So today I was invited to Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society by Ven. S. Dhammika for a book launch. The book is interesting, and so is the author and the introduction of him given by Ven. Dhammika, but this blog entry is not about that. It’s about the seemingly impeccable ability for things to mess up whenever I’m visiting BDMS or Ven. Dhammika.
In this episode of Amicable Conflict, we look at how a simple affair of arranging for transport for a venerable (me in this case) to a place to attend a book launch can end up in a misunderstanding and ultimately a delayed book launch. And oh, did I mention an unhappy upassaka who refused to give transport thereafter “because he had to send in the car for servicing the next day”.
If this interests you, read on.
A few weeks ago, I met Ven. Dhammika for lunch at BDMS and was invited for the book launch today. I had no talks to give that day (today) and so I accepted.
A week later, I called up to enquire about some books that Ven. Dhammika had and confirm the book launch details, and was told that transport would be arranged. I could have taken bus 130 (or some number that brings one from Balestier to Kong Meng San in Bright Hill Road), but a good monk never refuses an offer, especially when it came from a senior monk of 30+ years of monkhood.
Days passed, lessons were given, talks spoken and one or two days ago, Ven. Dhammika called me to further confirm the location at which the appointed driver would pick me up. How thoughtful of him! Simple as it is, I gave specific directions … “Big white memorial building, staircase infront of carpark” in some part Singlish some part my usual meticulous pronunciation that hovers between American and British, which places me somewhere in the Atlantic … meaning, sometimes people say I sound wishy washy. In some cases, my accent can turn Indian, but that’s another article.
Anyway, after making sure that the location was conveyed to his driver, I made a mental note to get ready by 8:45am on Sunday morning and soon thereafter was overwhelmed by the candle procession on Saturday. I think thousands came and honestly, I’ve never seen so many people amassing to get candles lighted.
Night soon became day, and soon I was getting all ready in my room. 8:45am … still awhile to go. I grabbed my long robes and noticed that there were a whole mob of lay folks gathered outside the monk’s quarters, along the walkways, on the pavements, along the corridors, we were overrun. At another time and place, this might have been reason to panic and call the cops. But this is Kong Meng San, and it’s ‘just’ the annual q-up for tickets to participate in the three-steps-one-bow event. Yes, people actually queue up for that. It’s very touching to see them all zealed up to do spiritual practices, it is. And no, there is no tongue-in-cheek comment on this one.
At 8:59am I left my room and got to the staircase to wait for my transport. Being a good monk, I was not that punctual. I mean, in some traditions, it is considered the fortune of the disciples to drink the feet-washing water of the Master, so being one or two minutes late, should make the driver feel blessed that he is further inconvenienced, meaning he had to put in more time and effort to serve the Sangha and so it means either that he is being purified of his negative karma or he is sowing positive karma (possibly x 1,000,000 times more if you are from a particular school of a particular sect and if you were the first born of a second son in the family whose village was
blessed in a certain fashion. Ok, I made that up, but at the rate that some traditions make claims at multiplier karma effect, I figured most of their believers are gullible enough anyway.) or both when Venus is up near our moon. (Oh what luck, it is up near our moon in this few days!).
Imagine my surprise when I reached the carpark to see the whole place buzzing with cars! Now how am I to know which car is here to pick me up and which one is waiting to ferry me to some Dharma Hall to give a surprise impromptu talk in some obscure language? I decided to play it cool and wait for the driver to signal to me. After a few minutes, no one came and I figured none of them were here to pick me up for either reasons. A fellow buddhist, Puay Khim, came along and after arranging his robes on his left shoulder, and paying obesience, he asked … … oh wait, wrong story. No, he was wearing a T-shirt and he greeted me and just started chatting casually. What was I thinking about?
At 9:08am, I called our good Ven. and informed him that the transport was not here yet. I was told that it was to pick me up at 9:15am. Oh dear, by the earlier logic, did I just use up someone’s good merits by being early? Well, I guess it’s his good fortune that I’m using it up for him, so that’s still good karma for him in the end. Double-joy! hahaha … I then quizzed Ven. Dhammika if the driver had my mobile no. so that he could call me to find me in case he got lost. Ven. Dhammika mumbled “no” and said something else that was between incoherent and “whatever”. Not wanting to be pushy with a senior monk, an Ang-mo at that, I decided to leave it at a hint. You know how Ang-mos are good at complaining to people and how Singaporeans are so sub-servient to them and what not. Not sure if it makes a difference between an American Ang-mo and a British Ang-mo, but I was not ready to find out. (ok, I don’t really care … and really some of them like you to be pushy with them, makes them feel at home. But for comic relief, this is more funnier isn’t it? (yes, it should read funnier, without the more. This is my way of telling people that their improper usage of more XYZ is not more funny nor funnier.) Only a good software developer (or mathematician) would think of using nested brackets, so next time you do this, think happy thoughts of me)
Having suggested to him that my mobile no. be given to the driver, I hung up and waited patiently till 9:15am. Still no go. And by now, you must be wondering what kind of monk is so meticulous about timing. I just did not want to dry up some poor guys’ karma bank reserve because I did not check on my time. Either that or it’s fairly ridiculous to be waiting so long for a transport to turn up when I could have well taken a bus, arrived on time and still have spare time for refreshments to boot, hence my special note on the timing.
After awhile, and many thoughtful Dharma discussions with Puay Khim and a cheerful lady, we were sitting on the stairs and still no drivers nor attempts to abduct me to give some talks. In the end, Puay Khim and the lady left for the Vesak Trail training (by Puay Khim) and after a few more minutes, I decided that if I were to wait, I might as well wait in style. In the lounge area on the first floor of the memorial hall were nice, plush sofas that you can either meditate on or sink and disappear into. By then it was already 45 minutes into my wait for transport. I called again but got no reply and decided that it’s probably too late and maybe it was not meant to be. As I pondered on how things can go so messed up, Ven. Dhammika called up and apologised that “the old man who was supposed to pick you up must have forgotten about it as he is just casually strolling up … “. “I will grill him” Ven. Dhammika assured me. He then advised me to catch a cab and he would arrange for someone to foot the bill. Fine. Being a good monk, I took it in my stride, and strode out to catch a cab. It was almost 10am by now.
The journey was uneventful and pretty short. When I
reached BDMS, an elderly person came up to the cab and footed the bill. I waited politely for him before going to the main door. “I waited for 20mins at the stairs!” came a blunt retort from the elderly to a non-existent question that I never asked. I was flabbergasted. “I waited for 45mins at The Stairs facing the Carpark” I maintained, noting how quickly this was escalating into the first ever open-court debate in Singapore between a monk and an elderly along Balestier road. “I was at the one facing Evergreen home” he further exclaimed. By then, I was none too interested in clarifying anything as I was met by Ven. Dhammika who greeted me with a “I’m getting quite used to this all”. I thought at first that he referred to the foul-ups in Singapore but later realised he was referring to the misunderstanding that always seem to punctuate our meetings.
The book launch for “The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation” and his introduction of the author “Godwin Samararatne” went smoothly with his usual dosage of wry humour which the floor soaked in with glee. Then later Ven. Dhammika casually queried about the exact details with the elderly man and me. Interestingly, the elderly started off with “He should have waited at the staircase facing Evergreen home”. Ven. Dhammika confirmed the location to be the stairs facing the carpark, but by then I was just disinterested as it was inconsequential mostly. A part of me however wanted to point out that Ven. Dhammika should have given my contact to the driver or me his, so that this would not have happened. The driver could also have called BDMS and ask for my contact instead of waiting for 20mins and returning empty handed, without even a cake or something. So much “IFs”. Someone (Puay Khim) mentioned to me about how an insurance ad in US made good use of wordings. The ad had a punch-line “Life is full of IFs” and the double play is awesome. In retrospect, there are indeed many IFs in our lives, or lifes if you will. Instead of making post-IFs statements, “If I had done this or that … I would be / would not be … bla bla bla
… “, we should stop procrastinating and take charge and action. Granted, act kindly, think wisely, speak loving and smile more oftenly. (broken English instead!)
In the end, the elder was still upset with me for not being at some place that he chose to be at and for letting him wait 20 mins. For me, I was just happy that lunch came soon enough and I tucked in to some Indian cuisine. The upside was that I broke my personal record of waiting for up to 45 mins for a person and still manage a smile and came away with juicy material to write for my blog.
So what was the longest wait you ever had?
EDIT: In case you are wondering, I was really poking fun at the karma thingie and how people get duped into believing that their karma would be multiplied by exactly 100,000,000 or some number. One should always try to be early, karma multiplier or otherwise. Same goes for observing the precepts and meditating.
EDIT: What else do we learn from this? Even if two monks confirm and reconfirm a third time, it just takes one driver to make the wrong assumption to scr*w things up. So don’t make assumptions and always confirm on details. You cannot confirm enough. When making confirmations, don’t just state the requirements etc, but get the other party to tell you what he knows. And don’t assume something unless you are the key sponsor of the project or event, or you can directly decide on the outcome. Otherwise, check with others. In the meantime, take a deep breath and meditate.