Breaking Old Habits, Learning New Tricks

Director Henry Ooi


People have often asked me, “How did you meet Rinpoche?”, “What were his teachings that inspired you to continue to attend more of his Dharma talks?”, “How did Buddhism help you and how can you apply Dharma in your everyday life?”, “I heard that Tibetan Buddhism is very powerful and can help people with ill health, solve marital, financial, business problems… even dispelling black magic and charms?” Well, this is an account of my experiences from the first day I met Rinpoche.

One day, I received a call from my cousin: “Hey, you’re invited to my husband’s birthday party on Chap Goh Meh (last day of the Chinese New Year). After dinner there’ll be a short Dharma talk by Rinpoche. Please bring along your friends,” she told me.

She had mentioned who this Rinpoche was a few times and had invited me to his Dharma talks several times before. I always gave myself silly excuses not to go with thoughts like, “Aiya, silly boring religious talks, yak, yak, yak. Where do I have time for such things? Better go for karaoke, gin rummy and mahjong sessions.” That was in 1998.

But this time, I went and took along my present wife. Why? Because I was in deep trouble. I had left my former wife and our two kids and moved in with my present wife. I did not clear up my piles of junk before I left and there were many matters that were left unresolved. Looking back, I was the scum of the earth. My newly ventured business had plummeted because of my wrong doings. I suffered financially and emotionally – boy, did I deserve it! So I went, dragging along my wife who was a Christian, baptized when in her teens.

Many guests had arrived and still many more were coming when we reached my cousin’s house. We waited for all the guests to arrive and finally Rinpoche was driven up in a Volvo. When he stepped out of the car and greeted everyone, I noticed that he was tall (I found out later that he is 6’2″), big and rotund (okay lah, FAT!). Then all of us sat down for a scrumptious vegetarian dinner.

I sat next to Rinpoche, on his right. Throughout dinner, Rinpoche spoke about many things which I have forgotten but one thing stood out – his trip to China. After dinner, we adjourned into the living room where Rinpoche proceeded to the throne that was set up for him.

After sitting, he scoured the living room, which was jam-packed with guests and started telling his attendants to provide chairs for the elderly. Then Rinpoche turned to my wife and said, “You, please sit on the chair.”

She ignored him thinking that he was talking to somebody else behind her. Again, Rinpoche said, “You, in the purple dress, please sit on the chair.”

My wife pointed to herself and asked, “Me?”

Rinpoche replied, “Yes, you. Please sit on the chair because you are pregnant.”

My jaws dropped and I saw the embarrassed look on my wife’s face. Apart from the both of us nobody else knew that she was four weeks pregnant with our second child. Here, this Tibetan saffron-robed monk knew!

I cannot recall the topics of his talks that night because my head was swimming with bewilderment. One thing I do remember was that the myths and superstitions that we Chinese believed in were explained with logical reasoning.

Rinpoche spoke excellent American English which I was comfortable with. After the talk, he blessed my wife and me and told her, “Please take a sip of this holy water daily and chant Om Ekazati Hung Soha and Om Maha Yakcha Tsa Soha. These are the Dharma Protectors’ mantras that will help to dispel black magic and offer protection from harm. When your child is born, dab some onto his lips for blessings.”

Before Rinpoche left that night, he gave us each a pendant which had Je Tsongkhapa on one side and Setrap on the other. Rinpoche said, “Whatever difficulties you face, press on and persevere. You will be alright. We have the affinity to meet again.” That was seven years ago. Our second child was a premature boy of eight months and is now a robust and energetic six year old.

Rinpoche has this natural flair and ability to capture the attention of his listeners during his many Dharma talks with his excellent command of English (now he even has an added Malaysian accent!) and with his many good examples for stressing particular points. Many people can relate to that. He has so many ways of getting his messages across when he speaks to his audience, be they young or old, men and women.

At times, he jokes and cajoles, sometimes, he is serious, with an almost wrathful demeanour. But no matter what occasion arises, I feel and see the warm exuberance, care, compassion and love that he exudes so easily. Rinpoche does not lead in long, boring chanting sessions with silly me behind him blindly chanting “Om Om Om”, pretending that I am holy and in meditative poise. I would have split long time ago if it were so, no offence meant.

I took my refuge from Rinpoche on 25 April 2001. Of course, like many others who were with me at that time, we did not know exactly what taking refuge meant. Now we know…

About one year later, something happened that changed the course of my life. Even though my former wife filed for divorce, my business was still a struggle and I could only just make ends meet. One night, sometime in March or April 2002, my wife and I were invited by Rinpoche for drinks at Kiwi Express cafe in Sri Hartamas with some friends.

We were talking when suddenly the Dharma Protector manifested through Rinpoche and said to me, “Do you promise to stop what you are doing immediately? What you are doing will lead to your downfall and when that happens, you will never rise again. Do you promise?”

In those few seconds, I could not fathom what that message was but I said yes anyway. After the departure of the Dharma Protector, we resumed talking and drinking juices. A few minutes later, the Dharma Protector manifested again and repeated, “Do you promise to stop and desist what you are doing? You can do it for leisure, it’s okay. If you do, your financial situation will improve and you’ll be okay. Ask Rinpoche to present you with a set of Lama Tsongkhapa statues complete with disciples and invite Rinpoche to your house to re-do your altar. It is not right to ask this from your Lama but take it as a blessing. Do you promise to stop what you are doing?”

It immediately dawned upon me then what I was asked to stop and I said yes again. All of us immediately left and proceeded to my house. For the third time in my house, the Dharma Protector manifested and again repeated what he had said earlier in Kiwi Express.

From that night onwards, I completely stopped the negative activity that I had promised to: Gambling. Oh yes! I was addicted to gambling and I could have been a life-member of a gamblers’ club, if there was one.

Since then, things have changed for the better in my life. I have picked up the broken pieces and resumed with my life under the kind guidance and tutelage of my Guru and mentor, the kind and compassionate H.E. Tsem Rinpoche. I have managed to pay off all my loans and debts and am able to live comfortably now. I am not rich financially but I am spiritually, which I never was before I met Rinpoche.

I owe everything to Rinpoche and each time I think of how he has patiently helped me and other beings, my eyes become misty: misty with tears of joy and the deep appreciation of this being who is determined to ease and end the sufferings of all beings since time immemorial. Yes, the holy Dharma teachings of our Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, taught through the skillful means of Rinpoche, have enriched my life and I am able to use the teachings and apply them in my everyday life. Now I am less angry with myself and at others, and I am able to give more of my money, time and effort to help others.

Also I am now able to see things through a wider perspective and have learnt to slowly let go. I have the strongest conviction that if I changed for the better, others around me will too. Because I have slowly changed for others, my relationship with my ex-wife and two children is now wonderful. There is no bitterness and we remain good friends, one and all.

I want to help in whatever way I can for the Dharma not because I want to please Rinpoche but because in doing so, I learn and benefit from it. I still have a long, long way to go but each day of trying gives me the satisfaction that I have tried even when I failed.

I do not view Tibetan Buddhism or Buddhism as a mystical religion from India and religiously practiced from the old Tibet. To me, there is no magic in Tibetan Buddhism, even though I cannot doubt the presence of some miracles. Most miracles happened because the causes that made them happen are always positive, either in our body action, speech or thought, or a combination of all three. We created the causes for miracles to happen ourselves from our positive actions; on the other hand, we also cause calamity to manifest from our negative actions. (All this is commonly referred to as karma.)

I do not know much about the profound teachings of Lord Buddha but whatever I have learned from Rinpoche, I intend to put into practice. I ask myself, “When will I die?” And so, with this reminder, I want to start practicing immediately – not tomorrow, not when I am a grandfather, not when I have made a bundle from my business, not when I have the time. Time is all I have left in this life and it is up to me how to manage it.

I have many interesting personal experiences to share but it would probably take pages to write. I would like to add that I have never seen anybody that is as kind and compassionate as my Guru, H.E. Tsem Rinpoche. I have seen his kindness in so many ways and can only hope to emulate a fraction of his wonderful qualities with the wish to help others without any expectations.

** Henry is now one of the Directors to H.E. Tsem Rinpoche, the Vice-President of Kechara House Buddhist Association Malaysia, a member of the Board of Directors of the KECHARA organisation, the Director of Kechara Paradise Dharma Outlets and is part of the Kechara World Peace Centre Executive Committee.