Ang Siew Mun

Ang Siew Mun

My spiritual journey continues

My spiritual journey began as a child when I picked up a booklet entitled “The Five Precepts” at the altar. Although I have forgotten the author’s name, the contents remained with me for many years. The author challenged readers to take up the five precepts as lay Buddhists. As a naughty, rebellious kid, I took up the challenge; and trying to observe these five precepts has been keeping me busy ever since. At that time, Buddhism for me was just the five precepts, the Dhammapada and the Bodhisatta ideal. I knew nothing else.

Then, in 1988, I began to get more acquainted with the Buddha’s teachings at the university. The teachings that I remember most were the importance of keeping our five precepts – why we need them, Metta Meditation (by Venerable Dr K Sri Dhammananda), and the three characteristics of life – dukkha, anicca, and anatta. I also learnt to chant the five precepts in Pali for the first time. Three years later I was introduced to vipassana meditation by a Dhamma friend. I went for a 10-day retreat in Kota Tinggi, Johor. It filled me with a deep sense of gratitude for my teacher, Venerable Sujiva, for teaching me something so meaningful in life. I was then able to lay aside many of the confusions and pain I felt prior to this meditation retreat. Later, I joined the Buddhist Wisdom Centre and the Buddhist Gem Fellowship.

In 1992, I went to the U.K. to do my MPhil. There, I met a Vietnamese couple, Dr. H.P. Ho and his wife, Dr Lyi. We were at a Vesak Dhamma talk given by Sister (now Ajahn) Sundara of Amaravati. Several passages about the night the Buddha gained enlightenment were read out from Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s _Old Path White Clouds_. Very impressive. Dr. Ho introduced me to more of the Venerable’s books. In fact, as I write now, he’s still raising funds to build a temple. After graduation, I went to Amaravati for a short visit. There, I met Venerable Ajahn Sumedho and had the pleasure of listening to his talks and serving the Sangha for a few days. It was at Amaravati that I learnt the beauty of the Pali suttas. It was also at Amaravati that I realised how fortunate the British are to have a permanent-resident Sangha in their midst. Even in Malaysia, as far as I know, we don’t have that many monks in permanent residence at one place. In Europe, I met Venerables Ajahn Chandapalo Bhikkhu (Santacittarama, Italy) and Ajahn Tiradhammo (Dhammapala, Switzerland) . Although I stayed only for a short few days at the monasteries, I learnt many things of great importance for my practice. I also visited the Plum Village in France, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery. He was in the U.S. at the time of my visit; but, I had earlier met him in London where he gave a talk to a group of psychotherapists. I’m not one of them but was invited to attend as a result of my friendship with Dr. Ho and family. It was there that I learnt the Venerable’s useful “walking-smiling meditation.”

Back in Malaysia, I continued my practice with Venerable Sujiva until late 1995 when I fell seriously ill. I moved back to Ipoh (from KL) to recuperate. Then, Venerable Sayadaw U Pandita visited KL. I was lucky to be down there at that time to do dana and pay homage. Later, the dhamma-list was set up. I took the opportunity to share the Dhamma to “claw” my way back to mental health. Since then, I have recovered considerably. Looking back, I feel very blessed to have met, learnt from, and paid homage to so many distinguished meditation masters. You may ask why I didn’t visit any of the Mahasi tradition Buddhist monasteries in the West. The reason is, I lost my phone book and with it, the addresses of two monasteries I had written down! I am very grateful to all my teachers, some mentioned here and some not, past, present, and future. May the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha protect and guide them always. And so, my spiritual journey continues…