JAN 5 — “So why are you doing this? What’s this project about?” Y asks.
Y is an old acquaintance I had met through work about 16 years ago. Once part of a “cool” crowd who made Kuala Limpur nightlife into the legend it was, compared to the watered-down events people preen and pose at today, Y is now a staunch Buddhist.
After a month of my calling, begging, persuading and failing to get into a mindfulness retreat and the Buddhist circle, it was a relief to reconnect with Y.
Mind you, I had not exhausted all avenues, but it was beginning to be quite disheartening to cold call people and be rebuffed.
I explain. I want to meet spiritual Malaysians, holy men and women. I want to have an adventure around Malaysia. I have grandiose ideas. I…
“Spirituality is a life-long journey,” he says. “And organised religion is not religion. It’s a tour. And when I began my journey, I cut off all the material. The partying.”
This is the way of the world, Y tells me, as he prepares a tea ceremony. Tea, he says, is a form of meditation too. But back to spirituality.
We all meet teachers along the way, but we are our own teachers, too.
He looks at me and then speaks. Who is truly spiritual and good? A person who visits the mosque five times a day but is corrupt in manner is not a religious person. He personifies the face of piety. It’s all a facade.
“Buddhism and Islam share a common thing — to submit. To surrender to God. We are to rid ourselves of ego.”
That’s the thing with religions, people see it as a set of rules, not a way of life, Y says. Practising Buddhists, like other theists, are to avoid evil, “mara.”
The practice of doing good, and then doing bad after that, only cancels out the good we have done. Man is back to square one. The one most important and difficult thing for man is to purify the mind and heart.
I am reminded of Hamza Yusof’s book, “Purifications of the Heart”. Perhaps we have a lot more in common, Muslims and Buddhists.
“But you do realise that we have religious sociopaths, Y.”
“Because they don’t know, my dear. They only have intellectual knowledge. They do not have nibanna, enlightenment.”
“So what is nibanna?”
Y pours the tea. It has a sharp taste, before it mellows to something like lemongrass.
In any religion, he sniffs, man always prays for everything. He wants a big car, he wants money, he wants his mother to get well, and it is never enough. Man fails to understand what faith is.
“I’ll tell you why when you ask for something, God doesn’t grant it.”
“Because you have not done enough good. When you don’t have God-ness in you. And to find that God-ness in one’s heart, you need seclusion. By secluding one’s self, can you see God in everything.”
I think of Khalwat, which in essence means Seclusion.
Y warms up. Nature teaches you to be more spiritual. Natural disasters — that is God. No, no, none of these divine repercussions because you sinned, an earthquake is an earthquake and a creation of God. Old age. Diseases. These are part of God.
“Have you forgotten? Your religion, Islam, talks about jihad. What is jihad in its purest form? A religious fight within yourself. Not going around bombing people and things!”
We have forgotten what a pilgrimage is about. Saddha is about universal faith, so one sees the path better.
“I’m concerned about this ‘current breed of Islam.’ The syariah is there for a reason. It is to lead you down to The Path. In Buddhism it is like that, too; there are rules and regulations. But the syariah law I see here, is being applied blindly, without thought. For example, Muslims cannot commit zina. We have forgotten that with sex, comes responsibility. Abstinence is holistic — it is a path to God-ness.”
His birding hobby, and his love of tea ceremonies are contemplations that are enjoyed passionately. Being still and alone keeps him on the straight and narrow.
“It’s about being mindful, keeping in the present. Enjoying what you see and do now. You put your heart into it. Not everyone has the luxury of solitude. Music? Hmm. It draws you out, not bring you in within.”
What about rituals?
Y sighs. We’re too caught up by rituals and their celebrations, he says. Aidiladha and its Qurban is not about sacrificing a cow and feasting on it; it is about sacrificing our material selves for God. Unfortunately it’s become a cruel spectacle.
“But you know, it’s the same with Christianity. Organised religions,” he clucks.
He practises the Thai Forest tradition of Buddhism, Theravada. It’s been good, he says, though he has had his ups and downs. Love? Ah, love. He’s met someone recently but he has vowed to follow the path of Buddha. Love, he sighs. It can be such a painful distraction. He pours another cup of tea.
Proper Buddhist monks beg for food and alms, and whatever they receive, they must accept. It’s a gift from God. We cannot judge. After all, a saint may actually be a sinner and a sinner could be disguised as a saint.
Everything we do, there is a reason, he says. “I think I make a better Muslim than the real ones,” he chirps. We laugh. He points out at the Muslim ablutions, performed five times a day prior to prayers. Why do you do that, he asks.
“To be clean before prayers.”
“It’s also to cleanse you from impurities of the heart and mind. Of bad energies. The world is not a good place.”
Tea is over.
He stands up. And he sings. He sings a song from “The Sound of Music”.
“...Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked miserable past
I must have had a moment of truth
For here you are
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth
I must have done something good...”
I’m enchanted by the show.
“We’ll meet again,” I say.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.