Meeting the Dharma: Malaysian in search of Wisdom ???
- Sharing of a personal journey by a doctor on how he eventually found the Dhamma
I come from a typical Chinese family that believed in a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism, peppered with lots of superstition. My late mother was very devotional, chanting every morning and dutifully making offerings. She tried to force her brand of religion down my throat and like any teenager, I rebelled. To me it was irrelevant and unscientific and pretty much inconsistent with the 20th century.
I studied in a mission school and learnt much about Christianity, it appeared to me as modern and Western, all that my inherited ‘religion’ wasn’t; in fact I spent about 10 years of my life studying the Bible very seriously. While that led to endless conflicts between my mother and I, I am grateful to all the teachers who taught me much about morality, tempted me with heaven and threatened me with hell. There were however an ever increasing number of questions that laid unanswered, and simply allowing faith to overcome all my doubts proved to be a piece of paper over fire. It burnt and I refused to surrender intellectually.
It was so easy as an impressionable teenager to have faith. It was so tempting to be told that “ask and it shall be given..”. But it required Intellectual Suicide. And mine simply refused to die! Blind faith is indeed strong, so powerful that it led to the Inquisition in the 16th century. And in modern times, the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan. But unquestioning unchallenging faith gave me this clutching unrest that something is incomplete and WRONG. I needed MORE than just Faith. I needed the Truth.
At an unconscious level I was always searching for the truth either via science or philosophy. Medical studies and very hectic post graduate training diverted my attention but this returned when life slowed down.
I was at a shopping complex waiting for my wife (as Usual!) when I strolled into a bookshop. There I saw Ven Dhammananda’s interpretation of the Dhammapada, a heavy formidable book which looked rather impressive sitting wrapped on the shelf. I asked the staff for permission to see it which they obliged. I read the first 2 verses and that changed my life.
“Mind is foremost, Mind is Chief……”
This is very different from all the religious books that I have ever read, it struck me as truly unique and it touched the deepest parts of my searching mind. I bought the book and read it, and my walk up the Buddha’s path started that day.
As I studied the Dhamma with the same devotion that I did with medicine I found a treasure trove ignored by the majority of mankind. Here is so much that is empirically true that anyone could see, if only he wants to. Here is the record of a man who perfected himself and who left his footprints for us to follow. No rituals, no magic, no promises but pure humanity with all its flaws and possibilities are expounded on and developed, with man’s potential to achieve the apex of his mental evolution clearly outlined.
When I subsequently read about the futility of petitional prayer, a deep hard rock was removed from my heart. While “ask and you shall be given…’ is GREAT advertisement, it is naive and an honest look around will show it to be manifestly untrue.
The Buddha said (instead) that:
“Long life .., Beauty.., Happiness.., Status .., Rebirth in heaven is welcome, agreeable, pleasant, & hard to obtain in the world.
“Now, I tell you, these five things are not to be obtained by reason of prayers or wishes.
If they were to be obtained by reason of prayers or wishes, who here would lack them?
It’s not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires long life to pray for it or to delight in doing so.
Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires longlife, (the same is repeated for Beauty, Happiness, Status, Rebirth in heaven).. should follow the path of practice leading to long life……
In so doing, he will attain long life, either human or divine”.
While this is remarkably BAD advertisement, it is the obvious Truth and to me rational, fair and self evidently true! An uneasy feeling about a divine deity unfairly dishing out favours that smacks of nepotism has at last been erased. Its a better fairer world where we get what we deserve! I am so happy to learn that issuance of a Heavenly visa is NOT the sole prerogative of one creed or faith.
What is amazingly reassuring when we study the Dhamma is that no man of science need to bend himself backwards to fit the Buddha’s teachings, in fact it is all very scientific and resonant with the discoveries and theories of modern 21st century science. Going full circle, I discovered that while imperfect man had created a very confusing ‘religion’ of rites and rituals they called Buddhism, the Buddha Dhamma has remain refreshing, modern and relevant when one finally sees its message amidst all the icing that had accumulated over the centuries.
There is much for the layman and monk. There is much for the housewife and the businessman, and even advise for the politician. Its applicability and relevance has not waned in 2600 years. Its truth is self evident. And I did NOT have these nagging doubts, these mental gymnastics of creation and all-destroying floods, of a creator one moment harsh and warlike and the next loving and kind, to reconcile. I found peace.
I finally understood why the gods have anger and sought revenge. I finally understood why a god would make a statement like “Vengeance is mine, saith the lord”.
I finally made sense of Epicurus’ famous/infamous riddle:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
I finally could go to sleep with my dinosaurs and Peking man. I now am assured that the Grand Canyon and the Mulu caves were not made in 7 days, I am happy that the Ebola virus and HIV were not ‘created’ by an angry god. I am so relieved that I need not eat the scraps that fall off some divine table to obtain salvation but that salvation is instead in my hands. I did not have to hate Bertrand Russel but instead admire his frankness and insight when he said ”During the long process of Evolution from the amoeba to homo-sapiens, at what stage did the ‘soul’ come in?”
The Buddha Dhamma has made intellectual life for me much simpler where I was a mental contortionist before. I did not have to lie to myself to be a believer anymore!
When the student is ready, the teacher will come. I found this so very true. After I started studying the Dhamma seriously, teachers and books and notes all started falling in place. Each helped me to understand better, to see reality within and without. I am very grateful for the renaissance in Buddhist literature these last few decades for now the Dhamma is easily available to the English educated weak in Pali. The internet is also a boon, but one has to sieve the gems from the chaff.
And I am grateful to all the teachers, Sangha and lay, who devotedly shared the Buddha Dhamma. Trips to India and Burma helped me see better, friendship with fellow Dhamma farers provided much spiritual strength.
The teachings of Cause and Effect, Kamma, helps us all to make a better world and society. Whether one believes in a next life or not, its benefits are immediate. People dress for their religion, eat for their religion, preach for their religion and some may even kill for their religion… but very few actually live the lives advocated by their religious founders. Religion is in the life that we live, not in the creed that we profess. What we think, or what we know, or what we believe, is in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we actually do.
From my training in medicine, I long knew that the best way to learn is to learn from an expert, then practise, and then share with someone else who is keen to learn. And this is what I have been doing.
Associate Professor Dr Wong Yin Onn,
MBBS (Mal), MRCP (UK), AM(M’sia), FRCP (Glasgow)
Internal Medicine, Monash University Malaysia.
Dr Wong joined Monash University Malaysia in February 2007. He graduated with distinction from the University of Malaya and was Visiting Lecturer at his alma mater in 1988 -1989. He wrote a book on “Emergencies in Internal Medicine” in 1988.
Dr Wong teaches the Buddha Dhamma regularly in Johor Bahru and Singapore and was an invited speaker at the 3rd Global Conference on Buddhism. He is also the Patron of Majjhima Dhamma Centre in Singapore. He conducts weekly Dhamma Classes at Metta Lodge Buddhist Centre in Johor Bahru since 2004.