“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TW: This article contains content about sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TLDR: Taking refuge in the triple gem can guide us to safety. To be at peace at whatever hardships life may throw at us. While sharing metta to ourselves might be the hardest, it is necessary for us to heal and grow over our wounds.

Poem of contemplation: 

Knowing I’m not perfect

Whatever that can be suffered, I have endured.

Life oh life

Have you had enough?

Are you satisfied?

Don’t you find yourself annoying?

Always testing my tolerance

Why is it so tough?

I have never asked for happiness 

Neither do I expect a miracle

I just hope some nights

I’m able to have some peace and contentment 

And some hope to go through the next day

I’ve never cried because of my self-pity

neither do I expect a happy ending

I don’t even cry to make myself feel better

Guilts are redundant

It won’t change into happy endings

I’m not a greedy person

I’ve never asked for more than I needed

I have already surrendered to pain or sorrows

I will not reciprocate the phenomenon that life promises

I’ve always disdained the result

only ask for the consequences

Ending myself won’t get me anywhere either

I will not feel sad for what I never once had

I just ask for one night where

I can be more hopeful

And be left alone

Where Dhamma is by my side

Drowning

If I wanted to drown myself in the sea, I would, but ever since I took refuge in the triple gems, after all these struggles and all the silence through these years, I simply don’t want to do that anymore. 

It’s hard to breathe even when I’m not drowning, but I have enough of it now, I want to live, I want to breathe harder and I want to do something meaningful in this life and I will walk away from the sea to climb up the mountain. Any darkness, any uncertainty however fluid and however dangerous, the triple gems will lead me and take me in hand.

The beginning of physical & mental pain 

Something is not right. 

I woke up with pains in my butt, anally. I remember last night, I was invited to a house party and with a few drinks, I was feeling dizzy. Something was in my drink, but it was too late. I’m so lost, confused and can’t wrap my head around what had happened. 

I got dressed immediately, saw a few men asleep on the floor but I ignored them, and rushed for the door. That was 7 years ago, I never told anyone what had happened until recently. 

I put on a brave front, pretending nothing happened but in my heart, I blamed myself. 

I felt ashamed and responsible for not taking better care of myself. 

There are so many possible scenarios I could think of why this shouldn’t have happened to me if I… 

I could have also exposed the ones who did this to me, I swear with my character, I would have made them pay for it, but time wasn’t on my side, I have to catch a flight the next day. 

As I’m a foreigner travelling, I figure how complicated legally I will have to get involved. I anticipate the overwhelming emotions I’ve to undertake, that scares me and I’m a coward I know but I felt like I wasn’t ready to confront them. 

I was also distraught and feeling disgusted, I wanted to leave that godforsaken country as soon as possible. 

The questions that flood my head

Why me? Why? I have asked myself many times. I have enough of asking, and what happened has happened. 

I’ve stopped asking questions that don’t come with any answers. There is only one thing I’m sure of, knowing what I should do next and how I respond to this adversary. 

I need to get a blood test. It takes time for the body to make antibodies after it is exposed to HIV, and different people make antibodies at different rates. 

The window period for antibody tests is between 3 weeks and 3 months. Up to 95% of people will have antibodies after 6 weeks, and 99% of people will have antibodies after 3 months. 

I waited for a 3-month period to get tested. That probably is the darkest time of my life. That anxiety that keeps building up is killing me. Like a prisoner in the dark cell, trapped within the 4 walls. 

Trying to scream but no sounds can come out. 

When I closed my eyes, I saw the ugliness and bad things that had happened. My pain and sufferings, who can I relate to? All this is just a battle I’m fighting inside myself. Regardless of winning or losing, it all seems ridiculous. 

The test

The day had arrived. Here I was at the clinic waiting nervously, a volunteer working in the Anonymous HIV Test Clinic had taken my blood for testing. 

I know it is not over yet, emotionally I’m still haunted by what those bastards had done to me, but I also know it could get much worse. 

Everyone said being positive is a good thing, but for me, being positive is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. 

It’s like you got hit by the bus and a motorcycle ran over after. I went into a room and this kind gentleman was trying to break the news to me. My nightmare becomes real, the blood test result was out. 

I’m HIV positive. 

I’ve prepared for this to happen, yet I still can’t believe it when it happens, but there is a voice in me that says keep it together. 

Even in my darkest moments, when I felt the most challenged, I often found a glimpse of light that can warm my heart from the Buddha’s teaching

Facing my ugly pain & suffering head-on is the fundamental Buddhist way that has always kept me going. I must find a way to cope with it. 

The Healing Begins

Regardless of how I have suffered, the happiest thing I have ever come across is the teachings of the Buddha. 

Silly me, coping doesn’t resolve my pain; it merely distracts me from it. The first step to healing my pain is to stop coping with it and start being with it. It hurts, but it needs to be acknowledged. 

The more I run away, the further I get from acknowledging my pain and misery. This is the Buddha’s first noble truth: acknowledging the suffering. Why haven’t I learnt it, especially since I know it by heart? How can I heal the sorrow that I haven’t identified? Similarly, the Buddha taught me that through acknowledging one’s suffering, they open the door to alleviating it.

By three things the wise person may be known. What three? He sees a shortcoming as it is. When he sees it, he tries to correct it. And when another acknowledges a shortcoming, the wise one forgives it as he should. ~ Anguttara Nikaya I – 103

Forgiveness, that is what I need. Once I’ve acknowledged my pain, I need to generate more loving-kindness for myself so I can forgive myself. 

It is not possible to have sunshine without the rain, smiles with no tears. By the laws of the universe, there is an inevitable polarity we must all experience.  

How can I possibly forgive myself if I don’t forgive others first?

I stop focusing on what others have done to me unfairly gradually and try to accept it. Forgive them, I find myself with less hatred.

 When I accept other people’s mistakes repeatedly, I realize that I can also accept my own mistakes in the end. Since forgiveness starts within me, it is imperative to start the process of forgiveness from the inside out.

Acceptance

When we do something wrong, we have two choices: change the situation or accept it. In Buddhism, this is referred to as right action and right view under the teachings of Noble Eightfold Path. If there is something we can do to change the course of things, we should take the right action or practice till we get it right. However, if we can’t change anything, we should practice the right view, which means looking at the situation in a new light.

Non-acceptance often leads to feelings of guilt and frustration. We should accept that we are human beings with emotions that often lead us to ignorance. 

It is because of our ignorance that we might commit mistakes. But, if we shed light on our ignorance, we can transform it into wisdom and learn from our mistakes.

Sending loving kindness to myself

In the past, when I dwell on the past and constantly analyze a situation, I might somehow be able to overcome it. Sadly, It never works that way, instead, it chained me to the past with torments. The past is gone, but my mind keeps it alive. 

Mentally revisiting a situation repeatedly only causes more suffering — it doesn’t solve anything. Instead of holding on to these dark memories, meditation is a way to look inward and get to know what’s happening inside my mind. 

By seeing through the self-generated feelings and emotions, I learn to let go.

I began meditating, as best as I could and doing it daily. Loving-kindness meditation is one of the meditations I practice often. 

Keeping my eyes closed, thinking of a person close to me who loves me very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still alive or who has passed; it could be the Buddha or my mother. Imagine that person standing by my side, sending me their love, sending me wishes for my wellness, for my health and happiness. I could feel the kindness and warmth coming to me closely. That gives me the strength to carry on living. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy,

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain.

Acknowledge the sufferings, accept it, forgive myself, and most of all, send loving-kindness to myself and let the Buddha’s Dhamma guide me. 

No matter how many years I have suffered, the best thing that happens to me is I have Dhamma by my side.

Handful of Leaves and Kusala Mag are in collaboration to share Inspiring stories sprinkled with Buddhist wisdom. Check out the latest edition!


Need help? It is one call away 

Sexual Assault Care Centre by AWARE

National Care Helpline: 1800-202-6868

SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444 

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 

Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours) 

Tinkle Friend:1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children) 

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Cultivating Faith In Fearful Times

Cultivating Faith In Fearful Times

This is adapted from Sylvia Bay’s bulletin for Buddhist Fellowship written in March 2020. This is a great reminder for us as we greet each new year. This pandemic throws all the curveballs we could never expect. Here is how we can l

TLDR: These are unprecedented times. The past few months have been very hard for us as the world gradually descends into a Covid-19 pandemic and we watch an accustomed way of life slowly disintegrates. Here is how we can develop faith in fearful times

Every new day seems to bring worse news and we are seized by worry and fear for the safety and well-being of ourselves and our loved ones.

It doesn’t help that nobody knows how long this pandemic will drag on. What more damage will it inflict on society and the economy before it passes? Will it even be over? Will ‘normal’ life as we know it ever return?

Why Must We Not Give In To Fear & Worry?

It brings out the worst in us. In our practice, we must learn to recognise racing thoughts driven by worry and fear.

Recognition, seeing rightly, is a necessary first step to breaking away from being trapped in an endless, vicious cycle of anxiety and panic proliferating frightful thoughts which in turn heighten the overall sense of doom.

Fear and worry are powerful akusala (unwholesome) mental states that can and often do bring out the worst in us. We become selfish and self-centred. We do silly and illogical things. We hoard food, masks, sanitisers, washing detergents, toilet papers! Fear and worry drain our goodness and humanity.

Our capacity for metta, compassion, generosity, empathy and so on dissolve under the deluge of worried and fearful thoughts. Even our noble aspirations to be good Buddhists and to do the right thing for ourselves and for others are terminated in mid-stream.

That is why it is critical that we try our utmost not to give in to fear and worry. It is not easy, but it can be done.

When you see those two mental states arising, take a deep breath and acknowledge their presence.

Call them out by name: “That is fear. That is worry.”

But don’t get defensive.

Don’t self-flagellate.

Don’t blame yourself for their presence.

Just be aware of them and other akusala mental states trailing in their wake: greed, anger, resentment and so on. Then consciously and deliberately choose not to give in to all the mental negativities.

We must not because if we are decent people and especially if we want to be good Buddhists, we will regret any unkind word said and selfish action made while caught in the grip of fear and worry.

What Do We Turn Our Minds To?

Turn our minds to Faith

Instead, turn our minds to faith (saddhā). As Buddhists, our faith is in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

The stronger our faith, the more we will feel fear and worry dissipate. Faith is so powerful that it can bring up intense joy and immense gratitude.

If you don’t believe, try this: take a deep breath and say slowly, mindfully and with conviction, “My faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha will protect me.” Don’t think. Don’t over-analyse. If you do as instructed, you will see faith surge. Joy, gratitude and humility will wash over you.

Like all mental states, faith has to be cultivated. Therefore, set aside quiet time to pay homage to the Triple Gem. More importantly, use that time to reflect on the meaning of the ancient words.

Right reflection is necessary to strengthen faith and protect the kusala (wholesome) in the mind.

Buddha

We start by recalling the Buddha’s virtues as follows but in a language that we understand and can appreciate: “The Blessed One is an Arahant, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.”

What stands out here is the fact that the Buddha was the epitome of wisdom (vijjā) and goodness (carana).

He had realised entirely on his own how his mind works and how suffering can cease.

And then out of compassion for all sentient beings, Buddha devoted the rest of his life to helping others to the same intuitive realisation. Buddha was an incredible teacher: ingenious and creative, uplifting and inspiring, with boundless compassion, drive and energy.

He taught Dhamma literally to the end.

As he laid dying beneath the Sal trees in Kusinara, Buddha reminded his students to strive on and to realise Nibbāna for themselves.

Buddha’s life was profoundly inspiring.

In these difficult times, we must remind ourselves to bring out that ‘Buddha’ potential in us and not give in to our darker instincts, namely, greed and anger. We must believe that we too are capable of great wisdom and goodness. We only have to stay committed to the practice and not lose faith.

Dhamma

Reflect on the virtues of the Dhamma as follows: “Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Exalted One, directly visible, immediately effective, calling one to come and see, leading on, to be personally realised by the wise.”

This is a reminder to ourselves to not get caught up in the running commentaries in our heads. Thought constructions are often unhelpful but they can be downright destructive if fuelled by fear and worry.

Instead, live in the present moment or as the Buddha had put it: “sandiṭṭhiko” (visible here and now) and “akāliko” (timeless). Learn to enjoy the NOW.

Be aware of how our mind can stay in the present, without chattering, at least for a while before it drifts off again. Be grateful each time you are aware of this present moment where the mind is quietly watchful.

Treasure this moment in the Dhamma. Feel blessed that with the guidance of a 2500-year old teaching, we too are enjoying this wondrous experience

Sangha

To recall the virtues of the Sangha is to remind ourselves that we must stay kusala and not willy-nilly stray into akusala. As the first part of the homage recitation goes, “The order of the Exalted One’s disciples is practising well; … is of upright conduct; … has entered the right path; … is practising correctly.”

Indeed, the noblest of Buddha’s disciples were all paragons of virtues. If we profess to be Buddha’s disciples, the least that we can do is to restrain our akusala instincts and to conscientiously cultivate kusala ones.

We learn to speak kindly and gently. In this trying time, where everyone is anxious and agitated, we should not add to another’s pain.

We shall act with consideration. We take (or buy) only what we need for survival and not clear the shelves because we can. We must be giving (cāga). For those of us with means, this is really a chance to cultivate generosity because there are very real and desperate needs out there. If we find our mind resisting to give, tame that stain of miserliness by giving more.

What must we do?

Be empathic.

We must be empathetic. Covid-19 obviously does not respect national boundaries. There is no one race or religion immune to Covid-19. The entire human race is in this together.

So we will not point fingers and look for convenient scapegoats. Instead, we should embrace all and help all alike. And finally, we will be grateful for our blessings to be living in a country where we have good people and resources to contain Covid-19 outbreak and save lives.

The fact that we remain hopeful despite the body blows to the economy and complete disruption to our social lives, shows that instinctively we trust the people in the forefront know what they are doing.

We must not add to their burden. Instead, we will be humble and wholly support them. We must think positive, stay optimistic and believe that this pandemic will pass.

May we all emerge from this defining challenge of our time, stronger in our faith, kinder in our words and conduct, and wiser in our thoughts. May your faith in the Triple Gem keep you well and at peace

If You’re Scared Of Ghosts, Read This

If You’re Scared Of Ghosts, Read This

Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.


TLDR: Cultivating a harmless and blameless way of life gives you internal confidence in the face of fear. We can also try to practice compassion towards supernatural beings, in place of fear.

If you clicked on this article because you read the title and thought “that’s me!” – there is no shame. I feel like most people have some level of fear around the supernatural – even those who claim to believe in scientific evidence, who say they don’t believe in ghosts. Put anyone in a graveyard in the middle of the night and all rationality goes out the window!

I'm trying to get over my fear of ghosts - Meme by KnightOfCydonia :)  Memedroid


I’m nowhere near the level of Ajahn Chah who literally overcame fear itself, but I’ll try to share some of my own tips for dealing with fear of ghosts.


Sīla Protects You


When I was a kid, I was definitely afraid of ghosts.

When I told my mum this, she said something like: “If you never do anything bad, why would they need to come after you?” She always said this with such conviction and fearlessness. 


Her statement was a teaching in sīla (morality). It’s the idea that when we take care of our speech and conduct, we offer the gifts of harmlessness and fearlessness to ‘limitless numbers of beings’. In return, we gain a share in this freedom from harm and danger (see AN 8.39).


I once heard a story from my Ajahn, a monk from the Thai forest tradition, who said that one shouldn’t practice in the forest if one’s sīla is not well-kept. He told of an incident where an Ajahn brought a group of monks to stay in the forest for a few days. In the end, all the monks made it out except two who had died during the journey. When asked why this happened, the Ajahn replied that it was because they did not have good sīla.


In case you didn’t know, the Thai forest Ajahns are super hardcore. They live in deep forests with nothing material for protection, putting their lives on the line to do the practice – that’s the depth of their faith in the Buddha and his teachings. 


That may have made you go ‘sure anot’, but I resonate with it because I’ve seen the impact of practising sīla in my life. When I was younger, I had a lot of fear around the idea of supernatural beings. But I found that as I grew up and started practising Dhamma, that fear began to reduce and a sense of confidence began to grow. In situations where fear arises (e.g. alone in my apartment at night, in a dark forest on a retreat), I recollect my sīla. Knowing that I have done my best to keep my precepts well and to live a wholesome life helps to soothe that fear.

Since I consistently put in effort not to harm other beings, I have no reason to be harmed or to fear being harmed. It’s reassuring, and not in a ‘wishful thinking’ kind of way – it’s a sense of real confidence in my actions and their results.


Good Vibes Are Important


I believe that cultivating wholesomeness creates wholesome energy. OK, this may sound a bit like hippie flower child stuff but hear me out.

Have you ever been to a monastery or church and the energy there just feels serene and safe? I think it’s because the activities and intentions carried out there are peaceful and wholesome, and this translates into the energy of the place.

In 2019, I stayed at Wat Buddha Dhamma (WBD) in New South Wales for a retreat. This monastery was located deep in the forest of a national park and there were times where I felt fear walking from the meditation hall back to my hut in the dark of the night, with only my torch and the moon for some light. But I realized that this fear was all in my mind; there were probably no beings around that would harm me. That’s because I could feel that the energy of the monastery was light and wholesome, given that all activities there were aimed towards peace.

The forest at Wat Buddha Dhamma


I think wholesome energy is important because energy attracts and influences, a bit like how we attract or gravitate towards like-minded people. If one constantly aims to cultivate wholesomeness in thought, speech and conduct, this is bound to permeate one’s surroundings. A good example is a friend of mine who has had many (sometimes aggressive) encounters with ghosts throughout their life.

Recently, they noticed that since performing more acts of generosity and wholesomeness, they haven’t been visited by such beings lately.

Perhaps a good landmark example of the importance of “good vibes” can be found in the teachings of the Buddha: In the time of the Buddha, there was a group of monks who were disturbed by certain beings when they tried meditating in a particular forest. When they went to the Buddha and informed him of this, he taught them the Discourse on Loving-Kindness (Metta Sutta) for their protection.

The monks then went back to the forest, practised this instruction, and radiated thoughts of loving-kindness, so much so that the beings were subdued by this and allowed them to meditate in peace.


What are Ghosts Really?


I think movies and stories throughout human history have created a universal perception of ghosts as scary beings that pop up out of nowhere and want to kill you for some reason. But actually, what is a ghost?


The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated every July of the Lunar calendar in Chinese culture. It is believed that during this time, ghosts are allowed to come to earth for a visit… In my mind, the concept that ghosts wait all year to ‘come out’ only to hang around for one month and then obediently ‘go back’ to where they came from is pretty funny. I think ghosts are everywhere all the time since they’re just another type of being in one of the 31 planes of existence according to Buddhist teachings.

They are born into this lower realm because of past unwholesome deeds or the lack of wholesome deeds. They are in a state of constant deprivation, equivalent to beggars or homeless people in the human realm who need help because they don’t have enough to fend for themselves.

Based on the principle of rebirth, these beings could even be people we knew, such as departed relatives and friends, who may come to us looking for help.

If we keep this in mind, then we don’t need to be afraid – what they need from us is compassion and merit.

I have another friend who often has supernatural encounters at home. It’s come to a point where we no longer speak about these beings in a taboo or fearful way; they are like any other being in need of help. Following the Buddha’s advice, my friend makes offerings on behalf of them and shares the merit with them as an act of generosity and compassion.

The Bottom Line

If you took nothing else away from this article, just remember this: continue cultivating wholesome qualities and abandoning unwholesome qualities, and trust in the strength of that for protection.


Wise Steps:

  • Mindfully watch the fear in your body. For me, fear arises in the heart space like a sharp, cold sensation. Centring your attention on bodily sensations can help you focus on the reality of the fear rather than the narratives in your mind being fueled by it.

  • Recite the Metta Sutta and emit thoughts of loving-kindness.
From Thailand to India: My Ghostly Encounters

From Thailand to India: My Ghostly Encounters

Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.


TLDR: The encounters with an unseen being leads to a reflection on human nature and how we relate to other beings in Buddhist cosmology.

One Fateful Night

At barely 6.30pm, the women’s compound of Wat Boonyawad was almost pitch dark within the forest. I hastened my footsteps after finishing walking meditation near the main gate – tempo accelerando. There was no one else. In that solitude, I wished someone was with me — just not the unseen sort, whatever it wanted with me.

My torch was barely strong enough to see beyond one metre from my feet. Leaves crunched beneath me, like in The Slender Man.

Near my kuti (small practitioner’s hut) after I had washed my feet, leaves rustled and a breezy presence weaved through the surrounding forest. Yet, my skin pricked with heat. Panicking, I ran up the steps to the door. 

Meeting the Ghost of my Mind

I fumbled for the key, with the torch gripped in between my teeth. Jaws tightened. The fear of being caught up by a menacing force crescendoed as each attempt to slot the key into the lock pad failed. Mosquitoes hummed impatiently beside my ears. Quick. Quick.

Finally, the lock turned and I slammed the door tightly behind me. All that hooting and howling from the forest grew claustrophobic; their sources unbeknownst to me. The forest has its ways to play tricks on the mind. This meditation retreat was my first ever to stay alone in a forest hut within a Thai monastery. So much unknown to fear for.

The relief of getting into the kuti (meditation hut) did not last, I hurried to the little altar to light up the candles, the heart-throbbing at my throat.

Buddha, help me. Bow. Dhamma, help me. Bow. Ajahns, help me. Bow. The candles flickered in the twilight.

I inched my way to unwind the huge windows for ventilation; my eyes averting the ominous world outside. What if a ghastly face stared back at me? At that thought, my hair stood on its ends as a chill ran down the spine. Spinning out of the sensation, I plunged to the floor into a half-lotus position for sitting meditation.

Buddho buddho buddho.

Buddho buddho.

Buddho. 

Bud-dho. 

Bud-dho. 

Bud–dho. 

Bud—-dho.

When hyperventilation evolved into a smoother and more refined breath, I saw clearly all that fear about ghosts was merely the sensitive mind misdirecting its alertness. I believed in ghosts’ presence within Buddhist cosmology.

At that time, I also assumed their nature to seek me out in avenging my past karmic misdeeds and sucking my energy dry with evil trances.

That such a hateful encounter was bound to happen kept my heart from sinking into the peace. It wasn’t the forest that was playing tricks. My defiled mind was the culprit puppeteer, pulling strings on a ghost puppet.

The First Encounter

No, I would not let that made-up ghost rob me of the peace that can develop from retreating thousands of miles away from home. The fear mis-manufactured from baseless perceptions and thoughts can stay. But I did not wish to indulge its willfulness, despite not understanding it fully.

With that determination to set aside fear, the heart finally found its resting spot in even more refined breaths: a clear quiet space opened up within my mind. The candles at the altar had gone out by then. The nocturne calls of animals were distant. This was one of the rare peaceful moments in the retreat, truly. A deep state of focus, tranquil, alert.

Soon, a face showed itself in my mind’s eyes. No vengeful entrance — gradual, weightless.

Just a head dripping in blood, rotten flesh, long hair; her round bloodshot eyes stared into me. The body trailed off. A very… sorry plight; nothing threatening.

I couldn’t explain how I knew this presence to be true but I did. The fear that I experienced earlier did not arise again. No goosebumps. No chills. I steadied the mind on the being, looking right back. I did not wish her away, neither did she seem to want to go away. Not yet.

Here, memories of reading Mae Chee Kaew’s biography where she communicated to ghosts using her heart surfaced within my mind. I was definitely not Mae Chee Kaew, but maybe I could try communicating to the ghost too.

What do you need from me? What is helpful for you?

Share merits. You have been practising the Dhamma.

I will wish you well. Hope you can receive them.

Eyes shut tight still. My heart turned inwards further and channel whatever wholesome bits it could find towards the being in front:

May you receive all the blessings from the goodness I had cultivated since the start of my life. May you have the merits you need for a fortunate rebirth. May you seek safety and refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. May you be free from all sorts of suffering in the future. May you be well and happy.

These phrases repeated in my mind like a playlist on loop, religiously as if my life–her life–depended on them. The sphere of goodwill (metta) radiated outwards to imbue her presence within it. Not long after a few cycles, the unseen being took her leave –gently, gradually, lightly–much like how she appeared but with more ease. The meditation came to an end too.

Do I know you? I wanted to ask but I didn’t. A sense of familiarity lingered, although I could not quite put a finger to it.

Moonlight shone through the canopy; their piercing beams reflected off the forest floor, lighting up the pitch dark from before. I took three candles outside, keen to place them along the earthen path for walking meditation. Finally, I was brave enough to venture out after nightfall. Before this night, moonlit walking meditation was completely unfathomable.

Affinity Knows no Boundaries

In my subsequent stays at various forest monasteries, trips to Kuala Lumpur, even at home, when I was alone in meditation and there were particular still moments of clarity at night, unseen beings of similar profiles would appear in my meditation. Each time, they asked for merits. Each time, I tried to maintain my compassion to share merits. Afterwards, they would leave quietly.

The restless mind was still afraid of the dark and jumpscares, but the fear was more manageable than the very first encounter.

These encounters were at least half a year apart so I thought that the beings were different individuals.

It was not until my India pilgrimage that I realised a trend.

Final Encounter in Pilgrimage 

The hotel we stayed in at Vesali was haunted. According to Thai Forest Venerable Luang Por Piak, tens of thousands of hungry ghosts hung around the hotel. At the worst of my cough, I felt nauseous on the first night, after returning from a day of breakdowns. A Thai female doctor with the tour suggested treating me with acupuncture, which I desperately accepted. Anything to get me out of that bodily hell.

Moments after the acupuncture began, I slipped into unconsciousness while I was trying very much to be mindful of the needles. Soon, I fainted on my bed.

That night, I woke to a persistent furious hammering on the windows. Calling out to my Thai roommate from my crippling fear of angry ghosts, I hid under the covers, still weak from earlier. She went up to check the curtains and found monkeys. Nothing to be afraid of. Go back to sleep. How? I could barely feel safe.

On the second evening in Vesali, a second acupuncture session occurred in another hotel room, in which its inhabitants complained of paranormal activities from the night before. Despite the crowd receiving treatment, I caught a waft of ‘off-energy’. While sitting in meditation at a dimly lit corner, the mind gathered into stillness. 

Soon enough, a familiar image of a bloody head and wispy long black hair came into view – the same request ensued.

This time I finally recognised her although she was hovering at the corner. An insight struck: this was the very same unseen being who sought my attention at Wat Boonyawad and thereafter. 

She had followed me to India! She had been following me all this while! In sharing merits, I recollected about the wholesomeness from visiting the key Buddhist holy sites thus far and wished her to rejoice in the rare occasions arising from that pilgrimage. That night, I slept soundly.

At the last stop of the pilgrimage – Varanasi, my tour group disclosed that my Thai roommate (gifted with supernatural vision) had seen a ghost sitting on my bed that very night in Vesali. That was definitely goosebumps-inducing. Rounding up the trip at a final chanting session in Deer’s Park, I made a determination to dedicate all the merits from the pilgrimage to the unseen being.

Since then, she has not visited me in meditation. I would like to think that she has gathered sufficient merits to be reborn in a better place. 

How Can We Live Better in this Cosmic World?

My unseen encounters left a lasting effect on my practice. They taught me to face my fear of darkness and to respect the presence of unseen beings. Now, I make a point to share merits every morning chanting and when I offer meal dana to monks. Sharing merits help to cultivate generosity in the immaterial world. 

I have not mentioned the unseen encounters to my spiritual friends openly, for fear of coming across as boastful. The intention of sharing my encounters here is to help readers reflect that there are deprived states, where unseen beings exist in our cosmic world.

They exist out of their attachments and/or hatred to this material world, which they were not able to relinquish upon their death as humans.

(While I have not met malicious beings, I have heard stories of where ghosts have party hangouts in rooms for extended periods.)

Reflecting on the deprived states of ghosts, can we then work on our attachments, anger and hatred in this human life? 

Perhaps, as much as I have encountered the manifestations of an unseen being, the visualization mirrored the hatred contained within my heart. Using the same Dhammic approach of awareness and acceptance, I can introspect on what the heart needs and what is beneficial for it. Then, apply the balm of loving-kindness and compassion.

To the being and myself: wherever you may be, I wish you well and hope you benefit from the Buddha’s dispensation, always.


Wise Steps:

  • Casper the friendly ghost is not untrue — ghosts primarily want sharing of merits when they manifest to you. 

  • If you encountered ghosts as malicious, share even more merits. Done from a mind of pure generosity, offering a Sangha Dana can generate merits for unseen beings who could receive them for long-term welfare and fortunate rebirth.

  • With compassion towards the deprivation ghosts exist in, we may contemplate our strong attachments and begin to let go of the hatred we experience within our hearts.
How To Fearlessly Face The Ghosts Within

How To Fearlessly Face The Ghosts Within

Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.


TLDR: The memories from our past are scarier than the ghosts, they live within and the haunting never seems to cease.

It happens again. It likes to sneak up on you when you are most vulnerable, terrorizes you when you are unaware. Dark at night, when I’m about to fall asleep, when I’m alone staring at the ceiling or listening to an old song when I’m on the bus. I can’t pretend I don’t see them. It’s always right there in my mind even when I close my eyes. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the painful memories of my past.  

If you are quiet, you can hear them, loud and clear — the shadows of who we once were, the lives we’ve lived and people we’ve loved. We’re left with mournful and never-ending remembrance. The haunting never seems to cease. Our memories are scarier than ghost sightings.

Wouldn’t you think our lives are already filled with ghosts? The loved ones that left us stay as memories, like a ghost that lives inside you, and like this you keep them alive.

The sweetest memories can sometimes turn into a moment of tears clouding my eyes. Sometimes, I can’t seem to get out of it. It can be a dreadful burden. The older we are, the more haunted we are. The regrets, guilts, and the attachment we hold on to the happy times we can’t go back again. The memories are like the seaweed that is hard to get untangled. 

Should we banish them entirely, all those ghosts of who we are and who we loved? Should we exorcise them completely? Or should we find a way to lay them at last to rest?

Untangle The Past

Although memories reflect what actually happened in the past, they are not the reality. We don’t have to let our memories control our emotions and bind us like a dog chain. If we handle our memories mindfully, we can unburden ourselves of them; we are able to view them with an open heart, looking in from the window outside the house, that brings calm to the mind and in turn heals any gloomy emotion that arises.

When our memories resurface, learn to switch our thoughts to an observation frequency. Not to overload ourselves with heavy emotions by allowing memories to interpose into our thoughts making it a hyperreality.

Letting Go Of The Past

Sometimes I wonder why these memories keep resurfacing, and I realized it’s because I can’t let go. The past can’t be changed and yet we keep playing it in our head a million times.

It keeps reliving and by doing that. I’ve sacrificed the present and the future that could create happier memories. 

Buddha once talked about letting go, “Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit. Whatever arises in dependence on intellect-contact, experienced either as pleasure, as pain, or as neither-pleasure-nor-pain, that too is not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit.”. 

For any long-term sustainable happiness, we have to learn how to let go, not holding on or creating a blockage. Happiness and sadness can’t happen at the same time and they are never yours, to begin with. 

Sending Loving Kindness To Ourselves

There is no doubt our past decisions make us who we are today, but it doesn’t make sense to let the past define who we are. If we treat our memories sensitively, with loving kindness, we can cultivate intuition and discernment for our future selves, rather than judging and blaming the ghosts from our past.

Memories Of My Father

Once when I was having breakfast, my father asked, “Why did I skip the bread skin and go straight to the softer piece of the bread?” 

“The top layer is always dry and hard.” I answered. 

“Who is going to eat that, if you don’t eat it?” My father replied

I lost my father a few years ago and that memory of him always brings me to tears. Instead of weeping, I now see it as a way to inspire me to be more selfless.  

Some of us may feel like weeping when confronted with our ghastly memories, but there is no need to run away from it or continue feeling sad about it. Instead, we can rise above the conditions and conditioning of our past. When we hold our memories carefully, we are no longer haunted by what has happened to us; we view our past and present experiences from a different perspective. 

Lay The Ghosts To Rest

I’m still human. I walk with my ghosts from time to time, and sometimes I can confront them and sometimes, I’m overwhelmed by them. But, at least I feel like I’m slowly reaching a state of mind where I can see them truly as the past and putting it to rest. 

It’s a matter of acknowledging the good memory, feeling it and then reminding myself of the good that is happening in my life now. Reach inside for gratitude for what was and what is and try to find a place of acceptance.

We can take the mournful and never-ending remembrance and turn it instead into memories that we can appreciate as a valuable part of our beautiful lives. We can learn, over time and with practice, how to be grateful for the changes, and we can stop mourning them. We can even celebrate all the aspects of who we were and are now and all of the people we’ve loved along the way.

Instead of fearing the ghost of my memories, I now see them as my companion I can live comfortably with.


Wise Steps:

  • Turn our memories into valuable parts of our beautiful lives that are worth appreciating regardless of the good or the bad.
  • Rise above the conditioning of our past by viewing our past and present experiences from a different perspective.
  • Acknowledging the good or bad memory, feeling it and then reminding yourself of the good that is in your life right now.
Why Fear Is Your Best Friend

Why Fear Is Your Best Friend

TLDR: Fear can have a debilitating effect on our mind and body. But instead of habitually running away from fear, we can use it as a tool for mindfulness and transcend it.

All of us have fears. The most primal fear of a human and an animal is the fear of death. There are more conditions leading to the feeling of fear for humans compared to animals. Animals do not carry fear around as humans do. Humans can fear spiders, being in tight spaces, fear heights – and we can imagine these things. We picture our boss berating us if we fail to bring a project to fruition, to fearing our spouses because we are unable to meet their expectations. We even fear seeing doctors in case there is bad news regarding our health. All of these fears can manifest without the situation unfolding the way we imagine it.

Fear is indeed a monster because we can easily manifest it. But fear can also become our best friend if we know how to use it.

Facing Fear to Defeat Fear

You might ask, why do we want fear as a best friend? It is a really unpleasant feeling. The answer is straightforward. Fear is indeed an unpleasant feeling. It makes our legs shake and our hearts jump. It makes us think and behave irrationally.

We have tried many times to beat fear by distraction and avoidance but it comes back. Thus, the only way to defeat fear is to face it.

The only reason you would want to face fear is because you are aware of the effects it brings. You are tired of having fears. Also, you could be a mindfulness practitioner who would like to see your emotions for what they are so as to transcend them (transcending is not getting rid of them but letting them go).

Being with Fear without Escaping

If we were to see a leopard not far away while jogging in a park, it makes sense to avoid the leopard. It also is perfectly normal for the emotion of fear to arise. As a city dweller, there are almost no opportunities to spot a leopard while jogging in a city. So it is safe to say most of our fears come from thoughts and anticipation of a situation we dislike. What matters is what we do when the feeling of fear arises.

When we feel tightness in the stomach, weakness in the legs, and a cold sensation running through our hearts, we know that fear is here to visit. Instead of trying to stop these sensations by distraction or allowing it to take over us, we could treat fear as a process of sensations running through the body.

It does take some courage to see the sensations of fear because we have spent countless times running away from fear rather than seeing fear. There are three things that could help you understand fear by watching fear run through the body.

As it is an energy that takes up resources in the body, you may feel the body fully relaxed after the sensations of fear have subsided.

The next thing you might come to understand is that fear is not here to stay. It is impermanent. So instead of suppressing it, you just let it pass. The third insight you may have of watching fear is that what makes the sensations scary is your thoughts about it. By just watching it and not thinking about it, you may realise fear is just like any sensation in the body – just more pronounced with some distinct features.

Mindfulness of Sensations

Unfortunately, just watching fear once or twice does not allow you to transcend it. But instead of escaping from it, you might begin to welcome it, even if you are still afraid. That is because only with a strong sensation such as fear or pleasure can you investigate your emotions for what they are. These two emotions make us lose our minds. Fear makes us run like fugitives, pleasures make us crave like slaves.

When one is truly tired of being a slave or a fugitive, would the effort be aroused and make one brave enough to watch these sensations and not succumb to them. When these sensations arise, we also learn how our thoughts shape these feelings and finally find the way to let go of them. To truly let go is to be mindful as often as we can in daily life and to repeatedly see the process of sensations that we crave and reject for what they are.


Wise Steps:

  • When we feel the sensations of fear, be with it and don’t run away.
  • Fear is impermanent, it passes away.
  • See the process of fear run through your body and check your thoughts.
  • You may realise it is your thoughts that make fear as fear. Without thoughts of aversion, fear is just a sensation.