Inspiring true story “From Hungry Ghost to Human”: Dao finds redemption in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and is no longer “homeless, unloved, abandoned.”
Dao’s beautifully written autobiography, From Hungry Ghost to Human, is compelling, impossible to stop reading, and heart-rending — and ultimately very inspiring for anyone — and certainly any Buddhist.
Dao writes with raw frankness, because, as he explains: “I write this message today for the unlovable, the abandoned, the forgotten, the humiliated, the degraded, the drug addict … I was all of those things and I came back alive to tell the story.”
Even the most loved, pampered and perfect human can benefit from this intimate autobiographical journey from nearly suicidal youth — born into a family with an abusive parent — and his journey to a new life of hope with the help of Sangha (monks and nuns) in many countries, Dharma, and refuge in the Buddha. He ends his story with brilliant rays of sunshine:
“Thanks to my master: the Buddha, and to the nuns and monks, for saving me from the abyss of the bottomless pit, around the edges into which I was born. If you are reading this now, and you are currently in a place where I was before, read this text again, and take whatever you find useful and apply it to your own life. I was the scum of the earth once. Wherever you are, I was lower than you. May all beings be happy!”
Note: Dao was reluctant to provide images of his journey, as requested by the editor, but in the end did offer the wonderful photos in this story. He was worried that it would diminish the message, and make it appear like a “travalogue. In publishing here, we agreed not to edit even a word (other than the headline, and adding an intro.) Even though beautifully written, it is often tough to read — due to the graphic nature of Dao’s younger life.
From Hungry Ghost to Human
Written by “Dao”
“Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to the light,” is a quote that I used to write as a kid on random notebooks and pieces of paper that I found. It is a quote by John Milton and it very well described my situation and state of mind at the time. Loser, unlovable, failure, addict, laughingstock, sick, ugly, stupid. These are things that I heard as a child about myself on a daily basis and the things that I grew up believing about myself as well, as the little boy in the mirror looking back at me always had this look in his eyes: tortured, tormented, sad, lonely. Thus I write this message today for the unlovable, the abandoned, the forgotten, the humiliated, the degraded, the drug addict, the homeless, the loser, the lost, the disgusting scum of the earth. I was all of those things and I came back alive to tell the story.
When I was 29 years old, I abandoned my Western lifestyle. I gave away all my possessions, my job, my apartment, absolutely every material possession you can think of, I shaved my head completely bald and bought a one-way ticket to Asia. My friend asked me “what are you doing? Why are you doing this?” I answered: “I’m going to lie down on a bench on the streets and die there” I wasn’t joking. I had no idea of what I was doing or why I was going there. To me it was literally a gigantic leap into the unknown. Sometime before this, I had waken up on my bed next to an empty bottle of prescribed sleeping pills, that had been about 75% full the day before. I didn’t light up to what just had happened and quickly went to work. Later that day after work I remember pulling out my phone and recording a voice message to myself, something I had never done before, saying “you must stop or all this will kill you.” Later I came to the realization that I had attempted to kill myself. I had horrible seizures the following nights, and really scary dreams as withdrawal from the medication kicked in. Then finally the day came when I woke up at about 4am, I took a small backpack that contained my passport, and very few clothes, my head was completely shaved bald. I called for a taxi to pick me up and take me to the airport, and proceeded to board a plane to Asia. And how I wish I could go back to that moment, little did I know that day that I was about to start the most beautiful chapter of my life.
But before I continue, I must give you a little bit of background of how I got to that point. I was born in a third world country, one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world. I come from a place of violence, extreme violence, physical and psychological. I was born into an extremely hostile environment. Not only that, my parents divorced when I was 6 years old and my father kidnapped me and separated me from my mother and entire family. Without explanation, one day he put me in a car and drove towards one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in one of the most (if not the most) dangerous city in the world. He left me there at his new girlfriend’s apartment without explaining absolutely anything. That’s just how much he respected me. After disappearing for a few months, he came back to get me, after he was certain that my mother wouldn’t be looking for me anymore. My mother abandoned me after that. She never tried to find me ever again.
So this man who couldn’t bear losing a custody battle, tortured, bullied and tormented me for more than ten years. I was bullied on a daily basis by him and his girlfriend. She was actually a lot nastier and meaner than him. Many times humiliating me and kicking me when I was already down. I was literally the punching bag of that household. If anyone was unhappy, they could just go insult me, maybe it made them feel better. He once yelled at me “You are a sick man.” I once handwrote a letter saying “God please help me to not kill myself.”
He found it and waited for me sitting on a chair in my room, as a typical Hollywood-movie mafia boss waiting behind the desk for his enemy to arrive. It made him feel like a big man to intimidate and terrorize a child that had been separated from his mother and his entire family and had nobody to defend him. So holding the letter in his hand as I walked in, he asked with an underlying threat of extreme violence “what is this?” so I had to apologize. His response was to tell me “You don’t do anything until I decide what to do with you.” Not one word of self-reflection on his part. On a different occasion he arrived home and rushed to my room to violently destroy everything in my room, in an extremely dramatic and violent way. I remember he pulled the TV so hard (which was still plugged in) that the whole outlet came off the wall. I was having lunch in my room as he was doing this and I remember him kicking the glass that I was drinking from so hard that it spilled on my face and grabbing the food plate from my hands and smashing it against the wall. All this because I had rented a music CD from a store, something I didn’t know was forbidden. His girlfriend in the background watching with a look of satisfaction in her face, doing absolutely nothing to stop it. He really liked to solve everything with violence. Anything he couldn’t control, he had to destroy it. The real reason for this act of violence probably had more to do with having a bad day at work and having no one else to unleash his anger and frustration on. Why didn’t he try to do this to someone his own size? Capable of fighting back? He once bought a guitar for me, and a month later, he was holding it with one hand while resting it on his shoulder while pointing with his other hand towards the wall, threatening to smash it against the wall, he did this because I was crying and telling him I wanted to kill myself. On another occasion he grabbed my t-shirt and ripped it in half with his hands, again in front of his girlfriend who was as sadistic as him, enjoying the act, accusing me of hiding “an internet bill” which would arrive in the mail a few days later. After receiving this bill which had proven them completely wrong, they didn’t apologize for their act of violence and false accusations. Nothing at all was said. Apparently, they were always right to treat me any way they wanted.
This man who is my father eventually became wealthy, very rich. For the standards of that country or any Western country too. His personal insecurities were immense and making a lot of money was the only way he could protect his gigantic ego from what his mind perceived to be a very hostile world. He constantly victimized himself, saying nobody in the world had a more difficult childhood than himself. He once told the story of how he and his bodyguards threw a man down a river that carried sewage water in our city. So I do not know if that man died. I do not know if my father is a murderer. I do not know if he is a thief, or how exactly he made his money. In order to save you some time, and apply some compassion to myself to not relive all those horrible experiences I had with him and his girlfriend, I will fast forward to when I had just turned 17 years old and went to the United States. He sent me there with the money he had made (or stolen), but my mind was not well. I was extremely affected by the life I had just lived. I became a drug addict very quickly. To me, drugs provided the only place of love and affection that I had never found before. I somehow managed to study and get decent enough grades to keep going but eventually I overdosed and found myself in an ambulance and ended up in a mental hospital where they called… my father. He flew to the US and went to see me at the mental hospital and said to me “I found the guy who gave you the drugs and I’m going to do him.” I cried and begged him not to kill him. I never knew if he did or didn’t, as he took me back to the country where I was born. As soon as I arrived, his lovely girlfriend said very loudly “let’s take him to get tested for AIDS.” Once again I wanted to die, disappear from this world and its horrible people. I briefly stopped using drugs and they sent me back to the US within a year, but this time it was different. I was never coming back, there was no more “father” for me. I had given this man enough respect. As a man is supposed to respect his parents, but there must be a limit to this, a healthy balance somewhere.
When I went back to North America, I sent an email to everyone in my family describing what my father and his girlfriend had done to me, and that was the end of that story. I publicly humiliated him in front of everyone. He was a well-known man so his career and image must have been severely damaged or completely destroyed by this. I told my best friend at the time “I did something and I think I’m going to get murdered soon.” As I seriously believed my father would send one of his hitmen to murder me. He often bragged about how easy it was for him to hire someone for the purposes of assassination. That email I sent somehow reached my mother, that same woman who abandoned me when I was 6 years old. It also reached my older sister. I hadn’t seen either of them since I was 6 years old. My older sister wrote a follow up email to everyone saying our father used to hit her when she was a child and she would pee on herself due to the terror he inflicted on her. She explained how he would point at paintings and say “Do you see all those people in the painting? They are bad people. And they will hurt you. That’s why in life you have to be bad first towards others, before they are bad towards you.” My older sister also revealed in her letter that my father used to hit my mother so hard she would walk around with bruises on her face. I don’t remember any of this as I was a baby at the time. What I don’t understand is my mother’s logic of protecting my sister but leaving me (who was even younger) with a man like this. I was able to meet up with my mother again, this time as an adult man, she confirmed with me that my father was a monster, and that everyone on her side of the family saw him as that. And that she divorced him because she knew how evil and violent he was to my older sister, so then I asked “so you left me with this man who you knew was extremely violent with his children?” I will never forget her answer: “You should have never been born.” There she was, the woman who could have avoided the hell I lived, telling me that it was all my fault for being born. When I met the rest of my family from the mother’s side, it was an even bigger heartbreaking experience, what shocked me the most was their mindset. They looked at me like “so this is the guy that lives in North America? Is he rich? What is he wearing? What’s the brand of those shoes? How much money does he make?” My mind couldn’t even begin to grasp just how many millions of miles away from each other we were, totally and completely disconnected. The universe is not big enough to represent the distance between the minds of these people and myself. I saw them as the most privileged people in the world. It’s like they had been living in paradise all these years, completely oblivious and clueless of the hell I was coming from. Why do so many crave the heavenly realms? To end up thinking and behaving like this? No thanks!
This would be the last time I set foot in the country I was born in. And I always say “the country I was born in” to refer to that place, because I am not from there. I was never given the opportunity to be from there. I was kidnapped at 6 years old and never lived in that country again, I lived like a prisoner in my father’s house. A house that physically could have been anywhere in the world. The last thing I heard about my father was from one of my uncles, he said “your father still acts and talks like he did absolutely nothing wrong to you, he really hasn’t realized yet what he did.”
After cutting all ties with my family, I fell into drugs again. I would wander the streets like a ghost searching aimlessly for something. Until I got my hands on drugs again, then the momentary relief, followed by the immense pain. When I watched the movie “Requiem for a Dream” and I saw the scene where the old woman walks on the streets completely lost like a ghost and everyone around her is like a shadow, it reminded me so much of myself at the time. My mind was filled with anger, that’s the biggest problem that I had. Anger. I wanted to take horrible vengeance on my father and his girlfriend. I wanted to torture and murder them slowly, I wanted to torture and murder his girlfriend’s family. They were the ones who offered their apartment to kidnap me when I was 6 years old to torment me for many years later. What had I done to them beforehand? Absolutely nothing. I grew up with all kinds of health problems, asthma and digestive problems. Strange pieces of dead skin were starting to grow from my fingers. My father was acting on vengeance towards my mother because his ego couldn’t accept the fact his wife had left him. He used me as vengeance towards my mother. My mind was filled with such thoughts, over and over again. I took refuge in I was the biggest codependent that had ever lived (second only to my father and his relationships with women). I got involved in unbelievably toxic relationships. I fell in love with a girl that would insult me, ridicule me and yell at me. I would sell my dignity for the tiniest amount of affection. We were both drug addicts and alcoholics. She came home one night and my stomach had cuts everywhere, that I had done to myself with a knife. She knew I was suicidal and still didn’t leave me. “She must really love me” I thought. We even got engaged. I was clinging to her, like if she was the last lifeboat for someone drowning in the ocean. One day when I was supposed to be out of town, I came back home early unannounced and opened the door and there she was on our bed, with her ex-boyfriend. As I saw that I turned around and tried to walk out of the apartment but she started yelling and clawing her nails deep into my arms and dragging them so hard, trying to get a reaction. She scratched me so hard that I pushed her out of my way and she jumped in an exaggerated fashion and threw herself on the floor and texted me a few minutes later saying “you hit me! I will call the police and report you!” I hadn’t hit her. I replied “go ahead, you already took everything that I had left.” She didn’t call the police, I guess somewhere in her there was still a conscience. It is obvious she was just trying to pretend to be the victim of domestic violence to divert the attention of what she had done. I, on the other hand, went straight to the emergency room at the hospital, and said to the nurse “I’m here because I want to kill myself.” As I waited for a doctor I was crying in the hallway, crying so loud and with so much intensity, probably everyone in the waiting room could hear me, a random woman approached me and said “Ça va aller monsieur… Don’t worry sir, things will get better.” When I saw the doctor, I explained to him what had happened, and this is when the anxiety-sleeping-pill treatment started. He also held me in the hospital for a couple of days, in the mental health section. It was my second time being in a place like that. He also gave some handouts on AA and other therapy groups.
After I left the hospital, I was crying everyday. Crying constantly. The pain was overflowing, it was immense. It was not just one thing, it was millions of things accumulated over a lifetime that had not been resolved.
Finding my girlfriend cheating on me was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. People at work talked about me. It was obvious. I cried in front of co-workers, my supervisor, his manager, his manager’s manager. I attended alcoholics anonymous meetings, codependent anonymous meetings. I attended them in English and in other languages too. I went to several churches even though I wasn’t Catholic. I went to Jewish AA meetings even though I wasn’t Jewish. I cried on the shoulders of Jewish rabbis, and Christian priests. I talked to homeless people randomly on the street. I asked them about anything and everything, how they got there, especially what they thought about life. I sought knowledge everywhere, everywhere, EVERYWHERE. I didn’t care who it was, I was seeking a way out of so much horrible suffering. I saw at that stage that some people who commit suicide, do so not because of bad things that happen to them, but because of their inability to deal with those events and also because of their inability to deal with the feelings they have on a regular basis. I had left aside all pride and cried whenever I needed to, I slept on the streets, covered in boxes and snow. I slept in the houses of friends, strangers, homeless shelters, emergency drug recovery shelters, anyone who offered me kindness. I sought help constantly.
“What do you think, monks: which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time – crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing – or the water in the four great oceans?”
As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed…
Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.” (Assu Sutta).
One day something incredible happened, I was lying down on my bed, and I was not moving, I was naturally allowing the sensations to flow through my body, observing them, for several hours. I didn’t know at the time what was exactly happening. It was like a natural search for a state of meditation. And one day I re-heard that message that I had recorded to myself on my phone, which brings us back to the beginning of this text. That voice message that lasted for about 6 minutes, and it came from who-knows-where, but it was recorded the following morning after taking all the sleeping pills. In short, “you must stop or all this will kill you.”
That day I decided to quit my job, throw away and give away all my possessions, give up my apartment, and buy a one way ticket to anywhere in the world. Initially I thought of Africa. I had always wanted to visit Africa, but the ebola outbreak was going on at that time in the countries I was interested in visiting so I thought it would be better to go somewhere else. I had heard of Angkor Wat as a temple where I could go for healing, and I saw it was in Cambodia. I bought a ticket to Phnom Penh (not far from Siem Reap) but cancelled it within 24 hours.
Unsure, afraid. After another week, I went ahead and bought the ticket again, this time it was for Bangkok, Thailand. I don’t remember the reason, it wasn’t anything big, as Thailand is right next to Cambodia. It must have been a scheduling problem. After much fear and nervousness. The ticket had been bought and I didn’t chicken out this time. I remember the night before, I shaved my head completely bald. It was my first time seeing my actual head as I always had hair. Shaving like that was more an act of anger than anything else. It was a statement of “nothing I believed in was right or true.” Before leaving a friend gave me this small object that said “Sainte Christophe Protège-Nous. N.D. du Chemin, Priez Pour Nous.”
The following morning I woke up very early, it was still dark outside, and I still remember that feeling, that moment, leaving my apartment forever, leaving everything without knowing what was going to happen. I took a cab to the airport. They took a picture of me at customs and I saw the picture of myself without any hair and I was shocked that it was me. Then I would go on a 13-hour flight, being hunched over the whole time on my seat. I wonder what the people sitting next to me must have thought. But to me, it literally felt like countless amounts of black fumes were exiting my body, as smoke is released from a fire. I spent almost the entire flight like that. I finally arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok at midnight. I didn’t know anything at all about this country. And being born in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, I thought “I should not get out of the airport until the sun comes up.” So I slept in the airport until sunrise. As the first signs of sunlight appeared in the sky, I left the airport, and I was shocked by absolutely everything that I saw.
It felt like seeing the world for the first time again, being born again into another world. I remember the hundreds of motorcycles, the streets, the sidewalks, the railroad tracks, the smells, the sounds, the landscapes, I walked, I walked, and I walked, without an exact destination. I entered a convenience store and everything seemed so unbelievably different, the expiry dates on the products were around the year 2500… had I time-traveled 500 years into the future? Later on I would find out that in Thailand they calculate dates based on the Buddha’s birthday, and not on Jesuschrist. Finally a random cab driver offered me a ride for free to Khao San Road, that’s where he was headed, so I took the ride and once I was there I found a place to sleep. Completely clueless. I walked to a nearby park called Santi Chai Prakan park (I think the locals call it Suan Santi) and spent many afternoons there, reading the Tibetan book of the Living and the Dead. One day I took off my engagement ring, which I was still wearing, and threw it very hard into the Chao Phraya river. A very young girl in the distance looked at me. That would be end of that story.
Ici, au bord du fleuve Chao Phraya
Le temps s’arrête
Le futur et le passé cessent d’exister
Il n’y a que le fleuve, les couleurs de l’aube, et les bateaux qui passent
Les locaux qui m’entreviewent
Les danseurs qui perfectionnent leur chorégraphie
Les voyageurs qui rêvent, qui oublient, qui regardent au loin, qui guérissent
*Car dans ce fleuve les deuils sont faits
Et les mauvaises énergies s’en vont avec*
Le vent caresse ma peau
Et ma tête de soldat de l’armée de rêves,
Entourée de joie et rempliee de paix,
Commence à guerir aussi
I had gone to Thailand with no clear intention, no idea of why I was there. I had told my friend that most likely I would lie down on a bench somewhere and die. But I wasn’t exactly dying, as much as reading and contemplating every moment, from moment to moment. In one of those days, wandering around Bangkok, a nun approached me out of the blue, on the street, and asked me if I was interested in Buddhism… “Buddhism?” I knew very little about it, and I just replied “Sure” as I had nothing else to say. So she asked me to follow her and took me to a Buddhist temple where there was a Thai Buddhist monk who was fluent in English. And I still remember that moment, the monk sat down in front of me and there was nobody else there, and he asked me how could he help me. I told him the story of how I had arrived there. The insane story of what I was doing in Thailand and how I had arrived at his temple. I told him about my desires of vengeance. He just listened and listened, quietly, patiently. He invited me to stay at the temple. Not for an hour or two. He told me I could stay for however long I needed and that he would teach me meditation, he said the temple would feed me and would give me a bed to sleep. He said it would all be free. I didn’t have to pay for anything. I was extremely confused. When is kindness like this given to someone? In the West, such kindness is unheard of. Not this monk, not this temple, not this time. All he asked for in return is that I follow the instructions seriously, and I did. I meditated for 10 hours a day. I gave up all my belongings to the monks, including my phone. They said they would return it to me after my departure. I spent hours watching my breath, as the monk taught me. I left on the ninth day, meaning that I stayed for eight full days at the temple. The monk told me that he thought that was enough for now. For me it literally felt like dirty water was being washed away from a building, the building being my body. As I exited the temple, I thanked him enormously for what he had done. As I left the temple, I started crying, crying so much as I walked the street. I could feel that something had changed, something was completely different, a bridge had been crossed, a page had been turned. I was shocked and overwhelmed by all the noise, the smells, the busy sights of Bangkok once again.
Thus the journey really began, I flew to the north of Thailand and visited the gorgeous white temple in Chiang Rai. I went to a beautiful little town called Mae Hong Son. I read somewhere that monks go for early morning alms in the town of Luang Prabang in Laos. I took a plane there, and had one of the most beautiful parts of my entire journey. Laos treated me with endless love, endless kindness, everyone I met was adorable, amazing, caring, foreigner or local, everyone was amazing. I made wonderful friendships. The locals would invite me to their houses and we would all eat on the floor, with our hands.
They loved to laugh. As a matter of fact, I have never laughed so much in my entire life as I did in Laos with the locals. I laughed so hard my stomach would hurt. These lovely people gave me the nickname “Dao” which to them is a local Lao name, and was easier for them to address me that way as my real name was difficult for them to pronounce. They said “Dao” means “star” in their language. I loved the gesture, and the name. So I became Dao to them. And I became Dao to all. Everyone who met me and asked me “what’s your name?” I always answered “Dao” and to this day my best friends call me “Dao.”
I spent New Year’s eve on a 12-hour meditation session with the monks at a local temple in the best new year’s eve of my life. What a beautiful wonderful evening, where locals came to the temple to meditate and pray all night long peacefully with Buddhist monks on New Year’s eve, instead of the alcohol-filled obnoxious displays of depravity back in the Western world on New Year’s eve. Not here, not this time. I meditated with them until the sun rose in the morning. I was so blessed by everything. I also participated in the water festival where the entire town throws water at each other and was also one of the best days I’ve ever had, where I could be a child again, I hadn’t been able to let that inner child laugh in such a long time.
I once looked at myself in the mirror and found myself saying “I’m so happy to see you smiling,” after so many years of seeing a tortured person in the mirror looking back at me. Very few people can understand the magnitude of this moment.
Then it was time to continue with my journey. I went to Malaysia, I traveled through Vietnam from south to north by bus and train. I went to see the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Then came my first trip to India, what an unbelievably difficult and blissful gift that was. India challenged me so much. There was no room for demands of comfort, behind were all the commodities of the West. Now India took me on a wild ride and I traveled from north to south, from Kolkatta crossing the Bay of Bengal all the way down to Pondichery, stopping by on every little town that I could, traveling on the general section of their trains, where many foreigners don’t dare enter. I traveled there with them, I slept there with them, I talked to them, I saw India as much as I could, not afraid of anything that could have happened. I was one with them. They were lovely, respectful, and kind. They taught me that poverty is not an excuse for violence. They taught me that spirituality is so important for a nation and yet Western society has lost it almost completely. India touched me so profoundly that it is hard to explain it in words. It is the land of gods. The last day I was at the airport of Hyderabad, and for a second I thought of not getting on that plane, and just staying and continuing my journey there. But I ended up leaving and continuing my journey through Japan, South Korea, China, Indonesia. In every country I went, I visited local Buddhist temples and meditated with their monks, whether Theravada or Mahayana or any other school, I didn’t care, I was there to learn. In South Korea I went to a temple for 15 days straight in the mountains of Hadong, temple of Sangyessa, and it was also one of the most beautiful temples I visited. I learned their mantra for Avalokitesvara (관세음보살).
I attended the Vipassana course in Dhamma Java in Indonesia, and the experience was incredibly strong. I was so surprised to see the teachings of SN Goenka making so much emphasis on the five khandhas, something I had studied before, and now seeing them applied in practice, I felt incredibly lucky and privileged to have found that technique. During this meditation retreat I experienced an excruciating amount of pain. It is very difficult to describe, but the experience felt like a surgery without anesthesia. It was extremely painful. I had to face physical pain as well as painful memories. I remember the vision arising of murdering my father with a chainsaw, cutting and splitting his head open in half over and over again with a chainsaw, and doing the same thing to his girlfriend. All these visions arose naturally in me. I simply followed the instructions “don’t suppress, don’t react, just observe” and so I did. I didn’t suppress anything at all, I didn’t react, I just observed as this whole thing developed, maintaining perfect equanimity, with the understanding of anicca (impermanence). I felt like I was literally burning in hell. The pain was enormous. As if something was being removed from my body. Something that shouldn’t be there was being removed. The nature of all conditioned phenomena is to arise, persist for a while and then pass away. Thus I experienced how the pain started to weaken, it started to decrease, gradually. I was starting to see. I was starting to understand the Dhamma, at the experiential level. The intellectual level is not enough. Even if you understand it above the surface, the sensations and old habits below the surface continue functioning as before. The conscious mind is subject to the habits of the physical body. Meditation is necessary. I will write it one more time, meditation is necessary. The 3 marks of existence became apparent: dukkha, anicca, anatta. After Vipassana, my journey continued. I went on a Buddhist pilgrimage to Lumbini (Nepal), Sarnath, Bodh Gaya and Kushinagar in India (for a second time). It was a great blessing for me to have been able to go to those places. I traveled through the middle east, and then I went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was all a wonderful experience. A huge blessing.
Today I write these words to all of you as a statement and a reminder that it is possible to turn your life around. I have been extremely lucky to have found the Dhamma, which saved and changed my life. One fact that really shocked me was to discover that the Buddha had also abandoned his luxurious life exactly when he was 29 years old and that he had also shaved his head at the same time. He also grew up without his mother. He was also raised by his father and a woman who wasn’t his mother. His father was wealthy, overprotective and controlling and sheltered him from reality and wanted to only show him his own version of reality. These facts happened in my life, almost identically, and it feels like such a gigantic honour to have something in common with the Buddha, even if it’s these tiny details. What are the odds that I would have traveled to Asia, and not Africa? Or that I cancelled my flight to Phnom Penh and went to Bangkok instead? What are the odds that that nun would approach out of the blue on the street, and that I would be there at that particular moment? I feel extremely lucky.
I am present in this world without an origin. A man without a name: my father’s last name is not his real last name either. Apparently he was adopted but this might not be true as I never knew the truth about his origins. Thus I never knew my real last name or my real blood family or ancestors. A man without a country: as a child I was removed from the environment of the country I was born in and lived in a completely different setting afterwards. A man without a language: I speak three languages fluently, but I am unable to rid myself of an eternal accent even on my mother tongue due to having left at such an early age and not speaking that language anymore for years. A man without a face: anyone who meets me is unable to tell where I’m from. When people guess, they mention any country except the one where I was born. A man without a family: the most painful separation I ever experienced was that from my mother when I was a child. Thus such doctrine called the Dhamma, which I had never heard before, spoke of a reality that I had been experiencing my entire life: I am living and breathing anatta.
Do you know what it feels like to have nowhere on the planet to go to where it is home for you? There’s no place I can go in this world where I will not be asked “where are you from? You don’t look from here. You don’t talk like we do.” So the world became my home. Always a foreigner, never a local. The present moment became my home. I have traveled all over the world: North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, the Arctic, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. I have been to over 40 countries and I speak 3 languages fluently. I do volunteer work whenever possible, regardless of the country I’m in. As long as I’m healthy, I must give back to this world. I have done several meditation retreats and served two of them. I was always helped by the kindness of strangers, and that kindness did help me, and that kindness I want to give to others. As I move through this physical human world, I can see them wasting enormous amounts of energy just to end up right where they started. Like hamsters on a wheel, like a blind man totally convinced of his ability to see. I carry a heart where there is no place left to break, there is only compassion. As very few people know what it feels like to be abandoned by your family. To see and feel their indifference towards your suffering. Was it ignorance? Was it not paying attention? Was it conscious indifference? Most people can’t even fathom. A small child sitting alone on an isolated beach staring deep into the emptiness of an infinite horizon where there is nothing left for him. You must be your own father. You must be your own mother. You must learn to heal on your own during illness. Through the inheritance of such horrible karma, I have been able to see beyond the great attachments of human beings to an identity based on conditions and circumstances.
It is very important to say that I am not a victim. I do not consider myself to be a victim. I have found that most people who claim to be victims, use their misfortune as an excuse to do evil and cause great harm in the world. What I am is one who has come to reap what he had sowed in previous lifetimes. If you see me as a victim, you will not have understood the Dhamma.
“I am the owner of my actions. Heir of my actions. Actions are the womb from which I have sprung. Actions are my relations. Actions are my protection. Whatever actions I have done, good or bad. Of these I shall become the heir.” (Upajjhatthana Sutta).
Today I am extremely grateful to be able to walk on the Noble Eightfold Path. I no longer wish to torture or murder my parents or my father’s girlfriend. As a matter of fact, I have no ill will left towards them. It has all been eradicated through meditation. It is a miracle for these words to be written down. I wish them well. I hope they find happiness and peace.
As I end this essay, I would like to say a few words on the Dhamma, if you allow me. Life is not an identity, it is a becoming. We are made of karma, the effects you experience today had previous causes, and your reaction to these effects will become the causes for future effects. You and I are insubstantial, unreliable, dependent on conditions. As you have reacted, thus you have become entangled with all the beings of this world. Vengeance is the continuation of a cycle that had no beginning. Don’t look at form, look at energy. Study reality as it actually is, not as you would like it to be, otherwise you will get stuck in your own delusions. Be careful when you make a final conclusion on anyone or on any topic as it could lead you towards a long path of ignorance. Take from others and it shall be you who’ll fall into a state of deprivation. You are subject to every single thing that you reject and despise in others, so do not judge, develop yourself in compassion. The world is an illusion where suffering is fueled directly by desire. Aiming for a high rebirth in samsara is a pointless endeavor, as progress through the realms is insignificant, dukkha is present on every stage. Even as you delight in heavenly sensations, growing enamored and intoxicated with the world, one day you shall be separated from everything, and you will be left with a body craving for all the pleasant experiences, memories, lifestyle and relationships that have been lost. The body has its own craving, which is reinforced by actions, and it is separate and independent from the rationality of our conscious mind. Injustice is part of being in samsara, attachment or clinging to justice leads to the clinging of views, ideas and perceptions, worst of all, it could potentially lead to thoughts of revenge, with the wrong notion that justice is being served. People who can love you in good circumstances could hate you in different circumstances. In this world, nothing is yours, everything is borrowed. Learning to forgive is one the greatest qualities you will ever have, as it will liberate you from countless cycles. Understand that there is ignorance in others and ignorance in yourself too. Have no attachment to the results of your good deeds, what really matters is that these actions came from good intentions. The concept of “dependent origination” should be examined and understood thoroughly. Morality is your biggest protection. Meditation is your greatest tool on this path, as it breaks cycles and patterns. No significant progress can be made with blind faith, for this to work, it must be experienced, it cannot be intellectualized. Test the Dhamma, evaluate the results and take every step forward only with the truth. Work towards wisdom. Become a student of the world.
“What is ignoble search? There is the case where a person, being subject himself to birth, seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to birth. Being subject himself to aging… illness… death…
sorrow… defilement, he seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to illness… death… sorrow… defilement.
The thought occurred to me, ‘Why do I, being subject myself to birth, seek what is likewise subject to birth? Being subject myself to aging… illness… death… sorrow… defilement, why do I seek what is likewise subject to illness… death… sorrow… defilement?” (Ariyapariyesana Sutta).
Thanks to my master: the Buddha, and to the nuns and monks, for saving me from the abyss of the bottomless pit, around the edges into which I was born. If you are reading this now, and you are currently in a place where I was before, read this text again, and take whatever you find useful and apply it to your own life. I was the scum of the earth once. Wherever you are, I was lower than you. May all beings be happy!
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