In this current intake of Creatives In Progress, we've been discussing the joys and wonders of people from different racial, religious and cultural backgrounds seeing similarities in each other - and becoming friends.
Incredible thing is, while we were in the midst of discussing this in class yesterday afternoon - at the same time, my husband was sharing an article which is the perfect demonstration of what we were tallking about. And he was sharing it with his American best friend. Another perfect demonstration!
I have pasted the article here as I think this is an amazing example of how we can experience and express love and universal oneness... It's a blog entry (posted by a Malay Muslim journalist - Azlan) that says something about multi-racial & multi-religious existance in Malaysia.
It was recently recorded in a Malaysian socio-political blog site about the passing away of the Chief Buddhist Monk of Malaysia, the Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda Nayaka Maha Thera. He passed away on 31s August 2006, the day of the Malaysian Independance.
This article was also featured in New Straits Times yesterday.
AS a news reporter with The Malay Mail between 1994 and 2005, I met Rev. Dhammananda several times – usually during Wesak Day celebrations he led at the Buddhist Maha Vihara (temple) in Brickfields and a few other occasions.
Every time I bumped into him, I only asked a few questions just to get some quotes for my news report. Never did I have a proper conversation with him. I regret that now.
I'd like to share what to me was a very special experience during one of my meetings with him.
It was on Christmas Day in 1998 when my Assistant News Editor assigned me to cover a Christmas party for some 200 underprivileged children. It was quite a news-worthy item to cover as it was held at the vihara (Buddhist temple) in Brickfields, organised by a group of Christians, the Santa Claus was a Hindu and the contributor for all the balloons adorning the party area was a Muslim!
But what I will remember of that day forever was what the Reverend said and did.
You see, Dec '98 was also the month of Ramadhan, where (many) Muslims like me were fasting. By the time I arrived at the vihara, it was 6.30pm and many children were already playing around, taking photos with Santa and being entertained by a clown, among others.
At about 15 minutes before 7-something pm (buka puasa time), I was busy thinking of where to go for my dinner - either the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken or a roadside teh tarik stall, both within walking distances from the vihara.
The Reverend, the vihara's religious advisor back then, must have been observing me. He walked up to me and, as if he had read my mind, calmly said: "Young man, don't think too much. You can buka puasa here. I will accompany you."
I agreed in a split second. He solved my problem!
"Please forgive us. We only have vegetarian dishes here," he humbly and smilingly added, while leading me to a dining table somewhere in the vihara's premises.
I was speechless. He brought me right down to earth with those few simple words. Even if there were only cookies served with lots of plain water at the vihara, I'll be happy enough.
So, there we were, sitting at the dining table, together with a few other priests in their saffron robes and a spread of vegetarian dishes was laid out in front of us.
As I was making sure my wristwatch was accurate, the Reverend took out a small pocket radio transistor from somewhere, turned it on and tuned in to a Bahasa Malaysia radio station.
As scheduled, the muezzin recited the call for the evening prayer through the little speaker, which also marked the moment to break fast.
"Go ahead, Azlan," he told me to start first. Only after I had my first gulp of water for the day, did he and the other priests start eating. I was honoured and humbled at the same time.
The fact that I didn't go to KFC or the the tarik stall wasn't because I didn't know how to turn down the Chief High Priest of Malaysian and Singaporean Theravada Buddhists' dinner invitation. It was buka puasa in a Buddhist temple for me, during a Christmas party! How cool was that, eh?
Seriously, the Reverend's humble gestures greatly raised my respect and admiration for him. During that brief encounter with him, my personal tolerance and understanding towards other people's faiths, beliefs and cultures was greatly altered, for the better.
In less than an hour of dining together, his simple acts of humility made me a better person, more open-minded and drastically changed, for the better, my ways of looking at the world I live in.
It was a small but very refreshing respite for this one tired reporter near the end of that very colourful and turbulent year – street 'Reformasi' protests, KL Commonwealth Games, the horrible smog and the Asian economic crisis, among many others.
To me, the Rev. Dhammananda was a great Buddhist and more importantly, a great human being.
Malaysia and its Buddhist community have lost a very special person.
With much sadness, I bid farewell to him.