Honoured and humbled by thoughtful gesture

by AZLAN RAMLI, New Straits Times, Sept 4, 2006

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- As a reporter with The Malay Mail between 1994-2005, I met Rev K. Sri Dhammananda several times — usually during Wesak Day celebrations he led at the Buddhist Maha Vihara (temple) in Brickfields and on a few other occasions.

On Christmas Day, 1998, I was assigned to cover a party for some 200 underprivileged children. It was held at the Vihara in Brickfields.

Organised by a group of Christians, the Santa Claus was a Hindu and the contributor for all the balloons adorning the party area was a Muslim.

December 1998 was also the month of Ramadan. By the time I arrived at the Vihara, it was 6.30pm and many children were already playing around, taking photos with Santa and being entertained by a clown, among others.

As the time approached for buka puasa, I was busy thinking of where to go for my dinner.

The Reverend, the Vihara’s religious adviser back then, must have been observing me.

As if he had read my mind, he calmly said: "Young man, don’t think too much. You can buka puasa here. I will accompany you.

"Please forgive us. We only have vegetarian dishes here," he humbly and smilingly added, while leading me to a dining table somewhere in the Vihara’s premises.

So there we were, sitting at the dining table, together with a few other priests in their saffron robes and a spread of vegetarian dishes was laid out in front of us.

As I was checking my watch, the Reverend brought out a small pocket radio transistor, and tuned in to a Bahasa Malaysia radio station.

As scheduled, the muezzin recited the call for the evening prayer through the little speaker, which also marked the moment to break fast.

"Go ahead, Azlan," he told me to start first. Only after I had my first gulp of water for the day did he and the other priests start eating. I was honoured and humbled at the same time.

The fact that I didn’t go to a KFC outlet or the teh tarik stall wasn’t because I didn’t know how to turn down an invitation of the chief high priest of Malaysian and Singaporean Theravada Buddhism. It was buka puasa in a Buddhist temple for me, during a Christmas party.

The Reverend’s humble gesture greatly raised my respect and admiration for him.

During that brief encounter with him, my personal tolerance and understanding of other people’s faiths, beliefs and cultures was greatly altered for the better.

In less than an hour of dining together, his simple humility made me a better person, more open-minded and drastically changed for the better my ways of looking at the world I live in.

To me, the Rev Dhammananda was a great Buddhist and more importantly, a great human being.

Malaysia and its Buddhist community lost a very special person on Aug 31.

With much sadness, I bid farewell to him.

Note from the Buddhist Channel: We would like to point to the fact that Theravada monks do not take food after noon. On this occasion, while we can verify that the event actually occured, we would like to clarify that the late Chief Venerable actually took medicine with porridge as he "buka puasa (open fast)" with the writer. While there were monks within the vicinity of the kitchen, none took part in the meals. However, members of the inter-faith group who were there at the event joined in the "buka puasa". The Buddhist Channel would like to thank the writer to share his kind thoughts of his moving experience with the late venerable.