Friday, October 30, 2009

As the Deer

Just re-discovered my favouritest Christian hymn of all time:

As the deer pants for streams of water
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I use to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.

~Psalms 42:1-5~

Don't give up when all seems lost,
when it seems that all has forsaken you.
It is in your darkest moments
that goodness comes in its full glory.

The best is yet to be.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Behind the Halo – A Letter From a Bat Nha Aspirant

Aspirants bowing during Ordination Ceremony at BN Monastery.

Aspirants bowing during Ordination Ceremony at BN Monastery.

October 20, 2009
Translated from Phusaonline. (Vietnamese source)

(Written by a Bat Nha aspirant, who is now at Phuoc Hue with the Bat Nha Monastics. Currently taking refuge with the monks and nuns at the Phuoc Hue temple are many young women and men from the ages of 18-25 who aspire to become ordained as a monastic, even within these trying and turbulent times. They are courageously determined not to leave and to remain with these monks and nuns to the end, even with pressure from the police and their family members.)

I want to start this letter by telling you up front that I am an aristocrat young lady – born and raised in a completely traditional and well-mannered family. My maternal grandmother had two daughters. My auntie is a teacher, and then there is my mother. My father and mother are owners of a well-known business. And on my father’s side, needless to say, everyone is an accomplished Communist Party member, with important positions in a district in Ho Chi Minh City.

And with that background, my childhood passed by smoothly under that protective halo!

In my family, there were always three to four helpers. As a result, I completely did not know anything about grocery shopping, cooking or washing – tasks that any young lady should know a little about, if not a lot. I only knew only one thing that is to study. I was a good student and at one point, head of my class in literature for the whole district.

Hearing me sharing these things, most likely many of you would also wish to have such a comfortable and well-off life like mine. On the contrary, to me, I never felt like that.

Deep inside, I always felt in conflict and saw myself as a puppet-doll. Worse yet, when I took the college entrance examination, with my capability, I was accepted into medical school. But my parents and relatives on my father’s side steered me into finance and banking business, because of only one reason: my uncle is the director of Bank E. I only needed to graduate from college, to follow my Uncle, to obediently hold the seat for the first few years, then to strive in becoming a Communist Party member. From then on, my job left will only be “to sit and enjoy the shade and to eat off the golden bowl”.(1) The clueless of fools would understand how such a government official’s salary is so staggeringly low, yet can afford them such a luxurious material life.(2)

But after I graduated, I did not work in the bank, and neither did I work for any governmental department. I knew I had chosen the wrong profession. I wanted to live with what were real in me. I took up as a side job,(3) to free lance as a writer for a book company.

I studied in one field, but I ended up in another. I knew that I had wasted a lot of time, but in the end, I did not want to lose myself as well. I often fell into episodes of depression, because I had the feeling that I lived not true to myself. I struggled many years like that only to find out the answers to general questions such as: What am I? Where have I come from? Where will I go?

I know you probably think that I am crazy. But this was the reality for me! I was not inspired about how much money I will earn or about striving to have this or that degree. To me, I only dreamt about the few things I mentioned above.

Then my parents wanted me to be married, as it was the normal thing to do. To appease everyone, I agreed to date a colleague from school who seemed to be gentle and kind. However, when my relatives from both sides began to get more involved with our affairs, hoping for something beautiful to happen, I began to feel as before and eventually, fell into a chasm of depression. I was like a silk worm that wanted to metamorphose itself and to break out of its cocoon. So, I revolted surprisingly and decided not to go out with that young man anymore. Since by then, I already had another love; that for the Buddha and his teachings.

I tried to understand more deeply about the Buddha Dharma. I felt so fortunate to be in touch with the teachings of Plum Village. When I came to Bat Nha to practice with the Sangha there, I suddenly realized that my life was truly happy from that moment. I learned how to wash the dishes in mindfulness, to cook vegetarian dishes, and to do the ordinary tasks that I had never done before, like scrubbing the floor and cleaning the toilets. I did these things with immense happiness!

I still remember very clearly what it felt like to be in complete control of my life, when with my own hands I had dialed the phone number and answered with certainty to the young man’s parents that, I was sorry, but I will not marry him!

I underwent some metamorphosis, if not a lot. I am no longer a little princess, a doll or a puppet. I can be in control of my life, of my destiny. I know that I am completely free! And I wanted to let others like me know and understand more about the true meaning of life. Friends, you have to live a life that is truly useful and not to just grope in the dark and spin in an endless circle- growing up, going to school, earning money, obtaining power; waiting to eat, waiting to marry, and then waiting to die!

I brought home the Buddha Dharma. From then on, the meals in my family began to change. New topics were brought up for discussion such as questions like, Grandmother, did you read a sutra today? Auntie, did you listen to the Dharma talk? Daddy, why are you so lazy about doing walking meditation? Mommy, please try to get Daddy up early to practice with you. And as for my young brother, he often went to release fishes back to the lake.

I was happy; my brother was happy; my mother was happy; my father was happy; and my whole family was happy. Like that, the small changes occurred. I do not dare talk about bigger things! But I know that to have a society healthy and secured, each family has to be a healthy cell first! This change did not mean that I turned into a log without thoughts, feelings, or love for anyone. Of course I still do, why not?

I was keenly aware that there was a different strength deep inside of me. I could hear the Buddha calling for me. That call was so endearing! And the World Honored One answered the naive questions that I had always been seeking for way back then. I wanted to be a nun!

This news was like an earthquake to my family! It was a big earthquake and its shock was felt right away. I was labeled as “a mad person”, because normally, the common view is that only crazy people would let go of everything to become a nun, giving up a good job, someone who loves you, a happy family, and the promise of a bright future if only you would sit quietly and obediently.

These things caused my Mother to be unable to eat and sleep. My Father was like someone right after a defeated battle. Both of them did not know what to say to their relatives! And if I share it here, probably you would die from laughing. The reason why my family tried to pressure and to stop me from becoming a nun is because my family background is too clean! No one agreed or supported me to become a nun and to have anything to do with religion, particularly with “that Bat Nha sect”!

While our government newspapers assert that Bat Nha is only an internal issue, I more than anyone else, a child of a family deeply rooted in the Communist Party tradition, was aware of a very different truth. I must say that it is very painful.

“If you want your whole family to be caught in tragic situations, then you go ahead and go.”

“If you want your uncles to lose their seats, then go.”

“If you want your brother’s file (who is striving to become a Communist Party member) to be black listed, then you go with that sect.”

I questioned back that if all the national news media state that this is an internal problem of the temple, then why is my becoming a nun bringing tragedy to the whole family?

I received these lucid advices:

“You should remember that your whole family is communist, so only do what you see is fitting…”; “That is a door to Death, everyone silently knows that, why do you keep plunging your head into the train?…”; “If people want to destroy it, then it will be destroyed; it’s just a matter of time, sooner or later”; “If you want to kill the dog, then you have to say that it is a mad dog (4). Only a stupid person doesn’t understand this principle. You were well-schooled from the beginning to the end, why are you so stupid?”

Given the situation, if I were still stubborn and went ahead, then I would receive the death sentence from my family immediately! My whole family, I remind you, is entirely composed of senior and powerful Communist Party members. They all gathered in the ancestral house, discussed the situation, and gave me an ultimatum that would:

  1. Disown me from our family line, regarding me as a betrayer.
  2. Cut off my residential legal status, so that no one was affected by my betraying actions in the future.
  3. Renounce me from my father’s side. If my father still wanted to be recognized as a member of the family line, then he had to write a letter to officially disown me.
  4. Threatened me that if I walked out of my house to become a nun, I should never come back, and that everyone will turn his/her back on me 180 degrees.

Now I would like to ask all of my friends and readers – would it be a happiness to be born into a family with such fame and victories?

What was truly painful were the words my mother privately shared with me after the family meeting. I don’t stop you from becoming a nun, but you must know that everyone in our family is a Communist! Please, renounce your path!

At this point, I could only scream silently, “My God, oh my God!”

The halo that I was so proud of, now collapses down, right in front of my face! I am so weary. I want to scream out loud that I do not want human beings to have to wear masks when we look at each other. I only have a simple wish, and that is to live truthfully. Why is it so that no one would give me that chance? Why does everyone sentence me guilty of betraying my parents and ancestors, if I follow my heart?

I see myself like Miss Dau (5), when she runs out of the house of the evil landowner and sees in front of her still only the dark color like that of ink!

Is there someone to light a candle for me?

An aspirant from Mountain Cloud Hamlet, Bat Nha.

Translator’s note:

(1) “…ngồi mát ăn bát vàng…” Literally means to sit in the shade and enjoy from the golden bowl; that metaphorically could mean to enjoy life and the riches without much hard labor.

(2) Kẻ ngu nhất cũng hiểu cái chuyện lương bổng không bao nhiêu của một cán bộ nhà nước, rất khập khiễng với cái viễn cảnh nhà cao cửa rộng rồi phải không? Author refers to the common knowledge of the meek salary of the government officer compared to his/her wealthy material comforts. “…viễn cảnh nhà cao cửa rộng…”, literally means tall homes with grand entries, a description of wealth.

(3) “Tôi đi làm cái nghề tay trái là viết lách…”, literally means to work as a left hand as a writer.

(4) This refers to a Vietnamese story of a horseman passing through a town. A dog barked at him. He said to the dog, “I don’t have anything to kill you now, but I have another way to kill you.” Then the horseman went into town and told everyone that it was a mad dog. As a result, people surrounded the dog and beat it to death. Thus, the man succeeded in killing the dog with his distorted words.

(5) “Chi Dau” (sister Dau or miss Dau) was a main fictional character in a body of literature in the 1930’s about landlords’ oppression and exploitation. In this part of the story (as referred to in the letter), Miss Dau was just raped by her landlord. She ran out of the house and she saw only complete darkness before her. There was no way out for her.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lutheran Mass


A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

I HEART Lutheran hymns.. ! Omgosh... So good!


We create the conditions for our own well-being and ill-being.

When will we ever learn?


ps: on a side-note - Happy Reformation Sunday!
(it's when Lutheran Christians celebrate the day Martin Luther reforms the church)
Off to service!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Memoirs of A Kedai Runcit

"Ah gong... Ah ma... Zao an!"
Adrian wakes up sleepily
Arising from a mattress on a wooden platform
He pulls the mosquito nets apart

Ah ma, busy preparing breakfast
"Ho la, ho la, wa kim kia, lai chiak!"
Adrian steps out from the room
Walls made of wood

A white dog runs to him
Adrian jumps back
Slightly unnerved
Mickey licks Adrian

In front
Ah gong sits on a wheelchair
Manning the shop
Adrian goes up front
"Helping out"

He takes a ladder
and walks around the shelves
Dusting them
Re-arranging stuff
Milo cans
Luncheon Meat
Preserved fruits
The world is so vast!
Adrian was so small then

Someone walks in
A customer!
Speaks fast Teochew
Ah gong listens
He tells Adrian what to get
In English
Adrian returns

Customer pays
Adrian pulls down the milo tin
From the ceiling
(Using a stool)
And gives change
Customer smiles
Pats Adrian on head
Leaves smiling

Adrian runs upstairs
The neighbours!
They're awake!
It's playtime!
He brings his fighting fish
for another tournament

Adrian loses
He cries
The nice brother
pats him
And offer to buy him a new fish
Adrian jumps with joy
So happy!

Boys playing badminton
In the alleyways
Adrian joins
He borrows his aunt's racket
Made of wood
Boys laugh at him
He was too small
The net seems so high up
But Adrian beats them
Thanks to his doubles partner

Weird guy comes
Approaching the boys
Everyone runs away
Adrian stays rooted in
Man offers cigarette
Boy comes and grabs Adrian's hand
They both run away


Chickens that twirl around with amazing colors
Bombs that deafened Adrian's ears
Cylinders that spew out wondrous rainbows
Throwing pop-pops at each other

It's dinnertime!
Adrian's favourite
Ah ma's pepper soup with cool looking mushrooms!
He later learns that they're pig intestines
Doesn't matter
Adrian loves them

"Ho chiak ma?"
"Ho! Ho!"
The cousins come
They watch television together
In black and white
On ah gong's bed

Adrian lays on the mattress
On a wooden platform
Mosquito nets closed
Telling himself
He would never
forget this day
A song pops up in his head
He drifts into deep slumber

"...rasa sayang, sayang hey."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ever Flowing Water

Whenever I am with others, I will practice seeing myself as the lowest of all, and from the very depth of my heart, I will recognize others as supreme.

In all actions, I will examine my mind and a moment a delusion arises, endangering myself and others, I will firmly confront and avert it.

Whenever I meet a person of bad nature, who is overwhelmed by negative energy and intense suffering, I will hold such a rare one dear, as if I had found a precious treasure.

When others out of jealousy, mistreat me with abuse, slander and scorn, I will practice accepting defeat and offering the victory to them.

When someone I have benefited from and in whom I have placed great trust, hurts me me very badly, I will practice seeing that person as my supreme teacher.

In short, I will offer directly and indirectly, every benefit and happiness to all beings.

I will practice in taking upon myself, all their harmful actions and suffering.

May all beings be well and happy. =D

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Random Stuff I Figured Out Over Summer

7 things:

1) Our minds are like our personal gardens. Tend it well, and it will grow beautifully. Disregard it, and weeds will start growing, and it becomes an ugly mess.

2) Every one of us needs a goal, a chief aim. It keeps us rooted in place. It's like a shining light that cuts through darkness.

3) We must be constantly improving ourselves. In all aspects - whether physically, mentally or spiritually. Each day, we can learn something.

4) Improvement does not mean suddenly changing in one day, it means discipline, and persistence. It's a step-by-step daily process.

5) Time waits for no man (or woman). One day, we will become sick or die (or worse still, old!). So let's do our utmost best knowing this full well.

6) Because we know the above, we should help others realize this, and make their lives more meaningful. We can help those in need, and put the fallen back on their feet. (But make sure that you are standing on yours first.)

7) Live in the present. It's all that you have.

Be joyful and stay happy! =)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Definite Chief Aim in Life

Was just reading a book by Napoleon Hill, and something really struck me:

95% of the people in this world are just wandering around unsure of what they want.

Question to ask myself: do I have a definite chief aim in life?

My immediate answer: Yes. I want to be a monk.

Question: But why do I want to be a monk?

I've seen enough bloodshed and suffering in this world. And experienced enough of it. Where do these problems come from? They come from ourselves - from our own pride, hatred and greed.

There is a way out. And my goal in life is to spread this way out - through the teachings of love and understanding. I want to reach out to people, to be there for them, to embrace their suffering, and make it my own.

Ultimately, no matter what we chase after, people just want to be loved, to be understood, to be happy. We want the human touch.

I want to be that human touch.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quote of the Week

What the Buddha saw is that life is marked by four qualities: impermanence, suffering, selflessness, and peace.

He saw that we keep butting our heads against this basic reality and it hurts.

We suffer because we want life to be different from what it is. We suffer because we try to make pleasurable what is painful, to make solid what is fluid, to make permanent what is always changing.

The Buddha saw that we try to make ourselves into something real and unchanging when our fundamental state of being is unconditionally open and ungraspable-selfless.

We discover this notion of selflessness in meditation, where we learn to zoom away from our thoughts and emotions and become familiar with these basic facts of life.

Accepting the impermanence and selflessness of our existence, we will stop suffering and realize peace. That, in a nut­shell, is what the Buddha taught.

It sounds simple: Yet instead of relaxing into this elemental truth, we keep searching around the next corner and never getting quite what we want.

In Buddhist language, that is known as samsara. In Tibetan, the word is khorwa, which means "circular."

--Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Turning the Mind Into An Ally