. Any kind of grasping outside only brings more pain and bewilderment.

With honesty, comes acceptance;
With acceptance, comes tranquility;
With tranquility, comes insight;
With insight, comes liberation.

May the ‘false’ not be with you.



Let me be like the earth, which accepts anything thrown on it,
be it dirty, smelly, foul,
I will accept it without rejecting, patiently, quietly embracing.

Let me be like the water, which accepts anything thrown into it,
be it dirty, smelly, foul, nasty,
I will accept it without rejecting, patiently, quietly embracing.

Let me be like the fire, which accepts anything thrown into it,
be it dirty, smelly, foul, nasty, detestable,
I will accept it without rejecting, patiently, quietly embracing.

Let me be like the wind, which accepts anything thrown into its path,
be it dirty, smelly, foul, nasty, detestable, both good and bad,
I will accept it without rejecting, patiently, quietly embracing.

Treat me like a foot rug, step on me,
with light or heavy steps depending on the individual,
I will bear your weight, quietly accepting.

Treat me like a lowly beggar, I am grateful to you,
for i have nothing and you have more
I will bend my body low, quietly accepting whatever you give.

I'm just like the corpse or a dead snake,
nobody wants to touch or move it,
I am detestable, repulsive, useless,
I will understand your hostility.

I am full of foul excrement,
there is nothing desirable about my body;

I am detestable, repulsive, unwholesome,
It is only natural that you repel me.

I'm a bull with horns broken off, defenceless, harmless,
so should you attack me, it's only one-way;
I will accept your blows silently, calmly, having no reason to fight back.

So this is how I have practiced, since the day I left home,
since I left behind the hotbed of greed, ill-will and delusion.

The great earth shook nine times with Ven Sariputta's declaration of truth.

The Buddha praised him,

"Unresentful like the earth, firm like a gate post,
Equiposed and strong in vows,
Mind without impurities like a pool:
For such a one the round of births exists no more!" (Dhp 95)

7th month reflection

Walking home this evening, I saw heaps of burning paper, joss sticks;
the smoke went deep into the nostrils and one had to take extra care
to avoid stepping on offerings. Everywhere, businessman, housewives,
shop owners, young and old were burning, praying, lighting up...

If the enlightened ones were here, perhaps this is what they would say:

*Punnika, an enlightened nun teaching a Brahman who believed that
washing in the river would purify him.


Thig XII.1
(vv. 236-251)

I'm a water-carrier, cold,
always going down to the water
from fear of my mistresses' beatings,
harrassed by their anger & words.
But you, Brahman,
what do you fear
that you're always going down to the water
with shivering limbs, feeling great cold?

[The Brahman:]
Punnika, surely you know.
You're asking one doing skillful kamma
& warding off evil.
Whoever, young or old, does evil kamma
is, through water ablution,
from evil kamma set free.

Who taught you this
— the ignorant to the ignorant —
'One, through water ablution,
is from evil kamma set free?'
In that case, they'd all go to heaven:
all the frogs, turtles,
serpents, crocodiles,
& anything else that lives in the water.
Sheep-butchers, pork-butchers,
fishermen, trappers,
thieves, executioners,
& any other evil doers,
would, through water ablution,
be from evil kamma set free.

If these rivers could carry off
the evil kamma you've done in the past,
they'd carry off your merit as well,
and then you'd be
completely left out.
Whatever it is that you fear,
that you're always going down to the water,
don't do it.
Don't let the cold hurt your skin."

[The Brahman:]
I've been following the miserable path, good lady,
and now you've brought me
back to the noble.
I give you this robe for water-ablution.

Let the robe be yours. I don't need it.
If you're afraid of pain,
if you dislike pain,
then don't do any evil kamma,
in open, in secret.
But if you do or will do
any evil kamma,
you'll gain no freedom from pain,
even if you fly up & hurry away.
If you're afraid of pain,
if you dislike pain,
go to the Awakened One for refuge,
go to the Dhamma & Sangha.
Take on the precepts:
That will lead to your liberation.

[The Brahman:]
I go to the Awakened One for refuge;
I go to the Dhamma & Sangha.
I take on the precepts:
That will lead to my liberation.

Before, I was a kinsman to Brahma;
now, truly a brahman.
I'm a three-knowledge man.
consummate in knowledge,
safe & washed clean.

Don't let the smoke irritate you,
Don't let the heat burn you...

If burning papers, incense can burn away fear,
then we shouldn't be just burning in the 7th month.
For spirits, ghosts, and hell-beings that we fear
are around always; they burn incessantly, consistently
'burning' inside and out because of past wrong doings.
They are hot enough, do they need more heat?

Knowing this,
do you still want to 'burn' now
and perhaps become a recipient of others' offering in future?

"If you're afraid of pain,
if you dislike pain,
then don't do any evil kamma,
in open, in secret.
But if you do or will do
any evil kamma,
you'll gain no freedom from pain,
even if you fly up & hurry away.
If you're afraid of pain,
if you dislike pain,
go to the Awakened One for refuge,
go to the Dhamma & Sangha.
Take on the precepts:
That will lead to your liberation."

With metta

Letter to a fellow prisoner

*The following is a letter I wrote to a friend currently serving time at a local prison in reply to his questions. I think his problems mirror mine, and that of many of us. How many among us are not prisoners?

Dear friend,

Thank you for your letter. You asked me how I am doing, and I shall answer that I'm doing the same as you are - learning to let go.

You asked what is the true meaning of life and that though you know you suffer because of attachment, you do not have the strength to let go. How does one live a simple life?

I recently came across a sutta, the Sunakkhatta Sutta (which means the teaching given to a person called Sunakkhatta), which is useful to reflect on. I'll try to summarise the main points in this sutta.

One day, Sunakkhatta went to the Buddha and asked, "I've heard that many of your disciples claimed to be enlightened. Are all of them enlightened or did they merely overestimate themselves?"

The Buddha replied that there were two groups: one group had rightly declared themselves enlightened, but the other group had overestimated themselves. After explaining the different stages of spiritual progress and how they are not likely to find pleasure in sensual desires again, he gave this analogy to compare those who merely thought they are enlightened with those who really were.

a) Those who falsely thought they are enlightened

A man has been wounded by a poisoned arrow and a surgeon comes to remove the arrow with a knife after using a probe to find it. Then he helps to expel the poison, leaving a little bit of the poison. The surgeon then informs the wounded man, "The arrow has been removed, so has the poison. But there is stlll a little bit of poison left which will not harm you. You will need to eat carefully, wash your wound so that pus and blood do not cover the opening. Don't walk around in the open so that dust and dirt will not infect the wound. Take care of your wound and make sure it heals."

This man then thinks that since the arrow has been removed and the poison has been expelled, whatever little poison left cannot possibly harm him. So he eats unsuitable food, neglects to wash his wound and walks around in the open so that eventually dust and dirt covered the opening of the wound. Because he did not take good care of the wound, the wound swelled and with the swelling he would die or suffer badly.

In the same way, a monk who falsely thinks he is enlightened might go after things which are unsuitable for enlightenment... eventually his mind would be full of desire and he dies or suffers badly. In this case, it is his holy life that dies because he has gone back to the mundane life and bad suffering comes because he has done a negative action which brings bad kamma.

b) Those who are intent towards enlightenment

This man has been wounded and treated by a surgeon in the same way as the first. The surgeon gives the same advice. This man then eats only suitable food, washes his wound from time to time and he does not walk around in the open. Taking good care of his wound, the little bit of poison is expelled, the wound would heal so he does not die or get bad suffering.

In the same way, the monk who is really interested and determined on enlightenment does not go after things unsuitable for enlightenment. Eventually his mind abandons lust and he does not die or suffer badly.

The Buddha went on to explain, "Sunakkhatta, this analogy has a meaning:

'wound' stands for ignorance
'arrow' stands for craving/ desire
'probe' (used by doctor) stands for mindfulness
'knife' (surgeon uses) stands for noble wisdom
'surgeon' is the Buddha, the fully enlightened one

So when a monk restrains the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind; and understands that attachment is the root of suffering and he has let go of attachment, freed from the destruction caused by attachment, he will not think or act on any kind of attachment.

It's just like there is a cup of drink which has good colour, smell and taste but it's mixed with poison. If someone who wanted to live, not to die, who wanted pleasure and not pain comes - would that man drink this cup, knowing that he would die or suffer greatly?

No, he wouldn't.

Again, if there is a poisonous snake and a man came who wanted to live, not to die; wanted pleasure, not pain - would he give his hand or thumb to the snake, knowing that if he got bitten, he would die or suffer greatly?

Of course not.

So in the same way, a monk who practices restraint in the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind; who understands that attachment is the root of suffering and lets go of attachment, is freed from the destruction caused by attachment, will not think or act on any kind of attachment again."

[End of quote]

I find this sutta very illuminating. I can identify with the fact that I had the final responsibility for my own 'healing' and that my 'eating habits', 'places I go' and how often I 'clean my wounds' are what would 'cure' me after receiving the Buddha's treatment.

I rejoice that you can see that we are sick and need medicine. This is a very important understanding: to understand and see that life is suffering. I remember reading about people born with a nerve disorder, where they are not able to feel pain. So when they are injured or bleeding, they don't know because there's no pain. So their life is in constant danger because they can die from not knowing something is wrong. In the same way, there are many people who don't know or feel suffering. Their favourite slogan might be 'life is short, play hard' or 'just do it' (as they like it). On the surface, they are happy but I think you know as well as I do, that the dissasstifaction will still get to them.

So how can we protect ourselves from degenerating or deterioriating? The analogy in the sutta is very good. I also strive to be like the second type of person.

I think 'eat suitably' refers to the kind of things we allow our body and mind to be fed with. Eating too much causes hyperactivity where we have so much energy that we must find some activity to do. If you can't find any and become bored, your mind starts wandering to unwholesome thoughts. Some people become heavy and lethargic when they eat too much. They become lazy, sleep a lot and become unmotivated in things. What a waste of time!

Nowadays, it is scary to think about the kind of 'food' our senses are fed with. Visuals (television, posters, movies) are filled with images of violence, sex, desire - always shouting at us to develop attachments to them, if we want to be happy. These messages run through our minds so subtly we may not even realise they are there!

"Buy me, use me and look cool!"
"Have me because it shows you have got taste."
"Use me, I'll make you happy" etc etc

The Buddha's advice is clear: 'eat' suitably. Know moderation in our habits and avoid those which cause more suffering. Reflect carefully on this.

Last week, one of the inmates from the Kaki Bukit Centre who's due to be released in September told me that he'd started flipping the catalogues of IKEA to plan what furniture to buy when he goes out. That session, I shared about sensual desires and how they drive our untrained mind. He realised his mind was worrying itself too much, too early. Why worry about these insignificant things when the more important question of whether he can get himself a job (thus income) is yet to be answered?

You can start training yourself in contentment. Reflect that prison has trained you well to survive on bare necessities: how big a bed do you need when you've survived the hard floor for so long? How much food do you need other than what sustains your body? How much entertainment do you need when you've survived without movies, radio, disco?

Appreciate that you are a survivor. Not everyone can survive in such conditions but you have! Don't let things you've overcome before, come back to bother you. It's when you open your mind to say, "I've suffered enough in prison. Now it's time to find back all my pleasures quickly" - that you open the floodgates of suffering.

I've experienced it the same way, especially after I come back from retreats. In the beginning, retreats were my once-a-year 'purification' treatments. During retreat I detox bad habits, put on my good behaviour - but once I go home, it's hooray! Food, entertainment, wasting time on unimportant things just because I'm just out from retreat.

Maybe a useful thought can be: I'm a chronic or long-term patient. I have to take care of my mind and body carefully. Otherwise, I'll end up like person number one.

Second, don't go to unsuitable places. I'm sure you know which places have 'poisonous snakes' (bad characters) who will just tempt you or pull you into unwholesome activities again.

The last one is the most important: to keep 'cleaning our wounds' from time to time. Our treatment doesn't end until we are free from all defilements, We have to keep practicing, reflecting and acting upon what the Buddha taught. We know our minds best and only we can correct, train, purify and strengthen our mind.

I used to get terribly frustrated seeing mysef make the same mistakes over and over again. I thought maybe I need to take more precepts, so I did. I thought, maybe I need to learn more Dhamma, so I did. Then maybe I need to meditate more... go for more retreats... change my lifestyle... find a teacher... all of which I did. But I was still not peaceful because I was looking for a guarantee, a support from outside to assure me that I'll definitely 'recover'. In other words, I was looking for a person or solution to take care of me. For me.

I wasn't confident I could do it myself because I've failed before. I couldn't convince myself that I've got enough wisdom and mind control to do this on my own. But in the end, I realised...

Who is taking precepts?
Who is meditating?
Who is going for retreats?
Who is changing lifestyle?

I've been the one directing my mind to these activities! It's not because Buddha came in a dream to command me to do these. I willingly did all of these because inside me, there is wisdom of knowing and understanding the demerits of suffering. That's exactly what you are doing now.

When I finally found my teacher, I thought, "There! I'm saved finally!" Then I realised that even sitting beside my teacher, my unwholesome thoughts, negative thoughts can still arise. I still need to be mindful, I still need to put in my own efforts. I can jolly well become my teacher's shadow, following her everywhere! But nothing changes inside, if I don't put in my own effort to try.

So I learnt that at the end of the day, we need to acknowledge that we are our own rescuers, support, doctor. The effort that will bring us to the end of suffering comes from ourselves and this effort needs to be consistent and indefinitely long-term for every moment, every hour, every minute and second of our life.

Being patient with ourself, forgiving and encouraging is very important. The length of the healing journey is very much in our own hands.

You've started off well, do keep it consistent. Allay your doubts with understanding - read and reflect more about the Dhamma. Encourage yourself with the example of the Buddha and all other practicing persons you know.

I've written a very long reply to your letter because I know I won't be able to walk long with you. I'll be going for my own 'healing' journey next year and correspondence would be difficult.

I'm happy always to hear your thoughts and Dhamma questions. It encourages and inspires me to share more. Keep it up!

Please reflect deeply on the Buddha's teaching and act on it the best you can. This is a path which brings wholesome fruits! Please take care.

With metta
28 July 2005

Contemplation on Flies

For more than one week, I contemplated daily on the subject of "flies".

I was in Ipoh for a 10-day retreat and come late morning, hordes of flies would descend on the meditators in the meditation hall and also upon our food in the dining hall.

Everyday while waiting for all to be seated and to chant the food reflection, I would sit and watch the flies that busily flew from one person's plate to another, buzzing around our faces. At first, I would diligently fan them away, then I grew tired of chasing them and stopped.

I closed my eyes the moment I sat down. "Out of sight, out of mind", I thought "One doesn't die from eating flies' contaminated food, the most I will make a few trips to the toilet but it is too much trouble to unsettle my mind with impatience and intolerance after so many hours of trying to concentrate my mind."

A few days into the closing eyes regime, I noticed that my kind neighbours at the table would help me place a tissue paper over my food while I shut my eyes. I felt grateful and a little embarrassed
that they had to help me protect my food.

So I started keeping my eyes open. I just looked at the flies that would come and go on my food and the way they descended together onto some bits of food that my fellow yogis placed in the middle of the table to occupy them.

Something struck me about the way the flies would descend together on the food, landing side by side to each other, buzzing around, flying and gathering, moving from one place to another sometimes alone, sometimes in a sudden flurry of movement. What kamma did they create to be reborn as flies? This was one question in my mind. I suddenly felt a lot of compassion for these flies when I observed how busy they were, always buzzing around to find food but not staying long at each
place before being chased away by people or heading for another target.

One day during interview time, one yogi asked the meditation teacher, Sayalay Dipankara about difficulties she faced with a group of people she knew. It had to do with jealousy, with one group ganging up against the other, trying to keep each other away from the person in authority whom they liked to be close to. The image of the flies crowding around the pile of food came to my mind instantly. It just struck me at that point how these people were busy buzzing around and busy like these flies, trying to horde a person they like... Not knowing why they are always so busy, with only one objective in mind -that of searching for sensual satiation.

I shuddered in my heart.

Sayalay has yet to answer my question of what can cause rebirth as a fly, but this is my reflection:

May I not plant seeds of kamma that would lead me to a fly-like rebirth, where I have to waste my time mindlessly in search of sensual pleasures, being constantly dissastisfied (flying around), blindly led by likes and dislikes and causing the irk of people around.

May the flies (and all beings!) be free from greed, hatred and delusion and taste the real food of the Dhamma!

Little sister grass

Little Catty was enjoying her new found freedom with a pair of wings that she had just grown. It was refreshing to flutter around in her beautiful wings after a long time trapped in the tight little cocoon that was a rite of passage for all aspiring butterflies. Her parents were proud of her, their beautiful caterpillar daughter transformed into a dazzling, fluttering display of colour.

How wonderful youth and vitality is! As Catty basked in her strength, she flew as far from home as she could, enjoying the sights and sounds. She saw other cocoons still struggling to break free, she saw older butterflies begin to fade in their colour and strength. She stopped on every other beautiful and sweet flower for a sniff, for a landing, just to say "Look at me! Look at my graceful flight, enjoy my beauty!" Her heart lept each time a passing bee, fly or beetle slowed to look at her. Sometimes a passing human child might try to scoop her up in their giant hands. But with her young, strong wings, she was too quick for them!

She flew home proud and amazed that she was turning heads and feelers. She began to stick her head up when she saw poor caterpillars crawling about waiting for their turn to metamorphorsise. "Oh dear, how slow you are going! Let me teach you how to become a beautiful butterfly like me!" As caterpilars gathered to listen to her, she impressed with accounts of how she stayed perfectly still in the cocoon so that her wings would not be scratched or marred with scratches, or how she would choose a place to hang herself, which is far from fumbling beetles and nasty grasshoppers. The young and envious caterpillars applauded her fluent speeches with their rows of legs and asked her to fly around again and again so that they could admire the beauty of her wings and set goals for their own transformation.

Meantime, her arrogance was getting a bit too much for her elders. She began to think that she was above them, superior to them and that she knew all the tricks to developing beautifully that her already fading seniors did not.

One day, Catty was flying around, showing off her wings as usual. She was so engrossed in the act that she did not see a sly spider weaving up his web right in her flying tracks. She whammed straight into the sticky web. Within moments, the veteran spider was moving in for his meal.

Seeing the pending danger, Catty felt fear arise, but her pride remained. She screamed, "Look what you have done! My wings all stuck and crumpled! Do you know who you are dealing with? I'm Catty! THE Catty! Wait till all my butterfly and caterpillar friends come and get you! You still have a chance to get me disentangled from this mess. NOW!"

Spidey grinned and rubbed his four pairs of legs in glee. "Struggle! The more you struggle, the tighter the grip! Ha! Ha! This is an invincible formula passed down through the spidey clan. Struggle! See how your mind flutters just like your silly little wings!"

Catty paralysed with fear. She felt truly now that the more she struggled, the tighter and more enmeshed her wings and flimsy tube of a body were clinging to the web. The invincible and invisible trap. Her mind went blank.

At this time, a familiar voice rang. "Oh Catty... if only I had told you the story of little sister grass earlier. Then you may have escaped today's fate."

Spidey and Catty looked up to see the branch that the web was hooked on speaking with regret and compassion.

Branch continued, "The day you grew wings, I feared for you. I have seen so many caterpillars turned butterflies become pompous, flaunting and proud. You grew too big for your head, and flew too high for your wings.... well, not just you, but every other young butterfly that had ever flown my way. They all think they are the best and the most beautiful. Look at the bottom of my foot, What do you see?"

Catty stealed a glance and saw a pile of faded broken pieces of butterfly wings at the root of the old tree. It sent a shudder through her tiny spine. She knew her time was up.

"My time is up". This thought struck her and she realised nothing mattered anymore. She calmed down and looked at Spidey in the eye. "Do you have enough compassion for me to hear a last story before you eat me?"

Spidey looked at the entwined, helpless Catty and thought, "Well, nowhere this one could run or fly anyway!" He nodded a smug nod at Branch.

Branch sighed and started. "If little sister grass were around today, she would be able to tell you her story. But since she has long since gone back to the elements, I'll relate her story to you. We were such close friends.... Sigh. Anyway....

Branch looked like he was melting away into his memory of the past.

"The first time I met little sister grass, she was young. So very young. She was a bright shade of green, a little pale and when she first broke through the soil she could not stand properly. I doted on her so I took her into our fellow branches' shade.

Soon she grew strong and stood upright so proudly. I was proud of her too! In the beginning, she would lay close to me and thank me for protecting her. When she grew taller and further off the ground, she began to see more of the outside world and she grew desirous of moving out of my shade.

She met other grasses, who told her to extend her roots further out so that she could get out of my shade, they meant out of our interference! Those devious little grasses!

She did just that. She started to be exposed to the elements. The thunder storm, the mighty blast of a wind, the whispering wind, the mid-day heat of the sun, the seasons... at first, she fought. When the thunderstorm pelted on her, she would resist the heavy drops and stood up tall while the veteran grasses relaxed and just let the drops weigh on them. She strained her veins in that way and soon stood droopped a little on her left side. But she fought on.

When the sun came and the other grasses huddled close to their stem to minimise water loss, she would spread herself out as if to challenge the sun to come and evaporate her. She withered her tips in the process and began to go flip flop in the wind instead of her previous graceful sway.

She resisted everything and tried so hard to stand up tall and strong. She liked to be the tallest amongst all her fellow grass, but that also meant she was hit the hardest in rain, dried the most in the hot sun and trampled from a higher height by human feet.

One morning, she found that she could not stand with her stems straight. She was bent and tired. Poor little sister grass. She became depressed and stopped eating and drinking. At her lowest state, she laid down on the bare earth staring at the roots of other grasses thinking why all her efforts to be the best had brought her to this state.

She looked around at her fellow grass friends. They were green, cheerful and swaying strong in the wind. She realised there must be something right in what they were doing to be able to stay green and strong for so long.

She stopped lamenting. Instead she began observing and listening to other grass. After days of observation, she smiled.

She finally understood.

She waved weakly at me, smiled and thanked me for always supporting her. In her whispering weak voice, she told me the secret to staying green and strong the longest:

'I have to let go of my ego, dear brother Branch.

I need to bow when the rain comes so that the water flows down naturally.
I need to relax myself when the wind blows so that I don't injure myself holding up against it.
I need to be humble and stay low to the ground when humans come, so that I won't be a target for trampling on.

I've been too brash, too proud and too attention seeking.

Youth comes but once and leads to maturity for the wise but the foolish ones like me pass away when youth had barely passed - burning ourselves in youthful pride. We play like we have no tomorrow and think that when tomorrow comes, we are still young!

When I stood too tall with my young bones, I looked down on the older, wiser grass. Sometimes they tried to tell me things, but I deliberately braced myself up higher so that they couldn't get to me. How silly.

It's too late now... I can feel the water draining down through my roots. I've lost too much water to ever stand again. I've spent my youth, fought too hard for the wrong reasons. Please brother Branch, do me a favour."

Drops of water appeared on the tip of Branch.

She said "Do me a favour. Tell my story to other plants, insects, people who are intoxicated with youth. Tell them so that they may go on to the next stage of life wisely, making use of their youthful energy. Tell them to be mindful of their intentions, respectful of their elders, generous in sharing their wisdom and ALWAYS be humble.

Never stand tall. The tallest one always gets hit first because he is most obvious.

Instead, be humble. Bend a little lower, stoop a little.

Or they may become like me, flat on the ground, brought down to earth not by choice but after being floored by folly....

Thank you brother branch for your friendship, good bye..."

Catty felt a violent shake beneath her and she realised that Spidey was sobbing, sending vibrations across the sticky web. She felt tears come to her too. "What great advice, but it came too late!" As she cried, her tiny tears dropped on the invincible web.

And as her good karma goes, the invincible web was not water-proof.

With Spidey's continuous shake and her dripping eyes, Catty felt the web loosen. For a moment, her mind geared into alertness. She slowly wriggled her wings - space!

She glanced quickly at the emotional Spidey absorbed in his own thoughts, and with all the strength she could summon, she heaved her wings violently away from the web.

And she was free!

Branch cheered, Spidey was stunned and Catty was transformed.

Becoming a butterfly was not the real transformation. Being released from near-death, from an ending caused by foolishness shook her entire spiritual self so much.

Now she was truly transformed.

12 June 2005

A tribute to all those who have given

Today let’s pay tribute to all those who have given
Their time, their hearts, their effort, their life
To bring us what we have today.

Behind every event, great and small
There are people giving, slogging, and sacrificing.

Sometimes we look at those at the top
And forget to see all those supporting them at the bottom.

Sometimes we notice people working at the front
And fail to see people striving in the background.

We see successes and well run events
But not often do we see
Lessons learnt and weaknesses overcome
Even in far from perfect projects…

Every contribution big and small,
Every helping hand strong and weak,
Every willingly giving heart,
Every voice, heard and unheard,
Every face, seen and unseen,
Every single person, named and unnamed…

All contribute to what we have today,
And will bring us what we want to achieve in future.

Today let us pay tribute to all those who have given.
Let us rejoice in their selfless giving.
And may we too take them as our exemplars
And give of ourselves.

And like a candle, which burns itself to give others light
Let us give of ourselves to bring others joy.

And like a candle, which can pass on the flame
Without extinguishing itself,
Let us give of ourselves to benefit others
Knowing full well that we too will learn and grow…
Only brighter and better
From our giving.

Let us close our eyes now,
Fill our hearts with gratitude,
And imbue our intention with the determination to serve.

Let us now say
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
In unison and aloud…
Sealing now our gratitude and our aspiration.

*Presented at National University of Singapore Buddhist Society Day 2002
29th Jan 2002

Nobody has victimised me

"All mental phenomena are preceded by mind, Mind is their master, they are produced by mind. If somebody speaks or acts With a corrupted mind, Hence suffering follows him, Like the wheel follows the foot of the bearing animal."
Dhammapada Verse 1

Glancing at this verse again, the analogy of the wheel started in motion by the movement of the animal pulling the cart struck me. Our actions (preceded by mind) is connected directly to the results, just like the beast of burden pulling the cart. If the beast moves, the cart moves. And that cart is our situations or things, events that happen to us in life afterwards. There is no escape and no other way until we master the beast in front - our mind.

The story behind this verse talks about an Arahant, Maha Pala, who became blind at the same time that he was enlightened. People were surprised on how it could happen that way. The Buddha explained that in Maha Pala's past life, he had been a doctor who had blinded somebody in revenge, so even as an Arahant, he had to be blind to suffer that result - the wheel that had already been set in motion by his own unwholesome intentions.

Reflecting on this, I laughed when I recall all the comparatively minute and insignificant occasions when I felt that I have been victimised, wrongly accused or blamed or had not achieved good results for what I thought were good actions.

Since I have not mastered a non-corrupted mind, so naturally all speech and action that I do will come with suffering. Undeniably, if I try hard to check myself, all speech and action originating from me would be at fault even if only to 0.01% (in the most honest respect of the truth) because it DOES come with different degrees of greed, hatred and delusion.

So who can I blame when I get blamed?

I have to get it clear. I set my own wheel into motion.

So I have to face up and deal with my own muddy mess of walking into the puddle when it happens.

And accept that hey, walking in the mud is NORMAL for all unenlightened beings.

So may i continue to strive hard on taming the stubborn beast in front (the mind) and stop pushing the blame to other people around for throwing mud in my path.

Strive on! (i'm talking to myself) =P

WIth lots of metta..

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