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.
Miraclely, 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.