A Dream of Mind & Knife

22 June 2020

A sword wielding Manjusri statue in lapis lazuli. Source: Rendition Artifacts.

On the eve of the Solar Eclipse I raised a small butter lamp for someone who had exited this world painfully just a week ago.

As a language teacher whose main work has been about redirecting the powers of the mind for the best answers and therefore the highest good, I care how the mind works.

I’ve always taken for granted that the mind can figure anything out. So the abrupt ending of a brilliant mind belonging to someone I admired greatly despite not knowing him personally, bothered me.

That night after lighting the butter lamp I had a dream that went like this:

Some goods from Tibet had arrived for me 6 months late.The whole consignment was dropped off by a helicopter onto the roof top of a commercial building in Chinatown.

I had to go and pick up the goods myself.

I stood at the traffic junction outside Chinatown Point and looked across the street and up the building where my challenge stood.

As I explored options on how to get access to the goods, I found myself being able to direct the consignment to move just by thinking about it.

The whole process felt like I was simply using a cursor to shift files around on my computer. I watched the bulk lift and swing down gently as if an invisible crane was doing all the work.

This newfound skill didn’t make me feel superior or anxious.On the contrary it felt very egoless & peaceful.

When the consignment from Tibet finally landed, I found sacks of rice, food items and a knife. I was delighted to know that I was to distribute all the edibles to others, but not so happy to learn that the knife was meant for me.

“What kind of an omen is this? Am I supposed to kill myself with it?” Questions rose in my fearful mind as I looked at the shining metallic blade in my hand.

“No, the knife is to help you cut through all the bullshit,” came the reply, strong and clear as daylight, and as if someone was talking directly into my ear as I opened my eyes.

In Buddhism iconography, Manjusri is an enlightened being of wisdom that transcends knowledge & concepts. He holds a sword in one hand and a lotus or sutra in the other. The sword cuts through the mind’s illusions and ignorance (aka bullshit). The lotus holds the Heart Sutra, the home of compassion.

I remember reading a few years back that Manjusri is the guardian of those born under the zodiac of the Hare. And my zodiac sign is the Hare.

Sharp and metallic objects especially knives and blades make me nervous. I don’t even like seeing a pair of scissors lying about.

But this dream of a knife gift has created a mind shift in me. While a knife can certainly cause injuries and even death, it is also absolutely essential for cutting loose a noose to save a life.

So I wish to dedicate this post to all who are troubled with issues that look and feel hopeless. May they be given Manjusri’s sword to cut through all attachments that are directing their mind towards harmful paths. And may the sword help to make a clearing in their mind, where they can feel safe & heal in their own time. 🙏

Lord Manjushri – Arya Nargajuna and the Naga Queen. Artist: Ben Christian

New Moon Mandala on the Solar Eclipse and Summer Solstice. 🙏

21 June 2020

May the New Moon renew our zeal for inner alignment like the way the celestial bodies align beautifully with one another season after season.

May we move from shadow into light with effortless feline grace, so that we don’t carry the darkness around and project it on others.

May all Darkness that we encounter be a messenger of Light. 🙏♥️🌈🐾

Marble Cake

10 June 2020

Whether it’s on the tiered silver platter of a high class tea place or in oily plastic wrapper tucked among other snacks in a a roadside coffee shop, the marble cake is irresistible to me.

My dad’s adoptive sister was newly married when she learnt to bake her first marble cake at her in-laws’.

When she brought the cake to my grandma’s home she was dressed in a batik sarong kebaya with orange flowers.

Movie legend & song writer, P. Ramlee.

We may not be peranakans, but P.Ramlee’s movies must have had a big impact on my aunt’s sartorial elegance in the 60s.

My aunt’s sarong kebaya and hairstyle closely resembled the lady’s in this illustration.

She was gorgeous in her orange kebaya and dark bouffant hair as she served us her first baking achievement.

Being raised predominantly on a chinese diet, our family, especially my grandma and mom, found the buttery cake a little too rich for their stomach.

But it was heaven to me!

My aunt was so pleased with my response that henceforth she would bring a marble cake each time she visited.

For many years, during Chinese New Year and festive occasions, this cake with its trademark dramatic swirls was solely reserved just for her greatest fan, ME.

My aunt seldom bakes these days. The last time we met, she was recovering from a mild stroke. I mentioned “marble cake,” and a beautiful smile appeared on her face.

Nowadays with the emphasis on “healthy” options, few marble cakes that I’ve tasted come close to my aunt’s standard. But still I eat them, and think of the lovely young bride who introduced me to my first marble cake more than half a century ago. ♥️🙏

Wearable Peace

9 June 2020

In our village home at Covent Garden along one of the Singapore canals, there was a fallen tree trunk by the doorway. Depending on who was using it, it was sometimes a bench and sometimes a table.

The tree trunk of nearly black wood was often my grandma’s work bench.

On it my grandma could often be seen crafting her much sought after anklets and necklaces made from embroidery threads of 5 colours.

These “Five Coloured Threads,” or “ngoh sek sua,” as they are called in our minnan dialect, were meant for babies and toddlers, especially those who cried for no apparent reason at night.

Judging by the visits of parents to our home, grandma’s handiworks must have some positive outcomes.

My grandma had suffered unexplained losses in her life. Yet she could provide this support to her community willingly & cheerfully, as she rolled the 5 threads representing the 5 elements into one wearable work of Peace to soothe a restless baby and to calm an anxious parent.

Years later when I wear rudraskha beads on my wrist and pass them over the head or back of animals as I pat them, my grandma’s hands were on me.

And who have known that my grandma’s simple blending of the elements to make peace would prepare me for my affinity with prayers flags 40 plus years later in Nepal?

Staying Put

8 June 2020

Oliver came to sit on my lap during morning prayers.

Half way through my mala beads, the sky darkened, the wind rose and the rain fell. It was bright & sunny just a while ago!

I resisted the urge to get up and rush about to shut the windows in my home.

“What if the wind sends in more dust?”

“What if the rain wets my study table?”

The what ifs were threatening to unseat me.

Meanwhile, Oliver, the Grandmaster of Sleep, continued to nestle more comfortably on my lap, paying no heed as the sky darkened further and the wind swooshed about, sending hangers in the balcony clattering.

After I decided to let them be, I realised maybe Rain and Wind had come to assist me to scatter my prayers further to reach more sentient beings! It was a precious moment in my practice.

With that thought in mind, I stay put and completed the morning dedication.

By the time the prayer ended, the rain had also stopped and the sun appeared again. It was all so brief!

Oliver did not protest when I put the mala beads over his neck. He simply went onto another cane chair and continued his morning nap. 😄

I thought of the occasions when non-action was my only option.

For example, holding an umbrella while walking is not possible for me. And when a light drizzle suddenly becomes a downpour in the midst of a traffic light crossing, I cannot run. But I’ve had strangers offering to share their umbrellas with me.

Then there are times I cannot make the crossing from the steps of a bus to the kerb. One time a youth with tattoos from his arm to his neck gave me his hand.

We’re often told to take initiatives, to be proactive, to solve problems, to eat lunch or be lunch, but sometimes staying put or not having any option, IS the way out.

So my wish is, if anyone is feeling trapped or lost, may he or she not panic and seek unhealthy distractions, but to try & stay put with the situation, because a solution could be just round the corner. 🙏

A Parcel of Light

5 June 2020

In mid April 2020, in the midst of lockdowns and stockpiling frenzy, a friend’s beloved dog passed away in the Middle East.

In her grief, my friend found lighting tealights, butter lamps and candles deeply comforting. She was also a little concerned that her supply was running low. Travel restrictions and curfews also made it hard for her to make purchases.

On 23 April I mailed her a box of butter lamps. My intention was for them to lift her spirit from the darkness of loss and to light a path for her departed Nepalese dog child.

It took a long time for the parcel of light to reach her. It had to first leave Singapore to go to the USA, and from there, it then made its way to the Middle East.

Two days ago, more than a month later, the butter lamps finally arrived at my friend’s home in the desert.

When she opened the parcel, it was also Day 49 of her dog’s passing.

Today on full moon eve and on the Tibetan holy day of Saka Dawa, my friend in the Middle East raises one butter lamp from Singapore for her Nepalese dog son. She puts it in a holder that has followed them from his country of birth.

I like to think that the butter lamps that I sent out on account of a humble dog must have blessed many postal workers and handlers as they passed oceans and deserts in time for his 49th day observation.

And I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious timing for my friend’s gloom to be lifted as she celebrates her beloved companion’s entry into the full moon and into Saka Dawa.

May we continue to be Bearers of Light for one another, regardless of what forms we take and what kind of crossings we make.

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha. 🌈🙏🐾

Stitching Connections

3 June 2020

I found a tear in one of the pajamas bottoms and decided to sew it shut with a bit of thread instead of discarding it.

My grandpa in dark pants with a friend at the temple he cared for all his life. Behind them are the painted door guardians of the temple.

And in that instance of stitching up the hole, I felt the knobby hands of my grandparents from across the years.

Vivid memories of my grandpa’s stitches on the edges of his pockets and sides of cloth carriers appeared in my mind.

My grandpa was always mending and repairing things. He was always short on money, but never short tempered. He had this gift of approaching chores with an almost meditative attitude which made me want to potter around him more.

Whether it was sweeping the temple compound, arranging grand offerings for the gods or preparing leftovers to feed stray cats, my grandpa did them all carefully & methodically. No work was above or beneath him.

Those wordless afternoons with him would later shape my learning with male teachers and male mentors when I entered school.

The temple door guardian was witness to many of my wordless afternoons with my grandpa. He is now my gateway to my grandpa and my childhood.