Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Please be informed that all retreats request is subject to availability.
Jan 1 – 7
Jan 9 – 13
Jan 16 – 20
Jan 21 – 24
Jan 25 – 31
Feb 6 – 9
Feb 11 – 16
Feb 20 – 24 (Beginners Yoga Retreat)
Feb 26 – 29
Apr 11 – 18
Apr 23 – 26
May 3 – 10
May 13 – 20
May 21 – 24
June 2 – 9 (Yoga retreat in the French Alps)
Aug 13 – 16
Aug 23 – 30
Sept 3 – 10
Sept 12 – 15
Sept 17 – 24
Sept 27 – 30
Oct 3 – 6
Oct 26 – 31
Nov 14 – 17
Nov 19 – 22
* Any dates other than these dates can be arranged to suit your holiday best. Please contact us for further details and booking.
You may start your retreat on the date that suit you best (subject to availability) and for minimum 4 days 3 nights up to 14 days 13 nights.
Monday, November 28, 2011
We will be running a yoga retreat in the French Alps in June 2012.
For more details please click on this link Yoga Retreat in the French Alps.
Marc and Meng Foong
Yoga Now Malaysia
+6016 2715 082
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Stories from my past memories - childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now...
(Updated November 2020)
Though my mother had passed away many years ago, my father still missed her very much. He felt guilty for my mother had passed away in the hospital, alone, without any of us being with her at that moment. He regretted deeply and blamed himself for not being there for my mother when she took her last breath. He strongly believed that my mother might have something to say to him before she died. But then and forever, he would never know what my mother wanted to say to him before she died.
My mother was paralyzed during the last two and a half years of her life. She needed special care and attention from my father and my sister to help her in everything from feeding herself to going to the toilet, and bringing her to the hospital and traditional Chinese acupuncture centre for check-up and receiving treatment for a few times every week.
Not long after my mother’s death, my father was paralyzed too and had to lie in bed most of the time. The only wish he had, was waiting for my mother to appear in his dream. Every day and night he just wanted to sleep and sleep, hoping that my mother would show up in his dream and talk to him. But he didn’t get to see her. Every time when I visited him, he cried while telling me that my mother didn’t show up in his dream. In great disappointment, he asked me why he couldn’t see my mother in his dream. Another thing that he kept blaming himself is for being impatient and shouted at my mother when she needed his care and support.
It wasn’t easy to look after a paralyzed person twenty four hours a day. Everyone became impatient, exhausted and frustrated. My mother had no choice but to depend on my father and my sister to be her hands and legs for everything. It was very hard for a person like my mother who used to be very independent and physically strong, but suddenly she lost all her mobility and freedom to do even the simplest thing. It wasn’t easy for the person who needed help and the person who helped.
I can never complain about how my father, my sister and her two daughters for being impatient and shouted at my mother frequently when they lost their patience being exhausted from taking care of a paralyzed person. Everyone was tired and frustrated. I can understand that. The person who was sick was suffering. The people who cared for the sick person were suffering too.
I felt compassion for my mother for being paralyzed because nobody would want to be in such condition, being helpless and losing one’s strength and mobility. I sympathized with my father, my sister and her daughters, for being trapped in a situation which nobody would like to be in. Nobody would enjoy spending many hours looking after a paralyzed person who needed so much personal care and attention. I commiserated with my two elder brothers who blamed themselves and feeling bad and guilty for not being able to help out financially. I felt sorry for myself for not being able to be there for my parents all the time because I had to be at somewhere else making a living to provide financial support for the entire family.
And then, my father was also having the same difficult condition as my mother had.
Because of the deep sadness from missing my mother, my father refused to get better. He didn’t want to go for physiotherapy or receive any kind of treatment. He gave up living from the moment he regained consciousness and realized he had lost his mobility. It’s more than ten years he had been paralyzed and he passed away on the 30th of December 2017.
My eldest brother, who had also passed away on the 30th of June 2018, was looking after my father for many years. He would bring my father to sit up on the wheelchair for eating and showering, but my father couldn’t stay in a sitting position for too long. In the beginning, my brother brought my father out of the house with his car, to eat out and to get some fresh air and looking around at the outside world. But then my father became very weak and had to lie down most of the time because his body would be in pain for sitting too long. Since then, he seldom got out from the house for many years, except when my brother sent him for routine check-ups in the hospital once every three months.
My father was feeling unwell in the morning the day that he got paralyzed. He was helping my sister to move some heavy things when he felt sudden unusual pain in his arm. My sister brought him to the hospital for a check-up. The doctor told my sister that my father had to stay back in the hospital until late afternoon for observation and running some tests. My sister went back home to look after her daughters and she would go back to the hospital to pick him up later in the afternoon. During the check-up, a nurse asked him to sit up on the bed to perform some physical movements. Somehow he lost his balance and fell onto the floor from the bed with his head hit the floor first. He lost consciousness and they sent him to the Emergency Unit. He went into a coma. They informed my sister and told her that my father went into a coma and was sent to the ICU. There was nothing they could do, they said. Immediately my sister went back to the hospital while informing everyone in the family. My father regained consciousness many hours later, but half of his body was paralyzed. The doctor explained that there were three blood clots in his head that caused the paralysis. We didn’t know whether the blood clots were caused by the fall, or they had already existed before the fall. We couldn’t undo anything, even if it was somebody’s negligence and responsibility for what had happened to him.
The staff at the hospital didn’t mention anything about why he had been sent to the ICU. It was my father who told us later about what had happened to him on that day.
My sister thought of getting some compensation money by suing the hospital and the nurse. I told my sister that it was needless to sue anyone. It would do more harm to my father than to benefit him, as it would be a very long and stressful process for my father to go through if this went into a court case. I also believed that the nurse didn’t have intention for my father to fall down from the bed. Nobody intentionally wanted this to happen. The nurse might have felt very bad for this incident. Moreover, there was no other witness that could support whatever my father told us about what had happened to him that day, and my father’s memories were a bit confused after he suffered from paralysis. Even if we successfully sued the hospital or the nurse and got some compensation many years later, it still wouldn’t change the fact that my father was paralyzed and wouldn’t get any better. We should forgive and let go. One day this nurse might become a great nurse or a great person learning from this incident. We didn’t want to ruin somebody’s life with the possibility for becoming a great person. Someone’s life was already ruined and couldn’t be undone. Everyone makes some mistakes at some points in life. We didn’t want the nurse to be unhappy and have no peace for the rest of his life. Even if it was really the nurse’s negligence or responsibility for my father’s unfortunate condition, we would like him to know that we had pardoned him. It was an accident.
I have been supporting my family financially since I was a teenager. My second elder brother has been suffering from asthma since he was a baby. He couldn’t do much physical activities and didn’t have a permanent job to support his own living. In the past, he would need to borrow money from me from time to time to have food on the table. My sister was in great debt with many different banks, relatives and friends, and needed to look after her own family with two daughters and three grandchildren from two separate broken families. My eldest brother couldn’t work because he had been looking after my father twenty four hours a day. Therefore I had to support my father and my eldest brother financially.
Though my eldest brother loved his wife very much, they had to live separately for all these years because in the past she had to live with her family to look after her father who was very ill for some time before he died, and then, she had to take care of her old mother too. They could only see each other once or twice a month as they were living more than 120 km away from one another. It’s a sad and unfortunate life story of our family. But my brother never complained. He took good care of my father out of love. I am glad that my father had such wonderful son to look after him, and I’m always thankful to my brother for sacrificing so much for our family.
I needed to be able to look after myself so that I can look after my family. I never worry or regret. Worrying and regretting won’t change anything. It wouldn’t take away my father’s suffering or make my family’s difficult condition to become better. Instead, I used my entire energy to practice and teach yoga to help myself and others, to be free from ignorance and suffering, and have love and peace in us while living in the world of impermanence and uncertainty. My family also needed help. But nobody can help another if people don’t want to help themselves.
More than twenty three years ago, my parents were living with me before they moved out to live with my sister. After my late brother-in-law passed away in a tragic work accident, my sister had moved to Senawang where she found a job as an administrative clerk near where she lived. Senawang is a small industrial town with plenty greenery about an hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. She always wanted to live in a house close to the countryside where she could see the mountains and the big blue sky from her house.
Because of her two young daughters were studying in schools near my house in Old Klang Road, she didn’t bring her daughters to live with her. If she brought her daughters with her, she would have to pay someone to look after the children when she’s at work. Her monthly salary wasn’t much. She couldn’t afford to hire a nanny. She also had to pay back a lot of debts little by little every month. So she left her two daughters with us – my parents and I, to look after them. If she had some money left, she would give a few hundred Ringgit to my parents for her daughters’ daily living expenses.
My sister is very different from me. All I want is a simple, quiet life. She wants to make a lot of money. She wants to have big house, big car and enjoy life. She wanted to invest in property, so she bought a house and a shop lot. She wanted to invest in life insurance, so she bought eight life insurance policies at one time. She wanted to go for holidays staying in nice hotel pampering herself once in a while. And she would use her many different credit cards to pay for everything that she wanted – house installments, car installments, insurance premiums, holidays, petrol, grocery shopping, dining, and lots of bills. She didn’t realize that her ambitions were too many and too big, and she ended up accumulating more and more debts. But my sister isn’t a bad person.
She is a very kind and friendly person. She won’t have any bad intentions for anybody. She is a person with great patience and wouldn’t get angry under any circumstances, except when she was too tired from looking after my mother, she lost her patience and shouted at my mother a few times. But I know she would feel very bad afterwards, as she would never want to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings. She wanted to provide my parents with a better living condition. She wanted to give her daughters the best that she could give. All she wanted was to have a better quality of life. It’s totally nothing wrong with all her ambitions, but life was so hard on her all the time.
She was a member of the Red Crescent Movement and had helped many people everywhere while she was still in school. She continued to help many people after she finished school. She lost her own handbag many times, when she tried to help people who were injured in car accidents. She is a very good friend to many people. She was very intelligent and had very good results in school exams. She was one of the last batch students who received Malaysian general education in English medium. She reads and writes and speaks good English. She is a bookworm. She used to sing a lot and played a guitar when she was younger. She was a happy and carefree person.
But, all these good and positive qualities don’t guarantee that she wouldn’t be getting into financial problems.
Her elder daughter was a problem child. We couldn’t blame her. She had a very unpleasant toddler-hood before her father passed away when she was four years old. She had been frequently shouted at and canned by her father since she was just a few months old. One time, he slapped her for crying. He hit her so hard in the face that she permanently lost the hearing in one ear. Her jaw was dislocated as well causing her mouth tilted to one side when she talked. It wasn’t a bad thing for her and her baby sister who was five months old when their father died in the work accident.
Somehow she liked to tell lies and had been stealing money since she was just a little girl. One day, I found out that my one and only fifty Ringgit note had been missing from my purse. I used to count how much money I had every day and knew exactly how many notes and coins in my purse, as I didn’t have much money left for myself after giving most of my money to my family. And I knew for sure that I had one piece of fifty Ringgit note in my purse, but it had disappeared.
I was very upset. I was very sure that it must be her who had taken it, as it wasn’t the first time she took money without asking. I couldn’t control my anger. I was different from my sister. I would get angry and wasn’t a nice person at all. I felt really upset that we had been taking care of her and her little sister, but that was what she repaid us. At that stage, I was very ignorant and unhappy. I was very angry with the difficult financial situation in my family and didn’t have the wisdom and compassion to control my anger and my behavior. My mind was over-powered by ignorance and unhappiness.
I got really, really angry. I shouted at her madly. I told her that I was going to call the police to send her to jail. She was just a nine year old little girl at that time. I realized later in life that I was too harsh on her. I had to forgive myself as I couldn’t undo what I had done which I shouldn’t.
In the beginning, she kept shaking her head and denied that she had stolen the money.
She was very famous for her stubbornness. One time, her school teacher punished her for something that she did at school. The teacher gave her a stroke of caning on her palm. Other children would have cried in pain, pull their hand away and asked for pardon. But she didn’t retreat her hand, she didn’t cry and didn’t apologize. The teacher became more furious and gave her a few more strokes and hit harder and harder each time. She still wouldn’t retreat her hand and wouldn’t cry. The teacher gave another few more strokes until her palm started to bleed. Then the teacher stopped. She still didn’t cry.
She came home with the injured palm, swollen and bleeding. My parents found out what had happened to her, and went to the school to complain to the school principal. Immediately after that day, the teacher was sent to another school to teach. The entire school knew about this. And she became famous for her stubbornness.
After a few times of questioning with me shouting at her like a mad person, she went out in silence. A few minutes later, she came back with some money in a plastic bag. She already spent some of the fifty Ringgit. She kept the remaining money in the plastic bag and hid it under one of the flower pots down stairs.
I was really disappointed. Immediately I called my sister. I told her that she must came right away to take her daughter back with her to Senawang. I didn’t want her to live with us anymore. I was such cold-hearted, uncompassionate and unforgiving. About one and a half hours later, my sister came. She said she needed some time to arrange her daughter to go to a school in Senawang. I said to her, I could wait for another few days or a few weeks, as long as I didn’t want her daughter to live with us anymore. I didn’t mind that her younger daughter to continue to stay with us and I didn’t mind looking after her.
My parents were very upset. They loved me very much. They knew that I worked very hard to provide financial support for the family. They didn’t want me to be unhappy. They also loved their grandchildren very much. They couldn’t bear the pain being separated from one of their grandchildren. They sympathized with my sister that she had to look after her daughter on her own while she also needed to work. They sympathized with their granddaughter that she wouldn’t get as much love and attention as she could get from them and also be separated from her young sister, if she would have to live with my sister. And so, my parents made a very hard decision. My father decided to move to Senawang to live with my sister to take care of their elder granddaughter. While my mother would live with me and take care of their younger granddaughter. My parents had to live separately since then. They travelled back and forth between Kuala Lumpur and Senawang every week to be with each other. And all these were because of me and my bad temper. And yet, my parents never said anything bad about me.
Every weekend, my mother would drive to Senawang to see my father and their elder granddaughter. Sometimes my father would come back to see my mother and their younger granddaughter, and me, of course. This was going on for some time. Two years later, it was time for my younger niece to enter primary school. They decided that the easiest way for everybody, was to send her to the school in Senawang which her sister went to. Therefore, my mother also moved to Senawang to reunite with my father and both their granddaughters for good. And the two granddaughters were no longer be separated from each other and were living together with their mother under the same house.
My sister moved away from Kuala Lumpur hoping for a brighter and happier future, but it seemed like life didn’t want to be easy on her. Now, she doesn’t have the house or the shop lot anymore because the bank had auctioned off both her house and shop lot to pay back the huge amount of debt she owed to the bank.
While living with my sister, my parents continued to help her to clean up the house, did the cooking, gardening, washing the laundry for everyone and sending the children to school. My sister thought that she didn’t need to give any money to my parents for looking after her children, but instead, she thought that my parents should contribute some money, or pay her back by doing the house works and to serve her and her children, because my parents were living at her house.
I was totally speechless.
This didn’t make sense at all. While her children were living with us and my parents had to take care of them, she would give some money to my parents for taking care of her children and for feeding them. But when my parents were doing the same thing for her, but living in her house, and had to do more house work, and yet, my parents had to contribute money for being the servants of the house? If somebody hired a helper to do some house work, the helper would get to live in the house, would be fed and paid accordingly. It’s like telling the servant, “Since you are living and eating in my house, so you should give me some money and do all the house work in exchange.”
My parents never saw it as working for my sister when they look after the children and did all the house work for her. My parents loved their daughter and granddaughters. Out of love, my parents wanted to take care of them and do everything for them. For my parents, they did everything for us out of love, family love. Family never calculate how much we give and we don’t expect anything in return. But somehow their daughter took this love for granted. But yet, they didn’t mind at all. I totally understood my parents’ hearts, what were they thinking and feeling at that time.
I felt that it was unfair to my parents to do so much for my sister, but they were being treated like free servants, and had to pay for their stay in my sister house for food and accommodation. But, I respect their freedom to do what they wanted to do. They were happy giving all that they could give to my sister. My parents sympathized my sister had lost her husband and had to bring up two young children all by herself. It was very difficult for my sister to work and look after the children at the same time. I could understand that.
My parents had the freedom on how they wanted to use the money that I gave them every month. I couldn’t and shouldn’t dictate how they should spend their pocket money although it was coming from me. Once I gave away the money, it’s up to them about how they wanted to use it. But I convinced my parents that they didn’t need to tell my sister how much money that I gave them every month because I knew my sister would ‘borrow’ all the money that they had, and spent the money recklessly. They listened to me. They received the money from me every month without telling my sister how much I gave them, but they continued to help out my sister’s living expenses silently with their pocket money, without letting her knew about it. How great was that parents’ love!
Sometimes my sister didn’t have enough money to get the daily needs. And hence, my parents were using their own pocket money to do the grocery shopping without telling my sister that the petty cash for grocery shopping had finished, because they didn’t want my sister to get stressed out. This was how much our parents love us. They gave everything and never asked anything in return.
Though my parents showed lots of love and care to their granddaughters, they didn’t respect my parents at all. They shouted at my parents, especially to my mother after she was paralyzed. They ignored my mother when she asked them for something. When my sister didn’t have enough money to give to her daughters for their schooling expenses and daily pocket money, my parents would give their own pocket money to their granddaughters. But they didn’t know how to be grateful and thankful. Again, my parents didn’t mind at all. Sometimes they would cry in front of me and told me about what happened to them in my sister’s home. That was how I learned about what my parents had been going through while living with my sister.
There was a time, my parents had almost finished using their pocket money and my sister hadn’t been giving them money to buy rice and vegetables for some time. Every day she went out to work in the early morning and came home after midnight because she had another part time job as a guest relation officer in a karaoke night club in Seremban. She didn’t realize my parents hadn’t been cooking for a few days. My parents didn’t want to trouble me and didn’t tell me that they were running out of money. They didn’t want to ask money from my sister as well because they knew my sister already had no money to pay bills and all her installments for months. They didn’t tell my sister that there was no more rice in the house. They gave the scarce money that they had to their granddaughters to allow them to buy food at school, and my parents had been eating stale bread for many days, until I gave them their next pocket money. I had been giving them enough money for their living, but they spent all their money for their grandchildren and my sister. And they had to eat stale bread for many days instead. I felt so sad, so sad for my parents. And angry as well.
Many years had passed by, but my sister’s elder daughter didn’t get any better or wiser. She became worse. She couldn’t stop telling lies and stealing. One day she stole her friend’s ATM card and took out lots of money from her friend’s savings account. She bought many dresses, shoes and bags. She came home with all these new things, and told my parents and her mother that she had a rich boyfriend who bought her all these things. Sometimes she also brought some presents back for my sister, my parents and her sister, to show that she loved and cared for the family. She was only fourteen years old at that time. But my parents and my sister didn’t suspect anything.
Until one day, her friend’s mother found out that it was my niece who had been stealing her daughter’s money and came to see my sister and my father, and threatened to call the police. My father panicked. He cried and knelt down and begged to the woman not to call the police. He was afraid that his grandchild would be filed criminal record and wouldn’t have a future anymore. It’s a huge humiliation for a man to kneel down to a woman and beg for spareness. My sister also made a promise to the woman that she would slowly pay back all the stolen money. It was a huge amount for my sister as she already didn’t make enough money for living and she had lots of debts at that time. The woman sympathized with my sister’s situation and was moved by my father’s love for his grandchild, and therefore she agreed that she wouldn’t report to the police.
I believe that my niece wasn’t really bad. It wasn’t right to steal and couldn’t be excused under any circumstances. But I knew that she did it partly was because she was frustrated with the unfortunate and difficult condition of this family. There was always not enough money for food and for living, not to say to have any leisure and material enjoyments like what her friends had. She had been teased by her classmates for not having a father and living in poverty. She also wanted to be nice to the family and to be able to give something back to the family, to help out financially. But she went to the wrong way to get what she wanted.
My niece didn’t learn from this incident. She ended up getting pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl when she was sixteen years old. She didn’t even know that she was pregnant when she hadn’t been menstruating for more than four months. One day she felt sick and went to the hospital to seek doctor’s consultation and found out that she was pregnant. She broke up with the baby girl’s father not long after the baby girl was born, and went out with some other men. And now, my niece has two more young children from a relationship with a young man who didn’t want to accept her elder daughter from the previous relationship. Anyway, their relationship didn’t turn out well. And so, my sister has to look after these two young grandchildren who were very unhappy being caught up in a broken family.
When my niece gave birth to her first baby girl, my sister was very happy to be a grandmother. So as my parents were very happy to be great-grandparents. They loved this great-grandchild so much. This baby girl certainly brought some joys into this family after they had been struggling with financial problems for a very long time. After her delivery, my niece didn’t know how to take care of a baby. Therefore, my sister became the baby’s full time nanny.
When this baby girl came into the family, it brought some relief and happiness to everyone, especially for my mother. She felt so happy seeing her great-grandchild. When she was looking at this little baby girl, her sadness from suffering paralysis and being shouted at by her husband, her daughter and the two grandchildren were all gone. My mother would cry when she told me about how she was being treated when I wasn’t there, but she would smile when she talked about her great-grandchild. It was her happiest moments in the last two months of her life.
On the 24th of December, 2006, my sister called me while I was teaching my morning yoga class at home. She told me that our mother had passed away in the hospital. The last time I saw my mother was a few weeks before she died. In that final conversation which I had with my mother in private, I told her that she didn’t need to worry for us anymore, that she should let go. I told her that I love her very much, as well as our entire family also love her very much. I also asked her what she would like to do with her funeral. And she told me that she wanted to be cremated and the funeral should be held in Kuala Lumpur, so that her friends could come to see her for one last time. The last few words that she told me were we should always give without expect anything in return but we must repay others for being kind to us, and always be humble and forgiving.
I told my sister over the phone about what our mother had told me. And we followed exactly what she wanted us to do.
I went to the hospital in Seremban with my brothers and my sister-in-law. I saw my mother’s dead body lying on a table. She looked so peaceful as if she was smiling. I held her hands and gently rubbed her hands, her arms and her face with my fingers. I kissed her cheek and forehead. Goodbye, mother. Thank you.
I didn’t cry. Not until a few months later, I started to cry. For all the love that she gave me and to the family. Her wisdom and compassion. Her patience and forbearance. Her forgiveness and generosity. I realized how much I missed her then. But I had to let her go.
No matter what had happened in the past, who’s right, who’s wrong,
and who’d suffered most, I wish my family love and peace, and be able to
forgive and let go. Forgive ourselves and others for being imperfect.
Forgive life wasn’t as easy as how we would like it to be.
Stories from my past memories - childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now...
(Updated November 2020)
I continued my journey of yoga and Buddhism after the library finished.
One day in April 2004, my employer from a dance studio where I had been teaching aerobics classes for many years had called me in the afternoon and asked me if it was possible for me to teach a yoga exercise class for her that evening. The yoga teacher couldn’t make it and it wasn’t the first time. Somehow, I was free that evening, even though I was always busy with teaching classes every day. I took up the offer because it meant extra money for me. I had to continue to support my parents after I came back from the world sport aerobics championship in France. I had to teach many classes every day to make a living at that time. The pay for aerobics instructor wasn’t very high.
I taught some yoga exercise classes in the past before, but not for long. I wasn’t interested at all in teaching yoga exercise classes in the beginning of my fitness career. Yoga exercise class was really boring for me. I was more interested in disco dancing and vibrant cardio fitness exercises with energetic music. That was why I enjoyed doing and teaching aerobics dance very much.
At that time, many of the yoga poses were being criticized as exercises contradicted with the rules and regulations for safe exercise of the fitness teaching industry. Lots of the yoga poses would be categorized as dangerous physical positions with high risk of injury. I didn’t think that I would be teaching yoga one day. Of course, there’s a huge difference between teaching yoga and teaching yoga exercise classes. We might be doing some yoga poses every day, but it doesn’t mean that we are practicing yoga. Vice versa, we might not be doing any yoga poses every day, but it doesn’t mean that we are not practicing yoga.
There was a situation in Malaysia around thirty five years ago, where the yoga teachers criticized the aerobics exercises were harmful to the physical body and the aerobics instructors criticized the yoga poses were inflicting serious physical injuries. There were many women came to ask me why did the yoga people said that aerobics dance could cause their uterus to drop? There were rumours circulating in the fitness industry that doing yoga exercises could cause serious neck injuries, back problems, knee problems, blindness, stroke and some other side-effects. It was like a war of criticism between the aerobics fitness industry and the yoga industry for attacking their competitor, to get the people from the other side to support their products and services. As well as the aerobics instructors and the yoga instructors also tried to protect their source of income to get more people to join their classes and stop their existing clients from leaving to join other exercise classes by saying bad things about some other types of exercise that they don’t teach.
Sort of like a political game that many politicians play to harvest support of the people by attacking their opponents by saying many bad things about them, instead of constantly improving their contributions and services to the people to win more support from the people, they attack their opponents to bring down their reputation with slanders, to stop the people from supporting their opponents.
We can’t put traditional yoga asana practice and aerobics dance exercise in the same category, or apply the same rules and regulations on them. They are completely two different forms of practice. Yoga asana practice is very slow pace, gentle, stilled body positions, very few repetitive movements, non-competitive and almost without impact. Meanwhile aerobics dance exercises are fast pace, violent, lots of high speed repetitive movements, competitive and with much higher impact. Above all, yoga asana practice is not about fitness training, although it enhances people’s health and fitness level as one of the by-products when it’s being practiced regularly. There’s nothing wrong when people use the yoga asana exercises as a form of fitness training. Just that enhanced physical health and fitness level have nothing to do with the realization of unconditional love and peace. One can be very healthy and fit physically, but the mind might not be free from ignorance, egoism, impurities and suffering.
I honestly told the students in that replacement yoga class that I wasn’t a trained or certified yoga teacher, but I knew some yoga poses that I could guide them as an exercise class. I didn’t know that yoga was about self-evolution, peace and compassion, which wasn’t any different from the teachings and practice of Buddhism. I thought yoga was just some stretching exercises originated from India to promote good health, fitness and beauty. That was what I learned from the yoga classes at the yoga and aerobics dance academy in Petaling Jaya. In those forty five minutes yoga exercise classes, they only taught some yoga poses as a form of physical exercise and never talked about any yoga teachings or philosophy at all.
When the replacement yoga class finished, the response from the students was very good and the majority of them had requested me to teach them once a week of yoga exercise class. I told them again that I was only a qualified aerobics instructor and that I wasn’t a yoga teacher, but they said they didn’t mind. Meanwhile my boss was very happy that the students loved my class very much and she would be happy to arrange a yoga class for me to teach.
And hence, I started teaching yoga exercise classes once a week and getting higher pay than from teaching aerobics classes. Initially my intention for teaching yoga classes was to earn more money. But very soon that intention was gone and replaced with gratitude and loving kindness to share yoga with many others, even though I received payment for teaching yoga classes. There’s nothing wrong with getting payment in the form of money or fees for conducting yoga classes. It’s ignorance when people think and believe that ‘asking for donation’ is okay, but ‘being paid in the form of fees’ is not okay.
I learned that there’s a huge difference between the aerobics students and the yoga students. The behavior of the people and the atmosphere of the classes was very different. It was calm and peaceful in the yoga class and everyone seemed to be happy and content. I myself, was calmed, relaxed and refreshed after teaching a yoga class. I could feel the energy in my body was vibrating differently from teaching aerobics classes.
One day, one of the yoga exercise class students doubted my qualification and asked me what type of yoga I was teaching and what were the Sanskrit names of the yoga poses and what were their benefits? I was very honest, and told her that I didn’t know what type of yoga it was, and I guessed the yoga exercises were to promote good health, fitness and beauty, and I didn’t even know what were the names of the yoga poses in English, not to say, in Sanskrit.
At that time, I didn’t feel bad at all for being questioned about my qualification because I knew I wasn’t a yoga teacher. I didn’t pretend to be one. But that little conversation had initiated a strong desire in me to look for a yoga school to learn yoga. I wanted to know what yoga is. I wanted to teach yoga classes because I thought they were very good for me and everyone, and I wanted to be a responsible yoga teacher.
In the end, we will realize that whether what type of yoga that we do, or what are the names of the yoga poses whether in Sanskrit or in other languages, or what type of benefits of the yoga poses, are irrelevant to whether we will be free from ignorance and suffering and realize unconditional peace, or not.
Besides teaching once a week of yoga exercise class at that dance studio, I also conducted a few yoga exercise classes at my own studio, where the response was very good as well. This had encouraged me deeper to pursue my wish to learn all and everything about yoga. I am thankful to everyone who had been influencing me, supporting me and encouraging me to learn and practice yoga.
It was September 2004. My sport aerobics mentor cum partner helped me to search the internet for Sivananda Ashram in India which was recommended by a yoga teacher in Singapore.
I was in Singapore for a couple of weeks to update myself on the latest aerobics dance exercises in one of the famous fitness clubs in Singapore. They started with one fitness studio and then they had maybe seven branches everywhere in Singapore within a few years. The lady boss was a very smart and kindhearted person. She liked me very much and wanted to employ me as her instructor when we met for the first time, but I wasn’t interested to work in Singapore. Once every two or three years, I went there to update myself by attending different types of fitness classes under many different fitness instructors. It also allowed me to have a break and not getting burnout from teaching classes all the time. That year, I attended most of the yoga classes as well, which I never did before in the past years. I never thought that one day I would be teaching yoga or practicing yoga. Unfortunately, many of the yoga teachers there didn’t know what they were doing. They had to keep looking at a notebook while giving the instructions to the students in the yoga classes. But then there was a particular yoga teacher who actually knew what she was doing, and I felt the calmness flowing through her that spread over everyone in the class, including me. And so, I asked her for advice about where I could go to learn yoga. She didn’t say much, but just gave me a name ‘Sivananda’. But that was already helpful enough.
I didn’t have a computer and never surfed the internet before. I knew nothing about information technology. I didn’t have an email account. My mentor said that he could help me to search the internet for ‘Sivananda’. He found the website for International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Ashram in Kerala, South India, and printed out the registration form for me. Without any hesitation, or tried to look for some other yoga schools to compare, immediately I filled up the form and sent it off with the 300 USD deposit the next day, hoping to get a place for the yoga teachers training course starting in January 2005. The 300 USD was all the savings I had at that time. But I didn’t worry about how I could get the rest of the money.
I needed more than 15,000 Ringgit for me to go to India – the course fee, the return flight ticket, the money for my parents and my car installment. My mother was ill at that time. She had a stroke for the third time and became paralyzed. Every month, I gave 1,800 Ringgit to my parents and left a few hundred Ringgit for my own living. Knowing that my sister might take away the money that I gave to my parents to pay her debts and bills, we didn’t tell my sister how much money I gave to my parents every month. Only my uncle knew about this because sometimes I passed the money to him to bring to my parents who were living with my sister in another town about an hour drive from where I lived.
Though initially I didn’t have all the money for the rest of the course fee, I never asked the Ashram to give me any discount, or asked for any special rates.
There are many people involved in running the Ashram and the courses. They contribute their time and effort in making the courses to be available to the people. The existence and operation of the Ashram need to be maintained by labour and money. The fees that we give to the Ashram is supporting the Ashram to be able to continue doing what they are doing – giving opportunities to many people to come to the Ashram to learn and practice yoga. It isn’t about give and take. It’s not about paying some fees or working as a volunteer for the Ashram in exchange for something that we want in return. When people volunteer to work in the Ashram is not about in exchange for free food and accommodation and free yoga classes, or to gain credits of working and teaching experiences to put into their profile as experienced yoga teacher who had been working and teaching in an ashram, though many people come to the Ashram are with such intention. It’s merely performing selfless service without selfish intentions and desires, without expecting anything in return, to eliminate the ego and egoism.
At that time, people need to pay 200 USD per month to the Ashram if they want to live and work as volunteers in the Ashram. It’s not about what can I get from paying some fees to you or volunteering for your organization. There’s no guarantee that after we paid the fees or volunteering for the ashram, we will attain peace and happiness, and be free from ignorance and suffering.
People who are volunteering in the Ashram aren’t perfect either. If we feel disturbed by their imperfection it isn’t because they are not good enough or they didn’t do things right, but it’s because we expect them to be perfect, to be the way that we think they should be. We are disappointed by our own expectation that they should be wise and compassionate beings in order to work in the Ashram. But they are just like everyone else who try to do their best for themselves and others. They also will have bad days and bad moods. They also need other people to be patient and compassionate towards them for being imperfect.
My mentor didn’t only help me in making my dreams come true, but he had also helped me in the connection with yoga. The first few emails between the Ashram and me were sent through his email address. He would inform me whenever the ashram sent me an email and he would reply the email for me. For all that he had done for me without asking anything in return, I am always grateful and indebted to him. He also looked after me when I was in financial difficult moments where my income from teaching aerobics classes wasn’t enough to support my family. He would pay for my food when we ate together after our sport aerobics training sessions.
Sometimes my brothers would borrow money from me for them to have food to eat. During the worst days, I gave all my scarce savings to my brother who had no money for food, and I was using the coins in my piggy bank to get my own food. Less than two hundred Ringgit of coins was all that I had for the month until I get my next pay, and that was enough for me to survive for one whole month, just by eating cheap bread mostly.
I decided to close down the aerobics dance studio before I left for India. I called my cousin in Singapore and asked him if he could lend me a few thousand Ringgit if I didn’t manage to get enough money by January. Though he wasn’t rich he said he would help me out if I needed the money, but it turned out that I didn’t have to borrow any money from him or anyone at all.
Not long after I made the phone call to my cousin, some students started to recommend me to teach yoga classes and aerobics classes in some other studios. From my usual income about two thousand five hundred Ringgit a month, it had increased to about seven thousand Ringgit for the next three months. I had earned the biggest amount of money that I had ever earned before. Though I had to work very hard by teaching a lot more classes within that few months, I managed to save enough money to go to India.
A few weeks after I sent in my registration form, the people in the ashram informed me that I was confirmed a place and that I should prepare myself by reading the Bhagavad Gita. I had no idea what it was and I didn’t know where to get it. A few days later, an Indian woman came to join my aerobics classes. I talked to her about my wish to study yoga in India and asked her if she knew anything about the Bhagavad Gita. She told me that her husband was a direct disciple of Swami Sivananda since he was a little boy, and he had been studying the Bhagavad Gita every day. She told me that he would be happy to lend me the book.
It was two months before the course. I got the book of Bhagavad Gita commented by Swami Sivananda (published in 1989) which I finished reading within a few days. It had touched my heart deeply. I could naturally understand and resonate with all the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. I realized that the teachings of yoga wasn’t any different from the teachings of Buddhism. It was what I always believing in and practicing all the time. This realization had strengthened my faith in the path of yoga and Buddhism, and had no fear to go to India for the first time alone by myself.
My departure flight to India was just two weeks after the deadly tsunami which hit Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands, Thailand and Northern Malaysia on the 26th of December 2004 that caused so much damages and casualties. Many people said that it was a bad timing to go to India as there would be many diseases brewing not long after the tsunami. But it didn’t stop me from going. I was determined.
Initially the course was fully booked for more than two hundred participants, but many people didn’t turn up or had cancelled their trip to India because of the tsunami. And so, there were about one hundred and sixty something people turned up for the course. My husband, whom I haven’t met at that time, actually was on the waiting list, and he got a place in the end because of the many cancellations. That was also how we got to know each other while attending the same course.
There was purification process happening in our body and mind when we went through intensive learning and practicing yoga in an intensive course like that. There were past accumulated physical, emotional and mental blockages being released during the course. Different people experienced different types of purification. Most people cried a lot. Some of them went to the teacher asking for explanation because they didn’t understand why they feel like crying after the yoga practice even though they weren’t unhappy about anything. Some people got very impatient and agitated about many things. Some people had diarrhea, while others had constipation. Some people kept missing classes because they felt physically and mentally exhausted from the intensive practice and the disciplined daily schedule. Some of the students would get angry with the teachers when they didn’t get what they want and like. Some people strongly disagreed with the teachings of yoga because they had strong attachment and identification with their own thinking and belief that were different from the teachings of yoga, and they even shouted at the teachers with bad words in front of the class. There was so much anger and hatred in these people. Again, that’s their freedom for what they wanted to think and feel, act and react, and it was part of the purification process as well.
Yoga is about attaining peace and harmony in oneself through opening the mind while respecting many other different types of thinking and belief that are co-existing in the world, even if we can’t agree with them. We don’t have to agree with them, but we don’t have to be disturbed, or angry and hating either. But for many people, they believe that only their particular way of thinking and belief are right and good, while any other thinking and belief that are different from theirs, are wrong and bad. They get irritated, angry and hating other people for being different from them. Those who understand the mind won’t be disturbed by them, but wishing them be free from anger and hatred, and have peace and harmony.
Some people left the course halfway because they didn’t agree with the teachings and they were really unhappy to be continuing the course. They came to learn yoga but it wasn’t the yoga that they were looking for. They wanted to learn yoga that wasn’t yoga. Some people even insisted that the yoga being taught in the Ashram is not real yoga, but the yoga exercise classes that they attended at home that didn’t talk about any yoga teachings is real yoga. People can think and say what they want, and manipulate yoga into something that they prefer, but yoga is still yoga. While some others left the course because they didn’t want to go through the unpleasant purification process, and some felt that it was too intense for them to follow all the disciplines. In the end there were around one hundred and fifty five people had completed the course.
I was sick for the first three weeks, but I never missed any classes. I didn’t ask for any medicine or go to a doctor. I knew that it was part of the purification process. I just observed and endured the inconvenience and discomforts coming from being sick during that three weeks.
One evening after dinner, I was studying the teachings of yoga in the office area as there was better lighting in the office than in the dormitory. There was also a proper bench and desk to do some writing. And then there were a few female students came in to see the teacher. They had some problems with some other yoga students that they wanted to complain to the teacher. The teacher looked at me, and then told them, “Look at her. She looks after herself. She doesn’t need to come to the teacher to complain about anything.”
After I came back from India, I found the Chinese version of the Bhagavad Gita on my book shelf. It was given to me more than sixteen years ago as a present from an ex-aerobics student. I never had any interest at all to pick up that book to read, but somehow I still kept it on my book shelf. Then only I realized that the Bhagavad Gita (the essence of yoga) was always with me, but I didn’t know. And now, this Chinese version of the Bhagavad Gita is with somebody who is at the right time to have it.
I wasn’t a person who like to read books. I only read books about Dhamma. I read many of Swami Sivananda’s books after I came back to Malaysia, and they were all strongly connected to my heart. It was like a direct teaching from Swami Sivananda. Like all the other Dhamma teachers I had never met in person, I always feel that he/the teachings/Dhamma and any other form of teacher is with me all the time, guiding me in silence. The Dhamma passes through this body and mind to other beings who need guidance to find their way back to their nature of unconditional love and peace.
Some people appreciate my classes, while some others might criticize my classes and myself as a person for being very hard or intense, because I practice and teach about depriving the ego and elimination of egoism. It makes no difference to me whether people compliment or criticize me. Everyone has the freedom to like or dislike anybody and anything. That’s their freedom of thinking, action and speech. Those with strong ego and attached strongly onto certain qualities of name and form to be identifying as who they are, and they take pride in being who they think they are, they don’t like to hear the teachings of yoga about eliminating the ego. But I don’t and can’t teach what other people expect me to teach, and I can’t not teach what other people don’t like and don’t want to learn or practice. I teach yoga. Everyone who comes for the yoga classes is learning how to identify the ego and let go of the ego. Of course, it’s up to their own free will whether they want to practice yoga as it is, or not. I can only tell the students if there are some teachings or practice that they don’t like and don’t agree with, that they don’t want to learn or practice, they don’t have to learn or practice them and they can just put them aside. If one day they think they want to take up those teachings and practice, then they can come back for them.
If people don’t like to practice yoga about letting go of the ego, attachment and identification, and the desire of craving and aversion, no one can force them. The teachings of yoga teach about respecting everyone’s freedom of thinking, actions and speech, for what they want to do with themselves, their lives, their bodies and minds. Everyone takes the responsibility for the consequences of their own actions and inactions, for what they believe and disbelieve, for what they want and don’t want. No one can control or purify other’s mind. It is up to everyone’s own effort and free will to control and purify one’s mind. The teachings of yoga never condemn anyone who doesn’t like and disagrees with the teachings of yoga, or who doesn’t want to practice yoga as it is, or who misunderstands about yoga, or who criticizes yoga. Anyone can take up any yoga practice and practice anyway that they like, or do whatever they like with yoga, or they can stop practicing yoga for any reasons. There’s no condemn, or sin, or punishment.
Those who practice yoga, they don’t condemn or criticize. Vice versa, those who condemn and criticize out of self-righteousness, they don’t practice yoga. We share yoga out of compassion, not out of egoism thinking that “Yoga is good for everyone. Everyone should practice yoga and should practice properly in a particular way, or else, they are insulting the sacredness and purity of yoga.”
One type of medicine may cure a person’s illness but may not necessarily has the same effect on another person with the same illness, or would it cure some other form of illnesses. People react differently towards the same medicine and have different tolerance towards certain side-effects of that medicine which appear differently on different people. Some people may be a good friend for many others, but may not be a good partner or good parent. There are people dislike and disagree with the teaching and practice of yoga. That is their freedom. We can’t expect or force everyone to like yoga and practice yoga as it is. There are people who never heard about the teachings of yoga and don’t do any yoga practice in a particular name and form, but they are selfless, compassionate and peaceful beings. And if yoga is something sacred and pure, how can it be insulted or contaminated by anything at all?
Some people kept modifying the traditional yoga practices into many different new styles and versions to suit the preferences of what people like and don’t like, what they want and don’t want. Though there’s nothing wrong with that in terms of business marketing strategy, customer service and commercial value, but then the yoga teachers are not really teaching yoga, and the students are not really practicing yoga. Instead, it is empowering the ego and egoism, attachment, identification, desires of craving and aversion, worldly thinking, ideas and habits of the egoistic mind. When we practice yoga, we stop giving the egoistic mind what it likes and wants. No doubt that sharing yoga is about sharing love and happiness. Yoga teachers are there to guide the yoga students on how to attain unconditional love and happiness by letting go the egoistic desires of craving and aversion. It’s not about giving them what they like and want, or don’t give them what they don’t like and don’t want, to gratified their desires of craving and aversion, to make them feel pleased, loved, satisfied and happy. They feel satisfied and happy is because they are getting something that they like and want, and not getting anything that they don’t like and don’t want. It’s conditional. It doesn’t help them to be free from the desires of craving and aversion, to realize unconditional peace and happiness. Once they don’t get what they like and want, and are getting something that they don’t like and don’t want, they will feel dissatisfied, disappointed, unhappy, or miserable. This is moving away from what yoga is about.
It isn’t a pleasant experience when one learns the truth of one’s impure egoistic mind. Most people would want to run away. Those who have the courage to confront the impurities in the mind will also need intense discipline and will-power to purify the mind. The mind purification process requires tremendous patience, perseverance, determination, tolerance, forbearance, forgiveness, adjustment, adaptation, accommodation and acceptance. The entire practice is all about letting go of the egoism, attachment, identification, desires of craving and aversion, and eventually seeing the truth of things as they are, being free from ignorance and suffering. All these teachings and practices seem to be anti-social and unpractical in the modern society for the worldly minded people.
Even when some people think that they love yoga and like to practice yoga, but actually what they really love is what they like and want, and what they can get from yoga. There’s nothing wrong with this either.
There are many different paths in yoga to suit many people with different personalities and temperaments. But in the end, all are leading us back to oneness or non-separateness. If some people wanted to do yoga that is easy and pleasant for the egoistic mind, there’s nothing wrong with that. Enjoy doing the easy and pleasant yoga, and be happy. If people aren’t interested in attaining liberation from ignorance and suffering, that’s their freedom.
Teaching yoga is not about trying to convince other people to believe in the teachings of yoga, or to persuade other people to like yoga and practice yoga in certain way. It’s not about recruiting many people to be our yoga students and joining our yoga classes, or to set as an example for others to imitate and become like us, or to build a yoga empire of certain brand. The students of yoga shouldn’t follow or imitate the teacher, or blind-believe in the teachings of yoga or what the teacher taught them. It’s guiding the students to be free from egoism, and allowing them to take their own pace to be free from attachment and identification towards any thinking and belief, including the teachings of yoga, to investigate into the truth of everything and to attain self-realization. Everyone may or may not need some guidance, but it’s up to everyone’s free will to change their own thinking and behavior by developing self-control and self-discipline over their own thoughts, actions and speech, to stop hurting themselves and others out of ignorance. The teacher doesn’t and can’t control or change the students, but can only give them guidance and support. The teacher and the student will meet at the right time, at the right place, naturally, when the time has come, without the influence of egoistic selfish desires.
There’s nothing wrong when people think that when they feel unhappy, angry, hurt and disappointed is nothing to do with their own ignorance and egoism, but instead, they think it’s everyone and everything that they come in contact with, that are bad and wrong, that cause them unhappiness and suffering. There’s nothing wrong when people believe or disbelieve in God. It is everyone’s freedom of thought, actions and speech. But when one starts to have strong attachment and identification towards what they think and believe, there will be separateness, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, violence, fear and unrest in their minds towards others who are different from them. Some people even enjoy being angry and violent. They won’t feel good unless they get angry and violent.
I came back to Malaysia after the yoga teacher training course, finished all my savings, without any money left to buy food. Some of my students knew that I came home with no money left and they invited me to eat at their home and also brought me out for food for many days. But, very soon I started earning my livelihood again by teaching classes at home and some other dance and fitness studios. I continued to teach aerobics classes and yoga classes, but with deeper understanding about yoga. I also immersed myself into regular yoga practice.
In February 2006, I went back for the advance teachers training course which was designed more for developing understanding, self-reliance, discipline and perseverance in our own personal practice, or Sadhana, than to teach classes, which was another great learning process for me. Many people, including most of the teachers training courses providers, would think that by attending, completing and graduating from the advance teachers training course will provide training for people to teach ‘advance yoga practice’ and give them the title of ‘advance yoga teacher’ who are being qualified and authorized to teach ‘advance yoga class’. That’s their freedom of thinking and desire.
Again, somehow I managed to save enough money, which was about 18,000 Ringgit, to go to India for four months this time.
Coincidentally, I met my husband again in the same course and we went travelling together in India after the teachers training course, to learn more yoga and meditation from other schools and teachers. We attended a three weeks long yoga course with Iyengar teachers, Swati and Rajiv Chanchani, in Dehradun. We also attended Vipassana silent meditation retreat in Dehradun after the Iyengar yoga course. During this meditation retreat, I went through a very intense purification process where lots of pimples broke out on my whole body and my face as well. I didn’t bother about it. It had lasted for one and a half years before it cleared out from my system completely.
We also went to Gangotri, Rishikesh and Dharamsala after completed the courses.
On the way to Gangotri, we stayed a night at the Gangnani hot springs. We wanted to do the pilgrimage walk towards Gaumukh from Gangotri along the hilly paths of the mountains, but my husband felt sick after about three hours walk. He wanted to go back to the hotel in Gangotri to take rest and he asked me to follow the other pilgrims to continue walking towards Gaumukh, and he would wait for me at the hotel. I couldn’t let him going back by himself as he was complaining dizziness and fatigue. And so, I insisted to go back with him, taking over the backpack he was carrying, and slowly we walked back to Gangotri. On the way, I told my husband that I wished to see snowing, as I never saw it before. And surprisingly a few minutes later, snowflakes started falling down from the sky. By the time we arrived at our hotel, the weather became bad where hailstorm were raging.
We were lucky to have come back down to Gangotri that day and didn’t continue our walk. There were others pilgrims came back later in the evening, all wet and tired, and it was freezing cold below zero degree. Some of the women were trembling in shock, as they were caught in the hailstorm and there were landslides and rocks falling down in front of them. And they had to turn back as the path was blocked by huge rocks. We didn’t stay the night at Gangotri in the end, as it was too cold and the half-built hotel didn’t have a heater. We went back to Gangnani hot springs to stay the night instead. We also visited the Sivananda Kutir in Uttarkashi on the way to Rishikesh the next day.
My husband and I got very sick from food poisoning that lasted for a month from the first day we arrived in Delhi after we left the Sivananda Ashram, where both of us took turn to take care of each other at our worst condition. We knew each other a lot more during that two and a half months traveling together, which led my husband came to Malaysia to be with me in 2007, and we got married in 2008.
My husband had left India before me, as he had to go back to France working for a refuge in the Pyrenees. I had another two weeks in India by myself before my flight back to Kuala Lumpur. I took the train from Delhi to Trivandrum which took more than 54 hours. That was quite an experience as well. An incident happened in my coach where a man was being accused for touching a girl when we were all sleeping. I was woke up by the sudden shouting between the father of the girl and the man, and then the police came and he got slapped very hard by the police right in front of me, and then he was taken away. I couldn’t say anything as I didn’t really know what happened and I don’t understand their language, but from their body language, I guessed that was what happened.
I stayed a few nights in Kovalam, and then I went to stay in an ashram that looked after underprivileged children in Trivandrum until the day I flew back to Malaysia. These children were not orphans, but their parents were either too poor or didn’t have the time or effort to look after them properly at home. And so, they came to stay in the ashram and were given food, accommodation and educational support until they reached eighteen years old.
While I was in Trivandrum, I went to a shop owned by a young Indian woman who was being friendly to me initially, but when I told her that I had been travelling with my husband (unmarried at that time) in India for the last couple of months, she was so disturbed and angry that she spat on me because my husband and I weren’t married at that time. I learned about other people’s different thinking and cultural belief and practice. I wasn’t disturbed by her reaction, but respected her cultural belief and practice. I left in peace and wished for her be in peace too.
Though there is a very significant teaching of yoga about seeing God in all and everything, that God exists in all and everything, but one doesn’t need to believe in God or spirituality to practice the teachings of yoga. For those who don’t believe in God, this teaching can be taught as seeing the one same universal consciousness in all and everything, which is the truth of impermanence and selflessness, where there’s no ‘I’ or individual existence exists in everything that is subject to impermanent changes. For those who don’t believe in God or the one same universal consciousness, this teaching can be taught as seeing the essence of a teacher in all and everything to teach us something to attain higher understanding about worldly life existence, and be grateful and thankful for all kind of good and bad experiences. Those who truly implement this teaching in everyday life wouldn’t be disturbed or determined by all the pleasant and unpleasant, agreeable and disagreeable experiences, and wouldn’t generate anger or hatred towards anyone or anything. They would respect the law of impermanence in all the different qualities of name and form, and respect all the different types of thinking, belief and behavior that exist in the worldly community as they are. This teaching leads us to peace and harmony in ourselves and stop generating violence, anger and hatred in ourselves and into the world. If our minds are over-powered by egoism and have pride and arrogance about ourselves and our particular thinking and belief, we would find this practice impossible or very difficult, unless we are ready to let go of the ego, pride and arrogance.
Disturbance and disharmony exist in our minds due to the ego and egoism, pride and arrogance, attachment and identification, craving and aversion, greed and discontentment, fear and worry, and all kinds of impurities deriving from ignorance or the corrupted thinking and belief in the mind. One also generates disturbance and disharmony into the surrounding environment when one isn’t peaceful and harmony. If every being is free from ignorance, egoism and impurities, naturally the society will be free from separateness, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, violence, fear and unrest.
If we want peace in the world, we must have peace in ourselves. Having peace and harmony in oneself is the only effective way to help the world to have peace and harmony among all the different qualities and diversities. By being violent, angry and hating others and happenings that we don’t like and disagree with, and provoking anger and hatred in other people to also be angry and hating those whom we think they are bad and wrong, it won’t help the world to be peaceful and harmony as how we would like it to be, but instead, we contribute so much restlessness and disharmony into the world, it doesn’t matter how good and right we think we are.
After I came back from the advance teacher training course, I retired from teaching aerobics classes and focused on teaching yoga. I learned that aerobics dance exercises were very good for fitness, but it didn’t help people to come out from miseries. While yoga being practiced with the correct understanding would lead us to self-transformation besides giving many health and fitness benefits to the regular practitioners. Though I was quite physically fit I never emphasized on the physical ability to perform the yoga asana practice. I emphasized on disseminating the Vedanta teachings in all the yoga classes and allowing the students to take it or leave it.
Teaching yoga is definitely not a job, even when we are receiving fees that can support our living. It’s sharing and learning at the same time. It’s in everyday life. It’s in every relationship we have with everyone and everything. Everyone and everything is an instrument for passing the Dhamma from one to another to purify all kind of impurities, allowing the mind to see the truth of itself, to know thyself.
Before my own self-transformation, I perceived the world as a suffering place, and I was very angry and disappointed and feeling meaningless most of the time. But after the transformation, I didn’t see that there was anything bad or good about this world. Unhappiness is here, happiness is here too. Hell is here, heaven is here too. They are not out there in the names and forms that the mind perceives through the senses about what we experience in life. They are right here, right now, in our mind, upon how the mind reacts towards all the names and forms being perceived through the senses.
This was how I had changed from teaching aerobics classes to teaching yoga.
Everything was already there on the path for everyone. It was just waiting for the right time. Whether there were some good or bad experiences, they were all learning process for us to realize selflessness and compassion.
When we know what is yoga, we will know that teaching yoga has very little to do with qualification and certification coming from attending yoga teachers training courses. Yoga teachers training courses are merely one of the platforms for people to learn to become their own teacher. When one realizes the teacher within oneself, one will know that everything and everyone are teachers to teach everyone something. One will be free from discrimination and hatred towards anyone and anything, and will respect everyone and everything as they are. And naturally, one can also guide other people to become their own teachers to realize unconditional love and peace, without the need of any certifications, or authorization, or acknowledgement from anyone or any organizations.
It’s not important whether we know the names of the yoga poses in English or Sanskrit, or not, and what type of yoga we practice and what are the benefits of the yoga exercises. Practicing yoga is not about attaining the benefits from the yoga exercises at all. Knowing the names of the yoga poses in different languages and which type of yoga we practice have nothing to do with the realization of unconditional love and peace. It’s about letting go of the ego and egoism of attachment, identification, expectation, desire of craving and aversion towards our actions and the fruit of actions, or towards the yoga practice and the result of the yoga practice.
Yoga is about realizing compassion and selflessness through the practice of dispassion towards worldly objects and ideas, discrimination of what is real and unreal, eliminating the ego and quieting the modification of the mind, and be free from all kinds of attachment, identification, desire of craving and aversion, expectation and impurities. All these practices have nothing to do with the impermanent condition and ability of the physical body to perform the yoga poses, or how many years we have been doing yoga exercises, or how much yoga exercises we had done, or how many yoga poses we can perform and whether we can perform the yoga poses in perfect alignment, or not. It’s also nothing to do with all the physical health and fitness benefits that come along as side-effects from performing the yoga practice. All these names and forms doesn’t determine whether we know about yoga or not, whether we are practicing yoga or not, whether we can teach yoga or not, and whether we will be free from ignorance and egoism and be liberated from suffering, or not.
Many people including many yoga enthusiasts don’t like to hear about the practice of dispassion and renunciation. They give themselves many reasons to justify themselves that they don’t need to be dispassionate, instead they promote passionate way of thinking and living. They said follow all our desires and live life passionately. There’s nothing wrong with having desires and being passionate towards life existence, self-image, worldly ideas and ambitions and social activities, and everyone has the freedom to choose what they want to do with their life existence, but it isn’t what yoga practice is about.
Dispassion towards worldly objects, ideas and activities helps to render the mind calm and quiet to be able to perform self-inquiry to know who we really are, or, who we are not, to know what is the ‘I’ that we think is who we are. Passion invigorates strong attachment and identification towards worldly life existence, the function and ability of the body and mind, and the passionate desires of craving and aversion towards names and forms. Instead of quieting the mind, annihilating the worldly ideas and eliminating the ego, it is stimulating the mind, strengthening the worldly ideas and empowering the ego. Passion hinders the mind to see the truth of things as they are. If people enjoy being passionate and don’t mind being restless, that’s their freedom.
Dispassion doesn’t mean that we have no love. It is loving the world and everyone as they are, without selfish desire, expectation, discrimination of likes and dislikes, attachment, identification, craving and aversion, not necessarily it’s the way that I like it to be, or the way that I think it should be.
Passion is loving the world and everyone with selfish desire, expectation, discrimination of likes and dislikes, attachment, identification, craving and aversion. It’s I love the world and everyone being the way that I like it to be, or the way that I think it should be.
When one is free from ignorance and egoism, there’s no difference between passion and dispassion. One can live and perform actions passionately in the world, but is being undisturbed and undetermined by one’s actions and the fruit of actions, the desirable and undesirable impermanent relationships with everyone, the agreeable and disagreeable worldly affairs and experiences, as well as the impermanent good and bad condition and situation in the world or the surrounding environment.
The realization of selflessness will allow the mind to be undisturbed
or undetermined by whatever the mind perceives through the senses,
remain equanimous and be at peace unconditionally. When one has realized
unconditional love and peace, one won’t be intentionally generating
thoughts, actions and speech that will hurt oneself and others under any
circumstances, which is compassion. The realization of unconditional
love and peace has nothing to do with the knowledge about anatomy and
physiology, or the physical condition, ability and alignment to do the
yoga poses. In the end, no matter how much effort we put into maintaining and enhancing the condition of this physical body, it will still be conditioned by selfless impermanent changes of decaying and weakening, and eventually will stop functioning, and disintegrating.
Everyone can practice yoga and share the wisdom of yoga and its practice with anybody, when the mind is free from ignorance and egoism and realized unconditional love and peace. They don’t need a piece of commercialized paper to allow or authorize them to share love and peace with others. Those who haven’t realized unconditional love and peace in themselves, they can’t share love and peace with others even if they have been attending many yoga courses and possess many certifications. Those who think and believe that they need to attend professional yoga courses and acquire a few pieces of paper to accumulate credits recognized by such and such alliance and organization to allow them to share love and peace with other people, they don’t really know what is yoga. These minds are still under the influence of worldly ideas and attached onto the qualities of name and form.
All kinds of different yoga practice serve the purpose of influencing and purifying the mind, preparing the mind for self-inquiry, or contemplation upon the truth of “Who am I?” or “What is this I?”
To practice yoga is not necessarily that we have to be doing some form of yoga asana exercises. Yoga asana practice is one type of the many yoga practices. Some people are being limited by health condition and physical limitation which hinder them from doing certain yoga asana practice, and it’s okay. Some people just do Japa and chanting alone. The practice of Japa and chanting generates harmonious vibrations that serves the purpose of influencing and purifying the mind. Some people just perform selfless service to eliminate egoism and attachment. Some just practice living in the present moment as they are. Some spend most of their time on contemplation. Some focus on observing their thoughts and have self-control over their actions and speech at all time. Some people combine a few practices. Some try to practice all of the different practices. But in the end, all the different practices are not separated from one another when being practiced with non-attachment, non-identification, non-expectation, dispassion, right discrimination, and free from the desire of craving and aversion. Ultimately, it’s freeing the mind from impurities to see the truth of names and forms as it is, and be free from suffering that derived from ignorance.
There are yoga centres that teach traditional yogic and meditation practices combine with the practice of dispassion, right discrimination, six fold virtues and the yearning for liberation that would gradually lead to the annihilation of egoism and ignorance. But most of the yoga classes we come across everywhere in the world are only about attaining benefits from the yoga asana and pranayama practice, and many are about using yoga asana practice as a form of fitness exercise to achieve fitness results, which is neither bad or wrong.
By doing some yoga asana and pranayama exercises regularly without the practice of dispassion, right discrimination, six fold virtues and the yearning for liberation, will bring some physical and mental benefits to the practitioners, but it doesn’t lead to the annihilation of egoism and ignorance, or be free from unhappiness and suffering. That’s why, many people might have been practicing yoga and pranayama practice regularly, but if they still have strong attachment and identification with the worldly life existence of the body and mind and are over-powered by the desires of craving and aversion, and have attachment towards their action and inaction and the fruit of action, then they would still be disturbed and determined by all the perceptions of name and form, and have no peace, as the mind is in a state of restlessness being disturbed by ceaseless impurities arising and passing away in the mind due to the constant egoistic reactions towards all the perceptions of name and form, generating craving and aversion towards what it likes and dislikes, agrees and disagrees with.
It’s not about how much good health, good feelings, physical strength and flexibility that we gain from practicing yoga, but whether there are less and less impurities and restlessness in the mind. There are less anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction, disappointment, pride, arrogance, ill-will, feelings of hurt, fear and worry. There is more peace and harmony. In the end, there’s only unconditional love and peace, being free from ignorance, egoism, impurities and suffering.
Traditionally, yoga asana practice is about holding a few different basic postures in stillness and at ease for a period of time, to influence and quiet the state of the mind. It’s knowing and respecting the limitation of this physical body without generating attachment, identification, craving and aversion towards the impermanent condition and ability. The skill, the stamina, the strength and flexibility will gradually develop as we practice regularly. In the beginning, when we put our body and mind in certain positions that they aren’t familiar with, there will be certain degrees of discomfort or struggle and we need to exert great effort to perform the yoga asana practice. We need to endure the discomforts and be patient and persevere in our practice until one day the practice becomes steady and we can hold each position effortlessly for a prolong period of time.
There are many different variations of yoga poses that sprung from the six basic positions. Yoga asana practice combines with the practice of pranayama serves the purpose of influencing the mind in different ways internally without using any external influence such as drugs, but using our own physical body and the breath as the tools. The purpose is mainly to balance and calm the mind so that the mind isn’t being overly elevated or depressed, while purifying the energy centres and channels, and unblocking any blockages, releasing physical, emotional and mental blockages. Instead of exerting energy outward strengthening worldly ideas, desires, attachments and identifications, yoga practice is channeling the energy inward for realization of the truth, rendering the mind calm and pure to perceive the truth as it is.
The six basic positions are:-
1.) Inversions like headstand, shoulderstand and plough.
2.) Forward bends like sitting forward bend and standing forward bend.
3.) Backward bends like fish pose, cobra pose, locust pose and bow pose.
4.) Twists like sitting twist, standing twist and lying twist.
5.) Balancing positions like crow pose, peacock pose and tree pose.
6.) Side bends like standing side bend and sitting side bend.
Yoga asana practice is very different from the commercialized yoga fitness exercise classes. It’s beyond the physical fitness training. It isn’t about training the body to be able to perform complex exercises or challenging the physical body to go beyond its limitation to become more fit, flexible and strong than what it is. We don’t have to be physically fit, strong and flexible to perform the yoga asana practice. But it’s using the physical body and the breath as tools to control our mind, to balance the mind, to purify the mind, to calm the mind, and eventually allowing the mind to be able to perceive the truth of things as they are under a pure and calm state of mind, and be free from egoism, impurities and ignorance, to go beyond the body and mind, to transcend suffering and have peace.
Yoga asana practice helps the mind to develop awareness and acceptance towards the reality that is not necessarily the way that we would like it to be. Being aware of all the impermanent changes in the physical body and the state of the mind, and allowing all the changes to be what they are – accepting the impermanent condition of the physical body and the state of the mind as it is, from moment to moment. We learn to be undetermined by what our body can do and can’t do in the present moment. We learn to let go of pre-judgment based on our past experiences. We let go attachment and identification with the thinking and belief in the mind. We stop judging, comparing and expecting. We let go attachment and expectation towards the existence and function of the body and mind. We let go craving and aversion, passionate worldly desires, anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction, disappointment, fear, worry, feelings of hurt, guilt, pride and arrogance.
Though I didn’t have the rest of the money for paying the total expenses for me to go to India after I paid the 300 USD deposit payment for the course, the money came to me naturally when I needed it, without me worrying for it. But of course I had to work harder and work more to earn the money. It didn’t just fall down from the sky and land in front of me.
Yoga is not for sale, but the fees are important to support and allow other people to have the opportunity to come to the Ashram to learn about yoga. There are basic expenses that keep the Ashram running, to provide classes, food and accommodation for the students, and also to provide living and travel expenses, food and lodging for the many live-in ashram care takers and teachers as well.
I never see teaching yoga as a job, or a business, but the fees coming from the students is supporting our living and enable us to have the time and space to perform our own practice, besides paying the cost to run the yoga retreats and maintaining the yoga studio. This allows us to continue doing what we are doing and allows some other people to come to us. It doesn’t matter if one day we stop running retreats and teaching classes. I didn’t have any intention to teach yoga, or to own a yoga centre, or to recruit yoga students.
Teaching yoga doesn’t has to be in classes or retreats.
Stories from my past memories - childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now...
(Updated November 2020)
I always liked to stretch my body since I was little. Whenever my body felt tired or there’s some tightness or soreness I would stretch my body until all the discomforts went away. I felt so good every time after I stretched. I didn’t know that those stretches were related to yoga poses before I was introduced to yoga. I wasn’t exposed to anything about yoga until I took up the aerobics instructor course at the yoga and aerobics dance academy when I was fifteen years old. But the yoga classes at that place were only doing some yoga poses as fitness exercise classes and the teacher didn’t talk about yoga philosophy at all. I also didn’t know what was Buddhism by then.
My journey into yoga and Buddhism began when I first experienced disappointment, anger, hatred, frustration and unhappiness in my early childhood. I wanted to look for the way out from unhappiness and in search for the meaning of life after being depressed and frustrated for a couple of years. Most people will only think about how to transcend suffering when they experience unhappiness and disappointment beyond what they can tolerate. Everyone is looking for happiness and don’t want to have unhappiness. But we tend to get lost and confused while trying to live a happy life or have a better living condition. We end up becoming more frustrated, dissatisfied, disappointed, angry, upset and depressed.
My family was like most Chinese. We prayed to different Chinese gods and would have an altar at home for offering incense, light, flowers, water and food to all the gods and our past ancestors. Most of us were praying to a god named The Goddess of Mercy. We didn’t know that this god was actually the great compassionate Bodhisattva Guan Yin Pu Xa, who was an enlightened being as mentioned in the teachings of Buddhism. We didn’t know what was Buddhism or its philosophy and practices. We prayed to many different gods, but only with one intention – asking for protection and blessing from them. We didn’t know what was Karma, cause and effect, or the path of self-transformation.
Every time I saw pictures or statues of any gods, I would bow and pay respect to them. I was told by my parents to do so. They said gods protect us from bad things and bless us with good fortune and we must thank them by bowing and pay respect to them. I wasn’t expecting to get anything from gods because I didn’t have desire for material things or enjoyments in life. But in my own imagination, I felt very strong connection with gods and spiritual beings when I was growing up. In the past, I believed in gods and spiritual beings that they were good beings and they were my friends and protectors. I always put my palms together and bowed to them to express thankfulness for looking after me and my family. If I stopped believing in spiritual beings and gods, it’s okay. Because if they truly exist and they are wise, selfless and kind beings, they won’t get unhappy or upset if people don’t believe in them or stop believing in them. Just like, if we truly love someone, we allow this person to love us, or not. We won’t feel hurt or get angry when someone whom we love doesn’t love us, or when someone who used to love us, but has stopped loving us. We only wish this person peace and happiness, it doesn’t matter whether this person loves us, or not.
There’s nothing wrong when people have certain beliefs that they follow to be their guidance as a way of living, whether they believe in spiritual beings or not, and whether they think God exists or not. It’s just a way of thinking and living. Whether people believe in spiritual beings and God, or not, it doesn’t determine that whether they are wise and kind and peaceful, or not.
When I was young, every time when someone asked me about my religion, I would tell them my religion was Buddhism because I am a Chinese. I thought all Chinese are Buddhists and all Indians are Hindus and all Malays are Muslims. I was so ignorant. Someone must had told me that I am a Buddhist because I am a Chinese. That was my incorrect understanding before I got to know more about Buddhism and what was a religion.
I heard the word of ‘cultivation’ for the first time when my mother mentioned it to me after she came back from a meeting with a medium. Many Chinese like to go to a medium to seek advice or help when they have troubles. My sister and her husband needed the help from a medium as their life had come to a critical point where they couldn’t make a living at all no matter how hard they tried in whatever they did. The medium told my mother that he couldn’t read my brother-in-law’s palms to read his destiny, as his palms and face were covered in heavy dark energy, indicating that he would die very soon.
The medium told my sister and her husband that they had to ‘cultivate’ a lot of good actions to accumulate merits and virtues urgently to change their luck and try to save my brother-in-law’s life, if possible. But they didn’t know what ‘cultivation’ means. None in our family knew. My brother-in-law didn’t know how to control his bad temper and violent behavior. He didn’t make any efforts to ‘cultivate’ any good actions and couldn’t change his destiny.
Within that year, he died from falling off a 130 feet high platform at the age of thirty nine. No one knew what really happened and why or how he fell. There wasn’t anyone with him when it happened. He was working for a two months contract for a construction company and it was his last few days of work. He was cleaning the inside of a giant chimney at an oil refinery in Klang. My sister came back from the hospital and told us that she could hardly recognize him as his body and face were swollen with all his bones were smashed into tiny pieces.
My brother-in-law was a man who liked to hunt and drink a lot. He grew up drinking beers and other alcohols ever since he was a little boy. He always boasted about how his parents fed him with beers since he was just a toddler. He claimed that it was their family’s special tradition. He also fed his own children with beer when they were just a few months old. His temper was extremely bad. The Chinese said that alcohol increases the heat in our blood and aggravates the fire of anger. They also said that a person with fiery temper like him shouldn’t go near anything that was related to fire. But somehow he liked cooking and worked as a cook for a few restaurants before. He always ended up conflicting with his boss or his co-workers, and he would threaten to kill them with his hunting knife or hunting gun.
When his daughter was just a few months old he caned her because she was crying. One time, in the car, he slapped her for crying. He shouted at her telling her to stop crying, but she couldn’t stop crying. He hit her so hard in the face that she permanently lost the hearing in one ear. Her jaw was dislocated as well. Even to this day her mouth tilts to one side when she talks. He always argued with my sister over financial matters. When he got very angry he would smash things and kick the furniture, the walls and doors. The shouting and banging and crying in their house could be heard from far away. My heart pounded and tears fell down my cheeks. I hated him. I wished that he would leave us alone. I wished that he would die.
Later in life, I started to understand that his bad temper and mood swing with uncontrollable anger and violent behavior could be related to what he had went through in his previous marriage when he was younger before he knew my sister.
He came from a renowned family in a small town somewhere in Perak. His family was quite wealthy before his father died. But then things were not the same after his father was gone. They owned a small old oil palm estate near to their house. He grew up as a Christian and was English educated. He was married at very young age. He had a daughter and a son from his first marriage, and the ex-wife was from another renowned wealthy family. Her father was one of the rich and famous business men in Malaysia at that time. My sister said that he had loved his ex-wife and children very much.
Unfortunately, his ex-wife was being unfaithful to him and had an affair with his best friend. One day he came home early from work and saw the ex-wife and his best friend were in their bedroom, on their bed, naked. He got really angry and went crazy, and had a huge quarrel and fight with the wife and her lover, in front of their young children. His wife grabbed the two children who were seven and five at that time, and sped off in their car. The car lost control not too far from their house. The ex-wife suffered serious head and spinal injury and multiple broken bones, and had to be hospitalized for six months under the intensive care. While the son died at the scene instantly from being plunged into the steering wheel, and the daughter had suffered serious injury with one broken arm and one broken leg from being plunged out of the car’s windscreen. He was very angry, but at the same time, being deeply guilty and depressed for the whole incident. Since then he drank even more and suffered from serious mood swing.
He had filed a divorce, but the ex-wife didn’t want to give consent and the case went to the court and had been prolonged for a long time. Somehow he managed to keep the daughter with him. Before he met my sister, he had tried a few relationships with some women with the intention of looking for a good step mother for the daughter, but all the relationships didn’t last long, as the daughter didn’t like those women to be her step mother. He was a very handsome young man, and many women were attracted to him. He had no difficulty to find a girlfriend at all. Somehow he met my sister and they had fallen in with love with each other. Surprisingly, the daughter didn’t reject my sister, and so they got married under the Chinese tradition ceremony, without registering themselves at the city hall marriage council because he wasn’t legally divorced yet. After many years later he finally got the divorce approval from the court because the ex-wife finally gave her consent and signed the divorce paper, as she wanted to get married with another man at that time. But then my sister thought that it wasn’t necessary for them to register their marriage legally. And that had given my sister some problems with the husband’s family when her husband died.
Not long after my sister was being in a relationship with my brother-in-law, she resigned from her many years office job to run a seafood restaurant with him on Pangkor Island. They joined venture with his uncle to set up the restaurant. The restaurant was built on top of a leasehold land with a beautiful beach front location. In the beginning there were quite many people patronizing the restaurant and they made some good profits shared among the three of them. Somehow a few months later, they realized that his uncle had been taking money from the cash machine without informing them. They went to talk to his uncle and ended up in a quarrel and my brother-in-law kicked his uncle out of the business. From then on, their business was becoming very bad. They didn’t understand why. There were many tourists passing by their restaurant every day, but nobody would come in, as if their restaurant was invisible.
A few months passed by and they were losing more and more money. At the same time, there was some itchy rash started to appear on my brother-in-law’s body every day after midnight, and it became more serious night after night. Someone told them that they should try to look for a medium to find out what was happening to him and their restaurant. And so, they went to a medium and found out that his uncle had saved hatred towards my brother-in-law and had asked a Bomoh to put a curse on him and their restaurant. The medium told them that only a Bomoh would know how to help them. And so they had asked a Bomoh to help them to remove the curse. The Bomoh realized it was a very serious curse that my brother-in-law would die very soon. And immediately, the Bomoh had went to their restaurant together with my sister and my brother-in-law. He brought along a live chicken with him.
When they arrived at the restaurant, the Bomoh cut the throat of the chicken while chanting some prayers and let the chicken walked free with blood dripping down its throat to bring them around the restaurant, until the chicken stopped walking and dropped dead at a place right in front of the restaurant. Then the Bomoh started to dig into the sand, and dug out a piece of human shaped steel plate with a lime being nailed onto it with a thick needle. My brother-in-law’s name and his date of birth were also being engraved onto the steel plate. The thick needle was started to rust as well. Immediately the Bomoh made some prayers and blessed my brother-in-law and the restaurant with some water. And then he told them that the curse was cleared, but my brother-in-law had to take shower with water mixed with some flowers and lime leaves for the next few weeks. The Bomoh said that they were lucky enough to have discovered this earlier, or else when the needle went completely rusted, my brother-in-law would have no possibility to be alive. But before the Bomoh left, he also told them that whoever had been cursed by a Bomoh’s curse, would be having bad luck for the rest of their life. And there wasn’t anything a Bomoh could do about it.
Coincidentally, my brother-in-law stopped having the rash from that day onward, but the bad luck never stopped following him. Though there were people starting to come into the restaurant, but the business wasn’t good enough to cover their cost and kept losing money. And so, they closed the restaurant and came back to Kuala Lumpur hoping to do something to make a living, which turned out to be very difficult for them. They had to borrow money from family and friends to have food on the table.
Anyway, my sister was never welcomed by his family. My sister’s mother-in-law didn’t like her at all. One of the main reason that the husband’s family didn’t like her was because my sister came from a lower income family background, and she also didn’t know any of the Chinese traditions which was being observed in her husband’s conservative Chinese family. My sister’s elder daughter was less than one year old when they lived with the husband’s family for about a year, as they couldn’t make a living at that time and had to depend on his family’s help. Because of this, my sister’s mother-in-law believed that my sister was a bad luck carrier and they treated my sister like a servant for the family.
My sister was always being scolded for not being able to do things the right way or the proper way according to their family’s traditional cultural belief. From washing the laundry, to cleaning the house and cooking for the family, to the way she talked, walked, stood, sat, and the eating and serving manners on the dining table, she was being criticized and shouted at, all the time. If it was me in her shoes, they wouldn’t have the chance to treat a person in such way as I wouldn’t allow something like that to happen to myself. But my sister was a very patient and angry-less person. She needed to protect her baby daughter as well. She swallowed all those ill-treatments in silence and keeping her head down all the time.
My sister had tried to find work in offices again to make a living, but somehow he didn’t like her to work. He wasn’t happy about my sister being the family finance provider while he himself couldn’t have a stable income, and so he would prefer to borrow money from family and friends instead. And so, my sister tried to make a living together with him by venturing into a few small businesses such like selling Bak-Kut-Teh at food court, selling fried noodles in the night market, selling vegetables in the morning and night market, and growing beansprout for wholesaling, but none of these businesses worked out nicely for them. They ended up accumulating more and more debts instead.
They frequently came to my parents asking for money. My parents wanted to help them to get the money to start a business, without realizing that their kind intention to help my sister had dragged themselves into financial problem later.
In desperation to help my sister, my mother had involved in a ‘villagers money scheme’. This was very popular among the Chinese community in rural villages at that time, but it was also illegal. The idea was the villagers joined together to help among themselves financially, especially when someone needed a lump sum of money for emergency or starting a business. Instead of borrowing money with high interest rate from the bank or the loan shark, they helped each other by gathering money through the scheme. Every member would contribute a fixed amount of money to the scheme every month. They would select a person who was trustworthy to be the head of the group to collect and safeguard the monthly gathered money and organize fortnightly or monthly meetings. My mother had always been selected as the head of the group, as everyone trusted her and she had been very helpful to all the villagers.
My mother would organize the monthly meetings at different timing and in different houses to avoid the police’s attention. Those who were in need of money would turn up in the meeting for that month and bid for the gathered money. The one who had successfully bidding for the money would continue to contribute to the monthly lump sum for other members who would bid for it in the next meetings. Everyone should pay back what they had taken in a fixed amount bit by bit, month by month. Unfortunately, many of them were dishonest. They had took the lump sum, but they didn’t want to pay back every month as they should. And so, my mother had to take out money from her own pocket every month to cover the missing money.
She couldn’t go to the police because it was illegal. My parents were very kind and softhearted people. And all these people who didn’t pay back the money they had taken were my parents’ longtime friends and fellow villagers. Every time when my mother went to collect money from them, they would give excuses that their business was bad or someone at home was sick, that they had not enough money to pay back after taking other people’s contribution.
My parents were very responsible people and they sympathized with the other people who had been contributing money, but still waiting for their turn to bid for the lump sum. So my mother had to use a big part of the household income from my father’s monthly salary to cover the missing money. There were many months, she had to cover as much as 1,400 Ringgit per month which was more than what my father earned every month. It was a lot of money for us at that time, and this situation lasted for a couple of years. My sister had her own financial problem. My eldest brother was working in a precision mould engineering company and had a very low salary which he gave it all to my parents to help out our living expenses, to have food on the table.
I am always very grateful for my eldest brother’s generosity. Though he’s an honest hardworking man, a very good son to my parents, and a good friend to many people, but life was very hard on him. He went through lots of hardships for many years until the year before he passed away at the age of fifty six. At least he had enjoyed a year of easiness.
My second elder brother and I were still studying in school. We were very disturbed by our family financial problem. We were very upset and angry because we thought we were robbed by those greedy and dishonest people, and we had to live in poor condition because of that. My parents were very compassionate and forgiving. They didn’t save hatred towards those people who had robbed our money and left us living in a state of poverty, even when my father had a job. Especially my mother. When she passed away in the end of 2006, she looked like she was smiling and looked so peaceful. She always told me that it was okay for other people to be in debt with us, but we never wanted to be in debt with anyone.
It was also during those couple of years I went into seclusion. I didn’t want to talk to my family and I secluded myself to stay away from friends and people. I was full of anger and hatred.
Though I was always one of the top students, my school studies had started to decline dramatically. I started teaching aerobics classes and decided to leave school before I finished the final year. My class teacher was concerned about me after I stopped going to school. A few months later, she met my sister on a social occasion, and in their conversation, she realized I was the sister of this young woman that she was talking to, and she told my sister that I could go back to school even though I had stopped for many months. But I already made up my mind. I had never regretted about that decision. I am happy and contented with what I have experienced and learned in life so far. I am glad and grateful for what I am doing now which is a very meaningful thing to do in the world of impermanence. I learned that in our schools, no body taught us how to be happy and peaceful in life. They taught us how to read and write and count, and how to make a living with certain skill and be successful in life, where all these things are not a guarantee of peace and happiness.
I’m so glad that during those difficult times I didn’t do anything stupid to ruin my life that I will regret for the rest of my life. At that time, Madonna and Buddhism had come into my life when I needed them most. One was there inspiring me to have hopes and dreams and never give up. The biggest inspiration from Madonna was watching her concert’s video – Virgin Tour. And the other one was there to teach me how to change the condition of my life and take control over my own fate and destiny, and to know what is true happiness and how to attain it. Buddhism also taught me to be open-minded and questioning the truth of everything.
While I was teaching aerobics exercise classes in my own aerobics dance studio I came to know a wonderful lady who came for the aerobics classes. She was a sincere Buddhist and she started a Buddhist library in her house in Taman Sri Sentosa a couple of years later. She had helped many people who had come to her asking for help in many ways.
She told me that the Buddhist library will be finished one day. She said to me that it didn’t matter whether there would be thousands of people coming to the library looking for her help or people would stop coming one day. Her prediction came true a few years later. The library had to close down due to karmic reasons according to the law of nature. Everyone who had come to the library before had deserted her and condemned her. But I continued to respect her because I knew she did nothing wrong and she had performed lots of selfless service to help these people. She knew what she was doing and she told me that she forgave everyone compassionately.
She was there to help everyone in my family during our worst years. My parents, my eldest brother and his wife and I, had volunteered to help out in the Buddhist library. Twice a month on the new moon day and the full moon day, we helped her to prepare and cook vegetarian meal for the people who came to the library and I would be the emcee for the chanting session after the vegetarian meal. That was how I started becoming an occasional vegetarian.
During some other days, my mother and my brother would send her to different places in our van to help the people who were in need of help, or to get the things for the library. I also helped to wrap the Buddhism books and arrange them on the book shelves. I got to read many Buddhism books from the library and I came across books written by Ajahn Chah. He was a great teacher to me, even though I didn’t meet him personally in this life time. But it didn’t matter because I never feel separated from all the Dhamma teachers.
I also helped to record chanting session into cassette tapes to be distributed among the people who were interested in the chanting session, so that they could have chanting session at home every day. I had duplicated thousands and thousands of cassette tapes for the library.
Though my English was very limited she had asked me to translate some Chinese Dhamma into simple English for the people who weren’t Chinese educated. It was about the six fold path of the Bodhisattva. Since then, without any intentions, I started to write about Dhamma in Chinese every day for almost a year. I had no intention to write anything, but it happened naturally. One day she found out from my mother and she asked me to read to her about what I had written. Afterwards she asked me to give Dhamma talks from what I have written after the chanting session. All these experiences in the Buddhist library was another great learning process for me.
The Buddhist Library frequently organized visiting trips to many old folks and children homes. Seeing the sick and unfortunate people in the old folks and children homes was another transformational experience for me to cultivate compassion and gratitude. Anyone who always complains a lot about life and feel meaningless and unhappy about themselves or the world, they should frequently visit old folks and children homes, or be a volunteer in places like these. It will change their perception and perspective towards life and how they feel about themselves.
After the library stopped operating, many people came to me trying to speak bad about her. I just gave them a smile and didn’t want to get involved in any of the gossips and criticisms. All these people came to her when they needed help and sought comfort from her in the past. She gave them Dhamma, money, food, medicine, clothing, books and shelter when they had financial, health, mental and emotional problems. She had to fight with ‘evil spirits’ while trying to help those who were being disturbed by ‘evil spirits’. But she didn’t complain about all these ungrateful people and move on in her journey on the path of Buddhism, alone by herself.
I haven’t seen her for years since I moved out from Taman Sri Sentosa. But I believe she is fine wherever she is.
My life stories - from where I came from and how I came here...
- My life stories - Part 20 (Balancing life and settling in)
- My life stories - Part 19 (Life and learning amidst impermanent changes and challenges
- My life stories - Part 18 (Writing and blogging about the teachings)
- My life stories - Part 17 (Uncertainty - That's life, and it's okay)
- My life stories - part 16 (Finding a living space)
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- My life stories - Part 12 (A new beginning)
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