3 Wise Lessons I Learnt From My Internship

3 Wise Lessons I Learnt From My Internship

TLDR: Internships are valuable opportunities for one to learn and grow. Every internship is different and there’s no need to compare. As great platforms for networking, internships can allow us to be bold and to speak out.

Internships have now become a rite of passage for university students. Lessons are learnt. White hair appears. Overtime (OT) drags. I was part of a challenging yet exciting project as an intern. Here’s what I did and my 3 takeaways.

During my internship, I worked for and with a group of solopreneurs – people who set up and run a business on their own- who were commissioned by the Chinese government to organize and host a regional China-ASEAN Startup competition. 

This competition aims to bring aspiring startups and established businesses across Southeast Asia (ASEAN) into the hub of Nanning. 

Being a politics and international affairs geek, I was excited to be a part of this project! 

This competition is one of the subsidiary events of the high-profile China-ASEAN EXPO, where state leaders of both regions regularly attend. This attachment was not your typical corporate internship. With my unique experience, I learnt not to compare with my fellow schoolmates. 

1. Comparison is the thief of joy  

It’s our human nature to compare. At times, comparisons encourage healthy competition and push us to improve. However, we must be careful of envy’s trap. 

When I was in my polytechnic days, I used to envy friends who secured internships with internationally renowned firms. I was dejected, demoralized and desperate when my applications were rejected.

I felt that opportunities were only reserved for the rich, bright and powerful. 

Little was I aware that I was a victim of the “three poisons” (Anger, Greed & Ignorance) and experienced Dukkha (Suffering). This cycle of anguish formed from Taṇhā (Craving) as I desired to conform to stereotypes and to be accepted as a contributing member of society. Thankfully, this mindset was all but in the past.

As I aged and gained wisdom from the Dhamma, I realised that interning with big firms does not necessarily mean that they are the right firms for us. 

These firms may mass employ undergraduates and drive more competition. However, interns may get less opportunity to learn and shine as the same ‘workload’ gets diluted with many other interns. 

Coupled with high expectations and added pressure, internships with these firms may not always be the thriving spot for some. I gleaned this insight from my friend’s experiences with global corporations.

Everyone learns at different speeds. In large firms, interns are often put together in a graduate program and expected to be on the same learning curve. 

I used to be a slow learner and appreciate colleagues giving me the time and space to find my feet. Working in a small group for my internship with the startup competition project, I could take adequate time to learn the ropes. With more confidence, I contributed more to the project. I had greater exposure and was able to learn more.

Every internship is different and each internship brings something different to the table. No one size fits all.

Some questions to ponder for those finding internships: Prestige or growth? Short-term or long-term? The questions help us recognize that no path is the same and it’s in our power to chart our path. Instead of comparing our internship experiences, we can focus on our learning journey and choose a firm with a culture that we stand to gain the most from.

2. Linkages – Our network is our net worth

The best part of an internship is the opportunity to network and establish links. Internships are not merely for us to gain exposure to the working world. 

As cliché as it sounds, our potential net worth is indeed determined by our network.

Internships present a valuable opportunity to speak to industry experts, high net-worth individuals, business leaders, and even government officials. 

From left: Remus, his work buddy, and his boss

I like having choices. An internship opens as many doors as possible. We never know which door will be open. For those of us considering a career switch, we could potentially chance upon someone in your desired industry during networking events.

For instance, my interest is to become a sinologist and this internship presented me with the opportunity to network with key Chinese government officials and intermediaries. Pushing boundaries, and seizing networking opportunities led to me meeting personnel from Alibaba Group, Chulalongkorn University, Startup founders among many others.

How do we network? 

Start with weak ties such as old friends in industries you are keen on or seniors from previous internships or acquaintances from networking events. 

We’d be surprised how many people say yes to small favours to connect with us. For the brave, you can try lunchclub.com (https://lunchclub.com/) which connects you to different like-minded people looking to network.

Networking helps expand’s one connection and creates potential opportunities to open more doors. However, it requires stepping out of the comfort zone which I know some may be fearful of. This brings me to the next lesson. 

3. Understanding Fear

Buddhism teaches us that all beings feel fear and anxiety. It’s normal to feel a sense of apprehension about joining a new firm or saying hi to strangers in networking sessions. 

Often, our nervousness, anxiety and fear engulf us, making us meek out. Having faith in our potential to learn and grow counters that fear with gradual confidence. Confidence is crucial even as an intern! There are benefits to honing our confidence. 

Being open and ready to speak out conveys our knowledge of your material. As an intern, speaking out establishes clear boundaries to co-workers and signals to others that we are not easy pushovers. 

By speaking up, we learn more and gain respect for being humble at learning. Internships are all about learning so it is alright to make mistakes. Be bold and optimistic rather than submit to the corporate hierarchical order. 

Remus (Second from left) & his team

Here, I am not endorsing interns step over authority! 

Rather, I believe we learn a whole lot more by speaking out (whenever necessary) since we stand to lose more opportunities to ask questions by staying quiet.

During my internship, I liaised with an external firm for creating marketing collateral. The firm assured us that the final product would align with our expectations. I suspected that the firm inferred our instructions differently and might produce something that’s below expectations and might cause delays. 

Recollecting the Buddha’s teaching of Ehipassiko – come and see for yourself or simply to investigate – overcame my fear of speaking out. True enough, upon further probing, my suspicions were proven true as there was indeed some misunderstanding. 

Beyond practising mindfulness we must also investigate before jumping to any conclusion. By doing so, we would not just seek the truth but also insulate ourselves from false accusations. 

It’s also crucial to be firm and speak up if we have any concerns. In normal circumstances, as an intern, I have limited right to speak out against leading marketing experts for an area where I have got no experience in. 

However, by knowing the project’s needs, in this case, the direction where the competition should be headed, I had the duty to manage these external stakeholders. 

The purpose of an internship is for you to learn. Thus, it’s important to step out of the comfort zone, be bold, not be fearful of making mistakes and always be ready to speak out. 

Through these lessons, I have grown to be a much happier and confident person. By not comparing, I was able to block out negative externalities and focus my time and energy on what matters. Doing so, I gained confidence and was able to expand my connections and overcome fear.  

These are my 3 takeaways from my experience as an intern. I hope this advice would provide you with some useful insights to gaining confidence and overcoming fear. 


Wise Steps:

  • Comparison is the thief of joy: Understand which internship path helps you to reach your learning goals
  • Build that networking muscles by reaching out to old friends in exciting industries or seniors from previous internships. Getting the first ‘hello’ is probably the hardest but most fulfilling step!
  • Know that dear friend fear. Countering it with knowledge, courage, and mindfulness can slowly decrease its grip on us
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

Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

TLDR: Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. Here is my story and why closure is not always a necessity.

Once upon a time,

Birth and Death were lovers.

They have always been in love and

had never been separated.

But one day,

Life separated them.

Like all great love stories,

They will find each other again someday,

because they always belong together.

Birth & Death are inseparable.

Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. It started with my grandparents, my good friends, and then my father. 

I have not seen my father for over a year after my cancer treatments because he was suffering from Pneumonia, an infectious disease. Due to my low immune system, I had to move out and keep a distance away from him. How do you say goodbye to the person when you are not right by their side? Grief only becomes harder. It hurts a lot and it took me some time to go through the grieving. 

Death is a selfish B*tch. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It can happen anywhere and at any time. There is no warning or a good ending. Death never left anyone behind. The lucky ones will get to depart first. The one that stays on will linger on a bit longer facing grief.

Death will eat you up, mess up your mind and when someone we truly love dies, it can feel like the end of the world.  

I remembered the story of Kisa Gotami vividly from the Buddha’s chronicle. After losing her only child, she went crazy, holding her dead son desperately seeking someone that could bring her son back to life. Her grief was paralysing so an old man advised her to look for the Buddha, a man well known for his wisdom. 

The Buddha asked her to find mustard seeds from a household where no one had died so he could bring the child back to life. After hearing this wonderful news, she eagerly went from house to house, but to her despair, every household had suffered from a loved ones’ death. Eventually, the realization struck that there is no house free from death. She buried her son and returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. 

I always wonder why would the Buddha agree to save her son although it is not possible? 

The first stage of grief is self-denial, refusing to believe that the person had gone. There is this strong attachment that keeps holding on to the person. Buddha is a wise teacher, had he not assigned Kisa Gotami an impossible task she would not have understood the inevitability of death by herself. 

We don’t have to find “closure.” Seeking closure is akin to someone trying to ask a question with no answer.  Closure personally for me seems harsh, like trying to shut the door and end it with a bang. How can you shut down the love you had for someone?

The ability to face the truth is better than closure, it allows us to come to terms with what’s happening. It can help us to process the overwhelming reality of death.

Grief is like a stream running through our life, and it’s important to understand that it doesn’t go away. Our grief lasts a lifetime, but our relationship to it changes. Moving on is the period in which the knot of your grief is untied. It’s the time of renewal.

— Martha Beck, “Elegy for Everything”

Dhamma is the best Psychiatrist

Dhamma helps to clarify. There is no right or wrong way to grief. Everyone has their way of coping with it. 

Don’t let anyone judge how your grieving should be. Some people travel, some people take a break from their job and some people just need to get help from a professional by seeing a psychiatrist. The truth is it will get better as time goes by. 

However, it takes effort to understand the Dhamma, read what Dhamma has spoken about death. The purpose of Dhamma is to help our mind to expand and grow, to clarify. It should uphold us and create an inner sense of peace, joy and clarity.

No one can tell you how long this grief will last or how to make it right. 

What is important is that we should stop concentrating on what we have lost and instead acknowledge what our loved ones have achieved in this life. Doesn’t it make sense that life is not subjected or defined by how long we live, but by how we make an impact on our surroundings, family and friends?

Metamorphosis

When a caterpillar metamorphoses, it doesn’t want the other caterpillars to feel sad for him. Instead, every caterpillar knows it will get through this process naturally. There is no pain, no sorrow, and no guilt. It is merely how nature works. No one can stop the metamorphosis. Death is just a temporary end to a temporary phenomenon.

Also, part of me selfishly focused on my grieving and on what I’ve lost, failed to understand that this person doesn’t belong to me and his presence is not existential. Our loved ones are not born for us to grieve. I realised that everyone, not just me, had experienced grief before and we have to understand that everyone was born to die.

We all will become someone’s ancestors someday.

After the preaching from the Buddha, Kisa Gotami was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arhat (An enlightened being that goes beyond birth and death). We too can work towards enlightenment by realising these small truths of grief along the way.


Wise Steps:

  • Don’t let the grief destroy love, shatter hope, corrode faith, suppress precious memories that you have for the departed.
  • Closure is not necessary. Don’t beat yourself hard by asking questions that don’t come with an answer.
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.