May 29, 2008
A stone stature of the seated Buddha, with its head and two lower arms severed off, was photographed in Wat Maha That, one of the many ruin temples in Ayutthaya, Thailand. About 240 years ago, the invading Burmese army, destroyed everything Thai in the city and many of the wreckages still remain today.
This picture of the Buddha, at the moment of enlightenment, with his right hand touching the earth and the left hand calling the earth to witness it, captures the mood and essence of the Wesak celebration, in May every year. This visualization, brings together, the time when Siddhartha Gautama became a Buddha, when he was born (563BC) and when he died (483 BC) and also his teachings about spiritual liberation and human insights.
Ayutthaya, in the 14th and 15th century, was the second Capital of Thailand after Sukhothai. It was the greatest inland port at that time but it was in constant war with invading neighbours, wanting to take over its power and wealth.
Some of the best Thai Buddhist art flourished during that time but in 1765 the invading army from Burma, over ran the city within two years, and in its wake, desecrated everything sacred to the Thais, including manuscripts, temples and sculptures.
The Mon people (Thais and Burmese), who were mostly Theravada Buddhist, were at war with each other constantly, in their history, and they are now still at war, not only with their neighbours, but also with their own people. This is true too of many parts of the world today; we are endlessly at war with each other, many of these conflicts are in the name of religion, race, power and greed (for oil and other limited natural resources).
When will we ever learn to live and share with our neighbours?
May 21, 2008
A thin line
In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of news from all over the world, of countless deaths, due to natural or man made courses (famines, earthquakes, cyclones, droughts, starvations, floods, prisons, wars, massacres, revolutions, global warming etc.).
There is but a thin line, between life and death, and each of us crosses it and back, many times in our daily life. If we didn’t die today, we live for another day, and so on. But one of those day it will be our turn. This page is dedicated to all those of our distant blood brothers and sisters (related millions of years ago from the middle of Africa), young and old, near and far, all colours, cultures or creeds.
May you all find rest, some how, somewhere, sometime. Who knows, perhaps we’ll all meet in another form someday?
April 25, 2008
The first week of April, during the annual remembrance festival, my cousins and I went to visit the graves of our relatives (our grand father and mother and uncle). We all recalled in our own ways, our gratitude to our parents and our parent’s parents. We are glad to be here.
Our ancestors, either buried or cremated, not physically with us, silent, but are not forgotten. They are still alive in our mind. I guess, in their spirit world, they too are seeking out their missing ones, dead or life, in their own form, to tell stories about themselves and to listen to news of other persons or events.
Two years ago, my mother died, in the hospital; she was in a coma for forty days. It was my good fortune, to have my mother, to know her only when she decided to let you into her thoughts, was by her side and to share a house together, almost all her eighty years of life. Of course, there were many times over the years, we each thought the other was unthinking and that we had injured each other, by words and/or deeds, assured that we were not continuing to be together anymore, but then we stayed on anyway.
What I find most amazing is the fact that we have ancestors, relatives, brothers and sisters, not of our choosing, nether did they particularly had any interest in us, but yet we are part of this humanity. We are all related by blood and could reach each other, if we so desire, but often don’t, for mutual comfort, to help each other, to dispel our pains, fears, longings etc.
April 14, 2008
April is usually the time of the year when many Malaysian Chinese remember their dead by visiting the grave yard. This is a spring festival with a long tradition from China. This practice of keeping the dead alive takes many forms and expressions through out the world and every society and tribe has their own way of recalling their dead.
This is not ancestor worship like turning our fore fathers and mothers into some kind of gods but just an act to keep them in our mind. Our parents and grand parents are only dead if we stop thinking of them, giving thanks to them, being grateful to them for bring us into this world (sometime not of our own choosing).
Many people believe that the dead can speak on demand and they can have a direct line to their past, but if you don’t, the job of discovering, both the absence and presence simultaneously, of our lost ones, can be a difficult mental space to learn to grasp. For the rest, the usual way to remember our forebears, it may just be an act of conjuring up the thought of them (pleasant or otherwise).
The task is even more complicated if you happen to want to go seeking as far back as whom really our first ancestors were. Our ancient origins may be many many millions of years old, coming out from what is Africa today, to settle in different parts the earth. We may all have mix-blood down the line and are all even distant blood brothers and sisters (at war or at peace).
September 30, 2007
What is left now, after my mother’s funeral and then followed by the cremation of her body is just fragments of reality and memory of her.
The following day, we went back to the crematorium to collect her bones and ashes. We have decided to keep some of the bones and scatter the rest down a river, in an orang asli village in a forest, named, Janda Baik (good widow).
My mother would have objected to keeping any dead person’s belongings or parts of their remains in the home of the living. We didn’t mind that ourselves. Infact, we find that keeping a small portion of her bones, which had been through an inferno, helps us remember her better. The portions in the bottle, is my mother’s new reality. Our memory of her past and her ‘presence’ in our house, create moments of awareness which gives access to a connection with her even tough she had gone.
My sister and her husband had also taken another small part of our mother’s bones back to thier home as a treasured memory of our mother.
These broken pieces of her skull represent both the reality of our mother’s past and her present state of being, whatever form it may take. Memories, thoughts and perceptions will slowly fade in time; but how long will items like the burnt skull segments last in a bottle? How will my son remember his grandmother in 50 years time? What sort of memory will my son have of me and his mother when we are both gone?
Is this what life is all about, just fragments of reality and memory, in the end?
September 21, 2007
The food and drinks that was offered up to me, on the offering table, at the foot of my coffin, during the funeral wake at my house, was both intimate and magical; they connected me (wherever I may be and in whatever appropriate form I am in) with my family.
It was intimate because food and drinks are consumed and taken into our bodies, the fabric of our being – they become us and we become them. The act of offering it up to me to imbibe was an act of faith on my children’s part, and that’s the magical touch.
Their intention, although focused on the food as is understood in the physical world, has transformed it into some sort of power that could be received in other worlds as whatever it is that is wanted. So, in some way, our world mixes into their worlds and helps and sustains them.
In the last few years of my last life, I shared a house with my son and his family. We did not often sit down to eat the family meals together at home. Somehow, we each had our own taste and our taste was not shared by the others in the family as often as we would have like. What I miss most, from where I am now, is not being able to eat some meals with my son and his family. Perhaps in my next life, this issue about sharing food with people in the material world may be different – more intimate?
However, from where I am and in the form that I am in, the food and drinks that are offered to me reach me in a transformed state. This mysterious quality goes a long way to satisfy both the needs of the dead and the living. Let’s eat.