There Is No Graver Suffering Than Losing One’s Freedom
As the riverboat headed toward the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake, a small wooden plank boat approached. A little girl, who was about 6 or 7 years old and carried a basket with a dozen or so sodas for sale, jumped deftly onto the riverboat. All of a sudden, from nowhere a few more small boats appeared and converged from different directions to the riverboat. Their passengers were mostly children under 10 years of age; some had snakes draped over their necks and were ready to show off their skills for tips; others just held out their hands to beg.
The makeshift floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia are home for many Vietnamese refugees whose families fled war many years ago. Forbidden to go ashore by a hostile Cambodian government and having neither a nationality nor a homeland to return to, they can only try to eke out a living on this vast body of water. One of their main ways to earn a living is to beg from tourists or sell trinkets to them.
On several of the little plank boats, older kids lifted crying babies barely a year old and muttered something indecipherable. With desperate pleading faces, they tailgated the riverboat, hoping to draw some sympathy.
On the riverboat Khenpo Sodargye, with unbearably intense compassion, chanted Avalokiteshvara’s mantra repeatedly for them while his fingers moved rapidly over the prayer beads.
Khenpo bought large amounts of pens, notebooks, and food, and along with cash, distributed them to the teachers and students of the refugees’ schools on the lake.
Knowledgeable locals said that most of these refugees believe in Buddhism and, regardless of whether they are adults or children, will not resort to stealing even if they are utterly destitute and miserable.
The owner of the riverboat we took was also a water-bound refugee. His teenage son was on board to help and during a break, bent over a chair and wrote something earnestly with the new notebook and pen he had just received. Seeing it, Khenpo walked over to him and patted his head lovingly and tenderly.
Khenpo sighed: “There is no graver suffering than losing one’s freedom.”
And this was November 15th, 2013, the 5th day of Khenpo Sodargye’s academic tour to Southeast Asia.
It May Bring Us More Money, But Money Does Not Guarantee Us More Happiness.
On November 10th, 2013, Khenpo Sodargye flew to Thailand from Beijing to begin his 22-day academic exchange tour in Southeast Asia.
Fourteen years ago, on September 9th, 1999, Khenpo came to Thailand to teach and later wrote about his experiences in his book, “Travels to Thailand.”
He remembered clearly the stunned faces of Thai students when he walked into a classroom. It was the very first time they had ever met a Tibetan Buddhist monk. “They looked at me as if they were looking at a tiger,” Khenpo recounted with a smile. “Mind you, perhaps it’s because I was born in the year of the tiger.”
Fourteen years later, on November 12th, 2013, Khenpo once again visited Thai schools. The first stop of his academic tour was Chulalongkorn University, the oldest and best university in Thailand.
At the medical college of Chulalongkorn University, Khenpo gave a talk on the theme of “Deciphering the Secret Code of Cyclic Existence.” He also gave advice and instructions for terminal care to health care providers.
Khenpo mentioned that compared with today, Thai people 14 years ago seemed to have a healthier mental attitude and more smiles on their faces. The difference could be attributed to the faster living pace and the high-pressure lives people must endure today.
Following up this observation, Khenpo made the topic of his next talk “Faith and Times,” at Mahidol University on November 13th.
Although Khenpo is an ordained monk, he has nonetheless kept track of international news because of his Dharma teaching activities. In his talk, he mentioned that the movie “Lost in Thailand,” filmed in China, had boosted tourism to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Certainly, tourism development will contribute to economic growth; however, it will also bring untoward effects on local environment and traditional culture. Khenpo stated: “I am worried that in the future, there will be a movie called “Lost in Tibet,” which may bring us more money, but money does not guarantee us more happiness.”
These days, there are people who tend to become illogical about any doctrine once they have aroused faith in it, be it a scientific or religious matter. To them specifically, Khenpo suggested: Whether you believe in science or in religion, you should examine it, verify it, and ascertain the foundation of your belief.
As the students were extremely enthusiastic, the lecture ran over by one hour.
Present in the lecture were teachers and students from 15 countries, and during the question and answer session, students from nine different countries raised their hands. Khenpo listened carefully and expectantly to each question with curiosity, as he would like to know the concerns and interests of people from various cultural backgrounds.
Being Orphaned May Bring Out the Strongest Point in a Person
At home, Khenpo Sodargye has always been keen to support the underprivileged. In this academic exchange tour to Southeast Asia, therefore, he did not limit his stops only to institutes of higher education; other places such as local orphanages were also on the list.
On November 16th, 2013, Khenpo went to the Little Angels Orphanage in Angkor, Cambodia.
The institute has about 80 children; the superintendent himself was also an orphan.
During the visit, Khenpo noticed that on a day with a temperature high in the 30s Celsius, most kids in short-sleeved tops and shorts were sweating. Some others, however, wore heavy clothes meant for the cold season in spring or fall. An inquiry revealed that they would rather endure the heat wearing their more presentable, albeit unseasonal clothes, than risk being disrespectful to expose their shabby summer wears underneath. When Khenpo handed out stationery and cash, the children lined up quietly to wait their turns and thanked Khenpo sincerely.
Having no parents to look after them, these children lack a sense of security and from a very young age have learned to read people’s faces. So delicately well-behaved were they that Khenpo felt poignant pangs.
Khenpo gave encouragement by saying being orphaned may bring out the strongest point in a person, and in time they may well become a most valuable person.
The superintendent told Khenpo that being deprived of parents and extremely poor have not dented the children’s decent sympathy and kindheartedness one bit.
En route Khenpo also visited the homes of a few villagers. In talking to them, Khenpo cared most to learn about their religion and educational background, which, in Khenpo’s view, are the key factors to transform one’s destiny.
To Become a Monk Has Been My Best Act in Life
In the afternoon of November 20th, Khenpo Sodargye visited Duanhua School, the largest Chinese school in Cambodia. He gave a talk titled “How to Find the Coordinates of Our Human Life,” which was attended by 600 students and faculty of Duanhua School as well as of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. In this teaching, Khenpo expounded the meaning of life from the perspectives of ethics, wisdom, compassion, faith in religion, and power.
One of the students asked, “What do you consider is the most successful aspect of your life? How can we maintain this successful state?”
Khenpo replied: “To become a monk has been my best act in life. To don this monastic robe has allowed me to maintain this state.”
Jianhua Daily, Cambodia’s largest-circulation Chinese-language newspaper, gave detailed accounts on Khenpo’s teachings during this academic tour.
During the lecture, Khenpo wore a bracelet of fresh jasmine hand-strung by the students. The budding flowers emitted a subtle fragrance, just like the budding students—homely, tender, and brimming with hope.