“Welcome To The Cult…!”

Wan Wai Meng

Wan Wai Meng with Tsem Rinpoche

Wan Wai Meng with Tsem Rinpoche

H.E. Tsem Rinpoche has mentioned this phrase many times over the past many years but I have never felt any reservations or fear from that statement. I’m probably just too dumb to be scared I guess… But anyhow, this is the tale of how I met Rinpoche and why I’ve stayed on with ‘the cult’.

Meeting Rinpoche had a lot to do with my initial interest in Buddhism which began some time between the age of 11 and 13 when I was at my best mate’s house playing “Dungeons and Dragons”. My mate was always the leader and I was always the follower in everything and when he told me about Buddhism it was like a supernova exploded in my brain, there was instant chemistry. I had those eyes that would believe anything he told me and I did believe him whole-heartedly. He gave me a mala (rosary), which I have kept until this day, almost 20 years later, and taught me how to chant Chenrezig’s mantra.

I was “Buddhist” for many years but without any key or method in learning more about Buddhism. Then I hit the age of 17 and after my high school examinations my best mate’s mom had a new calling: charity work. She was helping out in Tzu Chi investigating people who needed assistance and going to visit or aid them. The thought of helping others really appealed to me and I went along. I saw plenty of suffering that day and it was quite overwhelming but I knew there existed a group of people who would give their time and energy to benefit others.

Wai Meng and H.E. Tsem Rinpoche make offerings of light on Tsongkhapa Day 2005
I was inspired: I really wanted to be a Buddhist, I really wanted to build a free hospital for the poor and my idealism occupied me for many years ahead. However, coming back from the home visits threw up more questions than answers. I asked why this happened and because I did not know anything about Dharma or the law of cause and effect (karma) I could not rationalise what I saw.

In some ways, perhaps, it started me off on my search. The following year, when I was in MSMKL at college, I joined the Buddhist group. One day, a girl from the group, named Chin Tzu, asked if I wanted to go for a Dharma talk and said I would really like it. I couldn’t remember what was going through my mind but I just went along without much fanfare.

The talk was in one of the Dharma centres in Old Klang Road. I remember following my friend to that centre and I think I remember being late as well. I couldn’t really see the teacher from where I was but I could hear his voice. The teacher had a very clear voice, almost melodious, and it was of an American accent. I have no recollection of the topic but I was hooked on the speaker after the talk and wanted to hear more of what he said. One of the things I do recall was about him complaining about the aunties who would come up to him and say things like, “This teacher was good, that teacher is no good”, etc.

I am not absolutely sure whether he cracked any of his characteristic jokes that day, but I was suitably impressed by Rinpoche. I think I was initiated into a practice before I went off to university, the circumstances are also a blur. I just started chanting the mantra without any doubt and (oh boy, you’re going roll your eyes when I tell you this), I even chanted the mantra in my college when people were around! Apart from a tape which I lent to my best mate I didn’t have any contact with Rinpoche until after my time at university.

But why have I stayed in the cult? The more I know about Rinpoche, the more impressed I am by his dedication to bring genuine change in our characters. Of course through the years everyone “kena” scolding but it is only now that I know that he does it entirely for our benefit. I think if he really did not care about our character development, he’d be off taking a nap or watching Astro (cable TV), which would be much less stressful for him!

He tickles me from the bottom of my heart and has helped me to laugh at myself. It hasn’t been easy to practice what he has taught me but I’m glad I stayed on to be able to see his true qualities. Many a time I have been difficult and unable to transform but he persevered and always knew the right thing to say. And after all the “transformation,” the world hasn’t changed but it’s a lot easier to work in harmony with others. Even within my family the conversations flow more freely and there is genuine effort at communication.

Wai Meng and H.E. Tsem Rinpoche after the Refuge Ceremony in 2006
In many ways, I know more of the real “me” finally. Not the “nicest” or “kindest” as I always thought I was, but it’s okay, because if I know where I am now then perhaps I can improve on it. It’s never a dull moment with Rinpoche: the experiences I have had through Rinpoche have been so diverse and the people I’ve met through him so rich in their own lives and so giving. He has empowered me to focus just a little less on myself and a little more on others, and the world has suddenly changed so much for the better.

Thank you Rinpoche for teaching me to laugh at adversity and to let go of my suffering.

** Wai Meng is now a member of the Tsem Ladrang e-Division, responsible for all correspondence and the tsemtulku.com website. He is also a member of the Education Committee.