Encountering Buddhism

Richmond's story

In this story, Richmond shared his journey about encountering Buddhism.

I encountered Buddhism when I was 12 years old and was crying with great sadness and anguish. Just a few moments ago, I was playing with my younger brother, and the next moment, he was howling his lungs out! Then I was whipped by my mother and sent to my room. That’s how Asian “tiger mum” disciplined their children in the 1980s.

“Why am I the only one being punished?” I protested through my sobbing. “Because you are elder, now go to your room before I give you a few more lashes!”

With tears in my eyes, I began to read a small little booklet entitled, “The Four Noble Truths”. I had picked it up from a free distribution counter and it had laid on my table unread until then. The first heading, “Life is Suffering” resounded to the very core of my little being. Although I couldn’t understand most of what I read, that sentence, “Life is suffering” seemed so true. So I just read to forget the stinging pain caused by the whipping earlier on.

During that period of time, I was also invited to weekly children’s parties that were hosted by my tuition teacher. I learned many religious stories during those parties. However, I found some of the activities scary as a child. For example, I was taught to imagine that I was eating the flesh of a god (biscuits) and drinking his blood (grape juice). Then I was told that if I did not believe in him, I would burn in hell. At that time, those stories sounded horrible to me.

Since my mother believed in the Chinese goddess Guanyin, she helped to excuse me from those parties when she found out that my tutor was trying to influence me.

After that, I began borrowing Buddhist books from the Singapore National Library to read. Especially, books about Guanyin. I did not really understand what I was reading most of the time but would still force myself to read. For example, the Lotus Sutra with a beautiful image of Guanyin on its cover. Perhaps it was because I feared the idea of burning in hell. After a while, I managed to leave my fear behind and I stopped reading Buddhist books too.

I decided to study Buddhism in public school when I was fifteen years old. This was because studying a religion was compulsory in Singapore’s education curriculum back then. I had not embraced Buddhism yet. Later on, 2 incidents convinced me that Buddhism is good for me.

The first incident happened in my Buddhist class. The teacher was introducing the topic of Anatta (No-Soul). Somehow, I froze in fear upon hearing that message and experienced a sense of “lostness” in class. Then when I recollected myself, I felt happy because I gained confidence that I would not burn in hell forever. Subconsciously, I had been carrying a piece of mental baggage that was picked up at a children’s “party”.

The second situation occurred when my classmate introduced me to a Dharma talk by an Australian monk, Venerable Dhammika. He was very humorous and funny. Then I was invited to join a Dharma camp with Chinese monks as teachers.

Before that, I used to think that monks are lazy people waiting for donations. I refused to bow to them in the beginning! So I was one of those kids who stood while the rest were bowing.

After associating with the monks, I understood the significance of monastic life and was no longer biased against them. Although I was won over by Buddhism at the end of my Buddhist studies, I did not undertake a ceremonial refuge.

That was because I wanted to be absolutely sure before I commit myself. One thing about Buddhism that attracted me was that I do not feel compelled to commit. In fact, all my Buddhist seniors and teachers advised me to take my time. I only took ceremonial refuge when I was 20 years old. But I guess, I had already taken refuge in my mind much earlier.

Perhaps it was when I first read the Four Noble Truths, perhaps it was when I felt released from my mental baggage, or perhaps it was after my first Dharma Camp. For me, it was a natural journey and they say, that is karma.