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(Commemorative 2ndEdition)

2ndEdition)

A Biography
TheVenerable Acara Suvanno
Mahathera
(1920-
(1920-2007)
A jinavamsa Collection
2

Published by Leong Yok Kee

E2L4A Selesa Hillhomes


Bukit Tinggi
28750 Bentong
Pahang

Email: yokkee122@gmail.com

Copyright by Leong Yok Kee

Any part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or


by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording without prior written permission from
the publisher.

Front and back cover by Leong Yok Kee

Title: Striving to be a Nobody


A Commemorative 2nd Edition
Author: Leong Yok Kee
Buddhism - customs and practices
Buddhism - doctrines

Published in Kuala Lumpur


Printed by: Majujaya Indah Sdn. Bhd (85902-U)
68 Jalan 14E Ampang New Village
68000 Selangor Darul Ehsan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: 03-42916001
3

CONTENTS

DEDICATION 5
PROLOGUE 6
Four Noble Truths 6
Noble Eightfold Path 8
FOREWORD 11
PREFACE 13
INTRODUCTION 15
CHAPTER 1: Early Years 22
Our Story Begins 23
Sweet is Life 28

CHAPTER 2: Formative Years 39


CHAPTER 3: Better Times 56
CHAPTER 4: RENUNCIATION 66
Bhante Suvanno on Renunciation 79
CHAPTER 5: THE MONK’S LIFE 89
CHAPTER 6: MI TOR SEE 95
CHAPTER 7: THE WORK OF BHANTE 102
His Daily Routine 104
To Forgive is Divine 109
Kalam Sutta 115
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness 124
CHAPTER 8: STORIES 133
EPILOGUE 143
The Final Curtain 146
The Obituary 156
An Eulogy 158
Sharing of Merits 169
4

“BHANTE”
5

DEDICATION
Sabbadanam Dhammadanam Jinati
The Gift of Truth Excels All Other Gifts

This Dhamma literature is dedicated

IN MEMORIAM
of a most revered teacher:
The Venerable Acara Suvanno Mahathera

Gratefully sponsored by
Lim Kok Chai and Family

The support of mother and father


Cherishing of wife and children
and peaceful occupations,
Generosity and righteous conduct,
Helping of relatives
and blameless actions,
These are the Supreme Blessings
May all beings share
in the merits of this Dhammadana
May all be well and happy.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!


6

PROLOGUE
(A Foreword to this Commemorative Edition)

WORDS OF THE BUDDHA

The essence of the Buddha's Teachings


is twinned together as a unique practice
in the Four Noble Truths and the
Noble Eightfold Path. In the Former,
the last of the Four Noble Truths, the
Truth of the Way, is the Noble
Eightfold Path; while the First Factor of
the Later, Right View, is the
understanding of the Four Noble
Truths. Thus, the two teachings are
symbiotic and dovetail neatly together;
the formula of the Four Noble Truths
absorbing the Eightfold Path and the
Noble Eightfold Path sliding within the
Four Truths.

They form the twin canopy that Bhante Suvanno took refuge in
during his lay life and more so in the days of his renunciation.
Together with Hiri and Ottappa, Bhante Suvanno’s way of life
is the embodiment of this quartet of the Blessed One’s
Teachings.

THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS


The Cornerstone of the Blessed One’s Teaching lies with the
Four Noble Truths. It was after total realisation of the Four
Noble Truths did the Blessed One declared Himself completely
Enlightened.
7

THE Blessed One: “It is through not understanding, not


not
penetrating Four Things,
Things, that I, monks, as well
well as you, have
wandered so long through the long round of rebirths.

What Four?
Four? Suffering,
Suffering, the Cause of Suffering,
Suffering, the
the
Cessation
essation of Suffering,
Suffering, and
and the Path
Path leading to the
Cessation of Suffering.
Suffering.

The Blessed One has defined the Four Noble Truths:


"This, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering: birth,
ageing, disease, death is suffering; association
association with the
unloved is suffering; separation
separation from the loved is suffering;
not getting
getting what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five
aggregates of grasping are suffering."
suffering."

"This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Cause of


Suffering: this craving that leads to repeated becoming,
taking delight now here, now there, namely: craving for
sensual pleasures, craving for existence, and craving for
non-
non-existence."

"This,
"This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the
the Cessation of
Suffering: the Cessation of Craving
Craving without any
remainder, giving it up, renouncing it, and complete freedom
from it."
8

"This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Way Leading to


the Cessation of suffering: this Noble Eightfold Path
itself, namely: right view, right thought, right speech, right
action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and
right concentration."

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH


Monks, what is The Noble Eightfold Path?

Right View (or understanding),


understanding), Right Thought, Right
Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort,
Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

And what is right view? Knowledge with regard to suffering,


knowledge with regard to the origination of suffering,
knowledge with regard to the cessation of suffering,
knowledge with regard to the way of practice leading to the
cessation of suffering: This is called right view.

And what is right thought? Being thoughts on renunciation,


on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right
thought.
9

And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from


divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter:
This is called right speech.

And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, from


stealing, and from sexual intercourse: This is called right
action.

And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a


noble disciple, having abandoned dishonest livelihood,
keeps his life going with right livelihood. This is called right
livelihood.

And what is right effort? There is the case where a monk


generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds
and exerts his intent for the sake of the non-
non-arising of evil,
unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen...for the sake of
the abandoning of evil, unskillful
unskillful qualities that have
arisen...for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that
non--
have not yet arisen...(and) for the maintenance, non
confusion, increase, plenitude, development, and
culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. This is
called right effort.
10

And what is right mindfulness? There is the case where a


monk remains focused on the body in and of itself-
itself-ardent,
alert, and mindful-
mindful-putting aside greed and distress with
reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in
and of themselves...the
themselves...the mind in and of itself...mental qualities
in and of themselves-
themselves-ardent, alert, and mindful-
mindful-putting aside
greed and distress with reference to the world. This is
called right mindfulness.

And what is right concentration? There is the case where


where a
monk-
monk-quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from
unskillful mental qualities applies concentration in the
realisation of the impermanence of existence, the suffering
of existence, the realisation of the non-
non-self nature of
existence. This is right concentration.
concentration.
11

FOREWORD

Dear Friends,
It is now the year 2010 and it was in the year 2000 October
that the original story was written. At that time, Leong Yok Kee
aka Jinavamsa, yours sincerely, had just completed a long stint
of training in The Hermitage at Lunas, Kedah.

His teacher was the Venerable Acara Suvanno who was then
age 70 years and with 20 vassas (an indication of the number of
years as an ordained bhikkhu) to his credit, which length of
time recognises him to be known as a Mahathera, a senior
bhikkhu.

Experiencing his qualities as a truly well practised bhikkhu, and


well impressed with his other qualities of compassion, patience,
humility and specially loving kindness, Jinavamsa, seek
voluntarily to be his attendant. As he attended to the needs of
his teacher, Jinavamsa was truly tutored in the ways of a
Theravada bhikkhu, for Bhante Suvanno, was a strict adherent
to the rules as enshrined within the code of ethics, known as
the Vinaya.

Being impressed with such a dedicated life in the way of the


Blessed One in these modern times, Jinavamsa felt he should
post Bhante Suvanno’s passage through this world so that
posterity would have the knowledge that such a way of life can
be practical and the fruits of achievement as advised by the
Blessed One is achievable by one who truly dedicate his whole
mind to it.
12

This story is told in a narrative form which hopefully, would


render this more readable and place a personal flavour to the
telling. The details of the story had been gathered through
many interviews and discussion with his teacher, even late or
early into the next morning. Most of the time, the sitting had
been in the little building depicted here, a kuti, where Bhante
Suvanno has his living quarters.

The original version has been


updated to this present
volume with the addition of
a few new facts, such as
Bhante Suvanno’s passing in
the year 2007.

May the merits thus accrued


be shared by all living beings
and be instrumental in their walking the Noble Path.

SADHU, SADHU, SADHU!

Jinavamsa jinavamsa1938@yahoo.com
E2L4A Selesa Hillhomes
Bukit Tinggi, Bentong
Pahang
2010
13

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddha
ambuddhassa
buddhassa

STRIVING TO BE A NOBODY
PREFACE

BHANTE (In the kuti whereof are


displayed some images of the Blessed
One and some scriptural books):
Today, sitting among these icons of the
Blessed One’s Teachings, I reflect on the
traumatic upheavals of my early life; and
as I do, there arises in me a compelling
urge for deliverance, a deliverance from
all pains, suffering, hunger and thirst.
“Deliverance is born of Knowledge”, said
a wise thinker and only in the Blessed One’s teachings is found
this liberating knowledge. The Blessed One expressly says:

THE Blessed One: “Profound


Profound is this doctrine, hard to
understand, difficult
difficult to perceive, tranquil, sublime, beyond
the realm of logic; to be known only by the wise”.
wise

BHANTE: You’ll hardly understand it without patience,


guidance, practice and effort. As the Brahma Sahampati
entreated of the Blessed One: “There are those whose eyes are
only a little covered by dust; who, not hearing the Truth, will be
lost”. It is those with little dust in their eyes who will
understand and realise the Dhamma.
14

I do not say that I alone have suffered much, for there are
uncountable number of beings in more wretched conditions.
Right now I understand through personal experience that the
whole world is a mass of suffering. Reflecting deep and long, I
realised that our entire existence is conditioned and not within
our control. All things arise and pass away in due course; they
do not last, even for a split moment; impermanence is the
character of all conditioned things, and such being the case, all
conditioned things are of a suffering nature. Existence is
suffering.

Across the whole spectrum of suffering in my early years, I


cannot pin-point a single moment, I can truly say that I could
demand a change and make it happen as I would wish. Thus,
the realisation strikes me that there is not within me any
substantial controlling self that can change the situation of my
suffering. I could not find a “self” that could be relied on.

Among these three related characteristics of existence, the most


tangible one, suffering, has been singled out, fully stated and
defined in the First Noble Truth of Suffering; its Cause in the
Second; its Cessation in the Third and the Practical Path of
Deliverance in the Fourth.

Those who have “eyes” will perceive these things. The wise ones
understand and practise the Noble Eightfold Path; others, alas,
will be assailed by suffering.

A. Suvanno
October in the year 2000
Buddhist Hermitage Lunas
Kedah, Malaysia
15

INTRODUCTION

“Everybody wants to be a somebody.


Nobody wants to be a nobody.
If ever there is a “somebody”
Who knows how to be a nobody,

Then that nobody is a real somebody!


If you ever want to be a nobody
Then follow that somebody
Who really is a “nobody”
(Later) let go of everybody,
Even that somebody who already is a nobody;
Eventually you will be a real nobody”.

A. Suvanno
16

PLACE: Bhante is sitting under a tree by the side of his kuti at


evening and is resting after his usual routine of sweeping the
compound; with him in discussion is Jinavamsa.

BHANTE: Everybody wants to be a somebody; I want to be a


nobody. Theravada monks are guardians of the Blessed One’s
original Teachings; the Teachings of the Elders; as it was since
His First Discourse on attaining Enlightenment more than two
thousand five hundred years ago.

It is difficult to comprehend the Teachings in the beginning,


for the Truth of the Teachings is not only to be understood and
comprehended intellectually but essentially to be experienced
and realised and seen with clear insight by oneself. Difficult
because most humans are conditioned to have eyes that are
‘cloaked with dust’; generally ‘dust’ of greed, hatred and
delusion. The film of defilement enveloping their minds’ ‘eye’
has become gross and impenetrable as the greed for the
acquisition of material possessions to enhance the supposedly
‘quality’ of their lives become more intense and destructive.
The competition to achieve and the need for self-glorification is
deadly and never-ending!

This never ending elusive quest for material achievement has so


consumed all of humanities’ energy that they are reluctant to
expand further effort to delve into the recesses of their minds.
Thus, many have lost the pristine ability to understand the
Truth of existence in this present life. Rare are the human
beings contented with their basic needs and possessions.
Whatever joy these possessions bring is momentary, short lived
and unsatisfactorily, so the craving to possess goes on even
through many lifetimes ad infinitum.
17

They are beset with greed, anger and delusion as the true goal
of existence eludes these seekers of the sensuous material world.

JV: The monk spoke not to impress. He believed and lived in


the essence of those words and that very essence disciplines his
life. Daily, in his simple robes,
barefooted, broom in hand,
bending low, slowly and
mindfully he will be sweeping
the fallen leaves around the
compound of the Hermitage.
Slowly and mindfully he
sweeps so as not to injure any
minute beings under the
weight of the sweeping broom.
Sweep, sweep, sweep.
‘Sweeping is a form of
meditation; you must do it
slowly and mindfully’. Softly
and gently murmuring as he
continues sweeping.

The years of sweeping have given his posture a definite stoop.


Past eighty years of age and as clear of mind and bright of eyes
as a young man; just as strong bodily and mentally; utter
simplicity of life is depicted in the motions of the monk! ‘A
simple monk am I’ the picture whispers. The time will also be
given to Vipassana meditation, the utmost priority will be given
to this practice, as the sole goal of renunciation is to achieve the
state of the Noble Ones, the Arahants; and the Blessed One has
affirmed many a times that:
18

“This is the only one way, bhikkhus,


for the purification of beings,
for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation,
for the disappearance of pain and grief,
for reaching the Noble Path,
for the realisation of Nibbana, namely;
the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.”

In the midst of these flitting mind pictures the solitary, frail-


looking monk stands out as a ray of light in the gloom; a tiny
oasis of refreshing reality in the arid desert of delusion; a
singular, noble holy icon plodding steadily and firmly, every
step leading out of the morass of human sufferings!

Such is the Venerable Suvanno Mahathera, known as Bhante


Suvanno or more affectionately as just “Bhante”, by his
devotees; the Monk of Beautiful Discipline who practises the
Noble Path of the Elders and who has found the true meaning
of existence in the purity of the Blessed One’s Dhamma.

Who is the Venerable Acara Suvanno Mahathera?


JV: Before we attempt to answer this question, let us shed a
little light onto the world of Buddhism in Malaya, now
Malaysia. Theravada Buddhism had existed in Malaya for
centuries among the Thai ethnic community that lived along
the Peninsula’s northern border with Thailand. A vigorous
community, the Thai bhikkhu sangha had a benevolent
influence on the other races especially the Chinese in the
northern states.
19

However, because of language and cultural differences, few


Chinese ordained into the Thai bhikkhu sangha. Theravada
Buddhism only began to have a significant impact on the
Malayan Chinese community early in this century as a result of
a combination of causes.

The first Theradvada society in Malaysia was the Sasana


Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society which was registered at the end
of the 19th century. In December 1951, the then 32 year old
bhikkhu, Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda, stepped onto the
shores of Malaya. He established many programmes for the
propagation of Buddhism. (In the course of time and as will all
beings, he passed away in 2007). Early dhammaduta work was
also initiated by such persons as the Venerable Sumangalo,
born as Robert Clifton in America who in 1957 set up many
youth groups and centres in Malaya. In Penang, the Burmese
temple and some of the Thai temples had a significant effect on
the Chinese population. However, not many Malayan Chinese
monks pursue the path of meditative practice, but one of the
earliest monks is the Venerable Sujivo. Others include the
Venerable Suvanno who ordained late in life after retiring from
his job as a hospital assistant.

The Venerable Suvanno is a charismatic speaker, fluent in


English as well as the Hokkien dialect, widely used in Northern
Malaya. His lectures would draw large crowds and he is equally
at ease speaking on the deeper suttas to the intellectuals or the
basic tenets to those new to the teachings. He established the
Buddhist Hermitage in the northern Malayan village of Lunas,
one of the first monasteries to be set up by a Malayan bhikkhu.
20

JV continues: In compiling this biography of the Venerable


Suvanno Mahathera, authenticity and originality have been our
main criteria. This story is not about a saint, rather it is about a
very ordinary person inspired by the truth in the Blessed One’s
teachings, who late in life, passing through many crossroads
and long, lonely journeys, with great courage and
determination, practised the Blessed One’s Teachings,
mindfully aware of the shame of doing evil and unwholesome
deeds and the deep fear of the results of evil and unwholesome
deeds.

The wisdom gained in his many years of practising the


Dhamma in all its aspects has demonstrated to him that this is
the True Path to the ending of suffering and rebirth in this
samsaric cycle of existence. This has been his lonely path. Not
all his actions have been lauded; many obstacles were in the way
of the Path that he took; sometimes he had lost his way here
and there, but faith and the correct view has guided him back
on track to the way expounded by the Blessed One.

It is our sincere wish that the discerning readers in their


evaluation of this biography will glean from it what is of value
to them and gloss over the many errors for which we the
compilers extend our deep and sincere apologies; for though we
are extremely happy to have been honoured with this task of
recording the life of this truly holy monk for posterity, we are
also aware of the onerous duty of presenting a true and
readable account. Words alone cannot adequately describe the
natural wholesome aura around Bhante Suvanno and his
actions. Thus, we beg the readers’ indulgence and hope that
they too, will share with us the Bhante’s view:
21

BHANTE: The struggle to attain enlightenment is the most


glorious achievement once, one has left home, leaving all the
good relatives behind. It should be with the expressed
purpose of cutting away greed, hatred and delusion. One will
be wasting time if one were to enjoy visiting this temple, that
temple. One will surely miss the boat.

As for me, I renounced at sixty and it was my single minded


goal that I attain that supra-mundane consciousness which is
what the Blessed One advises us to do. That is what I did; to
renounce the world to do what I can for myself. If you have the
desire to improve yourself morally, I hope that you take the
opportunity to listen to my lectures and thereby gain some
benefits from my experiences. In my own case, I have no
regrets; I see a lot of progress even as I have suffered much. As I
look back to all the passing years, I can smile because I have
progressed. I have achieved what I set out to do.

JV: If reading this example of a dedicated holy life have brought


you, the reader nearer to experiencing the Truth, we have
achieved our objective. In that we are thankful and we share the
merits that we have gained in this with all the readers and
contributors to this work.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!


jinavamsa
July 2010
Selesa Hillhomes
Bukit Tinggi
28750 Bentong, Pahang
jinavamsa1938@yahoo.com
22

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddha
Sambuddhassa
buddhassa

CHAPTER l
THE EARLY YEARS

Reflecting deeply upon the fact


that the entire existence,
being conditioned,
is bound up with impermanence;
sabbe sankhara aniccati.
A. Suvanno
23

OUR STORY BEGINS in this little meditation hut, where


jinavamsa then spending time in solitary retreat, heard and
wrote the details of this Biography as he hears them from
Bhante Suvanno.

The kuti of jinavamsa

JV begins (as related by Bhante Suvanno): An infant is


unsteadily crawling and dragging itself along the edge of a large,
smelly monsoon drain that had been crudely dug out to release
flood waters that would otherwise accumulate during a heavy
rainfall.

At this moment, being a scourging dry period, the drain is


empty but deep. One can easily fall into it and break a leg or
neck if one is not careful, especially on pitch dark nights.
24

However, the baby was safe from being drowned at this


moment but a fall would
end its very short
presence on this earth. It
was scrawny and
emaciated, about four
months old. As it picked
up some substance from
the floor, it clumsily
stuffed the scrap into its mouth. The substance could not have
been palatable or the infant could have been sick; as soon it
threw up. Along with the vomit, long wriggly things could be
seen spewing out. On closer inspection those wriggly things
were worms.

Long strings of thick, greenish mucus could be seen dangling


from its nostrils; signs of lung infection, cough or cold. The
infant was swaddled in oversized old cotton singlets used by
coolies hauling bags of rice and sugar along the river banks.
They were dirty and torn, unwashed for many days. The baby’s
faeces were sticking in patches on the swaddling cloth. The
dogs too were scrambling around the baby, competing with it in
scavenging for scraps of food, with the baby losing out in the
scramble!

The cats were better off, obviously some preferred cats to dogs
and babies, as food had been left for them in a dish on top of a
long wooden bench, over which they were now fighting. The
dogs came around, sniffed at the baby’s vomit disdainfully and
moved off in search of better fare. The noise of the dogs and
cats fighting over the scraps and the infant’s vomiting and
wailing irritated an old, dried-up looking woman.
25

She broke away from the mahjong game she was involved in
with three others around a square table, came over, screamed:
“Ai-yah” and cuffed the infant on the head. Then she picked up
a piece of dirty rag from the floor and wiped off the infant’s
vomit. Next she took the screaming and struggling infant and
dumped it at another corner of the gambling den and went
back to her seat to continue her gambling, grumbling all the
time. The baby screamed and crawled around, scavenging for
food, picking up whatever scraps it could get off the unwashed
floor! Tears, dirty scraps and mucus all went into its hungry
mouth.

Who could have imagined that this was the beginning of life of
the person that would be the Bhante Suvanno, much loved and
respected abbot of the Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas; an icon of
the true teachings of the Blessed One, who has brought the
knowledge of the Blessed One’s Teachings to many worldly
beings who would otherwise be ignorant of the Dhamma.

JV continues: The Venerable Suvanno Mahathera was born,


Khoo Eng Kim, in the year 1920 in the month of June; and by
Chinese reckoning on the 15th day of the 5th month, son of a
migrant father married to a local girl. His grandfather and
father were migrants of Fukkien ancestry from China. They
came to Malaya at the turn of the 20th century for a new start in
life, in the rich rubber, tin and gold-producing country known
as Malaya.

They made their way from Penang to Nibong Tebal and arrived
at a place known as Lubok Buntar, a town of a few hundred
families, where they decided to stay.
26

Numerous immigrants from China came over at that time.


They came and were engaged in different forms of livelihood.
Some learnt to tap for latex, working in the rubber estates that
served as collection centres, processing the rubber sheets that
would eventually be sold to the big British companies for
export overseas. Some set up their own small holdings to
cultivate rubber planting; others offered different forms of
services to serve the rubber and other industries that were then
fast developing in Malaya; all were making their livelihood from
the rubber plantations in the surrounding areas.

It was at this time and place that


Khoo Eng Kim was born. Less than a
month old (the Hokkien calls it muar
guet, full moon) his natural mother
left his father. She had been very
much abused and with the baby born,
she wanted to be free from further
abuses. The child was born into a
family where wife abuse prevailed.
Prior to the child’s birth, the mother
had been constantly abused by the
husband, who appeared to be unable to cope with the
uprooting of his life from the farms of Fukkien Province to the
rubber plantations of the new land the father had brought
them to. [Eng Kim’s old house where he drew up as a boy, pic]

She left with what meagre belongings she could take away
without attracting attention. Quietly, afraid to look back lest
she should lose courage to do what she wanted to and wiping
away the tears from her weary eyes, the poor abused young
mother left the house as quickly as she could.
27

The future Venerable Bhante Suvanno’s Dhamma lectures put


much emphasis on good family life and the virtuous quality
that husbands and wives should maintain in their relationship.
He himself believed that husbands and wives shared a very
special bond; that their being together was not accidental and
that each should appreciate this unique opportunity in this
present life to devote to each other’s spiritual development.

JV: During Dhamma lectures, Bhante Suvanno would often


elaborate on The Blessed One’s classification of the four types
of homes:

1. Home where a male ghost lives with a female ghost.


2. Home where a male ghost lives with a goddess
3. Home where a god lives with a female ghost
4. Home where a god lives with a goddess.

The first home is where both the husband and wife break the
Five Precepts, often quarrel, lose tempers often and use harsh
and acrimonious words to each other. They are both wicked
and narrow-minded, not understanding each other’s problems,
whims and fancies and they do not forgive and forget each
other’s mistakes.

The second home is where the husband has all the vices
mentioned but the wife refrains from them. She is tolerant,
patient, kind and understanding, wise, broad-minded and
observes the Five Precepts. She loves her husband and children,
forgiving and forgetting their shortcomings.

The third home is where the husband does all the good deeds
mentioned while his wife has all the vices.
28

A home where both partners do all the good deeds belong to


the fourth category; the ideal home. It is where members live
according to correct principles such that it generates an
atmosphere of happiness, love, peace and harmony.

Sweet is Life in using Dear Pleasant Words One to Another


He further illustrates the idealistic quality of a pure virtuous
husband-and-wife relationship by the following story:

JV: The Blessed One had


taught that husband and wife
should live as god and goddess
in every land where His
Dhamma shines. Home is
heaven on earth.

Pure, like lilies, in ecstatic


unity lived Nakula-pita and
his wife, Nakula-mata. One morning when The Blessed One visited
their home, they received Him with full reverence, spread Him a royal
seat and sat at His feet.

Said the father of Nakula, “Lord, ever since a mere lad, I brought the
mother of Nakula home to me as a bride, she who was so tenderly
young. I transgressed not against her in thought, much less in person.
Lord, we love to see each other in this life. We love to live together in
the next life, too, eyeing each other with love”. Nakula-mata, too made
the same assertion to the The Blessed One. And the Lord said to them:

“They that are matched in faith, in virtue, in wisdom, they always


behold each other in this life, and in the next life, too”.
29

On that occasion, the Lord further said: “If both, full of faith and
charity, lived according to the Dhamma, self-controlled and using dear
pleasant words one unto another, many are the blessings that come to
them. The same sweet virtue unites them and dejected, their enemies
become”.

“Thus, living the righteous life in this world, both in virtue matched, in
the heavenly would they rejoice, having won the bliss they desired”.
Tender, too, is the tale of their old age. Nakula-pita was very old and
gravely ill. He was nearing death and become sorrowful for his children
and Nakula-mata, the holy wife standing by the bedside, consoling him
saying:

“Be not anxious, my lord. Be not unhappy, my lord. Lust not for
anything. Death with lust is not praised by The Blessed One.
Therefore, be peaceful, lord”.

“Think not, dear lord, that I will not be able to feed the children when
you are gone. Think not so, dear husband, for I am deft at spinning
cotton and at carding the matted wool”.

“Be comforted, dear husband! Even when you are gone I will earn my
living and feed the children, too. Be comforted, dear husband! When
you are gone I shall not seek other men. Wherever we are, lord, we will
forever be united in mind”.

“Lord, you know how we, ever since we met the Blessed One, have
lived the holy life even in this very house”.

“Husband dear! You know that we live the holy life for full sixteen
years”.
30

“Or, husband dear, you may think thus: ‘The dear lady, when I am
gone, will have no love to see The Blessed One, no desire to minister to
the Saintly Brethren’”.

“Think not so, husband dear! Be comforted! Even when you are gone, I
shall love to see The Blessed One, I shall love to minister to the Holy
Brethren”.

“Or, husband dear, you may think: ‘The dear lady, when I am gone,
will not grow in sanctity’”.

“But think not so, husband dear! Be comforted! For, as long as The
Blessed One will have white-robed women lay disciples who are sacredly
virtuous, I too will be one of them”.

“Husband dear! Be full of peace. If any shall doubt the truths I


confided to thee, let him go to the very The Blessed One, The Lord, The
Awakened One. He is now residing at Bhagga”.

When he had heard these words, Nakula-pita became whole and rising
from his sick-bed, he hastened to Lord, the Blessed One, leaning on a
staff. And after saluting The Blessed One, he sat down on one side and
confided to Him marvelous things that Nakula-mata had said.

And the Blessed One said to Nakula-pita: “It has been to your gain, O
householder; it has been to your great gain, O householder, that you
possess Nakula-mata, so full of compassion, so full of love and desiring
your weal, as a counselor, as a teacher”. When he had heard these
words Nakula-pita became very happy and after paying The Blessed
One homage, returned home full of health and peace.
31

JV continues: Forty years later, Khoo Eng Kim was contacted


by a person who claimed to be his half brother! He had come
all the way from Singapore, specifically looking for him, at the
only address known to his runaway mother.

Unfortunately, Eng Kim was not able to meet him due to work
commitment at the hospital where he was then working as a
hospital assistant. Due to their experience and down-to-earth
relationship with patients, they were much loved and respected.
They were in reality more sought after than doctors. He had to
forgo meeting his half brother; however, before leaving, the
disappointed half brother left an address where his mother was
then residing.

Eng Kim was unable to do anything to make an attempt to see


his mother. However, during the whole year that he was busy
attending to his duties, he spent time happily planning to visit
his mother at the address given. In preparation he bought a
new car, a few gifts and saved a large sum of money. It was in
his mind as a good filial son to honour his mother the way the
Blessed One taught.

When he was ready, Eng Kim took leave and drove to


Singapore in his new car to seek out the address left behind by
the half brother.

He had great expectation and happiness, for this was the first
time that he will be seeing his own mother whom he had
missed all the while, pined for, and dreamed of in his lonely
days. In his thoughts, he had always wondered how his mother
looked like and the eagerness was there to see the actual person
in flesh.
32

He wanted to ask her forgiveness that he had not been able to


see her and care for her, and now that he was in good financial
situation he wanted her to be proud of him.

Sadly, time had taken its toll as the people living at that address
had moved away with no forwarding address. It was a terrible
blow to his dreams and hopes. Tears of disappointment and
frustration welled up in his heart. So close and yet unreachable!

KHOO ENG KIM: Have I really done so many unwholesome


deeds in my past existences that I am not able to see the only
person in my life that I truly want to know and love? When will
my kammic debt be finally accounted for?

JV: Deeply saddened and disappointed, he wept and lamented.


In his disappointment, Eng Kim did not wish to pursue the
matter further even though some well-meaning friends
suggested that he advertised to seek his mother as they are
reasonably sure that she was in Singapore. The journey home
was a long, lonely journey!

After the mother left, Eng Kim’s fortune deteriorated. The


father never cared for the infant’s well-being. It was left to the
grandfather to take care of the boy.

When it was discovered that the mother was missing, he and


auntie next door searched all over the little town to find her
whereabouts. They checked with the immediate neighbours,
enquired at the market place, went to the river side, searched
along the streets, all to no avail. They could only conclude that
she had probably run away.
33

The auntie later confirmed the boy’s mother had constantly


complained about her husband’s bad treatment of her. The
grandfather too remembered that she had recently mentioned
about being contented that she had given him a male child to
take care of him in his old age. That was her duty as a daughter-
in-law.

After several days had lapsed, they finally accepted the fact that
she had run away. Help had to be sought for the care of the
little motherless Eng Kim. The grandfather turned to a woman
whom he knew well. This woman ran a gambling house to
which he had often frequented. He knew she also had a little
grandson to look after. It would be good if she could at the
same time care for little Eng Kim. After all she would have the
experience and probably be less expensive.

Eng Kim’s grandfather was a thrifty man. He counted every


penny. Used to living a hard life in their native homeland, the
migrants were usually thrifty to the extent of being miserly.
That also accounted for their ability to save their wealth. Thus,
the first generation new-comers were well-known to spend very
little of their hard-earned wealth.

So it was arranged that the woman should look after the


month-old infant. She was paid a certain sum of money as well
as a tin of condensed milk every alternate day. In the year 1920,
powdered milk was not available as yet. Only a popular brand
condensed milk served as a diet for babies that were not breast
fed. Most babies were breast fed at that time. It was probably
more convenient, as no baby food was available, unlike what we
can get from hyper-markets today.
34

The only sources of baby food were mother’s milk, porridge,


soft rice and condensed milk. In Eng Kim’s situation,
condensed milk appeared to be ideal. The gambling auntie
would definitely not have time to make elaborate meals for the
infant! The worst of it is that Eng Kim had to share his tin of
condensed milk with the other baby in the house!

Of course the other baby had the lion share and poor Eng Kim
had to do with a pale white liquid as his staple diet! The effect
of such malnutrition was so bad that in his adult years, Bhante
Suvanno was reluctant to consume any liquid that is white in
colour!

At bed time, baby Eng Kim, neglected by the minder, would


crawl to any corner of the gambling den and fall asleep. When
he had whooping cough, it was left to cure by itself. In most
cases the baby-minder would let nature take its course. The days
were miserable for baby Eng Kim. The nights were worse. There
was no mother’s warmth to keep away the chill of the night.
There was no warm milk to settle in for bed time, not even a
clean wash did the baby get. Unknowing to the baby it was a
daily battle to keep alive. Dirt and diseases were his constant
companions, and stray cats and dogs his only playmates. When
Bhante Suvanno feeds the monastery cats in Lunas there is
always a faraway look in his eyes. Reminiscing the companions
of his baby days?

JV continues: One can imagine the amount of food that the


infant Eng Kim would get after the other baby had his share. In
the course of time, due to constant hunger, the infant, now a
year old and learning to walk, picked up anything he can find
on the floor and would hungrily shove it into his mouth.
35

That included left-overs, food droppings on the floor and even


food thrown into the waste containers, as he fought with the
cat for scraps.

These filthy living conditions led, naturally to the infestation of


worms. He coughed up worms; worms were pulled out from his
nostrils, he even threw up worms and passed out all sorts of
worms. He had an extended belly infested with worms. Worms
and parasites made his body their home! Eventually a kind-
hearted person de-wormed the one-year old little boy.
Hundreds of disgusting worms were dispelled from the under-
nourished baby.

Worms were not the only problem. On occasions, his


grandfather would come by in the evenings to bring Eng Kim
some biscuits and check on his progress. One such evening,
while extending a biscuit to the crawling baby, he noticed that
the baby was groping about and was not able to see the biscuit
and so discovered that the little baby had night blindness!

The father never showed up to enquire about Eng Kim. Old


grandfather was the only living being showing some concern for
his welfare. Grandfather however was too busy in his business
to really care much. It was more like a duty to ensure that the
family name had a chance to survive! Throughout Eng Kim’s
young life, the grandfatherly concern for him was the only kind
thing he experienced.

We are aware that most criminals, child abusers, drug addicts,


all undesirable human dregs have their beginnings under the
conditions and environment Eng Kim was born into.
36

With such a background it would hardly be surprising for him


to have taken to a life of crime and thus come to a sad end.
Against all these odds, he became the Venerable Suvanno
Mahathera!

The sufferings and hardships of his juvenile years have instilled


in him the paramount aspiration to bring the Dhamma to all
beings. He is comparable to the lotus that rose above the rest in
the lotus pond. Strong yet pliant, a monk of beautiful
discipline! Through the many difficult times, his deep reverence
for the Blessed One, the Dhamma and the Sangha had been his
strength and light. He has never wavered from the correct path,
the path of the elders, the Theravada way.

Through two tumultuous years, often beset with illness,


abandoned and ridden with worms and uncared for, Eng Kim
was then brought home to stay with his father. His troubles
became magnified!

Grandfather remarried, and the woman he married had a


grown-up daughter from a previous marriage. This daughter
eventually became Eng Kim’s stepmother. During meal times,
grandfather ate first and only after he had had his full was Eng
Kim allowed the leftovers. Grandfather left the running of the
house to grandmother. Eng Kim had to be constantly on his
best behaviour. Should he talk loudly he would be rewarded
with a rude shout and a slap on the mouth. When he talked
softly he would get a scolding and another slap. The father
often thrashed him at the slightest excuse. In his father’s house,
he was under constant threat of abuse. In those days coal was
used as an essential fuel for cooking and it usually came packed
in jute bags large enough to put a little boy in.
37

The bags are often used and re-used and were dirty and black.
At any instance when the elders were feeling wicked they would
threaten poor Eng Kim that they would “put him into the bag
and send him away by post”. The idea was very fearful and
grandmother knew he was fearful of the threat and they used it
quite a lot to scare the poor little thing! Whenever they
threatened him with the bag, he would imagine being tied up
in the blackness and bundled to know not where! He would
actually tremble with fear.

Grandmother too, did her share of “Eng Kim bashing”. Among


others, one particular instance that the now Bhante
remembered was the time when the grandmother, using the
fingers of both hands, pinched very hard on Eng Kim’s cheeks.
It was a long and painful pinch! Afterwards both cheeks were
swollen for days. The strain on the grandmother’s fingers too
were severely felt. She had used great pressure to execute the
pinch! As she could not use her fingers to continue the
punishment she bent both arms and using the back of the palm
without harming the fingers bashed Eng Kim on the head
repeatedly, at the same time complaining and blaming him for
inflicting pain on her fingers! Poor Eng Kim of course was
again punished by the father for hurting poor grandma!

That particular day, he ended up with bruised and swollen


cheeks, a thrashed buttock and of course a headache! On top of
that he crawled to his sleeping corner with no food. At best,
almost everyone, probably with the exception of grandfather,
considered Eng Kim an unwanted person: a baggage to be
tolerated and made use of when the occasion demands which
were many and often. He was not treated as a little growing
human person.
38

At that early age, Eng Kim saw the wretchedness of existence;


there was no one that he could run to and cry his heart out, to
share the pain of his physical and mental anguish. There was
no one to salve the bodily and mental wounds heaped on him
in regular doses. Mother’s love and care were never his solace.
He asked himself countless times: “Why me?”

As an impressionable growing young boy negative values were


the only standards set for him. Young people learn from the
elders’ examples. The young Eng Kim never learned his elders’
ways!

Bhante Suvanno confided that after understanding the


workings of kamma, he never felt any grudge against anybody.
He understood clearly that the people who acted
unwholesomely towards him were the agents of his kamma
vipaka. Hence he reasoned that his sufferings were due to that
and thus nobody but he was the cause of his sufferings! At one
stage of his life, while stumbling over a small obstacle, he
sustained a broken bone which had to be replaced. He mildly
stated that in his past existence he could have been a horse or
an animal of some sort and could have kicked and broken
someone’s leg.
39

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Samb
ambuddhassa
uddhassa

CHAPTER 2
FORMATIVE YEARS

“It is certain that


the sun will rise,
when the darkness
of night fades away.
So too the words
of The Blessed
One are
are always
certain and
reliable.”

BHANTE: So it was that every day one or another of my elders


and even younger step siblings would be abusing, bullying or
caning me, so much so that I realised life was suffering. Even
with being very careful I was still thrashed everyday. Everyone
was just making one excuse or another to see that I was the one
needing to be punished.

One day I was in school the whole day and I escaped thrashing.
When I came home I ran upstairs to the tiny, unused room that
was my sleeping place and I prayed to Tien Kong. “Aiyah, Tien
Kong ah, everyday I am thrashed. Please, lah… make me a good
man so that I will not undergo all this thrashing lah”.
40

While all these tortures were going on it was also expected that
I should get first, second or third position in the school where I
was studying, the Anglo-Chinese School, Nibong Tebal. Why
did they want it? It was because books would be given free by
the school based on the students’ performance. So it was
necessary that I had to struggle very hard to achieve good
results.

BHANTE continues: One day after food and after all my


chores were done, I went up as usual to my room to keep away
from the elders and be by myself. There I discovered the paint
from the wall was peeling off. Somehow I was attracted to it. I
peeled off a flake and tasted it! It was so good that I ate it! I
became very thirsty. From then onwards after every meal I
would go upstairs, tear a flake of the lime wall and eat it. On
hindsight I believe my body was lacking in calcium and thus I
was attracted to eat this substance that had it. This went on for
months after which I had a disgust for this lime, probably
because I had sufficient calcium in my body. So I stopped
eating the little pieces of the wall of my room!

At this time of my schooling, strict rules were specially made for


me by my grandmother. During every school holiday, usually in
December, she would say to me, “get a piece of paper” and then
she would dictate a long schedule of work that I alone would
have to accomplish:

At seven o’clock in the morning I must sweep the house, seven-


thirty I must scrub the courtyard and then on I had to separate
the rubber sheets and dry them in the sun. There were usually
fifty to sixty sheets a day.
41

My grandfather was making money from his rubber business. I


was the one doing all the work, scrubbing, cleaning and all sorts
of things daily. This schedule would end only after all my
chores in her list were done, usually around ten or eleven at
night. She saw to it that it was a very tight schedule so that
there was no time for me to get out and mix with other
children of my age.

In between the work of the schedule there were errands to run.


It was always “where is Eng Kim” and I would always have to be
available. If I was not, there would be thrashing. This went on
until I was in standard four.

The next year in 1932, I had to go to the Bukit Mertajam (BM)


High School as the previous school did not cater for standard
five. In the examinations we achieved very good results. Thirty
of us went and eleven of us had double promotion. I happened
to be the second boy! I was very pleased with myself.

After the fleeting happiness that my scholastic achievements


brought me, I felt empty and aimless. I did not feel a sense of
belonging. Seeing others with caring parents made me realise
that I lacked and missed parental love especially mother’s. How
does it feel to have parents’ love?

My father couldn’t care less about happened to me. He never


gave me a cent. He was always keeping watch to see that I was
doing my work. Although he did not know a word of English,
he used to make me learn my lessons by heart and he would
compare word for word. The slightest mistake would be
sufficient excuse for thrashing me.
42

My grandfather was the only person who ever gave me pocket


money. In a way I was his “pet”. However, he was a very thrifty
person, so he only gave me sufficient money to buy a plate of
rice and a cup of iced water. He was always busy and had not
much time for me. He was the only person that did not lay a
finger on me. But should he shout I would be very afraid. I had
never asked for money from any of my relatives.

My grandfather became quite rich. He had three pieces of good


rubber estates and he was making money. My father ran a small
shop down there and of course he did not make much money
as my grandfather controlled everything.

Habitually, during school days, I studied from seven to nine in


the evening, After nine in the evening, I was allowed to go out
for half an hour or so. I used to walk across the road where
there was a gospel hall. In that gospel hall the pastor used to
preach in Teochew (a local Chinese dialect). This was in
Nibong Tebal and I enjoyed listening to this sort of thing.

This pastor always arrived in a car which had horns like


trumpet. When pressed it went beee borrr beee borrr beee
borrr. Such cars being very few, it was natural that curious
children would try and press the trumpet like horn; beee borrr,
beee borrr.

In one particular instance, as I was listening to the pastor


explaining the Christian religion, the pastor’s daughter came
out to find out the cause of the din. Of course all the children
ran away. On seeing me alone, though away from the car, she
started to shout at me. I told her politely that it was not I that
had pressed on the horn. She shouted, “I saw you doing it”.
43

At that moment my father passed by. On hearing the pastor’s


daughter shouting at me and without asking for an explanation,
he dragged me by my collar straight to the house, opened the
door and called “ Everyone come and see. This is the way I
teach my children”. He thrashed me until I was bleeding from
my buttocks. He thrashed me again and again until the feather
duster broke into two. For days I was unable to sit without the
pants sticking to the wounds on my buttocks. I dared not
complain or ask for medication. It was extreme suffering. The
indignation and humiliation I felt at the injustice was so
overwhelming that the tears could not come. I took the
punishment but the hurt lasted for some time.

I was at this time in Junior Cambridge. For the first time I saw
clearly that not only was I tortured in this house but also that I
had no freedom to talk. I had said it was not that I had done
the mischief and that I was listening. My father did not believe
me but dragged me home and thrashed me in front of the
neighbours and everyone on the street. Since that day I was very
cool towards my father. When he passed away at age fifty-seven,
I did everything for him but there were no tears.

JV: Not only was he thrashed by his father, the grandmother


too was a mean and fierce woman and used to threaten him
right before a meal. “Just you wait. After this meal you will get
the hiding of your life”. This was no idle threat. She would
actually cane him after the meal without a reason! Eng Kim
remembered that with the threat hanging over his head, he
would definitely have lost his appetite and become so nervous
that at times he peed in his pants, agonising over the beating he
would get after the meal!
44

Grandmother was a very avaricious person and to make extra


money would prepare fruits and cakes for sale. Eng Kim would
be conscripted to hawk these fruits and cakes. Every cent would
be brought home to grandmother. Eng Kim would take the
fruits and cakes to school and sell these to the other students.

Young Eng Kim had to endure a very heavy work schedule


without any appreciation or reward. School work too had to be
done in order to get good results to qualify for free books! The
threat of abuses was always hanging over him. There was no
knowing when a smack would suddenly land on him!

Additional to these chores, he had added work to look after a


nine and three quarter pound new-born baby!

His step grandmother arranged for Eng Kim’s father to take her
own daughter to be his wife, thus ensuring that whatever wealth
there was in the family remained within her control! The
marriage produced three children, thus Eng Kim had three step
brother and sisters. It was also Eng Kim’s chores to mind the
baby in his spare time!

As a scrawny, nervous little boy suffering from inadequate


nutrition, he had to do the house chores, mind a great big baby
and meantime trying to do his school work! When the step
siblings saw the mean measures meted out to Eng Kim, they too
did the same to him, following the examples set by the elders.

There was not a single day that he had the luxury of not
suffering any form of abuses. Everyday was to awake to a day of
fear and uncertainty. He was weary of mind and body, weary of
life itself.
45

JV continues: Life went on suffering from day to day. Wearing


apparel was also an item of suffering. At age seven and eight,
the only daily wear was the school uniform, tattered and worn.
It was to his credit that at any time he went from the house, he
would dress as smartly as he could with whatever clothes that
he could find. He recounted that most times he had to pick
clothes from the leftovers and unwanted clothing left heaped
up in a corner at the back of the house. Most times, all he
could find were large old pants that were worn and thrown
away by his father. He remembered that he could easily get into
a single leg of a pair of trousers from his father.

A lady from next door took pity on him and suggested that
should he need to do anything outside of the house, to inform
her so that she could run the errands for him! This freed him
of the need to wear his father’s leftover clothes.

At this time, whenever he had the opportunity, he would read


any Buddhist literature he could find. This was the only form
of consolation to his abuse-fatigued mind. He started to take his
precepts at this young age!

He was deliberately kept so poverty-stricken so that he could


not buy any extra books needed. He used to walk to a friend’s
house nearly four kilometers aways to borrow books to study.
He used to earn a few cents on the quiet by selling kerosene
tins of dried rubber seed shells which he picked up on his own.
These were popular as fuel in the kitchen. With the money he
used to buy broken pieces of cakes from the factory nearby, for
his own snacks.
46

When he reached home after walking from school, there would


be sufficient food left for him but there would be many dirty
plates and cooking utensils for him to clean up! There would be
rarely any sort of fruits left for him. Should he be lucky there
would be probably be one or two pieces of mango left on a
plate for him, not so much to treat him but ensure that he
washed the dishes!

He had only one pair of shoes at any one time. When they were
wet, he used to dry them over a fire of burnt old exercise books.

During a rare leisure moment while playing leap frog, he had


the misfortune to fall which caused a greenstick fracture in one
of his arms. Knowing that he would be thrashed if he were to
inform his father the reason for the fall, he bore the pain and
compressed the fracture back into position. The whole night
was a torture of pain till the next morning, where at school he
has the fracture properly attended to and came home to say
that he had a fall while at school.

In spite of all these hardship, he did very well in his scholastic


work. All his suffering taught him to be dependent only on
himself. In times of extreme suffering he frequently reminded
himself that the Blessed One said: ‘take refuge only in yourself’.
During examination times, he would study till early of the next
morning and would be up before day-break.

He failed his Junior Cambridge once. This of course brought


along with it a thrashing from father. All these accumulated
sufferings and emotional pain drove him to consider suicide.
47

On one such occasion, after deep reflection, he decided against


it and was on the brink of running away from home. He had
his belongings packed in readiness. However this too did not
happen. As he later said, he did not have the courage to follow
his desires to die or to run away.

He took his Junior Cambridge a second time and passed with


good results. Later he too did very well in his Senior Cambridge
Examination. Bhante has a special interest in the welfare of
young people originating presumably from the intense painful
experience in a family environment of abusive elders, parents
and siblings. Knowing that such hardships do happen, he
viewed young people and their families with compassion and
loving-kindness.

His usual question of enquiry on meeting a young person was,


“Who is the person you love most in your life?” He would like
the answer to be ‘Mother’. In the Blessed One’s Teachings,
Mother is the most loving and caring person; there is no other
love greater than a mother’s love especially in looking after her
sick child. She will make many sacrifices for her child to get
well. A mother’s love have no condition. This was the view held
by Bhante Suvanno throughout his life as a monk.

In their turn children should love and look after their parents
when they are unable to fend for themselves. Children should
thank their parents for the love and care the parents have
lavished on them.

On an occasion when he was in a devotee’s house he gave a


piece of chocolate to the thirteen-year-old boy. The young boy
very politely thanked Bhante. He then asked the boy:
48

BHANTE: Tell me, son, how long have your father and
mother looked after you, fed you, cared for you and seen to it
that you are always well?

PUZZLED BOY: Since I was born.

BHANTE: Is that not a very long time for them to do so? Tell
me, son, do you say “Thank you” to them every morning for all
those daily care, just as you have said to me when I gave you a
little bar of chocolate?

JV continues: At a party when he was five, he was given a gift.


Poor and with an uncaring father, he never had the luxury of
receiving any gifts at all. Therefore he really wanted to keep this
one. However, he realised that in reaching home, step-mother
would surely take it away from him. He understood well that
possessing or feeling attached to a gift would not bring him any
permanent happiness but suffering. Thus at a young age, he
realised that sensual pleasures were only temporary and gave
rise to attachment which caused suffering.

Thus, his realisation of the Dhamma began at this young age


where he contemplated on the implications of possession of a
simple gift. Any child at this age would probably grab the gift
and run away to play with it. The great degree of suffering that
had been inflicted on the young Eng Kim had conditioned him
to reflect constantly on the sort of punishment that would be
meted out to him if he were to enjoy just a few moments of
possession! Eng Kim had never experience the security and joy
of a closed family, a father’s and mother’s love and care which
is so important to a growing young person.
49

His total life experiences told him that everything around him
was a huge mass of suffering, mentally and physically. Every
experience in his young life had been so conditioned. The
realisation of the First Noble Truth, dukkha (unsatisfactory
condition or suffering) in existence had been forcibly drummed
into him at this early age.

It was in his teens that he developed tuberculosis, a disease of


the lungs. However he was not aware that he had this, then
dreaded disease. It was many years later as a hospital assistance
that he understood that the night sweating that he had
experienced for many months, when he was a teenager were
symptoms of the disease.

The squalor that he lived in, the poor hygiene, staying in a


small poorly ventilated room meant for storing, suffering from
malnutrition for many years, ultimately brought on this
dreaded disease.

He discovered that he had heavy sweating during the night


accompanied by a dry hacking cough. He could actually wring
the sweat from his sleeping wear. He had had this for quite
some time. However, without medical care or medication, the
symptoms disappeared and he was well again.

It was not so fortunate for the baby that “shared” little Eng
Kim’s milk. At a comparatively early age, he passed away due to
tuberculosis!

Dhamma was his constant guide. It was the light of his young
existence. At age twelve he took a further step into deeper
Dhamma. He said:
50

BHANTE: Earlier, when I was in Standard Four, my sixth year


of schooling, there was a Mr. Liew who had become a monk.
Unable to accept this, the wife had constantly wept and cried.
Eventually he had to leave monkhood. When he left
monkhood he came back to Nibong Tebal. He saw that I was
interested in Buddhism and volunteered to teach me. He
taught me pure Theravada Buddhism and the basics of samatha
meditation. I practised very diligently.

My teacher, however, practised so intensely that he became


mentally unbalanced. Probably he was not well trained. So
when I was in Standard Four I thought it over deeply. I did not
want to be practising the wrong type of meditation; I was very
cautious. It was quite timely for at this time I was to be
transferred to BM High School for my Standard Five. This was
the time when eleven of us gained double promotion to enter
the new school.

BHANTE continues: When the school examination was


finished and I was promoted, I became very active in my
Buddhist studies. I even wrote to Kandy, Sri Lanka, requesting
for Dhamma books. They sent me the books. This enhanced
my knowledge of Buddhism. Before this my knowledge and
understanding of Buddhism was very general. Now I became
especially attracted to the practice of Theravada Buddhism.

I joined the Penang Buddhist Association later and started to


compare other forms of Buddhism. I became very convinced of
the purity of the Blessed One’s Teachings as taught and
practised in the Theravada tradition.
51

I learnt to meditate when I was twelve years old. I became very


keen to go on with my practice. I practised in the evenings and
late at night I read my books by candlelight. The knowledge
gained from reading the Blessed One’s Teachings from the
books sent to me from Sri Lanka gave me so much faith and
understanding of my life that I had the urge to renounce
straight away. I was prepared to renounce the world after
reading the first book that was sent to me from Sri Lanka; I
recall the book was titled ‘Words of the Buddha’.

In that book, it started off with the Blessed One explaining that
it is through not understanding four things that we are reborn
again and again, repeatedly, until all the tears that we have shed
from our previous lives are greater than all the waters of the
oceans in the world.

As I read that, tears welled from my eyes. I saw the horror of my


existence. I began to understand why I was going through my
sufferings. I realised that the results of my actions in my
previous existences were the cause of my present situation. I
understood that I was suffering the effects of past causes. I held
no grudges against the instigators of my sufferings. They are
only the tools in my kamma. Since then I have been very
careful not to violate my precepts. In my teens I became very
well versed in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold
Path.

JV: Five years later, his enthusiasm for the Blessed One’s
teachings was even more so. With this continuing fervour for
the realisation of the Truth and influenced by the many
volumes of Dhamma that he had read, Eng Kim was very keen
to enter monkhood at the young age of nineteen years.
52

He approached the late Venerable K. Gunaratana, abbot of


Mahindarma Temple, to request for ordination. He was refused
as he was not able to produce an approval letter from his
parents. However, he was not about to give up so easily. He
even suggested that they sent him to Sri Lanka. This too was
refused! He was frustrated with not being able to renounce; he
could not understand why they needed a letter of approval
from his parents.

Today Bhante Suvanno himself requests that a young man


below the age of twenty must have a sincere and genuine
approval by parents and he tells why.

BHANTE: During the time of the Blessed One, there was a very rich
old couple and they had an only son. Together with them there were
twenty slaves in the house. One day, after returning from listening to a
discourse by the Blessed One, the son approached the parents and
requested permission to renounce the world and become a monk. The
father and mother said, ‘You are our only son, we have acquired a
huge fortune for you. Wait till you are in possession of the fortune.
Then you can enjoy yourself, do dana and then renounce and be a
monk’.

However, the boy was so desirous of practising the Dhamma, he


insisted that he must renounce. He lay himself down on the floor and
said, ‘I will die here until you give me permission’.

The parents requested the help of his friends to persuade the boy not to
renounce as yet. Try as they might, they were not able to change his
mind. So they advised the parents to acquiesce to his request. ‘Allow
him to go and when he becomes an arahant, he might come back’. So
the parents reluctantly gave their permission.
53

After renouncing and knowing from the Blessed One of a group of


monk going to a forest retreat one hundred and forty miles away, he
volunteered to be in that group. After five years he was not able to
progress in his development, not even after the tenth year was he able to
achieve anything at all. This was because the perfection was not pure
as he had left his parents against their will.

Back home, in the meantime, the twenty slaves robbed the old couple of
all their wealth, leaving them only the house to stay in. Unfortunately,
the old couple were afflicted with cataract and were nearly blind. Not
having a means to feed themselves, they had to resort to begging from
the doorway of their house. So the old couple who were once very rich
became nearly blind beggars, begging for food in front of their house.

One day, a newly-ordained monk from the same village as the old
couple, coincidentally arrived at the same forest retreat that the young
son came ten years ago. They met each other and following a
conversation, the young son, now grown up, was brought to tears to
hear that his aged parents had been robbed of all their wealth and not
only that but they were nearly blind and unable to support themselves,
thus having to beg in front of their house.

Realising that his anxiety to renounce against his parents’ wish had
brought in this ill fortune, he was determined to return to help as best
as he could. Quietly the same night, he walked the one hundred and
forty miles back to his home town.

On arriving at the junction where one lead to his home and the other
to the abode where the Blessed One was staying and after pondering a
while, his pious nature took over and he went first to pay his respects to
the Blessed One. After that he went straight to his parents’ home. On
arriving at the front door, he stood quietly and waited.
54

The parents were sitting outside. After a while the father, sensing and
dimly seeing a monk at the door, said to his wife, ‘My dear wife, there
is a monk standing at the front door. Please tell him that we have
nothing to give.’ So the mother being also partly blind, went up to the
monk and said, ‘Venerable sir, please go to some other house. We are
so very poor that we have nothing to give you’.

When he saw his mother walking to him, obviously blind, he was so


overwhelmed with compassion for his mother, he could not move. The
mother approached and told him the second time. Yet he was not able
to say or do anything. So deep was the remorse that came over him.

‘Have you spoken to him that we have nothing to give?’


‘Yes I have’.

The third time the mother went up to the monk and said, ‘Venerable
monk, we have nothing to give you, please forgive us’.

Still he stood and was unable to move or say anything! The father
began to suspect; walking slowly near to the monk, the father said:
‘Can it be that you are our son?’

Father and mother on approaching nearer, recognised that this was


indeed their son! The reunion was so tinged with happiness and sadness
that tears flowed freely. The three hugged one another.

‘Do not worry, my dear father and mother. I will go out and support
you with food’. And so he went out daily, begging for food. On
returning he would let his parents have the food and went out to beg
again for a second round which was usually too late. He therefore had
to go without food most of the time.
55

On a visit to a local temple, his fellow monks saw that he was losing
weight and reported the matter to the Blessed One. The Blessed One
then sent for him.

On receiving the message that the Blessed One had sent for him, he
was prepared to accept some sort of censure as he realised that begging
for food was for oneself and not for others.

On explaining his actions to the Blessed One, he was overwhelmed by


the Blessed One’s words: ‘Well done, my son, sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.
You have done what I myself did when I was a Bodhisatta’. On
hearing the Blessed One’s words, he immediately attained the stage of
sotapatti!

JV: All this while, Eng Kim’s spiritual development appeared


subconsciously to be heading towards the life of a ‘homeless
one’. Once, when he was about 14 years old, he was seen sleep-
walking towards the market-place, holding in his hands a big
soup bowl, as though he was on alms round. This happened
more than once, so much so that if he was found missing, the
family members would check out the bowl and finding that
missing too, would look for him in the market-place by the
riverside. Invariably he would be found dazed, holding onto the
bowl! He explained that probably in one of his previous lives he
must have been a monk.
56

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddhassa

CHAPTER 3
BETTER TIMES

JV: Bhante was passionate about family relationship and family


value was always topmost in
his Dhamma lectures. This is
definitely a direct result of
his need for real family
togetherness which was
totally lacking in his
childhood days. He had
always lamented on never
having an opportunity where mother and father were icons for
true family warmth and closeness.

BHANTE on Family Values: The Blessed One taught that


parents have the duty to educate their children, to bring them
up properly and to steer them away from wrong, to guide them
towards what is right. Children too have the duty to respect
their parents and to attend to their needs.

THE BLESSED ONE says: "There are two people in your


life that you can never repay; your mother and father. They
give birth to you, nourish you, bring you up, teach you and
educate you. You
You can never repay them even if you were to
carry them on your shoulder for the rest of their lives."
lives."
57

THE BLESSED ONE continued: "There is only one way to


repay your mother and father. If they do not have faith in
Dhamma, establish them in faith; if they do not observe the
precepts,
precepts, teach them the precepts; if they do not do dana,
dana,
teach them to be generous. If they are deluded and lack
wisdom, help them to develop their wisdom. This way you
can repay your parents."

JV: The set back of not being able to renounce at a young age
had not discouraged Eng Kim from his aspiration to be a
monk. However, his zeal took
a back seat for many years till
he retired from his working
life. In the meantime he
concentrated on bringing up
a family (pic).

Eng Kim’s working life was a


very busy one, running
between his job, family and
the propagation of the
Dhamma. Guiding all these
activities was his earnestness
in applying the Dhamma to
every situation in daily life.
By such daily practice of the
Dhamma, he found that it
was not difficult to walk
within the confines of the Path. Forming the habit was
important.
58

Having passed the Senior Cambridge Examinations, it was easy


for him to get a job in the local hospital. He worked as a
hospital assistant in the Kulim Hospital. At this phase of his life
he managed to lay the foundation for a host of good
relationships that gave him lavish support when he eventually
became a monk.

The sense of compassion realised through personal sufferings


became a guiding hand in his constantly helping his fellow
workers and patients who came into contact with him. When
the need was there, he would extend help even to allowing the
use of his personal car, as was the case during the time when
one of the hospital chauffeur’s wife was giving birth in another
town some distance away.

Sometimes out of town relations of patients undergoing


operations in the hospital could not afford the expenses to stay
in a hotel. Khoo Eng Kim often took the initiative to invite
them to stay in his own house which was the hospital staff
living quarters. Sometimes quite a number of strangers would
be staying in his house for quite a number of days after which
they of course bought presents of chicken and other food to
thank him. There were many such incidents where his kindness
was repaid in kind rather then in cash. It was his usual reaction
to take the live animals and release them. He felt self-conscious
releasing the live presents, thus he always passed them to
friends or colleagues to do so.

All and sundry had his ears when they needed any form of
help. He was very active and started many groups to investigate
and study the Buddha’s Dhamma.
59

This also gave him the opportunities to provide medical


assistance to those in need and who could not afford to pay for
them. At this stage he had gained acceptance as a Dhamma
speaker. He continued to practise and to teach Dhamma. It had
become a way of life. He was always keen to organise outings
where he would have the opportunity to share Dhamma. He
had a great passion for propagating the Dhamma.

With so much on his


hands he still found
time to be engaged in
union work to better the
lot of his fellow workers.
He was always forefront
in any negotiations with
the authorities for better
terms of employment or
settling grievances. Fellow workers and others who had
benefitted from these voluntary services became a great source
of support for him when he became a monk.

Eng Kim and his fiancée had just been engaged to be married
when war broke out. These were very bad times as the Japanese
soldiers committed many acts of cruelty and crimes against the
people during their occupation of the country. Males were
conscripted to work on roads and other communication
projects for the Japanese army. Many of them died due to
cruelty and deprivation. Women were also ‘conscripted’ for
sexual services for the Japanese soldiers. They were badly
treated. Tortures and beheadings by the Japanese military were
the order of the day.
60

Eng Kim was assigned as an ambulance driver when he applied


to join the British army. The Japanese invading forces were
powerful and ferocious. They practised wholesale killings and
slaughter. Their objective was to instill fear into the population.
Fear was everywhere. Families were dislocated. The British lost
ground and retreated into Singapore. Eng Kim, with thousands
of others, retreated with the British forces, leaving behind his
newly engaged fiancée.

The road to Singapore was strewn with broken down vehicles,


military as well as civilians. After a while of frantic driving, Eng
Kim’s ambulance too broke down.

Fortunately, he was able to hitch a ride and finally reached


Singapore where he rejoined the retreating British forces.
Singapore was in turmoil. There was not enough water to
drink. Food was hard to come by. Bombs were falling
everywhere, gun shots could be heard often.

Eventually Eng Kim and a few colleagues managed to locate an


empty house where they found some civilian clothing which
they exchanged for their military uniforms. Attired in civilian
clothing Eng Kim managed to find his way back to Kedah and
rejoined his fiancée.

In the midst of the war in April of 1942 they were married; he


was then 22 years of age. They held their wedding reception in
the residence of the District Officer, Tunku Abdul Rahman,
who was to become Malaysia’s first Prime Minister. The Tunku
also provided them with the use of his own car for the occasion.
61

At that time his wife-to-be was a teacher of embroidery, working


for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. She later took up her
own business and became a hairdresser in Kulim. Eng Kim was
a very happily married person and they had three daughters.

This period of his life was a totally new experience for him. He
had someone to care for, who in turn cared for him. It would
appear as if he had stepped out of the darkness into the light of
day. On top of that he was earning his own keep and so was his
wife. The children also brought new feelings and emotions. So
it was an ideal family that Eng Kim found himself now. And
the most rewarding was the fact that he could teach and
practise the Dhamma.

Comparing both situations of his life, he came to the


conclusion that both are unsatisfactory! When suffering one
had too many aversions and pain; when in good situation one
wants more thus greed and attachment arise. Both situations
lead to unwholesome mental formations. Here again the
conclusion is to practise equanimity of life as advocated by the
Blessed One.

Bhante Talks of his Marriage


BHANTE: It so happened that Janet had a brother who was
also a Hospital Assistant working in Alor Star and I was
working in Kulim. He was a very close friend and one day he
called, requesting that I passed something to his sister at their
house. I did that and of course being a well-bred girl, she
offered me a packet of chocolate. I can remember that it was
called “black magic” and as she had given me a gift of a drink, I
felt I should return her a gift.
62

It also happened that she had taken up an appointment to train


a Mrs. Sinnathuray in the art of embroidery. I was a good
friend of Dr. Sinnathuray who was preparing for his MRCP,
Specialist examination. He used to take me home to do his
training with him. He would repeat his notes aloud and I
would write them down for him in shorthand. I, too, learnt a
lot of medical practice this way. So, coincidentally, we both
were at the Sinnathurays’ house most of the time.

We became friends. I was attracted to her. She was the first


person in my life that showed concern and actually cared for
the well being of Khoo Eng Kim. When that happened I lost
my idea of renouncing for some time. We were married when I
was 22 years of age. When we started our family we were very
happy. We were a very independent family.

BHANTE: My grandfather had passed away at this time, aged


sixty-seven and had left all his property to grandmother. She
swept away everything for herself. Neither my father nor I ever
enjoyed any of my grandfather’s wealth. She later squandered
away everything. She became blind in later years and had to stay
with a female relative who took care of her. Unfortunately the
husband of the relative was not an honest person and the
couple had ulterior motives in caring for the poor woman. They
were out to relieve her of her last few precious belongings.

The husband was a temple medium; a person who was


supposedly able to communicate with the departed. By their
wiles and guiles, they managed to rob her of all her remaining
wealth and she died a poor woman.
63

So it was fortunate that I had never depended on them and had


managed to save up and bought some properties. One such
property was opposite the Kulim Rest House which I later sold
for a very good price when I was preparing to renounce. I was
also very fortunate in my investment in shares and eventually
all these were sold at good profits and together with my
monthly pension was sufficient for the support of my wife in
Canada.

JV continues: After some years at work he could afford to own


decent wearing apparel and with accumulated savings was able
to buy his own little car! He was a free man, looking after his
own family! He had a job that exposed him to many
opportunities to exercise his compassionate nature. During the
war, he was in charge of the wounded and he tended to them
with care and compassion. Mutilated and lifeless bodies were
frequently brought to the hospital. He found himself in the
centre of all the suffering that humankind wreaked on
themselves in their greed, anger and delusion.

He also had the opportunity to show kindness and compassion


to victims of the war, people who had lost their families,
orphans and the elderly displaced by the war. He went out of
his way to render assistance and ensure that the hungry got fed
and the sick and wounded were attended to. Children were
never neglected. Remembering his own upbringing he was
always kind to the little ones. It was painful for Eng Kim to see
that there were so much suffering and pain everywhere. It
reminded him very much of his own pain. The aversion for
sufferings took deep roots. He was aversed to seeing all these
sufferings. He was adamant to find a way out.
64

He was convinced that following the Blessed One’s Teachings


was the only way to the end of suffering, not only for himself
but for all beings that he came in contact with. The sense of
urgency became intense, climaxing in his renunciation.

On a more mundane note, Khoo Eng Kim was on the board of


governors of the Bukit Mertajam Convent School where his
three daughters were educated. The school, a Christian
missionary school, managed to convert his daughters to
Christianity. As a father, he was not against their becoming
Christians. He had one advice for them, “if you want to be a
Christian, be a good Christian.”

In 1956 he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, and thinking


that this may end his life soon, he decided to make a pilgrimage
to India. So in 1960, taking two months leave from his job at
the hospital and at age forty he took a boat to India. The
journey by sea took many days and during this journey he
witnessed death and burial at sea. In India he spent the entire
two months travelling to all the places that were significant in
the life of the Budhha. In the end the cancer did not end his
life. The pilgrimage had a profound impact and caused to
strengthen his already firm belief and knowledge of the Blessed
One, Dhamma and the Sangha. In no small way was this one of
the significant sign posts to the final renunciation twenty years
later.

Most of the early years, he had been keenly practising samatha


meditation. However, this was to change when he met up with
Luang Poh in 1967 and began learning Vipassana Meditation
guided by Luang Poh.
65

He showed great compassion to all animal life. In one instance,


on passing a hawker selling crabs, Bhante was so moved to see
the crabs all bundled up and ready to be sold that he bought all
the crabs and took them to the riverside, released their bundled
up bodies and let them loose into the river. Many were the
snakes that were caught by friends, bought from markets, found
around houses, etc., that he took the trouble to release into the
jungles, sometimes travelling long distances just to achieve that
purpose.

As a monk and whilst on retreat in one of the forests, often a


big rat gnawed at the edges of his mosquito netting so that the
fringes became large enough to let in mosquitoes. Bhante
Suvanno decided to trap the rat and eventually caught it.
Getting on his hands and knees and looking at the huge rat, he
said to the rat: “I’m just as poor as you are, please go to another
place to get your living.” After that he released the rat a short
distance away. The rat got out of the trap, ambled a short
distance away, looked back and then scurried away, never to
return!
66

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddha
Sambuddhassa
buddhassa

CHAPTER 4
THE RENUNCIATION

“After being married for thirty-


eight years,
I cannot find a better woman
than you
All good things in this world
never last.
It has always been this way.
When I die you will cry for me
and when you die
I will cry for you.
This constant crying
for one another is all wrong.”

Your husband Khoo Eng Kim suddenly passed away (heart attack).
(I have renounced the world).

JV: Bhante Suvanno recalls his renunciation, to be a “homeless


one”. Having acquired permanent residency in Canada, his wife
had already planned the date of leaving the country; tickets had
already been bought. However, Khoo Eng Kim had no
intention of leaving. He had quietly arranged and paid for a
female friend of his wife to accompany her to Canada. She was
to ensure that his “ex-wife” arrived safely in Canada and that
their daughter pick her up at the airport.
67

The night before the departure, he waited till he was sure that
his wife was asleep. Glancing at the clock, he noted that it was
already 6:30 a.m. and the date was 19th July, 1980. He had to be
there at the appointed time. Taking the necessary belongings,
he crept out of the house, threw the keys back and prepared to
walk out of the gate. But to his consternation, the gate was
locked! Unable to go through he tried to climb over. However,
his surprised neighbour, who was a policeman, saw him and
enquired the matter! Eng Kim told the neighbour that he was
going to Jitra and did not wish to disturb his sleeping wife. The
neighbour helped him over the gate.

As he walked quickly down the road to catch a taxi, a myriad of


thoughts criss-crossed his mind! Irritated with his own
forgetfulness in not unlocking the gate before throwing the keys
back, he reasoned probably subconsciously he had not wanted
to go. It was a great temptation to remain to enjoy the rewards
of their lives together.

Why not? Both had worked very had in building the family
wealth and this was the time to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
In thirty eight years of marriage they have many things to share.
She was a very good wife and it would be a luxury to have her
love and her care for his welfare. The best part of their lives was
still ahead of them. It would be a shame to forego all that. This
and many thoughts of uncertainty and doubts crossed his
mind. On the other side of the scale, the horror of sufferings in
the rounds of samsara was very real! He has had many such
experiences! The horrors of uncertain rebirth were too risky to
take a chance. It would be better to go on the correct path and
help save many others, too!
68

BHANTE: Who knows I may be able to help my wife out of


samsara, too!

JV: As he walked to find a taxi, conflicting emotions swirled


around like a raging storm in his mind; feelings were chasing
one another; worries and fears, doubts and uncertainties.

BHANTE: Did I do the right thing? If not, what shall I do?


Shall I turn back? The Blessed One went away on his noble
horse, I shall have to get a taxi. I had to tell a lie to my wife.
Who will look after her if she falls sick?

JV: Finally, enough! The mind started to settle down. The deed
has been done! There can be no other choice! Under any
circumstances, renunciation to practise the Blessed One’s
Teachings is the only way to ensure the eventual non-returning
to this samsara of suffering!

A year prior to renouncing, Eng Kim had made all financial


arrangements to settle his wife comfortably so that she would be
self sufficient in material needs. He had sold most of his
properties accumulated through thrift and hard-work and had
seen to it that all the proceeds were passed on to his wife. Their
daughters had secured permanent resident status in Canada for
them; the wife had already planned all the travelling necessities.
So the selling of the properties was not unusual to her as they
were planning to retire to Canada to join one of their
daughters already residing there. Unbeknownst to her though,
Eng Kim had renunciation on his mind. His plans were kept to
himself.
69

However, he suspected that his wife had suspicions of his


intentions as she kept his identification card and passport.
Being very concerned about the hard life of a forest monk, he
had made various adjustments to his life whilst still a married
person. He ate only cold food, and only one meal a day, having
light snacks to satisfy his hunger. Sleeping on the cold floor and
not using a blanket, not switching on the television and radio;
these were some of the severities he practised in readiness for a
monk’s life.

BHANTE: Yes, I had carefully planned for my renouncing the


world. I had even shown her how to sell and realise profits from
the shares I had in my possession but I dare not tell her that I
was planning to renounce. I told her that I was going to Jitra. I
purposely took a few clothes which I did not plan to use
anymore. Jitra, being very far away, I told her that I would not
be coming home that night as I would be talking from eight to
nine-thirty after which I would be staying there until the next
day. [Khoo Eng Kim began his Dhamma lectures even before
he was ordained as a monk].

I had prepared everything in readiness for renouncing and this


was my last day as a lay person. There was even a farewell
dinner by friends and relatives for our going away to Canada. I
had requested my wife to attend as I would be away in Jitra. I
had planned not to attend the going away celebration. On
reaching Gurun, I took a taxi to Jeniang from where I entered
the forest. It was a virgin forest and here I met up with Bhante
Sujivo who had helped arranged my renunciation. Phra
Chamriang was also present and he had requested a Chao
Khun Bau from Jitra to ordain me as a novice. Phra Chamriang
was quite surprised and amused that a sixty year-old man would
70

choose to renounce a life of ease. He had to reassure himself by


clarifying with me that that was actually what I came for.
He realised that I was very serious in my resolve not to waste
further time in taking up the practice to prepare for my
spiritual future. I told him that I had always wanted to
renounce and become a homeless monk since young and that I
had been practising meditation since twelve years old. He was
convinced of my sincerity and so I was ordained as a novice in
the Jeniang forest. I then spent three months there meditating
sixteen hours a day.

On the day of his renunciation Eng Kim reflected: ‘At last I


have discarded all my toys; meaning that he had finally left all
his sensual desires behind him. His “toys” were his wife,
children and possessions; all that were reminders of his worldly
life. He had finally cut off all that clinging and craving that
would lead him back to the rounds of samsara. He was
convinced that he was on the right path to ensuring the non
returning to the sufferings in samsara. A great sense of
achievement came over him. He recalled the event when at five
years old he was given a toy at a party, he had reflected at that
moment thus:

BHANTE: This thing gives me joy. Nobody has ever given


anything to me at all. Now I just stretch out my hand and the
toy is there. I find joy in this toy. If I lose this, I will suffer’.

JV: He quickly realised the futility and impermanence of


sensuous cravings. In renouncing, he has finally discarded all
the ‘toys’ of sensuous desires and attachments.
71

In one of his Dhamma lectures in later years, Khoo Eng Kim


said that renunciation had been a very difficult decision as he
cared for his wife very much. (In this connection it may be said
that renunciation by old married people is more difficult than
that by younger persons, as the ties of attachment are much
stronger over time). It was excruciatingly painful that he had to
make the decision to separate from a partner who had been
good, faithful and supportive for thirty eight years. She had
always been with him in his Dhamma activities. They had done
many virtuous things together and had brought up their
children well. So it was that while in the forest, he sat down
one day and penned a farewell letter to the wife that he had to
leave behind. Tears flowed uncontrollably; memories of their
good life together flooded his mind, as he wrote:

BHANTE wrote: After being married for thirty-eight years, I


cannot find a better woman than you. All good things in this
world never last. It has been this way. When I die you will cry
for me and when you die I will cry for you. This constant
crying for one another is all wrong.

Your husband Khoo Eng Kim suddenly passed away (heart attack). (I
have renounced the world).

JV: Memories of their children growing up and the early days of


their lives came to him. The love and care he had lavished on
his children to bring them up, the concern when they were not
well and the worries when they were in their teens. Such
memories, sweet and sad, pursued and invaded his mind. These
desires and clingings were of the mundane world and are the
causes of the rounds of rebirth. These are only transient
shadows, flitting across the mind in countless lives.
72

A ‘wayang kulit’ show that would be played and replayed; a


never ending process spawned from aeons past and for aeons to
come. It is our desire to finish our ‘unfinished business’ that
gives birth to new lives. Do we want to end these unsatisfactory
continuous existences? That is a question all of us have to
answer for ourselves.

Eng Kim’s childhood circumstances had conditioned him to


ponder on this question on countless occasions. Time and life
experiences had unraveled that solution and now was the time
that he walked the Path.

Only one can walk the lonely path oneself. The Blessed One
cannot walk on one’s behalf. He can only show the way. Eng
Kim had chosen this path as he said: “It has always been in my
mind to reach the stage of non-retrogression (sotapanna) in this
life. Every act of merit that I have performed has been done
with the hope that I will cross the yonder shore as quickly as
possible for I am fearful of the consequences otherwise.”

However, his concern not to re-enter the rounds of samsara was


his main reason to renounce the world. It was a case of not that
he loved his wife less but that the horrors of the rounds of
samsara horrified him more than all the pleasures and
happiness he could have in this or future existences.

In his later-day Dhamma lectures, Bhante repeatedly and


vehemently tells his audience that for the elderly it is late in the
day and they should make all haste to practise in order not to
re-enter samsara. “The world is a booby trap”. At least the
elderly should observe the eight precepts on a permanent basis
and perform dana when the opportunity presents itself.
73

Eng Kim’s ordination was by one Chao Khun Bau of Jitra. It


was a Phra Chamriang who introduced Eng Kim to Chao Khun
Bau who eventually joined them in the forest and ordained
him.

It was a simple ceremony. He was carried for a short while


straddled across the hands of two Thai persons to simulate a
chariot and there were some chanting. Everybody seemed very
happy. Eng Kim had the conscious hope that devas were
watching the simple ceremony and witnessing his renunciation.
Friends who knew came, some were from Kuala Lumpur and
they witnessed the ordination. He requested them to deliver his
letter to his wife. The crowd was quite large and Eng Kim was
constantly uneasy that his wife would be among the visitors and
that she would make a scene. Fortunately she did not show up.

EXCERP FROM A WRITE UP: The ceremony was quick and


touching. A few drops of tears rolled down Uncle’s cheek. In
the emotion he had forgotten all that he has so laboriously
memorised. But having put on the saffron robe, his fears
vanished. Triumphant, Uncle (now Venerable who “desires for
meaning”) delivered a lecture to the small crowd.

NEWLY ORDAINED BHANTE: Rare is it to be born a


human, like one tiny speck of dust among all the dirt on
earth; it is also rare to meet with the teachings of an
Enlightened One. You are very foolish indeed if you miss this
rare opportunity to perform meritorious and charitable
deeds; develop virtue and practise meditation to cross the sea
of suffering; to be free from the fires of greed, hatred and
delusion.
74

JV: As he spoke, he did so more confidently than ever before.


Although he had had his head shaven and donned on the
ochre robes before, this time it was for real.

Eng Kim had thus


become a novice
monk. For three
months he stayed in
the forest dwelling,
living in a hut that
measured five feet by
six feet.

BHANTE continues: In the first few days of my practice, there


was a lot of joy that I was able to cast off the mundane mould
and free myself from my attachments, that is; my family life,
and I had sufficient courage to enter monkhood which had
been a life long aspiration. Yet it was not easy, as the moment I
close my eyes to meditate, clinging thoughts of the family,
especially my wife, relations and friends, filled my mind and set
the tears to well in my eyes.

All these are probably my subconscious mind acknowledging


that it is a very tragic thing that I have left my wife behind but
my consolation was that I seek my salvation so that I can help
others; also that I have left sufficient revenue for her. I have
actually written down a letter advising her that if “you keep all
these things well and don’t distribute them to your children
you will never suffer for want of anything.”
75

Since then she has progressed very well so much so that now
she is not dependent on any one for her keep. She has even
bought some property in the country she has emigrated to,
Canada. Thus, everything seems to have worked out well and I
am contented in that respect.

Relatives and friends had since asked why it was that I had not
consulted my wife regarding my intention. I had actually given
that matter a great deal of thought way before the actual
renunciation, and I decided against telling her after
contemplating on the action of the Blessed One as he stood at
the door on the verge of saying farewell to his sleeping wife and
new born child when he was firm in his intention to leave
home. He decided then that he would just go away quietly
without saying a word as he was aware of the tears and crying
that would ensue from a wife who had loved well and true. I
too, felt that there would be crying and entreaties, and it would
be very painful for all concerned. So it was that Siddhatta
Gotama went away on his great charger with his charioteer and
here was Eng Kim lying and sneaking away quietly in the night
in a taxi!

For a few days after the ordination and while alone in the forest
meditating there were doubtful thoughts and prolonged bouts
of depressions clouding the mind. Tears arose constantly.
I realised that attachment to all that I was familiar with was
wreaking great havoc within my mind. There was dissatisfaction
concerning whether I had done enough for my wife’s upkeep
for her future life without me. I knew that I was doing the right
thing but this could not take away the pain of separation of one
so dear. However, after the first few days, with great
concentration my meditation progressed.
76

JV: There was a happy ending to the concerns regarding his


wife. After a while his now his ex-wife, visited him at Bukit
Perak where he was meditating and presented him with four
robes. She also returned his passport and identity card.

When Bhante accepted the robes, he felt really contented and


at peace as he knew that by her action, she had come to terms
with her self and was conveying her silent acceptance of his
renunciation. He need not be concerned anymore with her
physical needs or her mental state of mind. This was very
important to him as he had on numerous occasions in his
Dhamma lectures mentioned his “leaving a very good wife
behind” and the fact of his selling his properties and leaving his
pension intact demonstrated his concern for her welfare.

Later, news of his ex-wife taking up meditation practices must


surely confirm his conviction that he had chosen the correct
path. In Bhante’s own words: “Wonderful, lah!”]

BHANTE continues: A couple of weeks later there were no


more tears or feelings of attachment. My mind was very
concentrated. As I watched my mind, I could see hunger
coming to the forefront. Normally, as a lay person, I took three,
sometimes four meals a day. Here I was taking only one meal a
day. It was just watching the mind. The mind was so calm that
when walking I could feel the neck making a cricking sound. It
was so calm there was no thought. The calmness and the
quietness was so intensed that when I swallowed I could hear
the saliva making a very horrible sound; plop. So I was reluctant
to do that till finally I swallowed with such a force that I felt
very self conscious. Plop!
77

In the forest there were no modern toilet facilities and I had to


make do with nature’s resources; bathing and personal hygiene
was by the stream or rainwater when available. It was amazing
how body wastes were organically disposed of by nature.

There were various sorts of insects and smaller creatures, birds


and all manner of flying-life around. Days and nights were filled
with sounds of nature interweaving the different life forms. I
saw scorpions as big as my palm and underneath my hut some
were even double the size. I saw leeches all along the road. And
of course there were many other things that I saw and these
told me that I was really with nature.

This was my first forest experience and I managed to stay there


for three months. These three months made a different person
out of me. During this time, many of my friends knew I was in
the forest in Jeniang and there were numerous visitors coming
to see me. Some were friends from as far as Kuala Lumpur.

Nearing the end of my retreat in the forest, quite a number of


devotees came to offer dana. As food was put into my alms
bowl I noticed one particular set of beautiful fingers with a very
large diamond; obviously the fingers belonged to a woman. The
urge to look at the face of this lady was very great; “look lah,
such a beautiful lady”. Then another mind said; “don’t look, if
you look you are not practising well”.

This conflict was going on and I actually sweated, happily I did


not turn my face to look at her.

Suddenly there was an itch around my neck and this time the
mind said: “scratch”, and the reply came; “don’t scratch”.
78

Further mind conversation ensued; “why not scratch?” then the


mind answered; “if you scratch you have to lift up your head
then only can you scratch.” I realised that this was a trick of the
mind trying to persuade me to violate my precepts and I really
did not scratch. At this point in time my mind was constantly
in conflict.

JV: With the ordination as a monk, we see a changed person.


He is full of compassion and loving-kindness, concerned mostly
with bringing the Dhamma to the people around him. Not only
does meditation produce calm and peace in him but also helps
develop a physically and mentally healthy person with
extraordinary good memories and an alert mind. There are not
many monks of his age who are still going on solitary retreats in
the tradition of the forest monks.

Quite often, Bhante Suvanno will disappear for between one to


three months at a stretch on his solitary retreats. Whenever one
meets with Bhante Suvanno, one will be inspired to see his
calm and serene demeanour, constantly smiling and ever ready
to discuss Dhamma. He appears to be full of boundless energy
and brimful of enthusiasm. One does not see a decrepit and
senile old man of eighty weighed down with sadness and
disappointments compounded with aches and pains.

On many occasions, when devotees come and recount stories of


setbacks and anger, disappointment and losses, etc, he will
always counsel them not to think and get upset with
circumstances and situations that have already passed and not
to dwell too much on events expected to come about. The most
important events are what is happening now, from moment to
moment.
79

Bhante Suvanno On Renunciation


A Discourse to Jinavamsa

After three months in the forest


he decided to go to Thailand to be
fully ordained. There in the Wat
Mahaphap, he was fully ordained
and given the name Suvanno;
beautiful discipline; ’the monk of
beautiful discipline’. After a short
stay here, he again decided to
further his practice in Myanmar
and thus ended up in the Mahasi
Meditation Centre, Myanmar and
subsequently returned to Malaysia.

BHANTE: The Blessed One’s teaching is a teaching of


renunciation. We have to know what is renounced and why.
The Blessed One said: "What I teach is suffering and its
cessation." What is renounced, then, is unsatisfactoriness and
suffering.

JV: Bhante, how would you describe unsatisfactoriness and


suffering with regards to the Dhamma?

BHANTE: The Blessed One said that birth is suffering; old age
and decay are suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation,
pain, grief and despair are suffering; not to get what one wants
is suffering. In short, the five groups that are the object of
clinging are suffering. These "five groups", taken together,
constitute the totality of what we call a "being", and what that
being conceives to be “it-self".
80

JV: What are these five groups, Bhante?

BHANTE: Let me explain; the Blessed One is a super human


and he sees things in its reality. Looking at things as it actually
is of no difficulty to him. We humans however cannot see
further than what our five senses tell us; our mind then process
messages from them and we come up with a conventional
understanding of what we believe is the correct thing. For
example: we see each other as “I” and “You”; entities we call
human and we are satisfied that what we see is that what
appears in front of us; however this is seeing on the
conventional level.

Again as an example, when you ride in a car; you know you are
in a car, but the manufacturer of the car don’t see it as such; he
sees it as the group of parts that make up that vehicle, which for
identification sake, is call a car and he keeps track of the
different parts. So the truth of the car is that it is a group of
many parts combined into a thing call a car.

So “car” is the conventional term for the vehicle and the


“different parts” are the ultimate essence of the vehicle.

The Blessed One has taught us to perceive humans as the sum


of its parts so that we can understand what we are made up of.
So, in terms of conventional understanding, humans are man
or woman. But the “man” is only the end product of a series of
groups. Basically these groups are five. All humans are:
compounded forms or matter, feelings, perceptions, mental
activities or formations and consciousness. These then, are
what in reality “I” and “you”; a grouping of five elements.
81

Because all humans find renewed existence due to ignorance;


they cling to so many things; these groups are called groups of
clinging. It is oneself, then, that is the source of suffering, and it
is this “self” that must be renounced if one would be free from
suffering.

This concept of a “self” is encouraged and developed in


almost all religions; only in the Blessed One’s teaching is it to
be renounced as a source of suffering.

The feeling of "self", the deep-rooted sense of "I-ness", involves


the desire for the continued existence of self. It generates greed
and attachment, both for the self and also for those things
which enhance the existence of the self and make it feel secure,
such things as sense-pleasures, possessions, kinship with others,
and so on. It also generates hatred for or aversion from what is
anti-self, that is, from those things which threaten the
continued existence or the happiness of the self by attacking it
(or whatever it identifies itself with) or by frustrating it in any way.

Thus, the self can never be really happy, for it is continually


agitated by desires and fears which bind it tightly to the world,
and cause the "suffering" for which the Blessed One has
diagnosed and prescribed the cure.

JV: Bhante, It would appear from your brief discourse here,


that the self and the world are interdependent, our emotional
responses to the world strengthening our sense of self, and our
sense of self causing the illusory appearance of a permanent and
substantial world with objective qualities of desirability and
undesirability.
82

BHANTE: Yes, Jinavamsa; therefore, renunciation of the world


and the renunciation of the self are but two aspects of the same
thing, and what we see as the world may, on deeper analysis, be
found present within ourselves.

The Blessed One had said and I quote; "In this one fathom
long body (six feet), with its sense-impressions, its thoughts and
ideas... is the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the
world, and the Way that leads to the cessation of the world.

The Three Stages of Renunciation


JV: Bhante, how does renunciation relate to a moral life?

BHANTE: Morality is the backbone of renunciation; without a


pure mind; thoughts, speech and deeds will originate from
bases of greed, anger and delusion; in which case renunciation
will not be successful.

In the practice of renunciation, three stages may be


distinguished. Let me share with you the basics of renunciation.

First Stage of Renunciation


First of all, there is Outward Renunciation, as when a man or
woman leaves the household life, shaves their heads and don
on robes to become a bhikkhu or a nun. These are the just the
requisites of outward renunciation.

Outward renunciation has no intrinsic value, and may


theoretically be dispensed with, but there is no doubt that it
makes true renunciation very much easier.
83

THE BLESSED ONE: A householder, or a householder's


son, or one born into
into some good family, hears the Dhamma.

Having heard it, he comes to feel faith in the Perfect One.


Possessed of this faith, he reflects thus: 'The household
life is cramped. It is a path choked with dust. To leave it is to
come out into the open air. It is not easy for one who lives at
home to lead the holy life in all its perfect fullness and purity,
bright as mother-
mother-of-
of-pearl. Surely I should now shave off my
hair and beard, go forth into the homeless life’.

In the course
course of time, he gives up his possessions, be they
many or few, and his circle of kinsmen, be it small or large,
shaves off his hair and beard, puts on the yellow robe, and
leaving his home, goes
goes forth into the homeless life.
life.

BHANTE: So far, this is mere outward renunciation.

Second Stage of Renunciation


BHANTE continues: Now the new bhikkhu must turn his
attention to the world within.

To do this, the first thing is to free his mind from the


domination by unwholesome emotions and sense-desires, and
to this end he begins to discipline himself by strict observance
of morality.
84

So he lives the homeless life, observing self-restraint according


to the rules of the Order, possessed of good conduct, seeing
danger in the slightest offence, accepting and training himself
in the precepts. To lead the holy life he has many precepts to
upkeep. Then the bhikkhu, being thus complete in morality,
sees no reason for fear on any side, as far as self-restraint in his
conduct is concerned. And, possessed of these noble moralities,
he experiences unalloyed happiness within himself.

BHANTE continues: So far, the bhikkhu has progressed


through two stages of renunciation.

First, he has publicly renounced the world and left the


household life.

Secondly, by strict self-discipline, he has ensured that no moral


lapse on his part will cause him to become entangled once
again in the life that he has left behind, and his success in this
self-discipline has given him a confidence and a happiness that
he never had before. Thus, he has made his initial, outward
renunciation secure.

Third Stage of Renunciation


However, True Renunciation is a matter of the mind rather
than the body. It is renunciation of the world of desires and
aversions within, rather than of the world of "objects" without.

Thus, there is the Ultimate Renunciation, which is the


renunciation of one's "self" in its entirety and the consequent
destruction of all suffering in this present lifetime and may
even have potentials to develop and mature the destruction of
accumulated suffering in future existences.
85

Now he is free to turn his attention to renunciation of the


other, inner world, of the psycho-physical life which is his "self."
He begins by endeavouring to become detached from the
activities of his senses, and of his mind and body, by the
practice of mindfulness.

He will now observe the things which impinge on his senses,


watching to see that he does not react to them in an
unwholesome or "unskillful" manner; his thoughts, speech and
deeds are morally originated.

Then, when sense-impressions are no longer capable of


agitating his mind unduly, he learns to become aware of his
bodily actions as he performs them, contemplating his body
disinterestedly, as though it were not his; he is guarded as to
sensations that impinges on his mind and body.

The senses are considered metaphorically as there are so many


doors through which impressions enter the mind. Having
perceived a form with his eye, he does not fasten on its general
appearance, or on its secondary characteristics. In other words,
he does not allow himself to become fascinated by it, or by any
aspect of it, or to feel that it is "mine." He simply watches with
equanimity as phenomena come and go.

As long as he lived with his faculty of sight unrestrained, he


falls prey to craving and unhappiness, to evil and unskilled
states of mind. So he undertakes restraint, watching over his
faculty of sight and restraining it. And similarly with the other
faculties: hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and cognising
things with the mind.
86

The bhikkhu, possessed of this noble restraint of the faculties,


experiences unalloyed happiness within himself.

JV: Bhante: And how is the bhikkhu mindful and aware?

BHANTE: The bhikkhu, in going about, is clearly aware of his


action. So also when looking ahead or looking around, when
bending his arm in or stretching it out, when wearing his robe
or carrying his alms bowl, when eating, drinking, chewing or
tasting, when defecating or urinating, when walking, standing,
sitting, sleeping, waking, speaking or keeping silent; in all this
he is clearly aware of what he is doing. Thus is the bhikkhu,
mindful and aware.

The bhikkhu has now shaken off most of his worldly desires,
and has gained a considerable degree of detachment from
himself. As a consequence, he is perfectly content with his lot
and with his few necessary possessions, which are; I will quote
the Blessed One:

THE BLESSED ONE: He is contented with the robes that


protect his body and the alms food that protects his belly...
belly...
Just as a bird carries its wings with it wherever it flies, so the
bhikkhu is contented with the robes that protect his body
and the alms food that protect his belly, and he has only
these with him wherever he goes. Thus he is content.

BHANTE: Now, having surrendered attachment both to the


world and to his own body, the bhikkhu can concentrate all his
effort on the true source of unsatisfactoriness and suffering,
which is his mind.
87

Sitting in a quiet spot, he strives to cleanse his mind of what are


known as the "five hindrances". The text describes the process
as follows:

1. "Having given up covetousness for the world, he


remains with his mind free from and cleansed of
covetousness.
2. Having given up ill will and hatred, he remains with
his mind free from ill will and hatred. Friendly and
compassionate to all living things, he is free of them.
3. Mindful and fully aware, he cleanses his mind of sloth
and torpor.
4. Having given up restlessness and worry, he remains
free of them. Inwardly calm, he cleanses his mind of
restlessness and worry.
5. Having given up doubt, he remains having passed
beyond doubt. No longer uncertain of what is skillful
(or wholesome), he cleanses his mind of doubt".

Having brought about a stilling of the five hindrances, he is


filled with an exhilarating sense of freedom. The Blessed One
compares his feelings of relief and happiness to those of a man
who has just discharged a debt, or recovered from a painful
illness, or been freed from prison, or released from slavery, or
who has safely crossed a dangerous wilderness. [An excerpt from
T.Prince Bodhi Leaves No: 36]

This stilling of the five hindrances, and the ensuing calmness


and happiness of the mind and body, makes it possible for the
bhikkhus to attain what is called “access concentration or
momentary concentration", a result of Vipassana practice.
88

This makes the mind an instrument of knowledge that can


transcend the limitations of the senses. Thus renunciation is
the preliminary to further insights and eventual nibbanic entry.

JV: Bhante: How would the age factor influence renunciation

BHANTE: In a complete renunciation as described, the age


factor is controversial and can be of great help and also of
hindrance. In certain countries, where the Blessed One’s
Teachings are generally practised, the outward renunciation is a
prerequisite to maturity and adulthood, especially with the
male population.

However, in anyone’s life, to give up a family life at the ripe old


age of sixty years is a most difficult thing to do. At this age,
almost any one would have their life’s energy drained; and
almost any one would settle for a life of resting on whatever
laurels one have gathered thus far; to enjoy the fruits of one’s
labour, such as properties, family and all other creature
comfort, a good home with loving family members surrounding
them and being loved and cared for. This is a situation most
would aspire to be in; thus to renounce a household life and
settle for a disciplined, cloistered and solitary life is a very
difficult thing to do. All living beings tend to resist change and
have great desires to remain at their comfort zones.

JV: But then, Bhante Suvanno has seen so much suffering in


his earlier life that he knew that all the fineries in the world
were just “booby traps”, and it was his determined resolution to
“run away” [bhor jhow see – a favourite vernacular hokkien meaning
to run away from the sufferings of Samsara].
89

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddha
Sambuddhassa
buddhassa

CHAPTER 5
THE MONK’S LIFE

JV: After completing the forest


retreat, Bhante Suvanno took
stock of his position. Now that
the ordination had been
completed, the solitary retreat
that he desired had been
accomplished, what then should
he now do? Where would he
spend his days in the practice of
the Dhamma? What would be
the theme of his practice?

After due reflection, he realised


that his own goals were two: to
lead the holy life so as to be rid
of the horrors of rebirth; and to
ensure that others, especially
family members and friends
know of this Path to freedom.

Looking at the possible places he could begin his quest of the


Dhamma; he realised that he did not have much choice; the
idea of beginning his practice in Penang centred on the
Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre (MBMC).
90

The MBMC had an international reputation and he felt that


that being so, he would have the opportunity to conduct
Dhamma discussions to a much larger population.

Thus, this was where he decided to begin his mission. He was


accepted on arrival and most evenings he would discuss and
share Dhamma with devotees; and most times, after the
Dhamma session, devotees would gather round his room and
continue to discuss Dhamma with him. He became very sought
after and was popular. However, all good things must end and
after a while he wanted to do more and thus decided to leave
for elsewhere. It was not a difficult decision as he had prepared
for this way of living when he decided to renounce. With his
robes and bowl, he began his journey, contemplating where he
should go. As it was getting dark and with no where to go, he
stopped at a rambutan tree growing next to a Chinese temple.
Night was falling and so he decided to spend the night under
the tree.

Early the next morning, after a cold and uncomfortable night,


he awoke and began to plan his day. With no cash and only the
requisite allowed for a monk; robes, belt, an alms bowl, thread
and needle and a water strainer. He pondered for a while and
then decided that he would go on an alms round, as did the
Blessed One during His days.

He decided that this was a good time to practise going on alms


round. In an alms round, the bhikkhu takes his bowl and goes
from house to house or he can find a suitable place in the
marketplace where he could stand and accept devotees’ offering
of food. He will have to accept whatever food that is offered to
him; for the criteria for food offering is:
91

“This meal is the labour of countless


beings, let me accept this offering with
gratitude. The meal is taken to enable me
to strengthen my exertions, let me accept
this offering with humility. This meal is
taken to nourish and sustain my practice,
let me be moderate in eating. This meal is
taken to help all beings to attain the
Blessed One’s way, let me practise
wholeheartedly”.

JV continues: During the first few days there was absolutely no


favourable response from the public. In fact, the newly
ordained bhikkhu endured hardships and ridicule. People had
the superstitious belief that seeing a monk with a bald head
would always bring bad luck.

He was spat at, set on by dogs, chased away with a broomstick,


etc. he was so discouraged and lonely that the tears rolled down
his cheeks. He was terribly hungry, as he had not eaten for a
while. He was also wet from the rain and dew in the morning,
and he had not taken a bath for days. He felt miserable and
depressed.

Days later, some friends who understood the practice of


pindapata, got together and went about improving Bhante’s
plight. Well meaning friends turned devotees began to bring
offerings to him on his alms round. Others in the area then
followed suit.
92

After that the situation improved. He decided to give lectures


in the evenings. Among other topics, he took the opportunity
to explain the reasons for the practice of pindapata and the
benefits accrued to devotees. He further explained that during
the time of the Blessed One, the Blessed One Himself went out
daily on his alms round.

Many of the nights that Bhante gave a discourse on the


Dhamma, he paid special emphasis on the benefits of alms
giving (pindapata). The situation further developed positively
and devotees even began to invite him to partake of food in
their houses. Teaching the practice of alms giving was one of
the high point of success in the monkhood of Bhante.

It was a great learning experience for him and also for devotees.
Not until he started pindapata when staying underneath the
rambutan tree did he had the opportunity to teach the
Teachings of the Blessed One.

This rambutan tree was in a populated housing area in Kwan


Imm Kook opposite a Chinese temple. After a short while,
some devotees actually tore or cut out material from a discarded
toilet room of an old building and built him a ramshackle
shack, resembling a small bathroom.

After a few days due to the dampness of the earth a lot of


centipedes were also found living underneath the shack. This
was the living quarters he shared with the centipedes and other
insects. He was grateful to these devotees for building a
residence where he was able to practise and teach Dhamma.
93

This was the beginning of his practice of the Dhamma as taught


by the Great Teacher more than 2500 years ago. Devotees were
aware of the practice of pindapata as a way of life in sustaining
the requirements of the Sangha, the community of monks.

The duties of monks were to devote to a life of abstention and


seclusion. They were to spend their time solely in the
cultivation of the Dhamma. They were to be spiritual guides to
the laity. The Blessed One is likened to a doctor prescribing
curative medicine, the Dhamma, to cure the ills of patients, the
laity. The members of the Sangha were the nurses
administrating the Dhamma medicine to the patients. As such
the bhikkhus were worthy of offerings from the patients, the
laity.

Thus, from the Blessed One’s time the bhikkhus were offered
their requisites by the laity. When the laity knew where he was,
quite a number of them came to hear his lectures.

After Bhante Suvanno had been there for about four months, it
was getting near to Vassa (rain retreat) and he wanted to keep
his *vassa well.

[*The Vassa, a three-month rains retreat, instituted by the Blessed One


and made obligatory for all fully ordained bhikkhus. The retreat
extends over a period corresponding to the rainy season, from the day
following the full moon of July until the full-moon day of October.]

On the first day of the retreat the monks have to formally declare that
they will dwell in that manner in the selected monastery or dwelling.
94

The rains residence was to prevent bhikkhus from travelling during the
Rainy Season and so damaging the crops, and living creatures which
are abundant then. No doubt he considered their health as well when
he laid down that bhikkhus must spend the rains with four walls round
them and a roof over their heads.

This is a period when bhikkhus must reside in one place and cannot
wander, though they may undertake all their usual duties provided that
they do not take them away from their monasteries overnight. In
special circumstances they can be absent from the monastery or
residence where they have vowed to keep the Rains not longer than
seven days. They are expected to spend this time in meditation.]

JV continues: Assessing the situation, he decided to see a


person he knew had a piece of land which was left unused. He
requested for the use of this land on which he would like to
build a small hut to pass his vassa for three months. The person
gave his permission with the condition that Suvanno remove all
that he had put up when he left. Suvanno felt happy that at
least he had a place to pass his vassa.

It was in quite a quiet area in what is today Taman Cantek and


devotees again built him a shelter near a flowing stream. He
lacked only regular support of meals and this was quickly made
available when devotees knew he was in this area. He could
continue his practice of pindapata and regular Dhamma
lectures.
95

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddhassa
ambuddhassa

CHAPTER 6
MI TOR SEE
The Shelter the Devotees Re-Built

“On Hearing The Teaching,


The Wise Become Perfectly Purified,
Like a Lake;
Deep, Clear and Still.”

JV: Shortly after staying in the little hut under the rambutan
tree for about three months, Bhante realised that the number
of devotees keen to hear his lectures was growing quickly. Every
night more came along to hear and to offer dana. He realised
that there was a need for a central place to propagate the True
Dhamma; a centre where the devotees could also practise the
Dhamma.
96

During the three months stay in the little hut under the
rambutan tree, a few devotees approached him and acquainted
him with the news of an abandoned old temple a short distance
away. This dilapidated temple was at the foot of the Penang
Hill Railways Station and could be seen when one was
approaching the Hill Station. It was a very small run down
structure, long uninhabited and badly damaged and was in
disuse for some years.

Quite a number of devotees had gathered round to support


Bhante Suvanno at that time. Most were touched by his
complete devotion to the Teachings of the Blessed One.
Nightly they had come to hear his lectures on Dhamma and
Vipassana meditation; they were impressed by his delivery of
the lectures in the Hokkien dialect.

More and more devotees were beginning to understand the


Blessed One’s Teaching for the first time. They were eager to
have a centre where Bhante Suvanno could perform his duties
regularly and where devotees can practise dana and Vipassana
meditation.

Thus, the idea of a using the old temple was very opportune; so
with Bhante’s approval, the devotees formed a body to collect
donations to renovate the old temple structure fit for
occupation by Bhante Suvanno.

BHANTE: I remember they managed to collect twenty-six


thousand ringgit in a very short time. Money was hard to come
by and the sum that the devotees collected was a very princely
sum by the value in those days.
97

The devotees re-built Mi Tor See, tore up the ramshackle hut I


was staying in and moved me to the new Mi Tor See. At last
there was a place donated by the laity where I would have the
opportunity to establish the Teachings of the Blessed One.

BHANTE continues: Mi Tor See became the centre in my


efforts to propagate the Dhamma. The situation was ideal for
me. I became very
enthusiastic and active. I
was invited by many to
travel to different parts
of Malaysia to give
lectures and to teach
Vipassana meditation. I
was very keen to go and
everywhere that I went
there would be crowds
because I speak the local
dialect well.

JV: Devotees recorded his lectures in CDs and passed them on


and soon there were great demand for the audios. Every day
became a very busy day for him. The schedule for dana and
Dhamma was very tight; not a day passed by that he was not
deluged with requests to do one or the other. Most of the time
these were held in Mi Tor See but invitations to devotees’
houses became regular affairs; his mission was well underway.
The message of pindapata was so well received that often on a
short alms round in the market places of the various small
townships, he was able to collect literally van loads of supplies.
The devotees were more than happy to give to such a well
practised monk.
98

Mi Tor See became a very busy centre and there was sometimes
pressure of too many duties to perform. To escape these
pressures Bhante Suvanno used to go on long solitary retreats
which helped him tremendously in his meditation practice and
also relieved him of the pressures of his duties. He would
always return refreshed and ready to carry on the noble work.

BHANTE: Presently, after so many years in the practice, I


realised that greed is nearly gone. Absence of greed enables one
to act correctly. I prefer to give. Emotions of hatred and
delusion have diminished greatly. Without delusion my mind is
not confused.

Mindfulness in every day life is constantly with me so that when


speaking, only sweet and pleasant words are used. From the
wisdom of Vipassana meditation I realise that our lives need
not be about material wealth. Such acquisitions do not interest
me.

Meditation enables me to see that life is really simple if one


effects changes from within. I am aware of changes taking place
within me. I can see greed, hatred, delusion gradually
decreasing and I hope that I can attain that final cessation. That
is my goal.

Since 1980, after my renunciation and even when I was at the


age of 12 practising meditation, aiming towards the goal of
Nibbana has been my total preoccupation. Through different
stages of my life the practice of meditation has been my guiding
light. It is my aspiration to find my way out of this stream of
samsara as quickly as possible. I believe that I will achieve my
goal.
99

This year marks my twenty vassas (1980-2000). In the first year I


was in the forest as a novice and not a fully ordained bhikku as
yet. I was first ordained as a samanera. Being a novice, it was
just solely training and now I have completed my twentieth year
as a full-fledged bhikkhu.

While in the forest there are sometimes happenings which are


most unusual. In one instance, I was alone in the forest
practising samatha meditation. I was in deep concentration for
some time and after a while I began to arise from my
meditation. At this time the mind is still clear and pure and as I
opened my eyes the figure of a hungry ghost (peta) was facing
and looking at me. As it realise that I was looking at it; it began
to move away, slowly backing off. Probably it was as frightened
of me as I was of it.

BHANTE continues: At another occasion I was meditating


under the shade of a huge bamboo grove in a deep, quiet forest
area. I became aware of some noise nearby and on looking
around I saw a huge king cobra about 12 feet away.

A king cobra can strike at a


speed of sixty miles per
hour and is very quick to
attack. I believe that I must
be near a nest of cobras.
This particular king cobra
raised its head high up to
four feet and charged
towards me.
100

Immediately I recalled the Blessed One’s words and the


thought came to me: “At one time you could have been my
father or mother or my son or daughter. Today you have
neglected yourself and you are now born as a snake. As for me I
am changing, I find everything changing, please wake up and
follow me.

At a distance of two feet it abruptly halted, lowered its hood


and as I continued radiating loving kindness the king cobra
blinked its eyes very frequently as if to say it understood what I
was thinking. It turned its head slowly and slowly moved away.
As it moved I was still radiating this thought of loving kindness.
The king cobra turned back and looked at me. Since then every
time I was around there it would come and go without any ill-
will towards me.

BHANTE continues: Yet another time I was in the forest that


was sixty miles away from the Hermitage in Lunas. I had
discovered a good meditation place by a waterfall. It was a very
big waterfall in a very isolated area near Taiping. Most of the
time nobody would be around; occasionally a few boys would
be there camping and swimming in the pool made by the
waterfall. It was indeed a very ideal spot for my solitary retreat.

I stayed there for nearly two months. During the last week of
my stay, I went to the edge of the pool and made a wish.
‘According to the Dhamma books there would be a Naga
residing in this sort of environment. If there is a Naga please
show yourself to me. I want to know that you really exist’; after
saying that I went to a nearby spot, sat down and meditate.
101

A short while later there was a loud sound: Quaack! Quaack!


Quaack! I went back to the edge of the pool and there I saw this
snake completely yellow in colour. As I went near to about two
feet of it, it raised its head and looked at me. It continued
making the sound “Quaack, Quaack, Quaack”. I understood.
There was no fear in me. I said to it: “You are the one I wish to
see. When I come again I will look you up’. But I was in the
habit of going from place to place; seldom visiting a place twice
and thus have not been back to this particular spot at all.
102

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddha
ambuddhassa
buddhassa

CHAPTER 7
THE WORK OF BHANTE

Bhante Suvanno on alms round

JV: It is not difficult to understand Bhante Suvanno: A monk


of simple ways following the footstep of his Teacher, the
Perfectly self Enlightened, the Blessed One, the Buddha.

The only reason for his existence is to resist and cease all
unwholesome thoughts and deeds and instead strive to seek
and do those deeds that are wholesome, and all the while
seeking to purify the mind. He constantly remind his devotees
that: “Everybody wants to be a somebody, I want to be a
nobody.” These are the keys to his way of life.
103

He was a ‘nobody’ at his young age. He was a ‘nobody’ that his


parents did not want. His mother abandoned him, for whatever
reasons; his father did not want to know about him; his
grandfather regarded the care for him as a duty to ensure the
family lineage and to be tolerated, hoping for the best. The
people who were paid to look after him regarded him as a meal
ticket for themselves and their baby.

Only the intestinal worms thought he was good enough to be


attached to. He, however, survived all the deprivations and
tribulations against all odds. His demise at that time would not
have surprised anyone. His whole childhood had been one
mass of suffering. His teenage days were only a little bit
improved.

Abused and living in totally unhealthy surroundings, there was


just one little ray of sunshine in his life; his grandfather, who in
his own sort of caring way, came to visit him once in a while.
His abandonment, his uncaring father, the filth of his infant
days, the abuses in his teenage days and all the ignominious
happenings, these memories and impressions became the
training ground for the long journey towards the goal of
ultimate peace. He did not wish to behave in like manner of his
tormentors.

It would appear on hindsight that the suffering he had


undergone was to prepare him for the great work ahead of him.
This was his test in the crucible of life in preparation for his
role as the “homeless one”.
104

The purpose is all clear. It was to realise the true nature of


existence and find deathlessness away from the revolving
rounds of samsara, and to bring along with him as many beings
as have the desire to be with him; as he said in jest: “When I
am in the celestial abode I want to be able to recognise friends
from all over Malaysia”!

Thus, his work was built around the theme; to attain Nibbana
and to help others to attain Nibbana, too. For this he has
tirelessly, even to an advanced age, worked daily to practise and
propagate the Dhamma, in particular Vipassana Bhavana.

His Daily Routine

Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas Mi Tor See, Ayer Itam

JV continues: As a monk, the Venerable Suvanno keeps


himself occupied with various activities at the Hermitage, Lunas
and also at Mi Tor See, Penang. He would move from
Hermitage to Mi Tor See as and when he decides to. It became
his habit to spend a couple of weeks in the Hermitage and the
same in Mi Tor See. In both centres are found many of his
devotees. The two centres are half an hour apart.
105

He gets up at 4am to meditate, until it is time for breakfast at


6.30am. After breakfast he tidies his kuti (hut) and clears the
compound of the Hermitage. Often, he can be seen weeding,
sweeping, litter picking or watering the plants and flowers. He
cleans himself and walks mindfully to the Dhammasala Hall (all
purpose hall where devotees gather for lectures and where
meals are served to the bhikkhus) at 9.30am to meet those
devotees who wish to see him.

He delivers lectures on Sundays before lunch offerings.


Devotees will congregate around him for advice, questions or to
clear doubts about the Dhamma after his lunch. It may last for
half an hour or more depending on the crowd.

He will usually take a rest or short nap before he does his daily
readings on the Dhamma. Despite his seniority in age, Bhante
reads either to prepare for lectures or to improve his
knowledge.

Such is the hallmark of the elder monk, for he is never too old
to study, never too old to learn. He continues with his garden
chores in the evening, helping around with the gardeners. He
takes his bath before the commencement of the metta (loving
kindness) chanting in the Meditation Hall at 8.15pm.

When there is a large group of devotees or university students


on retreats, Bhante lectures or clarifies on many aspects of
meditation or the Dhamma. Before he retires for bed for the
day, he either reads or meditates again, an ideal way to wrap up
the day.
106

“I have accomplished what I set out to do”, is the calm and


simple statement coming forth from the lips of Bhante
Suvanno Mahathera, a gentle smile accentuating the wrinkles
on his face, showing off a set of teeth still in reasonably good
condition in his advanced age. What was it that he set out to
do? His accomplishments can be categorised as:

Practice of Dana:
JV: The Pali Text Society Dictionary defines dana as ‘giving,
gifts, alms-giving, liberality; especially a charitable gift to a
bhikkhu or to the community of bhikkhus, the sangha. As
such, it constitutes a meritorious act’. In fact, dana heads the
list of meritorious acts.

Bhante Suvanno recommends that devotees perform dana as


often as there are opportunities; especially the older folks who
are not practising vipassana meditation. This is for them to
gather as much merits as possible in this life-time.

He has been extremely successful in educating the devotees who


are uncertain of the manner and the value of performing dana.
Bhante will demonstrate and enumerate all the benefits
regarding the offering of dana. Everywhere that Bhante goes to,
the performance of dana will be done well and in abundance.

Pindapata
JV: Alms gathering in an alms bowl by a bhikkhu. In this all
monk in Malaysia should say thank you to Bhante Suvanno for
the work he has done in this duty of a bhikkhu. Market places,
public halls and busy side streets; he will be there or he will
excourage young novice monks to go on alms round.
107

His efforts at pindapata has been very successful to the extend


that the northern part of Malaysia, where Bhante has influence,
is well known for pindapata.

However, there arose quite a number of unscrupulous people


imitating monks and standing by crowded streets and market
places with alms bowl collecting money from ignorant people
who do not understand the concept of pindapata. Should
Bhante be aware of such a malpractice, he will personally go to
the place, stand near the bogus monk and explain to devotees
that the alms bowl is meant for the collection of food only and
monks of the Theravada tradition do not accept money of any
kind, whether gold or silver. He would then explain the
significance of pindapata to all.

Dhamma Lectures
JV: Without doubt, this aspect of Bhante’s work is the most
successful of all. Whenever the laity knows that Bhante is
talking they will gather, regardless of where in Malaysia.

A great feature of success in his lectures is his enthusiasm and


energy which seems limitless. Another aspect is his familiarity
with the English language and the Chinese dialects used locally.
He will elaborate appropriately to the elderly folks in the
Chinese dialects and speak English to the younger of his
devotees. Most times he will intersperse pertinent languages in
his Dhamma lectures. The elderly loved his lectures, they were
deeply interested in his discourses of the Thirty-One Planes of
Existence; the stories told in Hokkien, adapted from the
Blessed One’s Jataka Tales and the suttas. They would listen
very attentively whenever Bhante renders Dhamma lectures.
108

Bhante had a knack of talking to them seemingly on a personal


level. He understood their fears, their concern for the after life.
They needed to be consoled that they would have an
opportunity to go to a better place. They needed to know how
to do so.

All these Bhante supplied in a consoling manner that gave


them hope. Bhante would dispel their ignorance and acquaint
then with the correct way to live their lives and what to do to
get back to the human plane if they had strayed. No one would
go away from Bhante’s lectures unaffected. No one would go
away without hope of a better rebirth.

His devotees grew in ever increasing numbers since the days he


started to practise. The younger generation was as deeply
interested as their parents. He would talk about the duties of
being a filial child, he would suggest the correct livelihood, he
would always say: “Whatever you do, you must first get a good
education and then you will be able to look after yourself.” He
advised that the young must always show gratitude to their
parents, while the parents were well and still alive.

The devotees had great faith in Bhante. They would bring their
troubles to him seeking solutions. Bhante never failed them.
He would always be ready with words of consolation and
comfort. There are many instances we hear of children leaving
their parents who are not well. We do hear of people leaving
their parents in homes for the destitute when the parents are
unable to look after themselves. According to the Blessed
One’s teachings this is a very unfilial action.
109

Many are the theme stories Bhante applies in his Dhamma


lectures to the younger generation to advise them to show
gratitude and compassion to the older generations. The older
generation has had many similar experiences happen to them
which they cannot accept. They began to question themselves,
what did I do to deserve this fate?

When they understand the workings of kamma from Bhante’s


lectures, they feel that ah! I now understand; I must do good
deeds to have the opportunity for a better rebirth. One can
only reap the fruits from the seeds that one sows. They are at
peace, understanding the good or bad things that are
happening to them and are grateful that the Bhante has shown
a way, a Path leading to the cessation of their suffering. He tells
them this story:

To Forgive Is Divine
Padmavati bore King Asoka a beautiful son. His eyes emitted
rays that vied with the beams of the morning sun. They were
fairer than those of the aerial enchantress of India, the
Kunala bird. And they named him Kunala.

When the Prince was in the bloom of his youth, Asoka


appointed Tishya-Rakshita, that bewitching beauty, as Chief
Queen. And it came to pass that she became enamoured of
her stepson, who was as virtuous as she was vain. Her looks
lured him not. Her charms charmed him not. He showed her
the reverence due to a mother and the kindness due to a
daughter. Removing the curtains of shame Tishya-Rakshita
begged love of Kunala but was rebuked and turned off.
Enraged at this she harboured evil thoughts against Kunala.
110

At that time Kunala was sent by the Emperor to conquer


Taxila. He succeeded and there he remained as viceroy. He
ruled as a father ruled his home in the family. They loved
him.

It came to pass that the Emperor fell ill and on the physician’s
failure to cure him, Tishya-Rakshita herself treated the
Emperor and cured him. Then the Emperor wanted to grant
his Empress a boon. She prayed for the kingdom for seven
days. Her wish was granted.

Having the royal prerogative, Tishya-Rakshita sent a royal


letter to Kunjarkana of Taxila asking him to uproot the eyes
of Kunala.

“Not only these eyes but this life too is my father’s,” said the
Prince, “If he has need for them I will gladly give.” But no
one had the heart to pluck out those innocent eyes that
looked with love on all the world.

At last the Prince proclaimed by beat of drum: “If there is any


friend who will pluck out my eyes, that friend will I honour
with a royal award.” And a man came, repulsive to look at.
He drew out one eye and the multitude wept. When the
second eye too was torn out, the noble Prince said: “My
father has forsaken me but I rejoice that I am the son of the
Blessed One, the King of Truth.” But the ministers soon
understood that this was an act of the treacherous queen.
They told him so. Hearing which Kunala blessed her with the
words: “May she long enjoy happiness and power, she who
helped me practise.”
111

Though Kunala lost his eyes, his mouth still made music like
a lark. And secretly leaving his mansion, he wandered along
with his wife, earning a living by singing to the lute. Coming
to the capital he passed the palace, piping his reed sweetly and
singing. The music delighted the Emperor’s ears.

“That is Kunala’s voice,” said the Emperor, “Behold! At last


my long lost son has come. Bring him immediately to me.”

The Emperor was expecting a beautiful Prince, but they


brought him a blind beggar and his rustic wife, both in rags.
“He is not my son.”

Kunala sighed. The truth was soon known.

“Kill that villainous woman!” commanded the enraged


Emperor. But Kunala, ever calm pleaded saying: “it is not
worthy of you, father, to kill her. It befits your grace to
pardon her, for great kings are ever compassionate towards
the weak. Benevolence is the best virtue. Father, has not our
Lord commanded us sweet sufferance?”

Thus saying, he fell at his father’s feet. “I knew no anger


when my eyes were gouged out. I bear no hatred towards the
queen. I revere her as your queen and love her as my mother.
If these words be true, may my eyes return to me.”

Immediately the room was filled with radiance that was


brighter than that of the moon and the Emperor wept for joy.
“Divine Forgiver” they called Kunala.
112

JV continues: Over the years that he was a bhikkhu, Bhante


Suvanno had been giving countless Dhamma lectures all over
the country, including Sabah and Sarawak. His lectures are so
well loved that devotees tape them and replay them to friends
and relatives. Many are the tapes on his Dhamma lectures,
copied into many more thousands being proliferatedly
distributed free. His lectures in the local dialect are unique and
will always remain a mark of the Venerable Acara Suvanno
Mahathera. It has helped reach many who would otherwise be
unable to get a chance to know the Blessed One’s Teaching;
people who have the need to know and be comforted that there
is a way to salvation through the Noble Eightfold Path.

Without Bhante’s ‘liang liang eh hwa’ (cool, cool speech in


Teochew, another of Bhante’s specialities) the non English
speaking population will still be holding their deluded views
and beliefs. He has brought the Dhamma to countless illiterate
people who otherwise will never hear the Dhamma. This is due
to his proficiency in the Hokkien dialect.

A most admirable characteristic of Bhante is his ability to talk


off the cuff. Sometimes not knowing the nature of the listeners,
he will on the spot assess their stage of knowledge of the
Blessed One’s teaching and give an appropriate Dhamma
lecture according to his assessment of the listeners’ ability to
understand the subject.

Meditation
In his lectures, Bhante will without fail advise devotees to
practise Vipassana meditation as the Blessed One says that the
only way to achieve the stage of Nibbana is through Vipassana
meditation.
113

As far as possible everyone should spend time in practising


Vipassana meditation for in his maiden speech on his
ordination he had said:

“Rare it is to be born a human; rare as finding a gem among


all the dirt on this earth. Similarly it is rare to be born as a
human. It is also rare to meet with the Teachings of an
Enlightened One. You are very foolish if you miss this chance
to gain merits by charity, virtue and meditation which will
help you to cross the sea of suffering, to be free from the fires
of greed, hatred and delusion.”

Setting Up of New Centres


Another aspect of the untiring effort of Bhante to spread the
Dhamma was his encouragement and assisting, financially even
in the setting up of Theravada Meditation Centres, dedicated
to the Mahasi method of Vipassana Meditation.

Wherever devotees were inspired to set up a centre; Teluk


Intan, Malacca, Johor or anywhere; he would be called to help.
He would willingly be there to lead and assist in the starting of
the new centre. He would be there to help raise funds and
render moral support. He is known to have solicited large sums
of money from his devotees, to new centres to encourage them.
On many occasions he has sent generous funds to assist the
Mahasi Centre in Yangon, Myanmar.

Of particular interest is the development of the Bukit Mertajam


Buddhist Meditation Centre. It was the first Theravada
tradition Centre in Northern Malaysia that Bhante Suvanno
played a very big part in its inception.
114

Without his participation, there would not be the Centre as it


is today; for that matter, if not for the propagation work of
Bhante Suvanno, Theravada tradition will not be what it is
today in Malaysia. Most of the influence of Theravada began in
Northern Malaya and Bhante Suvanno played a very key and
vocal role in its growth.

At this time, in the seventies and eighties, other forms of


Buddhism had already established strong roots with the
predominately Chinese population in Northern Malaya and
Penang. There were some dissatisfaction with the mode of
practice and the conduct of some nuns and monks.

The laity in the northern part of Malaya were skeptical about


the form of Buddhism as
practised in non-Theravada
traditions of the Blessed
One’s Teaching. They were
not able to ascertain the
truth of the Dhamma as
taught by other traditional
teachers. The practice of the
Dhamma by others, were
ritualistic, vague and very
general.

The rites and rituals were confusing and some required


expensive items and procedures.
115

The devotees were not able to get correct answers as to whether


those expensive rites and rituals truly lead to Nibbana,
especially when they were told that more bead-counting and
chanting would be necessary to enter the heavenly planes.

Then in 1984 along came Bhante into the midst of all these
confusing teachings of the different Buddhism tradition. There
is a parallel to this situation in the time of the Blessed One:

Kalama Sutta
(Anguttara Nikaya Sutta No. 65)
Thus I have heard. Once the Blessed One, while walking in
the Kosala country with a large community of bhikkhus,
entered a town of the Kalama people called Kesaputta.

The Kalamas said: "Reverend Gotama, the monk, the son of


the Sakiyans, has, while wandering in the Kosala country,
entered Kesaputta. The good repute of the Reverend Gotama
has been spread in this way:

"Indeed, the Blessed One is thus consummate, fully


enlightened, endowed with knowledge and practice, sublime,
knower of the worlds, peerless, guide of tameable men,
teacher of divine and human beings, which he by himself has
through direct knowledge understood clearly.

He set forth the Dhamma, good in the beginning, good in the


middle, good in the end, possessed of meaning and the letter,
and complete in everything; and he proclaims the holy life
that is perfectly pure. Seeing such consummate ones is good
indeed."
116

Then the Kalamas went to where the Blessed One was. On


arriving there some paid homage to him and sat down on one
side; some exchanged greetings with him and after the ending
of cordial talk, sat down on one side; some saluted him raising
their joined palms and sat down on one side; some
announced their name and family and sat down on one side;
some without speaking, sat down on one side.

The Kalamas sitting on one side said to the Blessed One:


"There are some monks and brahmins, venerable sir, who visit
Kesaputta. They expound and explain only their own
doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull
to pieces. Some other monks and brahmins too, venerable sir,
come to Kesaputta. They also expound and explain only their
own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile,
and pull to pieces. Venerable sir, there is doubt, there is
uncertainty in us concerning them. Which of these reverend
monks and brahmins spoke the truth and which falsehood?"

JV: Just as in the days of the Blessed One, so in the time of


Bhante Suvanno, who came in the midst of the confused
teachings in Northern Malaya. He taught a different form of
Buddhism and best of all gave details of what he taught. This
was not any airy fairy teachings; he could quote stories and
sutta spoken by the Blessed One to back up his lectures; for the
first time the laity could question and receive proper, factual
replies based on the suttas. Bhante’s replies were orderly,
factual, simple and easy to understand. The laity was able to
relate to the answers he gave. The drift towards Theravada
tradition commenced at this time. The people of Northern
Malaya saw the truth as did the Kalamas during the time of the
Blessed One.
117

The laity invited him to give Dhamma lectures in the temples,


usually a non Theravada temple. This was rather inconvenient
and devotees began to seek a proper centre for Bhante
Suvanno. The Bukit Mertajam Centre initially took a rented
premise to initiate this aspect of Bhante’s Dhamma work. On
this rented premises, the devotees built a kuti (hut) and invited
Bhante to be the religious teacher. They then formed a group to
call on householders and talked Dhamma to them. They did
“cold calls” on the people living in the more rural areas and
were very successful in such a form of propagation.

Bhante was at this time in Mi Tor See. The Bukit Mertajam


Centre members took the trouble to bring interested devotees
to see him at Mi Tor See for him to conduct meditation
training and to answer questions that they themselves was not
able to answer. The enthusiasm grew and more devotes spent
their time in Dhamma work. They even went as far as to
Singapore to spread the Dhamma when local devotees had
interested parties over in those places.

When Buddhist Hermitage in Lunas was mooted, the devotees


in Bukit Mertajam Centre helped to raise funds for the
construction of the Hermitage. When the Hermitage was ready,
there were great discussions as to whether to close the Bukit
Mertajam Centre or link it with the Hermitage in Lunas. It was
Bhante’s advice that it would be a better idea to remain
separate and thus have two centres.

It was Bhante, too who in time helped to purchase a property


for the Bukit Mertajam Centre to finally have a place of their
very own.
118

Bhante Suvanno thus helped give birth to and then nurtured


Theravada Buddhism in the North. By many other such
activities he managed to create awareness of the Theravada
tradition here in North Malaya and then see it spread to other
centres in Malaysia.

Inviting Sayadaws to Teach and Conduct Workshops


JV: On many occasions knowledgeable Burmese teachers
(Sayadaws) of meditation were invited to conduct courses on
specific topics for the benefit of devotees. One such course was
a workshop on Abhidhamma by the Venerable Sayadaw U
Silananda. There is always a resident Sayadaw regularly at the
Hermitage all year round to instruct on meditation. Devotees
are encouraged to attend retreats at any time suitable to
themselves.

Chanting On Occasions
JV: On special occasions, Bhante Suvanno and a few monks
will be called upon to chant at happy occasions or for the
benefit of a sick person. On happy occasions such as birthdays,
anniversaries, birth of new babies and others, devotees will go
to either of the two centres after ascertaining that Bhante is at
the centre, in order to request his attendance to chant for the
well being of the people involved in such occasions.

In certain situations where superstitious devotees arrive to


request that he bless the statute of the Blessed One, he will
always refuse the request, saying that as the Blessed One was his
teacher, he Suvanno, will not be so disrespectful as to assume to
have the authority to bless his Teacher. Bhante will take any
appropriate opportunity to educate the devotees in the
correctness of their views and deeds.
119

Marriage Ceremonies
JV: Many married couples, old and new, specifically request
Bhante to sort out their marriage problem. Bhante enjoys
attending pre-nuptial ceremonies where he will always deliver a
Dhamma lecture. The usual content of his marriage lectures is
that:

• Couples must always respect each other,


• Feel right to say sorry when such is necessary,
• Speak and act lovingly and towards each other,
• Take up the 5 precepts.

True Life Experiences


Bhante’s conduct of himself is a strict adherence to the rules of
conduct of bhikkhus (Vinaya) set up by the Blessed One 2600
years ago. In no way does he compromise on these rules. Even
his own personal comforts are of no importance.

In their good intentions to give him the best of everything,


devotees will check with him on his preferences for this and
that; his stock reply is always the same: “Never mind lah, no
need, lah.”

Devotee: Bhante, what would you like for lunch?


BHANTE: never mind lah, no need lah.
Another devotee: Bhante, would you like bird’s nest soup for
breakfast?
BHANTE: never mind lah, no need lah, anything will do lah,
don’t trouble lah.
Yet another devotee: Bhante, I have brought you some fantastic
super multi-vitamins that will give you super long life.
120

BHANTE: never mind lah, no need lah, no need to have so


long life lah.
One more devotee: Bhante, I will take you to see this very
special specialist, he cures every sort of sickness.
BHANTE: no need lah, die die lah.

That is Bhante; a simple monk with simple needs. Basic needs


and simplicity, that best describes him. He is comfortable not
wearing even slippers anytime of the day. A simple man is he. A
man without needs is a happy man! He is the Dhamma!

Eating
JV: When eating, he prefers to take his meal in the true
bhikkhu manner from the alms bowl, unless of course it
becomes inconvenient as when visiting a devotee’s house. In
that case any ordinary utensils will do. He at no time will
inconvenience the devotees. There is no request for special
food. Request for food is against the rules of conduct in the
bhikkhus’ rules (Vinaya). A bhikkhus’s training is in getting rid
of greed, anger and delusion; thus, any request for material
items or gains is against the training. Even when he is sick from
diarrhoea, he will eat what is placed before him; not even under
the pretext of sickness will Bhante request for special food; he
believes this is just to justify the greed for food.

Medical Care
JV: With Bhante, there is no need for medical care. Any
sickness will naturally take care of itself. Though he had been in
the medical profession for many years he does not believe in
taking too many medication. There is no need for a monk to
be afraid of sickness and pain; these phenomena are part and
parcel of a conditioned being.
121

If one does not believe and internalise the Teachings of the


Blessed One, then, one will surely be unduly concerned of the
consequences of sickness but all things are impermanent, even
sickness. It either kills us or we get better. If it kills us, so be it;
that is probably the vipaka of kamma, the result of
unwholesome deeds of the past.

We may get well, so why worry; the trip to see the doctor would
then be unnecessary. If one is convinced that one is on the path
of virtue and is keeping our precepts well one should be
confident that these impermanent phenomena will go away.
Others will come, and if we were practising vipassana
meditation well, we will be able to note their arising and
passing away; realising that they are impermanent.

We should be able to observe all phenomena arising and


contemplate on their impermanence and suffering nature, thus,
gaining realisation into the non-selfness of existence. Sickness
and pain in this respect is our teacher. In the time of the
Blessed One, He recommended drinking fermented cow’s urine
as a cure all for all diseases.

Being eighty years of age and still as good physically as a


younger person, one can believe that what he preaches is the
truth. The machinery, that is his material body, is still intact,
though there are signs that it is quietly breaking up. No doctor
is able to stop that. Should the need arises that he actually has
to get medical assistance it will be to relieve the temporary
uneasiness, after which the doctor’s medicine will be left
untouched, left on the small table in his kuti.
122

In any phase of his life and in any situation he finds himself in,
Bhante will always set an exemplary manner according to the
Teachings of the Blessed One. The Dhamma is his guide in life
and the Vinaya its law. He is not ostentatious in the observance
of the rules; he does not chant them daily, but you will know by
his body language that the rules and conduct has been inducted
into the fibres of his mind and body.

He is the rule; he is the vinaya; he walks them. He will never


deviate even a wee bit from them. Such is the man, a rare breed
of monks. The Master has set the rules, it has been internalise
within his mind and body and they are his guide to the Path of
Freedom, Liberation from samsara.

BHANTE: I have accomplished what I set out to do.

JV: Yes, assuredly he has. The end of the road is near. There is
however no fear or reluctance when Bhante lectures about it.
There is no reluctance to mention the thought of passing on.
All things are impermanent in nature, all conditioned things
are subject to decay and death, said the Blessed One.

Bhante Suvanno is looking forward to the next adventure and


in the short duration that he returns to develop his other
perfections. At any time that he considers his passing away, he
would surely remind anyone within earshot that his funeral
should be a simple one. If at all “put my remains in that carton
box over there and just burn it up. The carton will make a good
burning catalyst.”
123

Bhante as he was then


JV: Year 2000; Bhante Suvanno enters his 80th year, and into
the 20th vassa (years) as a bhikkhu; he is thus regarded as “a
great elder”; a Mahathera. Despite his age, Bhante maintains a
good memory where Dhamma is concerned.

However, there is no doubt that his health is gradually limiting


him from engaging in active Dhamma work. As abbot of Mi
Tor See and Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas, Bhante is currently
assisted by the Venerables Sayadaw U Aggadhamma and
Sayadaw U Summana of Myanmar. In residence too is a local
bhikkhu, Bhikkhu Kondanna.

He regularly receives visitors at the two centres. He was the


spiritual advisor of the Bukit Mertajam Buddhist Meditation
Centre since 1985 and trustee of the Mahindarama (Sri Lanka)
Buddhist Temple in Penang.

Sometimes he would question devotees on how much they have


benefitted from the Dhamma. He used to wonder how many of
his audience had truly practised the teachings of the Great
teacher. Let us resolve to be good followers of the Blessed One
and walk the Path as shown by Bhante Suvanno, following in
the footsteps of the Great Teacher.
124

Bhante on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness


JV: Many a time, especially during the years of 1990 into the
year 2000, there were a few meditation sayadaws and
practitioners who came out with pronouncements of new
methods of Vipassana meditation, and flocks of people would
abandon the Mahasi method of Vipassana meditation to take
up training in the new methods. Some even claim that so and
so sayadaw has a new method that is a short-cut to realisation;
others will have simplified the method and gain fast and better
results. Many of Bhante’s devotees would excitedly approach
Bhante and inform him of the new methods of training in
Vipassana. Even in today’s Vipassana meditation training, there
are also such statements made; thus some are confused as to the
reality of Mahasi’s method in reference to the new methods.
Bhante will have one stock answer to all the new teachings.

BHANTE: If there was a better way, the Buddha would have


taught the better way, but He taught only the Four Foundations
of Mindfulness, in other words Satipatthana Vipassana;
Mindfulness of the Four Foundations with each in and out
breath (ref: Anapanasati Mindfulness of Breathing by
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu); which means mindful of feelings, of the
body, of the mind and of the Dhamma.

Now in the case of the Mahasi method, the practice is noting


the rising phenomena from the six sense doors while observing
the rising and falling of the abdomen as the primary object of
meditation; the rising and falling as equivalent to the in and
out breathing technique. The rational being that the
movements of the abdomen is easier to observe as it is gross
and very apparent; while the in out breath is finer and more
difficult to observe. The name may give the impression that it
125

was a method invented by Mahasi Sayadaw; that in reality is not


the case; it was just the method inspired by him as he
discovered that the method employed of observing the rising
and falling of the abdomen was capable of attaining momentary
concentration, necessary for the contemplation of the
characteristics of existence; impermanence, suffering and non-
self leading into the stream of Nibbana.

In fact, the method he applied was not his own invention, but
learnt from another teacher; the Venerable Mingun Jetavan
Sayadaw (1869-1954). Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw learnt the
practice directly from the Suttas backed by the Commentaries
and sub-commentaries over a hundred years ago.

The phrase “Mahasi method” is just a nomenclature to identify


an orthodox practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness
as taught by the Blessed One Himself according to the Sutta
and Commentaries and sub-commentaries; the authority of the
Buddha’s Dhamma-Vinaya. It was so named by practitioners
who found the method, popularised by Mahasi Sayadaw,
brought in the desired results of attaining Vipassana insights in
a graduated manner.

Historical Facts from Myanmar


In 1931 the young monk known as Ashin Sobana (Mahasi
Sayadaw) together with another fellow monk left for the town
of Thaton. He was seeking a teacher to learn the method of
Vipassana meditation. At this time the practice of Vipassana
was not popular as not many teachers were available, so it was
quite fortunate for Ashin Sobana to have found a teacher of
some fame to begin his Vipassana training.
126

This Sayadaw was the venerable Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw, who


had learnt his basic practice from a well known sayadaw of that
era, Aletawya Sayadawgi who in his turn had learnt the method
from another sayadaw known as Thee-Lon Sayadawgi thirty
years ago. These teachers or masters popularly known as
sayadawgi are well known historical teachers of satipatthana
meditation in Burma.

Thus, the lineage of the “Mahasi” method has a pedigree of


over a hundred years. It has stood the test of time as many
students had attained to higher levels of achievement in the
training. (Ref. Biography of the Most Venerable Mahasi
Sayadaw)

Today in Myanmar alone there are more than 400 centres


teaching this method of Vipassana Meditation. It is also well
know internationally and brought to the United States of
America, where there are also numerous such centres.

The number of centres worldwide would vouch for the efficacy


of the method.

Stated simply, when the yogi is noting the rise and fall of the
abdomen, he is also mindful of the feelings where the body is
concerned; that is mindfulness of the body and feelings. As he
is aware of thoughts and sensations he is also aware of the
arising and falling process in his mind; that is in simple term;
mindfulness of the mind; as he goes on observing and
developing concentration; the purity of the mind is achieved as
he is taking the precepts and is practising the eightfold path.
Thus all four foundations are involved.
127

JV: The problem arises when practitioners are unable to rid


themselves of the hindrances in their practice as herein stated.
Let us see what the Blessed One has to say in regards to this.

Avarana Sutta: Obstacles (Hindrances)


(anguttara nikaya 5.51)
Nyanaponika Thera

On one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Savatthi, in


Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's Monastery. There he addressed
the bhikkhus, "Bhikkhus!"
"Yes, Lord," the bhikkhus replied.

THE BLESSED ONE: There are five impediments and


hindrances, overgrowths of the mind that stultify insight. What
five?

Sensual desire is an impediment and hindrance, an overgrowth


of the mind that stultifies insight.

Ill-will...
Sloth and torpor...
Restlessness and remorse...
Sceptical doubt, are further impediments and hindrances,
overgrowths of the mind that stultify insight. Without having
overcome these five, it is impossible for a monk whose insight
thus lacks strength and power, to know his own true good, the
good of others, and the good of both; nor will he be capable of
realising that superhuman state of distinctive achievement, the
knowledge and vision enabling the attainment of sanctity.
128

But if a monk has overcome these five impediments and


hindrances, these overgrowths of the mind that stultify insight,
then it is possible that, with his strong insight, he can know his
own true good, the good of others, and the good of both; and
he will be capable of realising that superhuman state of
distinctive achievement, the knowledge and vision enabling the
attainment of sanctity.

One whose heart is overwhelmed by unrestrained covetousness


will do what he should not do and neglect what he ought to do.
And through that, his good name and his happiness will come
to ruin.

One whose heart is overwhelmed by ill-will... by sloth and


torpor... by restlessness and remorse... by sceptical doubt will do
what he should not do and neglect what he ought to do. And
through that, his good name and his happiness will come to
ruin.

But if a noble disciple has seen these five as defilements of the


mind, he will give them up. And doing so, he is regarded as one
of great wisdom, of abundant wisdom, clear-visioned, well
endowed with wisdom. This is called "endowment with
wisdom." (anguttara 4:61

Suppose there were a river, flowing down from the mountains;


going far, its current swift, carrying everything with it; and a
man would open channels leading away from it on both sides,
so that the current in the middle of the river would be
dispersed, diffused, and dissipated; it wouldn't go far, its
current wouldn't be swift, and it wouldn't carry everything
along with it.
129

In the same way, when a monk has not abandoned these five
obstacles, hindrances that overwhelm awareness and weaken
discernment, when he is without strength and weak in
discernment for him to understand what is for his own benefit,
to understand what is for the benefit of others, to understand
what is for the benefit of both, to realise a superior human
state, a truly noble distinction in knowledge and vision: that is
impossible.

Suppose there were a river, flowing down from the mountains;


going far, its current swift, carrying everything with it; and a
man would close the channels leading away from it on both
sides, so that the current in the middle of the river would be
undispersed, undiffused, and undissipated; it would go far, its
current swift, carrying everything with it.

In the same way, when a monk has abandoned these five


obstacles, hindrances that overwhelm awareness and weaken
discernment, when he is strong in discernment: for him to
understand what is for his own benefit, to understand what is
for the benefit of others, to understand what is for the benefit
of both, to realise a superior human state, a truly noble
distinction in knowledge and vision: that is possible.

Nourishment of Doubt
There are things causing doubt; frequently giving unwise
attention to them; that is the nourishment for the arising of
doubt that has not yet arisen, and for the increase and
strengthening of doubt that has already arisen. SN 46:51
130

Six things are conducive to the abandonment of doubt:


1. Knowledge of the Doctrine and Discipline,
2. Asking questions about them (investigation of the
Dhamma),
3. Familiarity with the Vinaya (the Code of Monastic
Discipline, and for lay followers, with the principles of
moral conduct);
4. Association with those mature in age and experience,
who possess dignity, restraint and calm; firm
conviction concerning the Buddha, Dhamma and
Sangha.
5. Noble friendship;
6. Suitable conversation.

Simile Sceptical Doubt


A man traveling through a desert, aware that travelers may be
plundered or killed by robbers, will, at the mere sound of a twig
or a bird, become anxious and fearful, thinking: "The robbers
have come!" He will go a few steps, and then out of fear, he will
stop, and continue in such a manner all the way; or he may
even turn back. Stopping more frequently than walking, only
with toil and difficulty will he reach a place of safety, or he may
not even reach it.

It is similar with one in whom doubt has arisen in regard to


one of the eight objects of doubt. They are, doubt in regard to
the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, the threefold training,
sila, samadhi, panna; (which amounts to the noble eightfold
path) the past, the future, both past and future, and the
conditionality of phenomena dependently arisen.
131

Doubting whether the Master is an Enlightened One or not, he


cannot accept it in confidence, as a matter of trust. Unable to
do so, he does not attain to the paths and fruits of sanctity.

Thus, as the traveler in the desert is uncertain whether robbers


are there or not, he produces in his mind, again and again, a
state of wavering and vacillation, a lack of decision, a state of
anxiety; and thus he creates in himself an obstacle for reaching
the safe ground of sanctity. In that way, sceptical doubt is like
traveling in a desert.

5. The Abandonment of Sceptical Doubt


There is a strong man who, with his luggage in hand and well
armed, travels through a wilderness in company. If robbers see
him even from afar, they will take flight. Crossing safely the
wilderness and reaching a place of safety, he will rejoice in his
safe arrival. Similarly a monk, seeing that sceptical doubt is a
cause of great harm, cultivates the six things that are its
antidote, and gives up doubt. Just as that strong man, armed
and in company, taking as little account of the robbers as of the
grass on the ground, will safely come out of the wilderness to a
safe place; similarly a monk, having crossed the wilderness of
evil conduct, will finally reach the state of highest security, the
deathless realm of Nibbana.

Therefore the Blessed One compared the abandonment of


sceptical doubt to reaching a place of safety.

Doubt is eliminated on the first stage, the path of stream-entry


(sotapatti-magga). Sensual desire, ill will and remorse are
eliminated on the third stage, the path of non-returner
132

(anagami-magga) Sloth and torpor and restlessness are eradicated


on the path of Arahantship (arahatta-magga).

Thus, it is when practitioners are unable to rid themselves of


the hindrances that they become dissatisfied with their present
method of practice. They do not see their shortcomings and put
the failure of their meditation on the method of practice rather
than admit their own inadequacy; they fail to look within to
assess the problem. Thus, they will continue to seek what they
believe is the correct method...but alas...having too much dust
in their eyes they do not see the problem within. They are not
applying the teaching of Vipassana on themselves. Seek first
within yourself; that is the message of Vipassana.

Bhante used to demonstrate with his fingers as he applies the


index finger to punctuate others’ fault. When the index finger
is pointing; the thumb is raised and the other three fingers are
closed; thus the tree fingers are directed to oneself. He
elaborates: when you are accusing someone with one finger;
three other fingers are pointing to yourself.
133

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sam
Sambuddhassa
buddhassa

CHAPTER 8
STORIES FROM BHANTE

“When a man, after a long absence,


returns home safe from afar,
Relatives, friends and well wishers
welcome him on arrival.
Likewise, having done good deeds,
When one goes from this world to the next,
Good deeds will welcome one,
As relatives welcome a dear one on arrival.”
134

JV: Bhante Suvanno is fond of using stories in his lectures. This


really helps put his message across more meaningfully. Animals
have various characteristics and tendencies and Bhante applies
these characteristics in his stories. As an example, snakes are
supposed to have inherent deceptive natures. Let us hear a story
from Bhante Suvanno regarding this.

The Concrete Jungle


A snake was quietly waiting by the side of a pond surveying the
area as he was hungry and looking for a juicy meal. It spied a
frog on the other side of the pool and began to make a noise
emulating a male frog doing a mating call (here Bhante will
purse up his lips and imitate a bull frog’s mating call and this
usually have the audience in stitches of laughter). “I’m here”
(Bhante interprets the call); female frog: “where”; snake, “I’m
here”; and the female frog hopped nearer to the sound, asking
“where”; the snake croaks again, “I’m here”; and the female
frog croaks as she hopped near to the hidden snake; asking
“Where”; by and by as she comes within striking range of the
snake, the frog is gobbled up with a quick snap.

Thus, Bhante likened a cunning person to the snake, conning


innocent victims, represented by the gullible frog.

Bhante’s Coffin
One day Bhante was riding pillion up the hill to visit another
bhikkhu residing on a nearby hillslope. This particular centre
was not accessible by car and the only means of ascending the
hill was either by riding up on a two wheeled scooter or to take
a long hike up through a steep slippery path.
135

Unfortunately, as the rider of the scooter stopped to let Bhante


off, the calf of his left leg grazed the extremely hot exhaust pipe
of the scooter and was badly burnt. On returning to Mi Tor
See, a devotee offered some ointment to dress the burn.
Thinking that it was not a serious burn, Bhante left it and as
was his wont, did not have a doctor attend to the burn. The
burn festered for few days and as he went about his daily duties
of sweeping the compound of Mi Tor See, he stepped on a
sharp splinter which pierced the sole of his right foot.

So it was that, when devotees visited him, they found him with
both feet not functioning! One foot was due to the severe burn
on his calf which was turning septic, with the wound going
deep into the fleshy calf and the surrounding area was very
angrily red and sore; the other foot was swollen at the point
where the splinter pierced the sole. The head of the splinter
could be seen buried deep inside and was pus-filled.

There he was sitting down, with one leg slightly raised resting
on the large toe and the other bent and resting on the sole,
carrying on a conversation, oblivious to the seriousness of his
wounds. At this time the burn was already seven days old, but
Bhante had not deemed it serious enough to have a doctor
dress the burn. This was usual with him as he had never taken
any serious concern with his own bodily needs. After some
persuasion he consented to visit a nearby clinic. The doctor
cleaned the burn, cutting away about two inches in diameter of
the dead flesh which had turned grey in colour, going deep into
the calf. The doctor explained that the heat of the exhaust burn
was probably in the region of 400˚C, much, much hotter than
boiling water and would definitely have cooked all the flesh to a
depth near the bone.
136

The splinter was taken out from the other foot. Both were
dressed and bandaged with instructions to change the bandages
every two or three days. It took a couple of weeks dressing
before the burn was finally healed. Bhante explained that these
wounds to both his feet were results of some bad kamma in a
previous existence. He then told the story of the Blessed One’s
passing away and His sickness on the way to Parinibbana, he
further went on to relate how the Blessed One’s two chief
disciples passed away even before the Blessed One Himself and
also their passing away was also attended by remnants of results
of kamma of previous existence.

A few days after the visit to the doctor, a couple of devotees


paid a visit to enquire about Bhante regarding his wounds. The
visit found Bhante in a rather reflective mood and the
conversation went round to death ceremonies and so forth. It
then centred on how Bhante would want to have his body
disposed of after death. He particularly desired that the
devotees purchase a cheap coffin and have it brought to Mi Tor
See right away, to lie there in readiness for his death.

The coffin should be as simple as possible and inexpensive. His


body should be laid inside at death and be cremated at the
soonest possible time, without letting too many people know
about his passing away.

After cremation, the ashes should be strewn around the foot of


trees to serve as fertiliser. Only then should his family be
informed. If asked, the whereabouts of his ashes should not be
revealed to anyone, preventing any speculative search for bone
remnants.
137

On Mediums
BHANTE: When I was a teenager, I was with a friend who was
a medium in a temple. A medium is a person who purportedly
is able to communicate with the dead or the devas. When the
deity or deva has possessed the medium, he goes into a trance. I
was curious and wished to experience this trance. However
hard I tried, I was not able to emulate this state of mind. This
shows that a person who has a strong mind can never be
“possessed” and enter this trance state.

On Dying Moments
BHANTE: When I was a hospital assistant, I witnessed many
cases of dying moments of people, how they behaved, their
supposedly eccentricities, etc. According to the Blessed One’s
Teachings, people who are at their death moments, experience
some form of augury of their future rebirths. I witnessed some
of the abnormal behaviour of these dying persons and I could
imagine what would be their destinies in their next life.

The physical and mental condition of a dying man is so weak


that the volitional control by the mind at the moment of dying
lacks the power to choose its own thoughts. This being so, the
memory of some powerfully impressive and important event of
the dying man’s present existence (or his past existence) will
force itself upon the threshold of his mind, the forcible entry of
which thought he is powerless to resist. This thought which is
known as the thought that precedes the terminal thought can
be one of these three types.

Firstly, it can be the thought of some powerfully impressive act


done (kamma) which the dying man now recalls to mind.
138

Secondly, the powerfully impressive act of the past can be


recalled by way of a symbol of that act (kamma nimatta) as, for
instance, if he had stolen money from a safe, he may see a safe.

Thirdly, the powerfully impressive act of the past may be


recalled by way of a sign or indication of the place where he is
destined to be reborn by reason of such an act, say for instance
when a man who has done a great charitable act hears beautiful
divine music. This is called gati nimittas or the sign of
destination. It is symbolic of his place of rebirth.

These three types of thought-objects that he cannot consciously


choose for himself are known as death signs and any one of
them as the case may be, will very strongly and vividly appear to
the consciousness of the dying man.

I was at one time working in the old peoples’ division of the


Tanjong Rambutan Mental Hospital (a hospital for the
chronically insane), where I saw this old man who went to the
spittoon next to his bed. He started stirring the contents of
faeces and urine in the spittoon. He was holding a cup
containing milo, which he threw away and began to scoop up
the mixture with relish, licking his lips in obvious enjoyment!
This is the sign to show that the dying person is experiencing
his next realm of existence where faeces is his food.

Another instance which I have mentioned many times in my


Dhamma lectures concerned a man who, in a delirious state,
would scratch and pull his neck till it bruised. Upon seeing
this, the nurse in attendance tied up his hands to prevent him
from further injuring himself. In the report the nurse wrote
“delirious”.
139

When I approached him and enquired about his actions, he


replied that there was a chain, which he was trying to remove
from around his neck.

There were many such incidents, like the dying man who was
munching away all the time but his mouth was empty of food. I
used to sit with these odd cases and tried to engage them in
conversation.

There was a time that a devotee came to listen to my Dhamma


lecture. He was about 43 years of age and at that point in time
he was suffering from cancer. Realising he had to do good, he
performed many dana but he was not able to keep his precepts.
It was his habit to send his son to do the dana on his behalf.
One day a year later, his condition deteriorated. He sent his
daughter to invite me to the house. When I arrived I gave a
Dhamma lecture and did some chanting and left him a tape of
chanting with the advice to continue listening till the last
moment.

On the final day he was still listening to the tape. However


during the night, he asked his children to switch off the tape.
When he was reminded that it was my special instruction to
them to keep the tape on, he shouted angrily that he wanted
the tape to be switched off. The children had no choice but to
do as told.

He then further instructed his children to open the main door


of the house. His children, not wishing to do that, made a
pretence of noisily opening the door, thinking that that should
appease him as he was not in a position to see the door itself.
But somehow he knew that the door was not opened.
140

He shouted angrily, “do you think I am stupid? You think I do


not know? Go and open the door”, having no choice again, the
children opened the door. When the door was open, he started
mumbling and calling the names of his departed relatives and
inviting them to come into the house, as though inviting
friends to come for a visit. Shortly after that he passed away.

I like to emphasise that these real life experiences are


frightening and eerie but these are in accordance with the
teachings of the Blessed One in which he said that dying
persons will experience kamma, kamma nimitta or gati nimitta
at the death proximate moment. Therefore I keep encouraging
people to practise the teachings of the Blessed One which is
nothing but:

Do not do evil, Do good and Purify the mind

Doing Good
Even when I was young, I had the intention of doing good.
There was a nun, a strict vegetarian, who lived a few houses
away. One day I visited her to ask how a person should do good
deeds. I was told by her that if I wanted to do good deeds, I
should start by killing as many lizards as I could in her temple
as these lizards were defecating on the head of the “hut chor
ma” (Hokkien for the Goddess of Mercy) image on the temple’s
altar. She further told me that the merits for killing one lizard
were equivalent to the merits acquired by one being a
vegetarian for a whole year. So I started killing the lizards with a
rubber band. I was gullible and naïve when I was young as I did
not have the opportunity to listen to the true Dhamma. I was
taught wrong things.
141

Getting On to the Right Train


Bhante constantly likened his position now as getting on to the
right train which will eventually reach its destination. If one is
not careful, one can easily get onto the wrong train, in which
event not only will one not reach one’s destination, but having
discovered that one is on the wrong train, one has to find a way
to get off!

To get off one has to retrieve all of one’s travelling gear, find
one’s way back to the original starting point and look for the
right train. A waste of time and effort!

Vegetarian Food
In certain religious sects, the belief is that a purely vegetarian
diet promotes purity and good health. However, they should
also consider that as such food are made to look as replicas of
certain meat dishes when taken as such, there is the tendency to
compare the taste of the artificial variety.

Herein lies the source of greed and craving. There is the


unconscious or even conscious comparison, thus these
sensuous sensations cause the rise of likes and aversion.

Another factor to bear in mind too, is the fact that killing of


living beings are also unavoidable in the planting process of the
vegetarian origin.

With the introduction of chemical fertilisers and pesticides to


encourage plant growth, the concept of pure vegetarian origin is
also a fallacy. When chemicals are introduced into the
atmosphere, the sources of unknown diseases are also
introduced.
142

Whereas, in mindful consumption of food that is offered by


devotees, in the Theravada tradition, regardless of meat or
vegetarian sources, without choice or recognition of the food;
there is no sensuous sensation to cause the liking or aversion of
the food consumed. There is no craving or attachment to
certain types of food.

Those that consume food for enjoyment have craving and


attachment in them, whilst those that mindfully consume food
solely as sustenance for the practice of Dhamma will not be
troubled by craving and attachment. So it is not the consuming
of vegetarian or meat dish that counts, it is that we eat
mindfully. Eating mindfully causes no craving, thus no greed
arises.
143

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma


Sambuddha
Sambuddhassa
buddhassa

EPILOGUE

JV: In the uncertainties and suffering of his childhood days,


when his heart had cried out for
love and understanding of the
meaninglessness of life as he saw
it then and when no solace was
forthcoming, Khoo Eng Kim had
no inkling as to what would be
his fate as painful days follow
each other.

By kammic intervention, realised


only through hindsight, drops of
fresh, pure Dhamma gem, albeit
raw knowledge of suffering, began
to shape his mind. This would
eventually guide him to the Path
he was to tread as an adult. When
this matured in time, every single thought, speech and act
paralleled the teachings of the Greatest Teacher of all times.

His whole life had been moulded by a painful childhood which


pain had forcibly channelled his very thoughts, speech and
actions to the path of purity, just as would the raging flood
waters characterise the river and help to shape the eventual
course of the river itself.
144

Mindfulness of thought, speech and deed and ensuring that


they are in accordance with his knowledge of the Dhamma, had
been the fount of his gathering wisdom. The purity of the two
great protectors of mankind was his constant companion.
These were his right and left hand guardians. What two? Hiri
and Ottappa were their names. These two wise guardians of his
path to purity had never left him for a single moment alone,
since they had taken him over as their favourite child.

Hiri, whose power springs from the shame of doing evil deeds;
Ottappa, whose wisdom matured through the fear of the results
of evil deeds. These were the twin tutors constantly weeding out
little unwholesomeness about to arise in him, tempering and
moulding him as would fire and water temper and mould a
blade of steel.

As wisdom and understanding gradually lightened up his


confused and troubled mind, it dawned on him that all his
suffering had been the results of actions of past existences
coming to roost in this present time. Realising thus, the quality
of his present thoughts, speech and deeds became of great
significance in his daily moments. They became of great
importance to him. He laid no blame on anyone or anything
for his pain and suffering. He knew and understood the results
of kamma. Thus understanding, and having firm faith in the
workings of kamma, he began to strive heedfully with great
energy to follow the only Path that leads to a stage of purity of
thoughts, speech and deeds, so much so that it has become a
habit, a daily ritual to ensure that each thought and speech that
precedes volitional action had been vetted by his two great
guardians, Hiri and Ottappa.
145

Today as in many years before at the dawn of his knowledge of


the Dhamma, his very life is a stage show played out more and
more within the pure confines of the script of the Dhamma,
following every single word of the Great Director of life’s
drama, the Blessed One, the Buddha:

Such, indeed, is the Exalted One: Worthy, Perfectly Self


Enlightened, Endowed with knowledge and conduct, Well-
gone, Knower of the worlds, Supreme Trainer of people to be
tamed, Enlightened and Exalted.

Thus, his needs are few and simple, only sufficient for the
moment, he lays no store for the future. His understanding of
the Dhamma has brought wisdom that tells him life is but a
flitting moment; to lay store for the morrow is to increase the
greed in him. There will never be an end; for he further said, to
have lived a reasonably long healthy life is a blessing, any each
day after the age of 70 is bonus time and he is grateful for that;
live each minute then as your last because you never know
when the kammic time is at its end.

Unselfishly and with great compassion, caring only for the


salvation of human beings, he has spent more than twenty
seven years of his later life in the propagation of the true
Dhamma in a sea of doubtful so called dhammas. In this, he
brooked no interferences from any quarters.

Tirelessly, he works out his aspiration of spreading the


Dhamma. The tide of Dhamma carries him onwards to the goal
that he seeks and till his last breath he will be out there, as he
says; “cari makan lah”.
146

THE FINAL CURTAIN

Suvanno
The Monk of Golden Discipline
147

Venerable Suvanno After Year 2000 (edited)


Contribution (part) by Bro. KC Liew
Bhante Suvanno continued to spend his days at Mi Tor See
even though Buddhist Hermitage Lunas was the newly
registered Buddhist meditation centre. When the Executive
Committee of the Hermitage requested the venerable abbot to
spend more time in Lunas, he replied that the Venerable
Sayadaws were already doing their good jobs there, so he was
happy to put up at Mi Tor See.

Bhante Suvanno was happy to continue serving the regular


devotees in Penang, who had attended to him faithfully all the
years. Further, he was truly grateful to the pioneer devotees who
had raised the sum of RM26,000 to repair and renovate Mi Tor
See into a reasonable dwelling place from the initially
ramshackle temple.

It was his way to demonstrate his gratitude for their kindness,


for he was a monk full of compassion and gratitude.

It was also his way to demonstrate the way of the true Dhamma
and Vinaya, that monks need not necessary be housed in great
big temples and centres. Any abode presented by the devotees is
acceptable; just a shelter so that mosquitoes and insects do not
give discomfort to the bhikkhus in their practice of Vipassana
meditation, the true calling of well behaved bhikkhus.

For he recalls that the Blessed One has said:


148

The Five Future Dangers


1. Monks desirous of fine robes, will neglect the practice of
wearing cast-off cloth; will neglect isolated forest and
wilderness dwellings; will move to towns, cities and royal
capitals, taking up residence there. For the sake of robes
they will do many kinds of unseemly, inappropriate
deeds.

2. Monks desirous of fine food, will neglect the practice of


going for alms; will neglect isolated forest and wilderness
dwellings; will move to towns, cities and royal capitals,
taking up residence there and searching out the tip-top
tastes with the tip of the tongue. For the sake of food they
will do many kinds of unseemly, inappropriate things.

3. Monks desirous of fine lodgings, will neglect the practice


of living in the wilds; will neglect isolated forest and
wilderness dwellings; will move to towns, cities and royal
capitals, taking up residence there. For the sake of fine
lodgings they will do many kinds of unseemly,
inappropriate things.

4. Furthermore, in the course of the future there will be


monks who will live in close association with nuns,
female probationers and female novices. As they interact
with nuns, female probationers and female novices, they
can be expected either to lead the holy life dissatisfied or
to fall into one of the grosser offences, leaving the
training, returning to a lower way of life.
149

5. Furthermore, in the course of the future there will be


monks who will live in close association with monastery
attendants and novices. As they interact with monastery
attendants and novices, they can be expected to live
intent on storing up all kinds of possessions and to stake
out crops and fields.

Bhante has always been mindful that he does not stray into
those categories of bhikkhus.

As to robes, he personally wears one set and gives away those


gifted by devotees. When he was able and well, Bhante will
wash and dry his own robes.

As to food, it was his habit to eat only from his bowl, mixed
together and without choice. He used to tell the story of a time
when after he had finished his bowl of food, a devotee rushed
in and asks whether he had consumed all the food in his bowl
and Bhante replies: yes I did; and the poor guilty looking
devotees then said: Bhante I am sorry but we had by mistake
given you some chang (dumpling) that was to be thrown away.

Bhante said: I did not see what was in the bowl; I only
mindfully chewed and yes there was some sourish tasting food;
so I noted sour, sour, sour. Never mind it is alright, there was
no bad intention on your part. The grateful devotee then asked
for forgiveness and departed; Bhante was not the least
disturbed.

And also fulfilling the Vinaya rules, Bhante will always bring
along his bowl to wherever he goes when invited by
householders.
150

As to the other dangers, he is always careful that he lives in


solitude and keeps away from idolatrous devotee, male or
female. Thus, Mi Tor See was ideal for his practice. However,
from time to time, Bhante Suvanno would visit the Hermitage,
especially when there was an occasion, such as the Kathina
ceremony, Wesak day ceremony (in honour of the Blessed
One’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana) or just a casual
visit to meet his devotees on the mainland.

Janet Lim (Bhante’s wife before his renunciation) had settled


comfortably in Alberta, Canada, after Bhante’s ordination.
Every two years it was her routine to return to Malaysia with
her eldest daughter, Jenny Doyle from England to visit Bhante
wherever he may be. In the early days after Bhante's
renunciation, Janet or her daughters would write to him in Mi
Tor See. As Bhante was resolute to leave samsara and he
understood the word 'renunciation' well, he did not reply to
them.

There were times, when he was feeling uneasy receiving those


letters, so he requested Uncle Teoh Lim of Mi Tor See to reply
on his behalf. Bhante said, "I am now a monk and have cut
away ties with my family. Attachment will lead to more
suffering. As I have learnt to let go, they too, will have to learn
to let go of attachment".

The Buddhist Hermitage in Lunas, is a well known place where


meditators from all over Malaysia and even internationally
would come to learn and practise Vipassana meditation. It is
complete with teachers, suitable practise halls and
accommodation for males and females.
151

Bhante Suvanno was keen that Buddhist Hermitage Lunas


acquire a consecrated hall, called a Sima Hall, (a specially
designated area for formal meetings of the community of
monks) for the purpose of ordination of new monks.

The hall was meant for the members of the Sangha to conduct
their patimokkha sessions (recitation of the 227 precepts on
new and full moon days), ordination ceremonies or to conduct
the pavarana (a ceremony for the community of monks held at
the end of the rains retreat).

A plot of land adjacent to the Hermitage was found suitable


and purchased from a neighbour of the centre. The Ground-
Breaking Ceremony was held on 11th April 2004. A few guest
monks and many devotees were present to witness the
ceremony.

In July 2004, the Hermitage marked an important mile stone


with the arrival of Sayadaw U Sunanda of the Mahasi
Meditation Centre taking over Venerable Sayadaw U Sumana
who was to leave for Myanmar for a visit. In September, the
Sima Demarcation Ceremony was conducted by invited Thai
monks, and later another chanting session for the consecration
ceremony by visiting Myanmar monks.

Bhante Suvanno was unable to participate in the chanting


sessions even though he was present, due to his poor health. In
fact, he was hospitalised in Penang on a few occasions, besides
his routine check-up and treatment for diabetes. The
construction of the Sima was completed and the opening
ceremony was held on 25th December 2005 to coincide with the
15th Anniversary of the centre.
152

It was named Varada Abhaya Suvanna Sima. Thus, Bhante's


aspiration of having a Sima had been realised.

It was at this time too that Bhante Suvanno made the decision
to close the activities in Mi Tor See and return the ownership
of the temple to its original owners.

The year also saw Bhante losing the use of some physical
faculties, especially the right hand fingers, which had become
stiff and as a result he was unable to write or even to sign his
famous signature; A. Suvanno.

On 25th December 2005, the opening ceremony of the Varada


Abhaya Suvanna Sima was conducted. Bhante Suvanno
delivered his speech before officiating the opening of the Hall.

Many guest monks were present and later, Bhante joined them
to perform the consecration ceremony of the main Buddha
image as well as the four miniature ones in the Sima. Since
leaving Mi Tor See, Bhante spent his days at the Bukit
Mertajam Buddhist Meditation Centre (B.M.B.M.C.).

In mid 2006, the executive committee of the Hermitage invited


Bhante Suvanno to be the Patron of the Hermitage and return
to reside in Lunas. They also proposed that a new
accommodation suitable for his disability be built for him.
Bhante Suvanno obliged and construction work for the new
accommodation started on 20th September 2006. The
proposed living quarters was expected to take between two to
three months to complete.
153

During the construction of the building, Bhante Suvanno used


to visit the Hermitage to view its progress and even had the
opportunity to take a nap in the quarters named the 'Patron's
Residential Building' for a few hours during one of his visits.

The executive committee felt that something significant should


be done to honour Bhante Suvanno for his numerous
contributions to Theravada Buddhism. A few members led by
Ms. Soon Choon Lean visited Bhante at the B.M.B.M.C., to
request for Bhante's foot prints to be cast in white cement for
posterity. The committee was happy that Bhante complied with
the request. The footprints were then placed on the first floor
of the residential building.

The Patron's Residential Building was completed on 7th,


December 2006. The committee was eager to invite the abbot
back to the Hermitage but unfortunately, Bhante was admitted
into the Lam Wah Ee Specialist Hospital on 31st December of
the same year and was diagnosed with a growth in the left lung,
which had caused him to have serious phlegm problem and
vomiting spasms. Monks and devotees visited Bhante on the
following months. Members of the B.M.B.M.C. and other
devotees also continuously took turns to care for him at night.
Bhante's health did not improve and relatives in Penang
contacted Janet Lim and Mrs. Jenny Doyle.

Mrs. Jenny Doyle and Mdm. Choon Benedict, the youngest


daughter flew to Penang to see their former father. As Bhante's
health became more stable later, the daughters flew back home
but promised to be back later.
154

In the meantime, Bhante continued to receive treatment at the


Lam Wah Ee Hospital and some concerned devotees suggested
that Bhante be discharged since there were no improvement to
his condition. When Mrs. Jenny Doyle and Mdm. Choon
Benedict came back for the second trip with Janet Lim, the
committee decided to bring Bhante back to Lunas.

But that was not to be and it was as if Bhante Suvanno could


sense the difficulty to others in caring for him, especially at
night, that he finally breathed his last on 11th March (22nd day
of the Chinese first moon) 2007 at 6.30 a.m.

He died peacefully in his sleep. Janet and daughters as well as


some devotees were at the bedside.

During the months in the hospital, Bhante's mind was alert,


although at times he appeared delirious. He was aware of the
happenings around him. He was aware of the pain sensation
when the nurses came to attend to him. Bhante was happy
when members of the Sangha came to visit him. He could even
join their chanting in his soft voice. That is the wonderful
nature of the mind of a Vipassana meditator as can be seen in
Bhante Suvanno.

The Patron of Buddhist Hermitage Lunas, was 86 years, 8


months and 5 days old when he passed away.

During his healthier days, when devotees would gather around


him after lunch dana to hear his lectures and when asked about
his last days, Bhante would advise them that he would prefer a
simple funeral.
155

He said: "Just get a few pieces of plywood and nail them into a
box, big enough to put the body in. If I die in the morning,
then cremate me in the evening on the same day. That should
be good enough"; he would laughingly say this, but knowing
him we believe that he is serious in his request, as he had
mentioned this subject many a time. His last message to all
devotees is:

“Take the opportunity to develop yourselves. Cut away


greed, hatred,
hatred, delusion and lead a very calm life, so calm and
so tranquil until you really see that you have already
escaped from birth, old age, sickness and death, and never
to find rebirth; attained Nibbana".

The laying in state was held for three days and the body was
cremated at the Berapit Crematorium in Bukit Mertajam. Ms.
Soon and members went to the crematorium the following
morning to collect the bones and ashes. Members with Janet
and daughters drove across to Penang, hired two boats and
scatter the ashes into the open sea.
156

OBITUARY

CHIEF MONK SUVANNO DIES AT 86


(Star News Nation Monday March 12, 2007)

Thoroughly worn out is this body,


A nest of diseases, perishable.
This putrid mass breaks up.
Truly,
Life
Life ends in death.
(The Dhammapada - verse 148)

PENANG: Ven Acara Suvanno Maha Thero (pic), well known


as the monk instrumental in reviving Theravada Buddhism in
the northern states, has died at the age of 86.

The Buddhist Hermitage Lunas chief monk, known as Bhante


Suvanno among the community, died in his sleep at the Lam
Wah Ee Hospital here at 6.30am yesterday.

Hermitage secretary C.S. Liew said Suvanno was suffering from


lung cancer and had been warded since Dec 31 (2006).
157

"The doctor said surgery was not advisable because of his age,
and Bhante Suvanno declined chemotherapy. He had problems
with phlegm because of the growth in his lungs," Liew said.

The cortege will leave the Hermitage (phone number: 04-484


4027) in Kampung Seberang Sungai, Lunas, Kedah, for
cremation at the Berapit Crematorium in Bukit Mertajam,
Central Seberang Prai, at 2pm on Tuesday.

Thus, he came uninvited and goes alone to a destination no


one knows where. Came as a nobody and go on to be a nobody.
158

An E u l o g y

An Uncommon
Uncommon
Dhammaduta Sangha
Sangha

The Venerable
Venerable
Bhante Acara Suvanno Mahathera
Mahathera
(1920-
(1920-2007)
159

Khoo Eng Kim was an ordinary man but he began life with less
worth than any ordinary child; he suffered great deprivation at
the hands of family relatives…he passed into nibbana in the
early morning (6.30am) of Sunday March 11 in the year 2007;
calmly and quietly, without fuss or fanfare just as he had lived
his life as the Blessed One’s true disciple.

“Ven Acara Suvanno Maha Thera, well known as the monk


instrumental in breathing life to Theravada Buddhism in the
northern states of Malaya [at that time], has died at the age of
86”.

“Chief Monk” was not the epithet he would have used on


himself, nor would he want to be known by such an honorific
title; he preferred a quiet, solitary life staying in an out-of-the
way old derelict temple, recovered for his use when all he had
over his head was a roof of rambutan branches and leaves! He
had never wished for any recognition of his work or even for
himself, his only concern and care was for all those who came
to him seeking the road to non suffering; that they should
practise the Path taught by the Blessed One.

He had only desired that his friends would “jhow” [hokkien


dialect meaning to run away] and join him in nibbana; as he often
remarked at his Dhamma lectures: “then I would look around
and see all my friends around me and I will happily say: ‘ah
good, you are also here!’

Many were the times he was invited to receive honours at the


hands of famous monks and meditation institutions from
Myanmar; in particular from the Mahasi Meditation Centre,
Yangon, in recognition of his exemplary dhammaduta work.
160

In all cases he would quietly decline without making any


comments. His well known Hokkien phrase being: “Um mai
lah…bei ewe kin lah…[translation: not necessary…never mind…] ”
said with a calm quiet smile, full of compassion and humility.
He never desired any of the adulations and accolades heaped
onto him by his devotees; as usual a smile and a quiet walk
away: “bei ewe kin lah…” would be his only acknowledgement
of the praises and honours render him.

Even in the centre in Lunas, organised “for him” by devotees,


he was not at all affected by the adulations of devotees and it
was his wont to “escape” into the forest to be by himself when
situations were a bit stressed due to factional squabbles in the
centre.

In particular, he had this great desire to be away for solitary


meditation far away from his base of Penang. We headed
faraway to the south of the country and stayed at a big quiet
house in the town of Kulai for a while till the death of his very
good friend and kappiya, Uncle Teoh Lim forced him to return
to Penang.

In particular, memory recalls a visit to his favoured destination;


Yangon…this time [planning for his own demise in the near future as
he thought] to give away financial subsidies from his devotees to
numerous temples and meditation centres there. At every
centre and temple visited…his manner was a noble silence just
to hand over the cash subsidies and humbly walk away. His
only acknowledgement of gratitude from the recipients were
through companions accompanying him; he would seldom say
a word at all…requesting to inform the recipients that this was a
parting gift to them on behalf of his many devotees in Malaysia.
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When the turn to visit Sayadaw Shwe Oo Min came..he again


requested that I should say the same statement to the Sayadaw.
Sayadaw’s reply have always stayed in my memory: He smiled
gently, glanced knowingly at Bhante Suvanno then looked
towards my direction and said: “Tell your teacher this is not his
last visit here...he will come many times more”; and sure
enough over the following few years he had to visit Yangon a
few times to attend to the sickness and funeral of a great friend
Sayadaw Aggadhamma who passed away there.

In the end, almost all recognised that he was not an ordinary


man. In the course of his later life he dedicated it to the quest
for the Deathless as his Great Teacher; the Buddha had taught
him.

His whole life was dedicated to bringing to the world his


interpretation and preaching of the Dhamma; twenty four
hours a day for seven days a week, he will be at his chosen
course of expounding the Dhamma. At age 12 he became
passionately enamoured of the Dhamma; the passion of
wanting to realise the Dhamma carried him onto the stream of
insights that eventually ordained him to the Sangha, where he
found his true home.

The life of a renunciate suited him to a T; he was the vanguard


of the Dhamma; he was a Dhamma General and he carried the
Dhamma Banner exceedingly well.

He was known far and wide, where there is the true Dhamma,
there the name “Bhante Suvanno” would have been a
catchword. “Bhante Suvanno”, just the name will bring forth
grateful looks and gentle mien from laities of all walks of life
and both gender love him as such; “Bhante Suvanno”.
162

Even those who have not seen him in person would have heard
of “Bhante Suvanno” at some time or other and those who had
never seen him, would make an aspiration to see him at least
once in their lives. To see him and receive the Dhamma from
him in person was indeed a pilgrimage in itself to many. “I have
seen Bhante already!” was mostly an exclamation of great pride!

To the uninitiated: “Bhante” was synonymous with “Suvanno”


because they have known no other Bhantes in their Dhamma
lives.

The name would attract generous donations and requisites that


few would ever receive. Rich and poor, young and old would
flock to the Dhamma halls anywhere when the word goes out
that; “Bhante lai loh…Bhante lai loh…Bhante lai kong keng
loh”! [Bhante is here to give Dhamma lectures”]; especially so, in
the northern states of West Malaysia.

The older generation; “aunties” and “uncles” would be at the


forefront of any occasions where Bhante Suvanno was around.
Everyone adored “Bhante”!

In accordance with Dependent Origination, an era of the


Dhamma has just ended with the passing away of this great
renunciate.

From an obscure past, he has, rising through the vast soiled


lotus pond of human foibles, succeeded to be the non-person
he aspired to be:
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Everybody wants to be a somebody


Nobody knows how to be a nobody
If ever there is a somebody
Who knows how to be a nobody
Then that nobody is a real somebody !
If you ever want to be a nobody
Then follow that somebody
Who really is a "nobody"
(Later) Let go of everybody
even that somebody who already is a nobody
eventually you will be a real “nobody.”

A. Suvanno
1981
(somebody who wants to be a nobody
for the benefit of everybody)

Such veneration and adulation of “Bhante” cannot be difficult


to understand when one listens to his Dhamma lectures on
tapes and CDs; one will surely sense the sincere earnestness and
truthfulness of his exhortations and be convinced to practise
the Dhamma in the way the Great Teacher taught it in its
original form.

Bhante’s discourses of the Buddha’s Teachings, mostly in the


Hokkien dialect, sometimes in English, were couched in
simple, yet meaningful words, easy to listen to and appealing to
all ages. Quite a few books too, have been written by his
devotees from transcribes of these Dhamma lectures and
published for the reading public.
164

In his lifetime; “The Legend” of Bhante Suvanno and the


charisma of his way of teaching have reached out to many and
many have made the journey to see in person the “Monk of
Beautiful Discipline” – Suvanno; as he was fondly known by his
devotees.

They must get to know and see how a “legendary” monk looks
like; and invariably they were gratified and astounded to see a
venerable monk, friendly and approachable; ready to share the
Dhamma and always with a great smile on his warm face, albeit
a few missing teeth; still looking radiant!

Such a different and refreshing image of a true disciple of the


Great Teacher! Different, as most perceive monks as stern faced
with unapproachable mien; refreshing, because he talked to
them face on and on equal footing, frank and friendly.

He neither put on “airs” to impress nor did he showed


impatience at “silly” questions. He quickly allied himself with
crowds and felt at home when surrounded by questioning eager
beavers “letting fly” with their queries. He understood their
anxieties and problems and he was ever ready to share the
Dhamma with the rich or poor, young or old, Buddhist or non-
Buddhist. He held no biases against anyone or anything. His
only stipulation was: “If you want to be…(whatever you want to
be)..be good at… (whatever you want to be)”, as he himself
“Strives to be a Nobody”.

Many have contributed physical and personal attention, advice,


counseling, medical care and expenses to his dietary and bodily
needs during his final suffering years.
165

Special note must be made of those who took his care into
great concern and have stayed by his side to feed him and to
care for his pertinent medical and dietary needs. These are the
people who have clear sights into his needs and sincerely
worked towards them regardless of fear or favour of the voices
of dissenters of those who can only voice but fail to act in real
earnest or have the conviction or the time to do so.

Many too are those who have silently and profoundly showered
sincere metta in their aspirations that “their” Bhante be well
and happy and that all his mental and physical suffering be no
more. Their silent good wishes too have contributed to his
unusual ups when he was down.

Many good wishes have come by proxy and many too have
come personally from afar to ask after his health and to wish
him well. An old friend arrived one day and one could see
Bhante’s face lighting up at the sight of such good friends. It is
neither attachment nor clinging that lit up his face; rather that
seeing another that has struggled together as they had in days
that seemed so long ago.

Many have gone on, one at a time and few are those who
practised together who are there to wish each other: “Bhor
jhow see” [hokkien: not to run away is to die – not running away
from samsara is to stay and suffer].

Happiness to see that they are still in practise; as many are those
who have succumbed to the inevitable. He himself too had
enjoyed the “bonus” (as he calls his already passed average life
span) of winter days.
166

To reminisce of days of the struggle and the various milestones


chalking off the years into the Dhamma; the ups and the
downs, the sorrows and the joys; those that still are and those
that have gone by; these bring back to memory the good
wholesome deeds done and the unwholesomeness that has
been stripped away, notching the long journey in samsara. The
satisfaction that one has really progressed; that is contentment.
Only those who have the wisdom to see the dangers of
existence and the strength of conviction to want to get rid of
them will realise such contentment.

Bhante has always said, get rid of: “seh, lowr, bae, see” [hokkien:
to be born, to get old, to be sick and to die], “be insured” against
booby traps in samsara; to “ai pehnr bharu aesai” [hokkien: to
struggle; meaning to meditate, get rid of birth, age, sickness and death
and be insured against them by earnest practise of the Dhamma and
vipassana meditation; only this will do].

Many have understood his simple message: To practise


Vipassana meditation and at least get rid of the wrong view of
self; develop unshakeable faith in the Buddha and be done with
rites and rituals; the doors leading to the Noble Path will be
pried open enabling entry to the stream leading to bliss and
peace.

Thus, in line with Dependent Origination, ends an era that will


never be again with us. Those of us who had been with him
should count ourselves conditioned with like kamma to strive
together with the now “NOBODY”.

Thus do I wish you:


167

MAY YOU “SOMEBODIES”


PRACTISE TO BE “NOBODIES” AND
ATTAIN NIBBANA IN THIS LIFE TIME.

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam


Rakkhantu Sabba Devata,
Sabba Buddhanu-Dhammanu-
Sanghanu-Bhavena
Sada Sotthi Bhaventu-Te

Fare Thee Well


Most Be-Loved And Respected
Teacher… May You Take Our Hands
And Lead Us Across To The Other Shore
Thru’ To Nibbana’s Awaiting Doors…
May You Find Just Repose
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

your respectful devotees


168

Together, joining in the aspiration to be in Nibbana with


Bhante Suvanno are the following devotees who have made this
Commemorative Edition possible:

Lim Kok Chai & Family, Mooi Seng & Chu, Doris, Sister Tan
Teck Beng & Family, The Dhamma Family KL, Fong Weng
Meng & Family.
Janice Ong & MC Tan, Sally Lam Kwee Fah, SK Chan, Loh
Soon Boon, Gary Tan.
Sister Sam Kau Ling, Ong Chen Seah & Family, Tan Yoon
Hua & Family, Lee Tien Kheh & Family, Lim York Ying &
Family, Lew Tzyy Hwang & Family, Lim Hock Ling & Family,
Yong Su Lian & Family, Wong Rui Xia, Ng Siew Hoon, Loh
Miow Kiang, IMO of Wong Tek Lee & Hoe Yoke Len.
IMO Saw Chu Eong, IMO Soo Luan Keow, IMO Lim Guek
Choo, Irene Teoh & Family, Wong Kok Bu, IMO Woon Chew
Moi @ Woon Ah Moi.

Not forgetting the talent of Bro. Freddy Wee for the drawings
found within the Biography.
169

SHARING OF MERITS

IDAM ME ŇATINAM HOTU


SUKHITA HONTU ŇATAYO
[I share these merits with past relatives.
May they be happy]

IMAM NO PUŇŇA BHĀGAM


SABBA SATTĀNAM DEMA
[I share these merits with all beings.
May all beings be well and happy]

ETTĀVATA CA AMHEHI
SAMBHATAM PUŇŇA SAMBHATAM
SABBE DEVĀ, SABBE BHUTĀ, SABBE SATTĀ
ANUMODANTU SABBA SAMPATI SIDDHIYĀ
[May all devas, all beings, visible or invisible
share and rejoice in the merits which we have acquired,
may they acquire all kinds of happiness]
170

The Light of Dhamma

Here endeth what I write


Who love the Bhante
for his love of us.

A little knowing, little have I told


Touching the Teacher and
the Ways of Peace,
in ways I have been told

evam me suttam…ekam samayam…

A Verse from The Light of Asia


171

As wisdom and understanding gradually lightened up his

confused and troubled mind, it dawned on him that all his

suffering had been the results of actions of past existences

coming to roost in this present time. Realising thus, the quality

of his present thoughts, speech and deeds became of great

significance in his daily moments. They became of great

importance to him. He laid no blame on anyone or anything for

his pain and suffering. He knew and understood the results of

kamma. Thus understanding, and having


having firm faith in the

workings of kamma, he began to strive heedfully with great

energy to follow the only Path that leads to a stage of purity

of thoughts, speech and deeds, so much so that it has become

a habit, a daily ritual to ensure that each thought


thought and speech

that precedes volitional action had been vetted by his two

great guardians, Hiri and Ottappa.


172