Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Accidental Teacher

Last night was one of those nights when sleep eluded me. I sat up in bed and reached out for the Words of My Perfect Teacher and randomly flipped the pages. It took me to the Taking Refuge section and I started reading, keeping in mind that I want to get the practice of taking refuge right.

As I read, this sentence jumped up at me: How could we practise patience if there were no one who made us angry? Oh, a justification to be angry! Something that I could do with, considering how often anger has consumed me. Angry with others and always, ending up with being angry with myself.

But angry is an understatement. Fit of rage. Flew off the handle. Mad. Beserk. These would be more apt descriptions of my temperament. Son No 1 warned me that at my age, I was heading for trouble – to put it plainly, a heart attack or stroke was looming.

But how? I am very well aware that I have allowed external factors to bring this upon myself. I am aware that it’s my big ego that reacted and manifested in this rage. I am aware that I need to to go beyond self.

But these are just intellectual knowledge which goes out of the window as quickly as thoughts and words stoke the ambers of anger. The heart constricts and balls up, inflamed with anger and hatred. I can feel that pain as I recall now.

Obstacle makers – a term never in my vocabulary until I pounced on it last night – are always the cause, firing me up the wrong way. The blame is on them. They are the ones that caused me to explode and luckily, not implode, yet.

Oh, how I hate them… until Patrul Rinpoche is his book shed the light. Like a beacon that cuts through the thick darkness of my ignorance, he said: It is harm caused by enemies and obstacle makers that gives you the opportunity to develop patience. He also went on to say: It is the adversity your enemies cause you that provides you with a reason for practising patience…

They separate you, whether you like it or not, from your wealth and possessions – the bonds that prevent you from ever getting free from samsara and therefore the very source of all suffering.

Negative forces and obstacle makers too provide you with a focus for the practice of patience. Through the illnesses and sufferings they provoke, many past misdeeds are purified. What is more, enemies and obstacle makers bring you to the Dhamma.

He then quoted Longchenpa (also known as Longchen Rabjam, ‘Infinite, Vast Expanse of Space’, was one of the most brilliant teachers of the Nyingma lineage) in these beautiful lines:

Assailed by afflictions, we discover Dhamma

And find the way to liberation. Thank you, evil forces!

When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dhamma

And find lasting happiness. Thank you, sorrows!

Through harm caused by spirits, we discover Dhamma

And find fearlessness. Thank you, ghosts and demons!

Through people’s hate, we discover Dhamma

And find benefits and happiness. Thank you, those who hate us!

Through cruel adversity, we discover Dhamma

And find the unchanging way. Thank you, adversity!

Through being impelled to by others, we discover Dhamma

And find the essential meaning. Thank you, all who drive us on!

We dedicate our merits to you all, to repay your kindness.

Profound! In essence, the obstacle makers and enemies are, in a way, extremely kind to us. Who would bother to prod us to see the Dhamma and practise it? That may not have been their intention but they are a means to an end. For that, I am grateful.

Seeing them in that light, they are no longer a cause for my pain and suffering. Seeing them in that light, they are no longer a cause to react with anger and fit of rage. Seeing them in that light, I am blessed to have them as my teachers.

The doors of my heart now open for them and with folded palms I welcome them in – for they have taught me the lesson to be loved and love, the pure way!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Yes he did, just as he kicked Ajahn Nyanadhammo.

Speaking on Saturday evening at the Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day in Kuala Lumpur, Ajahn Nyanadhammo recalled one time when walking back to the monastery in Thailand after alms round, a brother monk had complained of the other monks. Not wanting to indulge in it, he walked ahead but a conversation carried on his mind along the lines of “how can he say that…’ etc. The more irritated he felt, the lower he hung his head. As he reached the monastery, he heard a “Good Morning” greeting and he looked up. It was Ajahn Chah, his teacher who could only speak a smattering of English. That lifted his spirits and soon enough, his mood changed and the rest of the day, he forgot about the brother monk’s complaint.

That evening, he was at Ajahn Chah’s kuti to give him a foot massage. As always, there were other monks around to discuss the Dhamma with the teacher. The time came for evening chanting and Ajahn Chah instructed all except him to go for chanting. Ajahn Nyanadhammo remained to continue the massage. He recalled that the temperature was just soothingly nice, the moon was clear in the sky and there were no mosquitoes. He actually felt heavenly, performing an act of gratitude for his revered teacher. Just then out of the blue, Ajahn Chah kicked him and fell back, hitting his head. That knocked some senses into him. “Don’t get lost in the words of others, watch your own mind, “Ajahn Chah said, reprimanding him for being so affected, brooding by what a brother monk said but so elated by a “Good Morning” greeting.

Don’t get lost in the words of others, watch your own mind. That was one precious takeaway for me that evening in between manning the Book Distribution counter and catching snippets of the talk. I repeated it in my mind to commit it to memory.

The next morning as I was having breakfast, I related to Jessie of an inconsiderate man that evening who just stood by without lifting a finger to see me and two other girl volunteers pile more than 1,000 books into his CRV for his pregnant wife to send to a reverend for distribution. His son, probably three or four-years-old, even helped by carrying the bundle packs of 30 books but he coolly stood by. He even told his boy that he may hurt himself but he did not even reach out to take the books from his son. How inconsiderate! As I related it, I just blurted out to Jessie that I have been carrying this thought with me the whole night and even the next morning, having a conversation in mind about how unhelpful, uncaring... blah, blah, blah. Just that moment, I felt that Ajahn Chah just kicked me!

With folded palms and great reverence, I thank you, Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Nyanadhammo. I will remember that kick and the lesson.