Sunday, 13 May 2007

Mother and his 50-year-old Little Boy

On this Mother's Day, I reproduce what I penned two years ago of a story of a 50-year-old who felt every way a little boy with his mother. The little boy was me...

"I held her hand and the feeling was so good. With her small hand, clasped in mine, I felt like a little boy again, a 50-year-old little boy.

While I may be offering her a safe hand and security with my firm clasp and a frame that towers over her now frail 85-year-old frame, I am -- to me -- still her little boy.

How long has it been since I last held her hands? How long has it been that I have taken a walk hand in hand with her? I can’t remember. It must have been years, many years. Possibly way, way back when I was a child.

Coming from a conservative Chinese family that is not inclined to being demonstrative in showing affection in public, you can just imagine the surge of emotions, the little-boy joy, the elation at this mother-and-child moment.

I felt warm despite the chill of the Bodhgaya air at dusk on that November day, warm with the bonding and mother’s love. As we drew closer to the entrance of the Mahabodhi Temple with our little steps, I patted her hands and said softly to her, “Ma, I am taking you to see the Buddha”. I did not look at her, fighting shy of the tears – tears of joy -- that had already welled in my eyes.

I could see from the corner of my eyes that she nodded her head. She was quiet, drinking in the serenity and the magic in the air as we ambled down the stairs leading to the main shine that fronts the Bodhi tree that Buddha sat under and gained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.

I have made it, my heart cried out. I have realised a wish I had two years ago. I could still remember vividly standing not too far away from where we were. I was then on higher ground viewing the various sites where the Buddha spent the seven weeks following his Enlightenment. What caught my eye then was a daughter from our pilgrimage group doting on her mother. That instant, a thought arose in me that it would be great if I could take my aging mother to this sacred place.

It was as if my wish was heard. At the end of our 2003 pilgrimage, Aloka Foundation Spiritual Director Venerable Mahinda talked of his plan to organise a pilgrimage specially for the elders. With now direct-flight access to Bodhgaya, it would be easier for the old to visit this place where the Buddha gained Enlightenment.

Mother was not receptive. Her old body can’t take the journey, she said. Each time I asked her in my KL-Penang telephone calls, she would brush it aside by saying that 2005 is too far away. She may not be alive by then… was another of her responses.

All it needed was Venerable Mahinda to change her mind. Asked, when she met Bhante at Mahindrama in Penang earlier this year, she responded with an instantaneous affirmative. Her mental frame of mind changed. On her own, she went to apply for her passport. She just gathered strength. Nothing could stop her. Even a bout of old illness which saw her throwing out just days before the trip could not change her mind. She was determined to go the pilgrimage. She was ready for it.

The trip to KL from Penang – which she has not made in the last 15 years or so – and the flight to Yangon and onwards to Bodhgaya was no problem for. Her old legs could make the many walking trips to and fro the Mahayana Hotel to the Maha Bodhi Temple as well as the many times we circumambulated the main shrine as well as the number of times up and down the bus in visits to as many as seven temples in Bodhgaya in a day.

Mother made it. It must be her personal best record, unrivalled in significance, joy, and many other things. I guess it was never in her wildest dream – not in mine too -- that she would be celebrating her 85th birthday on the full moon day in Bodhgaya where she had the opportunity to be blessed by Bhante and Sister Sumitra on the grounds of the Maha Bodhi Temple, offer dana at the Sangikadana attended by 51 Sangha members from the temples in Bodhgaya and a special birthday cake from the Mahayana Hotel management to wrap up an eventful day.

We owe this privilege she had to Bhante, who was instrumental in making this special pilgrimage a reality. It was a pilgrimage with a difference as in the group of 47, there were 13 families – mother, father and daughter; mother and daughters; father and daughter; mother and son; sister and brother; sisters; and husbands and wives. All in all, 13 families made up of 30 individuals.

There was much love going around. Many unscripted acts and outpouring of love, affection and devotion were played out to feast for our eyes and warm out hearts. These were valuable lessons in family bonding and filial piety for family members as well as the single ones present in the pilgrimage.

We were constantly reminded through the un-choreographed heart-rendering acts in this pilgrimage of Buddha’s advice of our duties and the gratitude that we must show to our parents and elders.

In the Anguttara Nikaya: the Buddha had said: "O Bhikkhus! Father and mother are two, to whom however much worldly support is rendered but still falls short of the gratitude due.

"O Bhikkhus! If a man can live for a hundred years and nurse his mother on the right shoulder and his father on the left shoulder throughout his life time, feeding them and doing every other services with his own hands - Bhikkhus! even then the devoted hundred years of service so rendered by the son will not completely repay the debt of his gratitude to his parents.”

I definitely cannot repay the love and sacrifices mother has made for me. But I am grateful -- grateful that she has paved the way for me to receive the Dhamma. It was she who planted the seed in me when she took me to the Penang Buddhist Association when I was 12 and enrolled me in the Dhamma Sunday School. She has given me the greatest gift, the gift that excels all.

This pilgrimage pales in comparison in reciprocating her gift but it is something that I wanted to do for her and I count my blessings for being able to do it.

Mother, thank you for every thing and most of all, thank you for this opportunity to be your 50-year-old little boy. May you be blessed with long life – one lived to the fullest – good health, peace and happiness. And may you at the earliest opportunity achieve Nibbana – there is no other greater wish for you, mother."

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Happiness 101

One moment happiness; the next, sadness. That's the pendulum swing of life that I experienced in the past few weeks. No. More correctly, that's what I have been experiencing throughout my life!

Nevertheless, it was how the events unfurled in the last few weeks that allowed me to see with greater clarity, this true nature of things.

It was happiness travelling to Johor Baru to attend the wedding reception of my niece, Daughter No 1 of Brother No 4, and seeing her the first time in 13 or 14 years. Girl, as we fondly call her, was a picture of bliss in the arms of her man, Aaron. Bro Tony was every inch a proud father. Sis-in-law Linda, who, though looked stressed at the reception, was equally as happy.

The tears and the hugs at the end of the dinner spoke aloud of the joy Girl was in seeing us -- her shu-shu (younger uncle) and shen-shen (aunt) whom she had nearby when she grew up in Kuala Lumpur. I shared that joy too but our time together was limited. I had a long drive to Penang the next morning as I had promised Bro No 2 a ride back so that I can celebrate Vesak with mum as well.

The joy of waking up on Vesak morn in Penang is something I have not experienced in many years. As I offered prayers to the Buddha first thing in the morning at home, mum was out early heading to the temple to help out at the kitchen. Even at 87, she is still an able hand. Later, I fetched her from Penang Buddhist Association for Phor Tay for the late morning prayers. I observed from the back, how able mum was at the front. She fussed over the offerings and made sure they were passed around in an orderly manner and with reverence. Mum, oh mum! I have nothing but reverence and admiration for you.

That blissful moment as prayer began was shattered by the phone. Shucks! Should have put it on silent mode. It was a client and what could it be other than work! She wanted me to call an editor to follow up on an interview arrangement for later in the week, which I refused on account that it was the editor's holiday and it was impolite to do so.

I knew she was not happy. That spoiled my Vesak. How could she be so inconsiderate! It bugged me for the next few days. I carried that around like a boulder round my neck. It weighed me down. I just could not fathom, how I allowed myself to be so affected by this.

The day I got back to work after the holidays, I was informed by her office that she was unhappy and wanted a meeting, possibly to give me a tongue-lashing. That added on to the unhappiness until one morning, while waiting to send Son No 2 to school, I saw the book by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche lying around. I just turned to one of the pages and the chapter "Fulfilling Life's Purpose" caught my attention.

What jumped out at me were his statement that "the purpose of our life is not simply to solve our own problems, to gain happiness for ourselves...each of us has this universal responsibility to bring the greatest happiness to all sentient beings". Yes, but how? There are the inconsiderate. The unkind. The irritants, etc etc etc.

Zopa Rinpoche's answer is simple yet profound. "If you generate compassion in your mind, you will not harm others. Peace and happiness is the absence of harm. By not harming others, you are offering them happiness and peace. So all this peace and happiness that others experience as a result of your compassion has come from you, depends upon you. It is in your hands, because it is up to you whether or not you generate compassion towards others."

He added: "An hour, a minute before you changed (to maintaining mindfulness of this universal responsibility), you were acting out of ego and self-centeredness... because you were motivated by ego, attachment ruled your mind and your actions did not become a cause of everlasting happiness...if there's no compassion in your heart, what you're left with is ego, the self-centered mind. That means your entire life is dedicated to your own happiness. But what about others? They also want to be happy. You're not the only one who needs happiness; others also need happiness..."

How true. I was preoccupied with my own happiness. My Vesak. My holiday. My ego was deflated by that client so-called untimely instructions. The client could have acted out of pursuit of her own happiness. As Zopa Rinpoche rightly pointed out that when one is under the influence of ego, it's very easy to clash with others in daily life. The self-centered mind causes problems. As long as one acts out of ego, one harms others. This is because the ego is intent on achieving happiness for oneself at the expense of others.

He advises that it does not matter whether other people practice compassion or not. Do it first. Develop the good heart.

Just reflecting on that changed the frame of mind I was in. The unhappiness dissipated. I felt compassion towards the client. I am more at peace, just bearing in mind that the happiness of others starts with me, the self-centred I.

By the way, the purported tongue-lashing meeting was postponed at the last minute to a later date. I am no longer worried nor affected by it. Thank you Rinpoche. I shall treasure this teaching.