A House with a View, December 16, 2013

The Mahaveli River and the Citadel Hotel as seen from our frontyard Click the image to see more photos of our new house.
We've moved into the new house, but we're not completely unpacked. It's easy to get used to newly painted, plain walls, but we do have 108 pictures waiting to be hung. We've also ordered a custom-made altar from the best furniture maker in Kandy. We hope that it is ready before too long.

Our students, monks and nuns, began organizing the library--a huge task which they undertook with great enthusiasm. Perhaps they will also help us arrange the Buddha images when the time comes.


The clean air, lush greenery, peeping frogs, and vivid bird life are wonderful. It suddenly dawned on us that we've never had a view before. We've lived in some beautiful places, in Japan, in Thailand, in the Philippines, and in Flint, but we've never ever enjoyed a scenic view. Here we have long vistas, looking down along the Mahaweli River, with flocks of birds wheeling against the mountains beyond. Gorgeous!

Visakha is enjoying riding her exercise bike on the porch, under the serene eye of a brooding mourning dove. We have hardly begun to live in the house, but, so far, it's great. We have had our first Servas traveller, Dorothea, a retired teacher from Austria, and she enjoyed relaxing here very much. After she left, she wrote to inform us that the tree in our yard is "Song of India." She found one of the same species in the Botanical Gardens.


We'd changed our address at the post office before we went off to Bangkok, but, when a parcel from Thailand was delivered to the old house, someone told the mailman we weren't there any longer. He wasn't satisfied with that, so he contacted Lily's husband and saw to it that the parcel came to the new house. Thanks and a tip of the hat! Right neighborly of him.

The countdown has begun for the 2014 Intensive Course--January 6-31. There are some great teachers coming for the course, which will be held at the same Asgiriya temple as last year, convenient to the Burmese Rest for the students coming from Colombo and for Daniel, who returns from Nepal. Linda, who worked for the Consortium back in the Indo-Chinese Refugee Program days, will here for the first few weeks, and Che, who taught in the BuddhaGaya Intensive, will be arriving from China for the last week, with wife and children -- their first visit to Sri Lanka! Lalitha will be joining again, and there will be guest appearances from Lal and Ven. Upatissa. It should be the best course yet! We're trying to get the materials organized, and Lily's excited about cooking all the lunches in the new kitchen. By then, our newly-installed biogas unit should be in operation.


Fifth Kandy Intensive Buddhist English Course

January 6 - 31, 2014

Lunch for 60 students, monks and nuns - $100
All donations, large or small, gratefully accepted

Check or money order
Pay to: Morgan Stanley, Buddhist Relief Mission, #574-688944
may be sent to:
Morgan Stanley, PO Box 951106,
South Jordan UT 84095, U.S.A.

(US$ Only)

In the case of a check, please send an email to Buddhist Relief Mission, informing us of the amount of the donation. Please indicate, "Kandy Intensive Course," and, if you are making the donation in honor of someone else, include those instructions.


After the madness of moving, it was refreshing to get away for seventeen days. The break did our battered old selves a whole lot of good. The trip, of course, had been arranged long before we had any idea that we would be moving, but it turned out fine. The first week was spent in Bangkok. We used our Hilton Honors points for an almost free stay at the DoubleTree on Sukhumvit. Talk about pampered! Every morning began with a lavish breakfast buffet--salad, waffles, pastries, sushi, eggs, Chinese vegetables, dim sum, muesli, fresh fruit, a selection of breads and cheeses, juice, tea, cappuccino, and much more. After all of that, we didn't really need another meal! But we did indulge ourselves a couple of times at Himalayan Residence, old friend Assajita's delightful restaurant and guest house, which, serendipitously, was nearby.

Our hotel room was tastefully decorated and extremely comfortable. We were shocked, however, to find that the shower wall, facing the bed, was a glass window. "What?" we wondered. "Is this a 'love hotel?" Then we discovered a curtain, but we could not figure out how to lower it. We had to call the maid, who matter-of-factly pushed a camouflaged button in the bathroom. The staff, especially the cheery breakfast waitress, greeted us personally whenever we appeared, remembering not only our names but also our preferences.

Last year, we had carried copies of the new edition of Jataka Tales and A Pilgrim's Companion to Bangkok, but none of the bookstores had been interested, so we left all of them at Julie's. Shortly after our arrival, we called Asiabooks, and, sure enough, they now wanted both. We hurried to Julie's to pick up the books, leaving a few of each to be donated to universities in Bangkok, and delivered the rest. Finished. What a pleasant surprise! The executive with Asiabooks also asked when we would have another title! Good question.

Click the image for more photos of Bangkok
While in Bangkok, we had a lovely day with Julie and Moon, visiting the Buddha-Dhamma Relic Museum, an amazing collection of Buddhist art and images from around the world. We have had a wonderful relationship with their family for twenty years. We appreciate sharing Dhamma projects with them. They won't let Visakha pay for her clothes now, so each year, lunches for the intensive courses are donated in their names. We also spent some quality time with David, who had recently returned from six months in Canada (where he had not been for about twenty years!) Such wonderful Dhamma friends make every trip to Bangkok a joy!

Our Singapore visit was organized by Jinxing and Jeaner, a dynamic Singaporean couple who had come to SL briefly in May for a dana tour and to buy books. Jinxing works for the Buddhist College of Singapore, which is affiliated with Phor Kark See Monastery, which we had visited in 1983 with Carolyn and Takashi and where one of our former Chinese students, in the graduate program at Peradeniya University, is now serving as a Spiritual Advisor. Jeaner is active with a Buddhist drama and music group in Singapore. As soon as we had accepted their invitation, we shipped many copies of our books and Buddhist Knowledge Quest, and the boxes were all waiting for us when we arrived.

Aruni, Lalitha's and Jaya's daughter, invited us to stay the full ten days in her condo. Another luxurious setting! Air conditioning, hot water, wi-fi, scrumptious breakfasts, good conversation, and a SWIMMING POOL!

This was certainly a different kind of vacation. Rather than sightseeing, it was a whirlwind working tour. We had appointments, meetings, and presentations almost every day. The first Sunday we joined the Kathina ceremony at the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society. Ven. S. Dhammika had just returned from an extended stay in Europe and was very welcoming. We visited the center again on Friday for evening meditation. For those who are not familiar with this prolific monk, we recommend "Dhamma Musings," his blogsite.

On Sunday, we also stopped at the Burmese Temple, which was also having a ceremony. Unfortunately we didn't know any of the monks or they us, but we donated books. Then we spent some time at the Family Fair, a fund-raiser of the Buddhist Library, where we were scheduled for the following Sunday. There was some good entertainment, tasty food, and DURIAN!


Jinxing introduced us to a nunnery which is very active in community education. As a fund-raiser to renew the lease on their impressive building, the temple had organized an exhibition of agarwood carvings of Kuan Yin. Agarwood, we learned, is a source of incense more precious than sandalwood. The images, some of the many manifestations of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, were truly exquisite, and the display, amid beautiful flower arrangements, was stunning.

The Saturday and Sunday School at Phor Kark See Monastery was on vacation, so we could not meet the teachers, but the staff assembled, and we were able to present a two-hour workshop on using some of our teaching materials. It was exactly what we had hoped to do at a SLELTA conference, but never got the chance. The staff members were pleased by the Buddhist Knowledge Quest, the logic exercises, and the Jatakas, and promised to introduce all of the material to the teachers.


Click the image to see more photos of Phor Kark See
One day, Jinxing and Ven. Renxu gave us an extensive tour of the monastery, including the beautiful Dragon Garden, where we had a photo session with the Awareness magazine for an interview to appear in the January issue. After that, we met the Vice-Rector of the Buddhist College. He told us that he would like to develop a syllabus for a course to help the students, mostly monks from China, become involved in social issues and relief activities. He asked us, as directors and founders of Buddhist Relief Mission, to give the college some advice on this matter. We were flattered and agreed to do whatever we could. Secondly, he explained that many students enter the college with virtually no English ability. The instructors use standard commercial ESL texts for the first year and a half, but the last semester focuses on Buddhist English. He was interested to hear about Merit, and we hope that it can be useful there when it is finished. This is certainly the impetus we have needed to complete the textbook.


The second Sunday, we visited the Buddhist Library. As we were being escorted into the shrine room, we passed through a meeting of the Dhamma School teachers, to whom we were introduced. The head teacher immediately asked us to give a presentation. We demonstrated Buddhist Knowledge Quest, and all of the teachers were eager to play with their students.

This stone image is a replica of the ancient image at Candi Mendut, near Borobudur, carved by a descendent of the sculptor of the original.

In the shrine room, the teaching was just ending as we arrived, so the monk asked us to introduce ourselves and our books. It was a very friendly group, and we were interested to learn about all the activities the members are involved in.

Jinxing also introduced us to two bookstore, Awareness, which is connected to Phor Kark See, and Evergreen, which in the Pearl Centre. (Coincidentally, we had visited Evergreen twenty years ago and still have some of their bookmarks.) Both were eager to have our books for sale. As it turned out, we had EXACTLY enough copies of each book to satisfy everyone. In the final packing to return home, we were happy to find that not one copy remained. Another glowing example of Serendib's serendipity!

Singapore certainly has changed in the many years since we last visited. At first, we wondered why we were so disoriented. Obviously whole chunks of the city we'd rambled around had been transformed into high rises and shopping malls, some with discordant shapes, but there were new areas that we had never seen. Slowly, we realized that the expressways on which we daily whizzed along and much of the adjoining land had been recently created. Land reclamation is a huge part of Singapore--with earth coming from Indonesia, which apparently has plenty to spare? When we mentioned reading about the smoke (smog) coming from Indonesia a few months earlier, a friend remarked wryly that many of the companies responsible for burning the forest and burning it off for palm oil were Singaporean, so who could complain?

We had two kinds of taxi drivers -- those who praised Singapore's development and the wisdom of its far-seeing leaders and others who claimed that they could not afford to retire because pensions had been canceled (a la Detroit?). We repeatedly heard that a person could easily die in Singapore, but could not afford to get sick. One driver pointed out a new high-rise condo, where the price of an apartment begins in the millions. Every driver told us about the casino--an odd-looking building with a ship on the roof--which foreigners can enter free, but where Singaporeans must pay an entrance fee of one hundred dollars. We had to admit that that is an enlightened policy for gaining tax revenue and protecting one's own citizenry!

While it was interesting to see the new Singapore, the real treat was meeting our our old friend Soh Lung , a famous political prisoner in 1987, whom we had not seen for about twenty years. Her book Beyond the Blue Gate deserves an international readership, which we hope to be able to assist with, by selling it on Amazon and, someday, publishing it as an e-book. We searched for it at several bookshops but were told, "We don't carry books from that distributor." Singapore is still remarkable for having almost no opposition; the People's Action Party (PAP) has been in (absolute) power for more than 40 years. We truly regret not being able to attend the performance of "Square Moon" , sponsored by her group, Function 8.


We shouldn't have been surprised, but the vegetarian food in Singapore is incredibly good. We had Singaporean (beautiful), Chinese (both exclusive and ordinary), Japanese (better than anything we remember from Japan), and Mediterranean (outstanding), not to mention New York cheesecake and pizza!


We had been home (enjoying the new house) for only a few days when we left for Colombo. November 30 was the official launch of Lal's book, Playing Pillow Politics at MGK. Lily, her sister-cousin Soma, and Ashoka accompanied us in Tissa's van. The event was an SRO full house, which the book unquestionably deserves! In her keynote speech, Jill Macdonald, from the British Council, compared this Gratiaen Prize winning novel to Tristam Shandy and Tom Jones--apt indeed! We find ourselves comparing it to Salman Rushdie's best. Lily and Ashoka were delighted to find their names in the appreciations. We were honored to receive the first copy. Nezumi is also mentioned, but she was unable to attend. We have a few extra copies available at 850 rupees each. We wonder how many who read it will be able to figure out what inspired much of the setting and plot. It is a brilliant read!


Our new house is near a bus route, both public and private, but we have yet to figure out the schedule. Buses to Dodanwela (Dodanwala) leave from the Clock Tower in the center of Kandy, and we have followed the route. We have even located the house in a satellite image on Google Maps. The nearest landmark (the bus stop) is Subhadarama Vihara (one kilometer before the Citadel Hotel). From there it is a short walk up the hill. Nearby, according to Google, is a "Burmese Temple." Actually, we think it is a meditation center, called Samadhi Centre, but we must investigate further. It seems to be more Chinese than anything else. By three-wheeler, we are only 16 minutes from downtown and 11 minutes from our old house, but there are at least five roads crossing the mountains, so it is extremely difficult to describe any shortcut. Visitors welcome! We hope you have no trouble finding it.

One of our Korean students just returned from Pusan and sent us this photo of Ven. Gong Pa Sunim. Wish we could get him here!


The day before we left for Bangkok, Ken had that old familiar feeling in his back and down his left leg. It must have been those last few boxes as we were moving! That meant he would wear the brace for travel. Also exercises twice a day to strengthen those muscles and to straighten them out. It worked! By the time we got back, the pain was essentially gone. Then, while we were waiting for the electrician, Ken decided to clean the glass globes of all the chandeliers. The easiest way to do this seemed to be sitting on the floor. There were three chandeliers with five globes each. As he went down for the fifth time, he thought, "Gee, that felt funny on the knee." Unfortunately, the pain did not go away after he got up. He quietly limped around for about four days, hoping that the silly knee would straighten up. Wednesday night, December 4, he noticed that it was feeling worse. Then, as he was putting on his pajamas, he lifted his right leg, the left knee popped, and he fell backwards in pain. He tried to get up, but realized that he could not put any weight at all on that leg. He crawled to the bathroom, stood on one foot to brush his teeth, and fell into bed.

The next morning, Ken stayed at home, while Visakha took Dorothea to class, and waited for her to bring him back a pair of crutches. Fortunately, he's an expert, having spent months on crutches after an accident with a motorcycle which broke both bones in his left leg. That evening, on said walk aids, he went to a channeling center to see a specialist. The diagnosis was "locked knee," but to be sure, an MRI scan was needed. Unfortunately, there's no MRI in Kandy, but the surgeon cheerfully announced that a followup arthoscopy exam and surgery could be done locally. The next morning, he called hospitals in Colombo to inquire about MRI. The most convenient time was the following Thursday, so he made an appointment. That afternoon, sitting in Visakha's wheelchair, he was explaining to Ashoka something about packing, made a sweeping movement to illustrate his point, and felt his back snap. Oh-oh! Yes, now he had both back pain and a bum knee. Walking was difficult, and sitting was painful. What a mess! After a few days, hobbling around and squirming in his chair, he realized that the knee was no longer the major problem. After a little judicious testing, he found he could comfortably put weight on the left leg, but he has continued to use the crutches for safety's sake. He canceled the MRI appointment and began physical therapy for the back, the same electrical treatment he had had twice before--both in India and in Kandy. When acquaintances in town see the crutches, they immediately ask, "What happened?" His simple answer, "I'm getting old." It must be true. Peter Pan (one of Ken's very favorite childhood stories) is growing up! We remember U Khe Min Da Sayadaw telling us to move with mindfulness, like old people. Now we understand what he meant.


A few days ago, Ven. Amilasiri came with two other monks from his temple in Kurunegala for the first dana in our new house. He informed us that now he is able to use both the old temple and his new quarters, and he is again caring for sixty-five elderly monks. The four young men are still working at the temple, taking care of the patients, cooking, and cleaning, and the situation is stable. When we asked what was most needed, he explained that the biggest problem is food. There simply are not enough donors from the community to cover the daily meals. About half of the days in January are covered, and one donor has pledged dana on the 17th of every month for one year. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!! Food for one day for all at the temple, including the 65 elderly monks is US$100. Buddhist Relief Mission would like to make a special appeal to our readers to help in this matter. Offering could be for one day (your choice of date) or several days, or one day each month. Donations could also be made in someone else's honor or to share merit with the departed. Anything is welcome. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!.

Support Elderly Monks at Bodhirukarama in Kurunegala!

Lunch for one day -- $100

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One day every month?

Donate lunch for the elderly monks
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Pay to: Morgan Stanley, Buddhist Relief Mission, #574-688944
may be sent to:
Morgan Stanley, PO Box 951106,
South Jordan UT 84095, U.S.A.

(US$ Only)

Please send an email informing us of your donation, with instructions




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