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A Biography TheVenerable Acara Suvanno Mahathera
(1920(1920-2007) A jinavamsa Collection
Published by Leong Yok Kee E2L4A Selesa Hillhomes Bukit Tinggi 28750 Bentong Pahang Email: email@example.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
DEDICATION PROLOGUE Four Noble Truths Noble Eightfold Path FOREWORD PREFACE INTRODUCTION CHAPTER 1: Early Years Our Story Begins Sweet is Life CHAPTER 2: Formative Years CHAPTER 3: Better Times CHAPTER 4: RENUNCIATION Bhante Suvanno on Renunciation CHAPTER 5: THE MONK’S LIFE CHAPTER 6: MI TOR SEE CHAPTER 7: THE WORK OF BHANTE His Daily Routine To Forgive is Divine Kalam Sutta The Four Foundations of Mindfulness CHAPTER 8: STORIES EPILOGUE The Final Curtain The Obituary An Eulogy Sharing of Merits
5 6 6 8 11 13 15 22 23 28 39 56 66 79 89 95 102 104 109 115 124 133 143 146 156 158 169
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!
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.
THE Blessed One: “It is through not understanding, not not Things, well penetrating Four Things, that I, monks, as well as you, have wandered so long through the long round of rebirths. Four? Suffering, Suffering, the What Four? Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Suffering, and Path Cessation of Suffering, and the Path leading to the essation Suffering. Cessation of Suffering. The Blessed One has defined the Four Noble Truths: "This, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering: birth, association ageing, disease, death is suffering; association with the separation unloved is suffering; separation from the loved is suffering; getting not getting what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five suffering." aggregates of grasping are 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-existence." non"This, the "This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Craving Suffering: the Cessation of Craving without any remainder, giving it up, renouncing it, and complete freedom from it."
"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? understanding), Right View (or 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.
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 nonand exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen...for the sake of unskillful the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen...for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that nonhave not yet arisen...(and) for the maintenance, nonconfusion, increase, plenitude, development, and culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. This is called right effort.
And what is right mindfulness? There is the case where a itselfmonk remains focused on the body in and of itself-ardent, mindfulalert, and mindful-putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in themselves...the and of themselves...the mind in and of itself...mental qualities themselvesmindfulin and of themselves-ardent, alert, and 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 a where monkmonk-quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities applies concentration in the realisation of the impermanence of existence, the suffering nonof existence, the realisation of the non-self nature of concentration. existence. This is right concentration.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org E2L4A Selesa Hillhomes Bukit Tinggi, Bentong Pahang 2010
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa ambuddhassa buddha
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 is this doctrine, hard to Profound difficult understand, 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.
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.
October in the year 2000 Buddhist Hermitage Lunas Kedah, Malaysia
“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”.
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.
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:
“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, fraillooking 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.
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.
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:
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 email@example.com
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa Sambuddhassa buddha CHAPTER l THE EARLY YEARS
Reflecting deeply upon the fact that the entire existence, being conditioned, is bound up with impermanence; sabbe sankhara aniccati.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 2. 3. 4. Home where a male ghost lives with a female ghost. Home where a male ghost lives with a goddess Home where a god lives with a female ghost 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.
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”.
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”.
“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.
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.
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.
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 daughterin-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.
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.
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 kindhearted person de-wormed the one-year old little boy. Hundreds of disgusting worms were dispelled from the undernourished 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.
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.
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.
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.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa ambuddhassa 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 are One 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”.
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, seventhirty 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.
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 sleepwalking 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.
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 You educate you. You can never repay them even if you were to lives." carry them on your shoulder for the rest of their lives."
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, dana, precepts, teach them the precepts; if they do not do 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa Sambuddhassa buddha CHAPTER 4 THE RENUNCIATION “After being married for thirtyeight 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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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”.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
THE BLESSED ONE: A householder, or a householder's into son, or one born 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, mother-ofbright as mother-of-pearl. Surely I should now shave off my hair and beard, go forth into the homeless life’. course In the 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 goes life. leaving his home, goes forth into the homeless 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. Mindful and fully aware, he cleanses his mind of sloth and torpor. Having given up restlessness and worry, he remains free of them. Inwardly calm, he cleanses his mind of restlessness and worry. 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.
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].
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa Sambuddhassa buddha 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).
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 illwill 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.
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.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa ambuddhassa buddha 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.
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”.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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 nonself 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
(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.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa Sambuddhassa 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa Sambuddhassa buddha 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.
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.
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, Wellgone, 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”.
THE FINAL CURTAIN
Suvanno The Monk of Golden Discipline
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:
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 GroundBreaking 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hatred, greed, 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.
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).
"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.
An E u l o g y
Uncommon An Uncommon Sangha Dhammaduta Sangha Venerable The Venerable Mahathera Bhante Acara Suvanno Mahathera
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.
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.
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”.
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:
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.
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 nonBuddhist. 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.
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.
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:
MAY YOU “SOMEBODIES” PRACTISE TO BE “NOBODIES” AND ATTAIN NIBBANA IN THIS LIFE TIME. Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam Rakkhantu Sabba Devata, Sabba Buddhanu-DhammanuSanghanu-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
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.
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]
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
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 having 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 thought 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.
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