Ep 36: From Ideas to Impact: Founding Journey of Handful of Leaves

Published on Oct 20, 2023


[00:00:00] Cheryl:

Hello, welcome to the Handful of Leaves podcast. So we will be getting up close and personal with the founders of Handful of Leaves, getting to know their journey with Buddhism, their personal life up and down and to understand why the both of them come together to found HOL.

[00:00:17] Kai Xin:

Hi, I’m Kai Xin. I co-founded HOL with Heng Xuan. I’m an introvert. That’s one thing to know. I run an agency in my day job. This is something that I’m doing on a voluntary basis.

[00:00:29] Heng Xuan:

Hi everyone, my name is Heng Xuan. I work in the finance industry. I did HOL because I felt there was a gap in the Buddhist landscape. So I got Kai Xin into this wild roller coaster to do Handful of Leaves. But a bit more about myself. I enjoy working out daily, just sweating it all out, especially after one tough day of work. That’s about me.

[00:00:47] Cheryl:

I must say, Xuan is everyone’s personal fitness coach. Dragging everyone to the gym and making sure we clock our workout hours in. I think Kai Xin has also been a victim of that. Yes.

[00:00:58] Heng Xuan:

Supporting my team.

[00:01:01] Cheryl:

So, yes, let’s know a little bit more about your journey with Buddhism.

[00:01:06] Heng Xuan:

For me, I started Buddhism, I’m brought up in a family that’s pretty much nominal Buddhist. So it means that at every start of the year, you go to the temple to pray and all of that. And then you just offer joss sticks. And then the temple is very nice, they give you a pencil and ruler.

[00:01:18] Kai Xin:

Okay, yeah, never got that before.

[00:01:20] Heng Xuan:

Yeah, it’s basically to be smart, and hopefully, the ruler helps you pass your exams.

[00:01:24] Kai Xin:

Then why I’m not as smart? I never get a ruler.

[00:01:26] Cheryl:

I thought the ruler was for your parents to whack you.

[00:01:29] Heng Xuan:

I mean, if you don’t study hard, then yeah, it’s a great mechanism there. So for me, growing up a nominal Buddhist, I went to a mission school and then that made me question like, what am I doing? Maybe it’s cooler to join Sunday service and stuff. So I experimented with a lot of different religions. Then came a point when I was 13, and there was a newspaper article advertising this monk, talking about Ghost Month. It was actually this monk called Ajahn Brahm. And I was like, eh, very weird, eh. There’s a Caucasian monk talking about Ghost Month. So, my mother said, you wanna go? Then I was like, just go.

And then I found myself straight away diving into Buddhism, cause there was a group called Buddhist Fellowship Youth. They had bowling, they had singing, karaoke, and as a 13-year-old, I think that was really fun. Going there for the friendship. Then after I started learning Buddhism, I took it off all the way to where I am now.

[00:02:09] Cheryl:

Wow, I love how from a nominal Buddhist, all these little seeds that were planted by the temple, the Ang Mo Monk (Ajahn Brahm), your mom really just brought you into understanding the Dhamma. I’m very curious, what made you dedicated to giving back to Buddhism?

[00:02:23] Heng Xuan:

Yeah, so I started off as a kid that was really impulsive, and also angry at times. Cause I did karate and I will actually try out the different techniques. I will fight with fellow classmates in secondary school and in primary school. I wanted to just charge through life. Everything must go my way. And the Buddha taught that not everything goes your way, right? A lot of things are outside of our control. And that change that I saw in myself improved my relationships with people all around me. And that’s something that I want to bring across to people around the world and help make people’s life really more light, and less dark.

[00:02:55] Cheryl:

And it’s beautiful how it all started from yourself. You noticed the change, and that’s how you wanted to give back to other people. I’m very curious if you had something similar with Xuan as well, in terms of your journey.

[00:03:07] Kai Xin:

Oh for sure. So Xuan was the one who brought me to Buddhism. He’s like my 贵人 (benefactor), I always say that. Yeah, and Buddhist Fellowship is where I started. We met at an orientation camp in Poly and he’s very good at recruiting. So he’s like, oh you like meditation, right? There’s a retreat coming up. So I’m like sure and what stood out to me was first, I never knew that meditation can be taught. I thought it was just breathing, just sit there, close your eyes. I remember it was a one-day retreat and it felt really good. So I thought there must be something deeper to that.

There were a lot of talks around misconceptions of Buddhism, and it blew my mind because being a nominal Buddhist, my mom and my dad would pray. I would always go to Guan Yin Ma temple at Waterloo Street. I didn’t get a pen and ruler, but I would ask Guan Yin Ma to bless me for good results. Yeah okay lah, can pass. But I realized there’s something more to that.

So when I got to know about the misconception, it blew my mind because I realized that, hey, what I was taught from young, I thought that was Buddhism, but it’s the complete opposite of what the Buddha taught, right? Rites and ritual, it is a good form of increasing our faith, but it’s not the thing. It’s really about releasing ourselves from suffering. And then I started volunteering as a youth leader. So again, he recruited me to be a part of the EXCO member. Yeah, just constantly serving. It feels like a crime to not give back because I’ve benefited so much.

[00:04:35] Cheryl:

That’s a very huge statement to make actually.

[00:04:37] Kai Xin:

A crime. Really, really. It’s like you’ve benefited from someone or something and then you see other people who can also benefit from it. And you just turn a blind eye. Like how could you do that, right? The analogy would be if you see a kitten that is injured on the street, are you just gonna walk away? Yeah, so when people ask me for help, then I would say okay. Yeah, sure. Why not? And I don’t see myself doing anything other than serving the Dhamma, it’s like the most meaningful thing that anyone can do, I feel, yeah.

[00:05:11] Cheryl:

Wow, I think it’s interesting you brought up the presentation that Xuan made about the misconceptions about Buddhism because that was when I had an aha moment when Xuan presented that exact same deck. And I actually reached out to say, could I use this presentation and share it with the KL community because it was that impactful. I was like, wow, it really changed my mind as well about what Buddhism is about.

Fun fact as well, I was also introduced to the Buddhist community by Xuan through one of the camps, the Pushing Boundaries Camp. And that’s how I got in touch with all the other communities. So thanks, Xuan!

[00:05:41] Kai Xin:

Another fun fact, Cheryl came all the way from Malaysia to Singapore for the camp, based in Singapore. So really kudos to you, and now you’re residing in Singapore.

[00:05:50] Cheryl:

Yeah. Yeah, awesome. I love how our journeys are all kind of interconnected in some way. All these little seeds are planted. But what brought you guys together to actually work on HOL?

[00:06:03] Kai Xin:

You have to ask the brain behind it.

[00:06:05] Cheryl:

Oh, okay.

[00:06:06] Heng Xuan:

So I think Handful of Leaves is pretty much a COVID baby. We actually talked about many ideas. So over the years, Kai Xin and I did many, many random stuff in the Buddhist community, from selling stickers to selling T-shirts just to make Buddhism cool again. So the start point for Handful of Leaves is actually many years before, but the little thing that pushes you across is COVID. Vesak was coming and there were lots of Buddhist Organizations that were really optimistic that they could still do Vesak Day. So we decided to just curate this directory that allows people to actually seek out where they want to go.

So that is how we actually get the emails. Then after we get the emails, we get the data of how many people visit our website, and how many people go. Then we started to curate, how can we build a resource for people to anchor their practice on. And that’s where we found there’s a huge gap because in the Buddhist world, you will only have the option of Dhamma book or listening to one and a half hours of Dhamma talk and you have no clue what is Kamma, what is Vipaka, all these random Pali words. And we felt that there’s a gap and we said, yeah, let’s do this. Let’s give it a trial. We do user testing and all the funky tech stuff. Yeah, coming together. That’s how we kind of started.

[00:07:15] Cheryl:

And what made you decide to work with him?

[00:07:18] Kai Xin:

Oh, I’m super aligned with the goal and also I feel the urge to fix this problem. So the Vesak directory was kind of like a band-aid, a very short-term solution to a bigger problem, right? Yes, we direct people to different online Vesak events, but what is next? And just now he mentioned Pali words and… Things that are not very relevant or accessible to people at least from a language standpoint or you have to go through maybe pūjā which is chanting, the rituals in order to then get the gem of the teaching some people they don’t even know, what am I chanting? Is this a cult? You know, like what does it sound so foreign? So boring. Yeah. So if we do it in a very traditional way I think the barrier to entry for people to understand the true Teaching is very high. When we were talking about the directory, we said, actually what is bigger than this? Content? We are actually quite lagging behind in terms of the Buddhist scene. We don’t have much content on the net. Even if we have maybe the website would look very 1990s and it really takes a person who is truly seeking to be able to get past that to then uncover the golden nuggets behind it.

So, what Handful of Leaves really stands for is practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life. Because you really want to make it very relevant and accessible to what is happening in the day-to-day challenges that you don’t usually hear of in the temple. Yeah. So, for instance, the taboo subject is premarital sex. Is that a misconduct? Because people feel guilty about it and there are genuine questions around. And I think it is a little bit more tricky for monks and nuns or monastic members to talk about such things or even down to How do you take care of your mental well-being at work, toxic workplaces? So I’m very aligned with that, just like, yeah, sure, let’s do this. And here we are three years later.

[00:09:06] Cheryl:

HOL is like your toddler that’s three years old. Do you think that the problem that you’re trying to solve from when you first started is still the same?

[00:09:13] Heng Xuan:

I would agree that it’s yes and no. We plug the gap. It’s a ship that has many holes and you’re like hammering in one after three years and then you look behind you and there’s more holes to fill.

[00:09:22] Cheryl:

Oh no, it’s like whack a mole where everything keeps coming up. Yeah, correct. Yeah.

[00:09:28] Kai Xin:

So I guess the first hole that we were trying to fix on the ship was how do we get more reach so that people who are truly searching would be able to find us. So we have social media. And people do find us organically on Google as well. Then, the next hole that we are trying to fix right now is, okay, now we are volunteering. It takes a lot of time and also a lot of effort. I mean, you will know because you are doing the podcast with me, right? Like transcribing and stuff. It takes a lot of effort. It’s like a full-time job on its own. Then, it becomes an operational challenge that we have to fix. How can we sustain this in the long run so that the ship can continue to sail?

Then there are more problems. When we engage with our community they start saying, hey, can you talk about this particular topic? You’re like, okay. We are not that experienced about this then what should we do? We invite experts and constantly experimenting with different ways of providing practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life.

[00:10:21] Cheryl:

And you agreed with her. Do you want to share more?

[00:10:23] Heng Xuan:

Yeah, so I think the whole idea, why I think that there’s relative success is, we found actually quite a number of individuals finding us through Instagram and then after that beginning their Buddhist journey by joining other Buddhist organizations out there and they’re really actively serving. So to me, that’s very good validation that our funnel works in bringing people into the Dhamma and giving them opportunities to practice.

Where I say that, no, we haven’t achieved that, is because there’s still so much to be done. There are still so many media resources that we can leverage and we just don’t have the bandwidth, or the manpower to actively push for it. Like for example, doing video podcasts like this is like a rarity, right? It’s so hard to get the resources in place. But we know that that will increase our reach. Yeah, so these are the things that we still under-penetrate the markets.

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[00:11:10] Cheryl:

Yeah, I think of course there’s a lot more potential for HOL to grow, but don’t underestimate how far you’ve come. Yesterday I was just speaking to a colleague randomly and she’s like, Hey, I know you are doing a podcast. I ran into your podcast. I was like, scanning my brain. Did I tell her? I don’t think so. So I asked her, how did you find it? She said, Oh, I was just looking for mindfulness content and I came across this podcast. And I was like, wow, yeah, SEO. It’s very heartening to know someone that you don’t promote this, just found it and hopefully found it beneficial as well.

[00:11:42] Kai Xin:

And I think it’s also heartening in terms of the impact we create. So some fun facts about how we evolve, right? The visuals that you see on our website and our social media, many of them are created by a volunteer and she started without knowing us. She was a reader of our content and she found it really interesting. And then her friend was like, Hey, you know, they’re looking for volunteer designers. Do you want to sign up? And here she is. I think she’s been volunteering for over a year, right? Yeah, so shout out to You Shan, thank you very much.

[00:12:13] Cheryl:

And I think we have a lot of other examples of readers, listeners who just benefitted from all of the content and they just want to help and want to give back. Very similar to how you all started as well. You all benefitted from it personally and you want to share, yeah.

You have mentioned that you all met each other long ago. So it’s about 13 years? Yeah, so let’s get a bit more personal. Let’s see how well they all really know each other. So these are very basic questions. I will ask something about Heng Xuan that Kai Xin has to answer and Heng Xuan will validate whether it’s correct or not. Very, very basic one. What is Heng Xuan’s favourite colour?

[00:12:52] Kai Xin: Red.

[00:12:53] Heng Xuan: Not bad.

[00:12:54] Cheryl: Okay, correct. And what is Kai Xin’s favorite color?

[00:12:57] Heng Xuan: I think it’s also red.

[00:13:03] Kai Xin: I think I know why. It’s hard to guess because I don’t wear the colour.

[00:13:07] Cheryl: Okay, I’ll give you a hint. It’s something to do with monastic colours.

[00:13:11] Heng Xuan: Oh, okay. Orange.

[00:13:13] Kai Xin: Close. If you dilute it a little bit more.

[00:13:16] Heng Xuan: Yellow?

[00:13:17] Kai Xin: Yes.

[00:13:18] Heng Xuan: Oh wow, that’s like so off. Okay.

[00:13:20] Cheryl: Guys, you’re getting exclusive content here. For the first time in 13 years, Xuan finds out about Kai Xin’s favourite colour. Very good. And next one, what is Heng Xuan’s favourite food?

[00:13:35] Kai Xin: I mean, he’s a vegetarian. I suppose his favourite food will be related to tofu.

[00:13:41] Heng Xuan: Walking Tofu (Xuan’s IG account). I like noodles. It’s very generic. It was supposed to be like very carb-y, yeah.

[00:13:47] Kai Xin: Like tofu noodle?

[00:13:49] Heng Xuan: Tofu noodle? Oh, actually, yeah.

[00:13:50] Kai Xin: Okay, so I’m half correct.

[00:13:52] Cheryl: She’s just trying really hard now. And what about hers?

[00:13:58] Heng Xuan: Wow. Hor Fun.

[00:14:00] Kai Xin: I hate Hor Fun! Oh no, he does not know me! I don’t eat Hor Fun, it makes me nauseous. I only eat it when I’m in the mood.

[00:14:09] Cheryl: Wow! You can’t get more off than that!

[00:14:14] Kai Xin: We only know each other’s working style.

[00:14:19] Heng Xuan: Cuisine, maybe I’ll say Indian food.

[00:14:22] Kai Xin: I love Indian food, but no, that’s not my favourite. It has something to do with the colour, yellow.

[00:14:27] Cheryl: It’s something to do with Thailand as well, let me give you that.

[00:14:30] Heng Xuan: Pad thai.

[00:14:31] Kai Xin: How are yellow and pad thai related? Oh my goodness.

[00:14:34] Cheryl: Okay, before HOL doesn’t exist after this call, I will reveal the answer. Kai Xin’s favourite food is actually mango sticky rice.

[00:14:41] Kai Xin: And it’s also hard to guess because I seldom eat it. For practical reasons, mango sticky rice in Singapore is not nice and it’s really expensive.

[00:14:48] Heng Xuan: It’s high in calories as well, so please watch your waistline.

[00:14:52] Kai Xin: We’re not fat shaming. But it’s okay to indulge moderately.

[00:14:57] Heng Xuan: Don’t get diabetes.

[00:14:59] Cheryl:

Yeah, the fitness guru. Okay, so now let’s move into the second part of this conversation, which will be a little bit more about the challenges and difficulties of running a Handful of Leaves. I think you mentioned it was almost like a full-time job. Why do you dedicate so much time? Where do you find the passion, energy, and drive to run this on top of your day job, other personal commitments, and everything else?

[00:15:28] Heng Xuan:

Well, the short answer is that you don’t have a life. So I feel there’s always a lot of time leakage in our day-to-day life. I’m always very happy to see where I am wasting time, be it on commuting or Instagram and stuff, then that’s where your willpower dies. So these are all the pockets of time you can actually find in your day-to-day life. So that’s one part.

Motivation, I guess, is the fact that there are a lot of people backing us right now on a monthly basis, sponsoring all the different things that we do together. To me, that keeps me going, and the people saying that they appreciate our content. Not that we are just throwing out trashy content, and then the motivation dies very fast. But the fact that people say, hey, this actually touches me where I really needed it right now, then that makes you say, I’ll continue working and serving the people because the happiness of others and peace in others is something that no money can put to it.

[00:16:19] Cheryl:

When you really see the impact there and the lives that you touch, this doesn’t become just numbers. You really remember, wow, these are the people that you have served.

[00:16:27] Kai Xin:

Yeah, quite similar for me as well. It’s in hindsight that I feel, oh wow, the work that I’ve done has touched people. But when I’m doing the work, I don’t really think much, I just do. So it’s pretty much like, if I’m free, I’m doing Dhamma work. It never felt to me like a chore. Unless, perhaps when it gets very, very stressful, when I have too much on my plate, then I would feel like, I need to be doing something else.

But when I’m doing Dhamma work, I just do it, and it feels very fulfilling. I’m actually enjoying the entire process. So it feels very natural for me to find time or time just naturally appears. Over time also when we also hear about success stories and people that we do not know randomly sponsor us items or subscriptions online. You can visit our support page, for as little as $10 per month, then it becomes a different level of motivation because you can’t just do this because you feel like doing it. People truly see the value and you have to live up to that. Maybe that’s also some form of pressure to not want to disappoint people, but it can get unhealthy. So that’s a separate story altogether.

[00:17:36] Cheryl:

We need to hear that.

[00:17:38] Kai Xin:

I was just having a conversation. I’ve not told Heng Xuan about this, but I had a conversation with one of the sisters. We are seriously talking about the future of Handful of Leaves. We are doing this on a voluntary basis, but it almost feels like a full-time job, right? The conditions are now right because our job is relatively stable, it’s not like we have to OT or life is not too stressful. So the conditions are right now. But we’re not so sure what will happen in 2024. So I had this conversation with a sister who’s the mom of the crew behind the camera. I was just sharing with her some of the challenges we might face and that we don’t want to disappoint sponsors because we can’t just slack off and not put in our work when people are trusting us with their money. And she gave a very good piece of advice to say, what makes you think that people are expecting you to do X, Y, and Z just because they have contributed? Maybe they have contributed because they found value in the articles that they read or the content and they say, Hey, let me support. But they don’t think too much about it. This I cannot validate. So if you are a sponsor, please let us know if you have expectations.

But we have been having ongoing discussions about like, we had to be transparent. Let’s create an annual report to show people where the funds are going because we truly care about this. And we want people to care about this together with us. Somebody has to keep us accountable, basically. Yes. Yeah, so I’m not too sure whether that leaks into an unhealthy level of stress or pressure, cause those are assumptions that we make. Yup. I think the turning point is, she kind of questioned, are you sacrificing your life aspiration just because of this assumed expectation that people have? So, that was like… I mean, in our separate lives and including yours as well, we do have things that are going to unfold in 2024 and Handful of Leaves, running this is going to be quite a big consideration when we make those decisions.

[00:19:41] Cheryl:

Yes, I’m processing it because it’s a lot that you have shared and it’s very multifaceted, right? It started out as a project to help people, but then now when you actually have people really benefiting from this and endorsing and supporting this, then it becomes like a lot of burden on you as well. And of course, we are only humans. As much as we can optimize the time leakage, there are times when we can feel stress or burnout as well. I’m wondering if there was a moment in this three-year journey where you felt like HOL was not going to work. I just want to give up.

[00:20:11] Kai Xin:

The first part, yes. Giving up, no. I’m not sure about you.

[00:20:16] Heng Xuan:

I manage the pipelines for the articles, right? So I think there were certain moments where we were two weeks away from having no articles or no content to publish. And those are the moments where you’re like, I think we’re going to die here and run out of content. There are moments, I won’t say give up, but maybe like pull back a bit of production. But then we realized that some people have told me that they actually bookmarked our page. I was just like, cannot give up lah. But it’s also very hard to find articles and find different content angles. So I think for me, I feel it more in the sense of like, wah, want to give up kind of thing. But of course never lah.

[00:20:52] Cheryl:

Luckily, thank you for holding on.

[00:20:54] Kai Xin:

I agree with the latter part. I’ve never thought of giving up because I won’t give up Dhamma. I mean the work will probably manifest itself in a different way, a different way of giving back. But in terms of, it will never work, I think it’s also similar to the pipeline issue because it’s very dependent on our daily commitments, right? So let’s say if I am down, I fell sick and I didn’t batch enough content, then what’s going to happen? It’s not recommended, but… For real, both of us, if we are sick, we’ll still be doing Handful of Leaves work, or like Dhamma work.

[00:21:28] Cheryl:

She was even doing it when she was hospitalized for Rhabdomyolysis.

[00:21:34] Kai Xin:

Yeah, spin class.

[00:21:35] Cheryl:

And she was like (typing sound) in the hospital.

[00:21:38] Kai Xin:

It’s the most conducive environment because you’re on your bed and then food is served. You don’t have to spend time anywhere else.

[00:21:44] Heng Xuan:

But please don’t go to spin class to get Rhabdomyolysis, to get time off work. I don’t recommend it.

[00:21:48] Kai Xin:

Take care of your health.

[00:21:50] Heng Xuan:

Yes, but spin is good.

[00:21:54] Cheryl:

Another endorsement.

[00:21:55] Kai Xin:

I love all these plugs. Not a sponsored ad, just saying.

[00:21:59] Cheryl:

No, but I’m actually very curious because how do you know you’re not pushing yourself to the extreme? Because sometimes when you feel like it’s for the good of a lot of people, I have to do it because I don’t want to let people down as well. But how do you know you are taking care of yourself adequately as well? What is that balance?

[00:22:16] Heng Xuan:

For me, it’s like I try to meditate every day. So I try to meditate twice a day. If I start to meditate once a day, I know, okay, something’s not going as well. You know you’re actually close to pushing yourself over the edge when you actually see a lot of frustration, a lot of anger arise. And because the mindfulness is there, it’s actually able to catch. But once your mindfulness is anemic, it’s weak, then it will not be able to catch the defilements. Then you know you’re actually close to the burnout point already. So I think for me, that’s the telltale sign when you get frustrated at things that wouldn’t usually frustrate you when you’re doing stuff.

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[00:22:44] Cheryl:

So TLDR it’s like when you start seeing yourself getting crankier.

[00:22:48] Heng Xuan:

Yeah. When you get cranky and the defilements arise, then you’re like, okay, I’m nearly there so I need to chill.

[00:22:55] Cheryl:

But have other aspects of your life taken a toll as well? ’cause you prioritize Handful of Leaves?

[00:23:01] Heng Xuan:

I don’t know but I still have a very healthy balance. I can cook my own food and I have a very awesome relationship with my wife. So it’s like…

[00:23:09] Kai Xin:

Need to validate.

[00:23:15] Heng Xuan:

So I also have friends, I think.

[00:23:17] Cheryl:

If you’re a friend of Heng Xuan, please like the video.

[00:23:24] Heng Xuan:

Please. Yeah, so I don’t think it has taken a toll. It’s just like trade-offs. I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I see it as a trade-off. Like, if you want to go out with friends every night, you can’t do Handful of Leaves. Confirm. If you wanna travel the world and do a lot of things, very hard to do Handful of Leaves. So yeah, I think these are the trade-offs, but not sacrifice. Trade-off means what you’re giving away to take on something. Sacrifice is like, oh, I give up.

[00:23:45] Cheryl:

Yeah. The trade-off seems to be very intentional. There is a sense of willingness because you know it’s important.

[00:23:50] Kai Xin:

Yeah. That’s something I really admire about you actually. Even though you’re very occupied, right? You always go to the gym, and then you still make time to hang out with Angela, your wife, and then Handful of Leaves, and I don’t know how you still go and meet different people every week even though you’re an introvert and still excel at your day job. For me, it’s actually quite the opposite. So, sometimes… The trade-off would be, that I might be a hermit, I just don’t meet people. Sometimes I can stay in my room for days and just come out for meals. She can validate because we are like housemates.

For me, the yardstick would be in terms of emotion as well. Typically, I’ll feel it in my body, or if I’m really, really tired. So yes, when I was hospitalized, I was still working on Handful of Leaves, but it’s not compromising my health because mentally I was still really clear. It’s just physically I cannot really walk. So if I am diagnosed with a different illness then yeah, I would just take a break and I would tell myself that I don’t have to push myself so hard.

In terms of other things, I think it’s just regulating our energy as well as emotions. And if my negative emotions were to spill over to other people, then that’s where I know sleep is affected. And then I need to re-look at taking a pause and then restarting Handful of Leaves again.

[00:25:07] Cheryl:

Can you share a personal moment in your life where you were going through very difficult times, and it was really a struggle to… Keep going at the pace that you were going.

[00:25:20] Heng Xuan:

Yeah, I don’t think it’s like Handful of Leaves per se. There was a time when I was working in Thailand as a management consultant. I was so tired that actually I walked into a glass wall. And that is actually the moment I knew like working 16 hours a day or 18 hours a day is not sustainable. And I think the way to look at it is to take a break and see if is that something that you really want. These are the moments like, oh, I cannot keep going at this speed. Trying to manage this, trying to manage that.

[00:25:46] Cheryl:

Thanks for sharing.

[00:25:48] Kai Xin:

So this is gonna go very personal. Spilling the tea. I think my romantic relationship is being compromised. I have made a very rather firm decision that I think Dhamma is going to be what I will marry myself to. And people might disagree, but to me from a very logical standpoint when I’m doing Dhamma work and when I’m serving people, the level of value and impact that I can bring is a lot wider. It’s a lot more people rather than just one person. I can choose my life partner, but I can’t choose my family. So I still value family time a lot. I try to make it a point to, even though I’ve moved out, to meet my parents. We go on family trips, et cetera.

But to then make a decision to enter a romantic relationship is something that I’ve always held back on. Cause I feel like if my partner is not going to be doing the same thing that I do, it feels like I’m being stolen away from my partner. So it’s a running joke that I’m married to the Dhamma. Yeah, so it’s personal in a sense because it’s a decision that I’ve made and I feel pretty at ease now. I’m not so sure about next time if it makes sense. People listening to this might disagree.

[00:27:06] Cheryl:

First really thank you for sharing something so personal but I think it really boils down to what is important to you and there’s no right or wrong about this. Perhaps listeners will be like, no, I think maybe Dhamma would be ranked one, two, three, four, after everything else, but that’s fine also. But it seems to be very clear to me that for both of you, Dhamma and the practice and propagation of it is ranking number one.

[00:27:28] Kai Xin:

Number one for me lah, I’m not sure about…

[00:27:30] Heng Xuan:

Yeah, I view it as like many universes, there are many planets.

[00:27:35] Kai Xin:

I feel like you balance it quite well. So that’s something I would never be able to do and I really respect that about you.

[00:27:40] Heng Xuan:

They say that there are many balls in life, right? There are glass balls and there are rubber balls. And you must know at every point of your life, which are the glass balls and which are the rubber balls. The moment you fail to recognize that, you drop the glass balls and it’s gone. But the rubber balls will come back, they will bounce back. That’s how I view the whole ecosystem. The universe of relationships and all the things that you hold in your life.

[00:28:00] Cheryl:

Oh, that’s a really good one to think about. What are your glass balls and rubber balls in life?

[00:28:07] Cheryl:

We have come to an end for all the questions that we wanted to ask. But I’m actually still very curious about your personal practice and your relationship with the Buddhist practice itself. What is your relationship with your own suffering after encountering Buddhism for the many years that you have?

[00:28:27] Kai Xin:

I guess it’s to define what suffering is and then the relationship with it. In the past, when I first started, suffering felt very gross, why Buddhism is so pessimistic? And it feels like I have to cry and break down to define myself as I’m suffering. But over the years, I realized also to practice that even though I don’t have those, breakdown, and burnout moments, I am still suffering in a very subtle form. For instance, clinging onto my views or maybe my ego or my sense of identity that I always have to do Dhamma work. All of this, unless I’m enlightened, would still constantly be a source of practice and reflection, right? Am I dissatisfied at any point in my day?

So, the relationship has changed to something more nurturing. I don’t blame myself for feeling negative or feeling certain unpleasant emotions. Yeah, and just like, oh yeah, you’re just a work in progress. You’re progressing, and these are the yardsticks. You’re doing well, and it’s okay to backslide a little bit. Just put in an effort in the future, and it’s a dance, it’s a very nice dance. So I think, now, I can say I’m in a good place, I don’t attach too much to the things that I do or views anymore. Yeah, but people around me can tell me otherwise. It’s like blind spots, right?

[00:29:48] Cheryl:

I think the first thing that I get from you is like, you seem a lot more gentle with yourself. You could be very harsh to yourself in the past.

[00:29:56] Kai Xin:

Yeah, I am still very self-critical. It’s something that I’m still working on. Yes, but more gentle.

[00:30:02] Cheryl:

Thanks for sharing.

[00:30:04] Heng Xuan:

I think for me, suffering I used to want to get rid of it. I would actually watch YouTube videos or watch movies. Last time I really loved watching movies, like you enter a whole new world. And that’s actually pushing away suffering. Like most of us start from the angle of, I see suffering, I want to run away from it. I want to push, I want to indulge, I want to eat a lot of ice cream or whatever and get away from it. And even to a certain extent, working out to get rid of the stress or run away from emotions.

But right now actually, the relationship with suffering is seeing it on a smaller level. Seeing how you cling to certain views therefore you become unhappy. And I think last time I could be angry with something for like maybe one week. And now it is as little as 10 minutes. I can let it go.

[00:30:44] Kai Xin:

I’ve never seen you angry before.

[00:30:45] Heng Xuan:

Yeah, so I rarely get angry now. I think maybe less than twice a year kind of thing. Wow. So it has really improved. One of my Dhamma friends said, if you die tonight, will that anger matter anymore? Then that kind of thing strikes at you and you exit this whole suffering, self-created suffering. But I’m a big fan of this thing called chosen suffering.

So basically, there are certain things that you do that you don’t like to do, but you choose to do it because it’s good for you and because life is going to throw at you unchosen suffering. So all of this is training yourself to reach a better state of mind, so that when unchosen suffering hits you, you are ready for it, you can bounce back. But if we spend our life choosing to follow all our pleasures, then it’s going to be difficult because we’re not going to be prepared for that day, and that day will come when unchosen suffering like aging, sickness, and death comes.

[00:31:38] Kai Xin:

That’s so true. So your chosen suffering is at the gym?

[00:31:43] Heng Xuan:

Actually, it’s not just at the gym, right? So chosen suffering comes to the point of like eating well, when I commute I don’t use social media, I listen to Dhamma talks. And not every day you want to listen to Dhamma talks. But that commute, even if you’re not in the mood, I will just tune in. Because some Dhamma talks are just 10 minutes, which is like super good. Or even for those people who are very busy out there, then perhaps 3 minutes. dhammatalks.org

[00:32:06] Kai Xin:

Or you can listen to our podcast.

[00:32:09] Heng Xuan:

Sometimes you don’t like to meditate, right? Don’t tell me every day you…

[00:32:11] Kai Xin:

No, of course. There will be times when you feel like, ah, why?

[00:32:15] Heng Xuan:

Correct. And that’s the chosen suffering that we all try to do every day.

[00:32:19] Kai Xin:

Wow. That’s powerful.

[00:32:20] Cheryl:

Yeah. So choose your suffering well so that you’re training yourself, you’re cultivating your mind to have that sense of resilience that when life throws you lemons and unchosen sufferings you’re able to tap back into that strength to overcome it. With that, I think we’ve come to the end of the episode. So thank you for sharing Kai Xin and Heng Xuan. And thank you listeners for staying to the end. If you like this episode, comment and let us know if you want to see more of this kind of video.

[00:32:49] Kai Xin:

If you haven’t subscribed, please do so now It would really help us to increase the reach and also the algorithm.

[00:32:55] Heng Xuan:

Every time you subscribe, we can reach 10 more people. That’s just amazing. So just help us subscribe and make someone’s day. You’ll never know.

[00:33:03] Cheryl:

Thank you and may you stay happy and wise!


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