Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Sabah

Malaysian musings

For those of you who know me personally, it comes as no surprise; y’all know i have become a full-blooded language geek over the years. Having said that, I feel like banging the drums for Malay speak. It’s easy to learn because most Malays I have met speak English, more or less, and are willing to help. Another advantage is that they simply adopt many words and write them just the way they are pronounced.

Some examples – i won’t give translations as it’s pretty easy to figure out the meaning: Kaunter, Bas Stesen, Lori, Imigresen, Restoran, Kari, Teh, Jem, Coklat, Sup, Kompleks, Sekolah, Kolej, Buku, Insurans, Ambulans, Kastam… I remember having a great laugh with Joy when we saw ‘EPAL’ written on a computer store at Teluk Cempedak and even more so when on the waterfront of Kuching we spotted a sign promoting Aiskrim 🙂


Something else.

Many Malay people have a jealous eye towards Singapore and its economic development while they turn a blind eye to how restrictive societies can become when money is valued higher than happiness or equated with one another and when standard of living is mistaken as quality of life. I meet people in Malaysia who are eager to live in a modern, industrialized country. It seems they want to imitate Western countries. How can they avoid to repeat the mistakes that have been made by others throughout the last centuries?

Can you imagine a European radio-broadcasting reminder telling you to stop at red lights? That is what’s happening here. While hitchhiking through Sarawak I listen to the radio repeating three times how important it is to follow the rules and to remember the three words: “Stop.At.Red!” Forgive me for saying this, I know car accidents happen on a daily basis. I am neither condoning nor encouraging anyone to ignore red lights, of course. The main reason I choose this example is that according to my experience Malay drivers are one of the most considerate and slow car drivers I have ever met in my life. Another reason I mention this particular incident is that I am reminded of the way governments in Africa try to impose a certain behaviour or adopt a model of society that works for some role-model ‘developed country’ without having the faintest idea of how to implement change. They try to influence collective conscience (Durkheim) and obviously, they are trying to do so with a sledgehammer mentality. The gap between the government and the populace is simply too big. The majority only talks about ‘the economy is good/bad’ and how strong/weak their currency is compared to Singapore/Brunei/Europe etc.

Who would be willing and able to build bridges? It is much easier to complain about corrupt politicians on the one side and to impose draconic penalties on the other.

Something else.

There are several things i absolutely love about Malay people. One is the aforementioned cruising attitude. Another is the fact that they have small gestures of daily life which show their ability to give and receive freely. E.g. that they never hand over and never receive money singlehandedly. Instead, with the fingers of the other hand they touch the giving/receiving upper or lower arm. Like that, a payment always has a wholehearted appeal. Same goes for greeting a person. After a handshake the hand goes straight to the chest area indicating that you are a welcome guest in her/his heart.

Another thing that catches my attention is how easy it is to smile at other people around here. In 9.5 out of 10 times an honest, sometimes shy sometimes beaming smile is the response. At least the places I go to the people seem to be one happy bunch. Also, if something is said that could rub someone the wrong way they are not easily offended. Most of the time a joke is made out of it. Social lubrication in the form of open smiling faces really works well here. In case it doesn’t work a cigarette is offered to blow off some steam – a modern peace pipe, one might say.

Last but not least, it is the country I feel most at home in Southeast Asia. Hitherto, I have been to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia including Sarawak and Sabah. Part of it is the ease with which you can hitch a ride here. People are even willing to make a detour in order to bring you to remote places or to avoid getting you into potentially dangerous areas. They’re interested in how you live life, make appreciative comments about your style, buy you drinks, invite you to stay for a night at their crib etc.

I remember hitchhiking with Maarten. We had breakfast in Sipitang – where we had been brought by a young man who had had to drive back to his own house later on for ‘only’ (sic!) two hours – we ordered some mee soup and roti canai, and we sat down at a table with a muslim man. When we were almost finished he said that our meal is covered. We don’t need to pay, he has already taken care of that. ‘Terima kasih!’, our daily chorus.

Most certainly encounters like these serve as a great inspiration and motivation to develop generosity wherever i go. Giving, in any way whatsoever, makes you feel good, makes you feel wealthy, makes you feel happy. Try it. Come and see for yourself! Ehi passiko 🙂


Bhikkhus, if beings knew, as I know, the result of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would theyballow the stain of meanness to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with…

Itivuttaka 26


Ipoh, Malaysia

Vihāra Buddha Gotama

Finding the place in Temoh (close to Ipoh) sounds easy in the beginning but in fact it isn’t, and that’s maybe intended. I found VBG after the local bus driver decided to let me stop at the nearby Mahayana Buddhist Temple called ‘Buddha Hill’. This photo is taken from there.


Seven well-fed dogs guard the compound and enjoy a happy life at the Vihāra


Time is an illusion, albeit a persistent one


The meditation hall. Given that there are five (!) clocks in the room and we are bowing down before and during and after the chanting session it almost seems as we are bowing down to the digital clock. Made me smile 🙂


What I like about my stay is that the abbot (Ven. Dhammavuddho) and the monks take me along on their almsround in the towns nearby. I encounter so much generosity… especially by elderly people. We also bring some of the offerings to poor Indian families in the area. For the trips to and fro, a van is used as the Vihāra is located in a quite remote area.

Here is a short video…

Dhamma investigation, Malaysia, Sharing

Nothing has meaning…

until it changes what we think and who we are.


On the way to Dhamma Malaya Vipassana Centre we take rest for an hour at a nearby lake



I read this statement in a book titled Running from Safety by Richard Bach. It conveys very well what I experience at meditation retreats time and again. Since my first vipassana retreat (as taught by S.N. Goenka) I have refrained from unveiling what’s actually going on there. There are already enough testimonials on YouTube, I thought.

Another reason I hesitated was that up til now I was not at all sure what to write and what to omit. Trying to jot down an insight or rather its verbalized form does not necessarily contribute to a deeper understanding. Instead, it might create expectations and thus, disappointments which in turn are prone to create confusion. The motivation to write arises partly out of an anxiety, namely to forget, when in fact insights are by their very nature only accessible to memory in a limited sense. Insight changes my ideas, views, habits, priorities, behavior. If it is truly experiential insight, i.e. bhavana-maya paññā, it has the power to change the way I perceive myself and the world, it changes my reality altogether, in one word, it has an impact on how I live my life.

As Sayadaw U Tejaniya puts it:

“The account of someone describing certain experiences leading up to an insight and the actual insight itself are two fundamentally different things… You can express the effect an insight has on you or the experiences’around’ it but not the depth of understanding you gain through the insight.”

That pretty much sums it up and may serve as a brief rationale for why it took a while to write about it.

Regarding the ‘setting’, the timetable is clear. You get up early and you go to bed early. No food after noon. Every participant has to observe the precepts. This includes keeping Noble silence at all times. So far as the framework is concerned, it seems quite clear.

Now, what about the inner turmoils, the questions that arise, the internal storms within the external quietude? Of course, one wants to know what one is getting oneself into. My intention is to make it a little bit easier for anyone to be prepared for such a workshop and also to encourage you, dear reader, to go ahead and apply for a course. It’s well worth your time and energy. What’s more, you will find this investment is going to leave you with all the time in the world, and an entirely new form of NRG which gives you a fresh perspective on what really matters.


Natural habitat of Vipassana yogis


The first thing I notice is how agitated my mind is. Usually that fact goes unnoticed. I only react to the agitation. Come to think of it, I do not become aware of it right away during the first day. Rather, it happens on the second and third day. Why? Because the mind is so beleaguered by thoughts there is not enough room to realise: “Wow! I can’t even do such a simple practice as observing respiration for one hot minute. I get distracted so easily.” There is no room for that recognition, let alone the ability to be relaxed about the fact. Over time, the mind has become so entangled in its own magick that there is no way of noting the in-breath as in-breath and the out-breath as out-breath. It can be quite a humbling experience to notice how unstable and capricious the mind is. Hitherto, I thought it is my mind. I ought to have control over it. Now I am embarrassed to see I am not at all in charge. 

Also, questions arise: “Why am I doing this? What is that supposed to do? What is it good for?” It is only later that the results present themselves in a most extraordinary way.



After a while it becomes clearer and clearer that this simple (but not easy) practice is a preliminary for vipassana. In order to calm the mind down, it is essential to find an object that is sufficiently stable, like the breath, and stay with it. On the second day I notice that I am trying too hard. In the evening, I am quite hungry.

Also due to the Goenkaji’s evening dhamma talks critical thoughts come up:

This being my fifth or sixth retreat in the Goenka tradition, it becomes obvious how strong the emphasis is on ‘washing out defilements’ and on ‘eradicating impurities’. It is presented in an apodictic manner. It seems to me that the man who emphasized  the teachings to be ‘non-sectarian’ and ‘non-dogmatic’ is actually followed by a sect-like entourage propagating strict adherence to his so-called ‘non-sectarian’ teaching.

Then again, I reflect and ponder:

Am I critical about the teachers while in fact it is rather the followers who are worthy of critique because they interpret Buddha-Dhamma in a certain way? Can I really hold a teacher responsible for the structural setting his followers established?

Currently I am reading Bowker’s recommendable anthology (see below “Sources”). He investigates the history of Marx’s ideas, too, and finds that they were corrupted by tyrants to become an ideology but that there were passages in his writings that could foster ruthless aggression towards reactionaries and the belief that the ends justify the means. Same goes for Christianity which started with the message of love and freedom and was instrumentalized to instill guilt into the hearts of the people. First the Christians suffered from prosecution and then they prosecuted and burnt those who were later titled martyrs. So from that perspective innaway I dig Goenkaji’s worries about the Dhamma being diluted or misrepresented but in his sayings these interpretations were already implicated.

Thus, it is clear that Day 2 is kind of a dhamma-vicaya day.


Such cute lil’ puppies at Dhamma Malaya 😛



Goenkaji repeats again and again: “Continue to work. Patiently and persistently. Patiently and persistently.”

As with every other skill you just have to practice, man, for hours and hours just practice. After a group sitting suddenly a thought I’d had long ago once again resurfaces: Now at least I know enlightenment doesn’t exist, so I can relax. Endowing this thought with some credibility, the next few sittings go pretty smooth. A relaxed breath is an easy breath. Later, I feel energy arising naturally and sit extended periods. Even so, there is still a lot of pain when I try to sit for one hour without moving a muscle. Also, a slight headache visits me. In my mind, I crack a joke to myself: “Better headache than heartache. Take it easy, Kimo.” My smile turns the headache into something else not quite so disturbing.

Theoretical questions don’t bother me so much anymore. Even though, I have an interview with the assistance teacher to ask him if Goenka was a Buddha. No, he says, a bodhisattva with a lot of ‘mettā power’. It becomes clear that awakening is a gradual process, so I also ask a question about sudden awakening, “what about Mooji and Tolle?”, but alas, he only explains method and lineage of Goenkaji.

During Goenkaji’s dharma talk this evening I heard him sing ‘Happy Birthday to yuuu’ with more than 100 people around not knowing that it is actually my continuation day. I am aware that I am another year closer to the cemetery 😉 It was only after the course that I realized it was the day before that: Day 2 of the retreat. Funny dat.



Bowker, John: Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World

Richard Bach: Running from Safety

Sayadaw U Tejaniya: Don’t look down on the defilements. They will laugh at you

Malaysia, Sharing

It’s good to go

Arrangements are made to meet Linda at the hotel in the morning. We plan to go to Buddhist hermitage Lunas. It so happens that we go everywhere but that place. Instead, we find another place called Bodhi Heart Sanctuary next to a cemetery. We talk to Hor and Leonard and they both say I am welcome to live and work here for as long as I wish.

We also go to a Chinese market where on one side you get raw food, fruits, fish while on the other side you get prepared meals viz. noodles and ‘Chinese buns’, as Wong aka CJ (ChinaJapan), a physics professor at the Malaysian university, smirkingly calls them.


Farang-free fried food hall

We agree to go to Luna’s tomorrow morning. It is already 4 p.m. but anyway i take a bus to Teluk Bahang, the region where a national park is located. And who do I meet at the bus station after walking for a few kilometres? My friends with whom in stay at Georgetown. They had intended to go to Monkey beach and I knew they where around but ten minutes later and they would have gone past, sitting in the bus back to Komtar (a shopping mall area in Georgetown). Like this, I left the visit to the national park for another day and accompanied them to Red Garden, a food court on Penang Road.


…red, indeed, somebody in for a curry fish head?…

After that we spend the evening without rain, but lightning in the distance, on the roof of Chulia mansion, a hotel where a newly wedded Australian/Indian couple were staying at.


Chulia Street at night, a backpacker’s delight

What a wonderfully weird day… tomorrow I leave Georgetown and go east to Butterworth. There, I will spend a week or so at Buddhist Hermitage Lunas. Here I am now. Writing this while the other monks, nuns, samaneras and yogis are doing formal walking meditation in the rain… that just started pouring down 🙂 I arrived today and will join the group in mind training tomorrow morning.

The daily schedule is hardcore. Do not ask me why I am doing this, please. I can only tell afterwards. And there is one thing i know for sure: Ever since, it has always been worth the effort.

May peace prevail on earth.
May we live happily in peace.


C’mon and smile… you’re in Malaysia now ;-)

The previous week has gone by with so many good things happening. I was simply unable to put it into words. Rendered speechless by the incredible friendliness and cheerfulness I encountered wherever I went.


Armenian Street, famous for its mural paintings


Mural art on Armenian Street


Meddah, a storyteller

Sitting in the minivan going to Georgetown, I meet a Norwegian dive master in spe and a girl from Rostock. We share a room and explore the town together.

The first day in Georgetown we go on foot, just to orientate and enjoy food in Little India. Get a feel of the place. Meet Helga from Graz, she has been staying here for a couple of weeks and kindly introduces us to some locations.

The next day we rent bicycles. Traffic is noisy and dangerous at times. Bicycles are not given much room and we feel vulnerable and exposed on the main roads. Besides, the bikes are too small for us. We decide to take small side streets. Riding along. In the afternoon it gets really hot and humid. Late lunch on the side of Burma Road. The Lady chef estimates the prices on the spot. We visit Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple (more pix here).


Big Burmese Temple

We go along the coast and have a coffee at Purrrfect Cat Café. This is a café with cats hanging around to be petted.


Purrrfect Cat Café. Great idea, and a ripoff.


Philosophy at its best