I began my trip through Asia in Hong Kong in Lan Tau Island. I spent the month of July at the Venerable Abbot’s monastery there. In August I moved on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in order to join the Sino-American Buddhist Association and Dharma Realm Buddhist University Asian Delegation. From the first moment, the delegation was surrounded by a large number of people, many times numbering in the thousands, who wanted to hear the Buddhadharma.
The full daily schedule, involving constant movement from city to city, and the continued exposure to large numbers of people took its toll on my energy. The first week I was often exhausted and had to retreat at times. The Venerable Abbot, however, kept going night and day: lecturing, explaining Sutras, and giving advice concerning personal problems for the many persons who came to ask. He was constantly in the public eye and yet maintained the same disciplined and relaxed good humor. He provided a model for us all, and our collective vigor increased.
The delegation was well received everywhere by helpful, interested people. We learned from each other and it was obvious that the Buddhadharma was alive in this exchange. The excitement of both the members of the delegation and the local people grew in intensity as the tour progressed. It was truly an important event that went beyond the people involved, and everyone felt it. by the time the delegation reached Penang, one of the main centers of Buddhism in Malaysia, the numbers of people taking refuge with the Venerable Abbot had grown to several thousands. There were obviously good roots from which Buddhism in Malaysia could grow and flourish, and it was a real joy for me to be among these fellow Buddhist.
For me, the decisive moment of the entire trip of Asia came when the group was transported to the eastern part of Malaysia. Before leaving the western part I had asked the Abbot if it would be all right for me to go on ahead by train through Thailand to Bangkok while the delegation went on to Singapore. I explained that this would save money and would also allow me to get to my further destination in Nepal before winter set in. I planned to go climbing in the Anapurna Mountains. The Venerable Abbot’s reply, before we had left for the eastern cities, had been that this plan was quite all right. However, on the day before I was going to depart, he said that I should wait and continue on with the delegation to Singapore. When I again explained my reasons for leaving the group, he assured me that I would not have any problems with snow in Nepal and that if money was a problem he would help me out. He strongly suggested that I stay with the group.
I spent the next couple of days in a state of great mental agitation. I had a great desire to travel on my won and yet I realized that I should do as my teacher suggested and continue on with the group. This internal struggle raged for several days and then I decided to leave. My desire had overpowered my wisdom. I took leave of the group the next day and upon my leave the Venerable Abbot again cautioned me to take a great care.
I traveled on through Thailand and Burma, and on to Nepal. After spending several days in Katmandu I took a bus to Pokara, and from Pokara I started to climb towards the Anapurna Mountains. There were many signs along the way that should have indicated to me that the moment was not right for this excursion, but on I went until at the base of Anapurna I mysteriously fell forty feet down a mountain. I say “mysteriously,” because I simply took a step and ended up in empty space. I landed on my head and was unconscious for a short time. upon awakening, I was helped up the cliff by a German friend, who was climbing with me, and some local mountain people. They helped me to a cave and there I lay for several days. I was broken up pretty badly, with many broken bones and head injuries. A message was sent with a local mountain man who ran for two days to a wireless and contacted Katmandu. Two days after that helicopter came and picked me up.
During those four days I learned quite a lot about the mind. The major lesson was that as long as the mind is conscious, no matter what state the body is in, cultivation can go on. It was apparent that the wisdom and practice of Buddhism is of great value not only on a day-to-day basis, but even more so in emergencies. A great calm came over me, and although at times I could feel the presence of fear, for the most part they were seen for what they are: empty creations of the mind. It was also clear to me that every situation is coequal. The only difference between this situation and other more common experiences was what my mind gave to the experience. In itself experience is of the same nature whether it be considered by most to be uncomfortable or comfortable.
Seven days after the fall, I arrived in California. The U.S. State Department was of great help in getting me to proper medical attention, which everyone involved thought could best be obtained in the United States. It took some time to recover, but thanks to the help of many people, the serious injuries to a great extent have resolved themselves.
As I look back I see that no money was saved by going to Thailand by train, as I had insisted on doing; in fact I cost almost $10,000 to be brought back to the United States, and the weather on the mountain would’ve been better ten days later. In addition, I brushed against a defeating force that almost killed me. The entire episode could have been avoided if I had listened to my wise knowing advisor, instead of stupidly insisting on following my own desires.
Kuo Lei (Douglas Powers)
Ph. D. Candidate of Philosophical Theology
Graduate Theological Union