When I was 5 months into my 2013 Epic Journey, I had the urge to get away from everything, find a quiet place and retreat, be a hermit. At that time, I was traveling in Penang, Malaysia. I was about 1 month into my stay in Asia – already spent time in Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore.
Google came to the rescue as I typed in “meditation retreat in Penang Malaysia”. What I found was a discreet, privately owned temple – Mr. Yeoh is a very friendly, helpful retired police officer. He owns the land that the temple is built upon and is a devout Buddhist. He informed me that all are welcome to stay at Sitavana Vihara 悉达林, as long as they observe the 8 precepts and refrain from eating food after 1:00 pm. I had no idea what are the 8 precepts at the time and had to google that as well.
The 8 precepts of Buddhism:
- I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures
- I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).
- I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.
The most worrisome precept for me was no eating after 1pm. I have never attempted that, I mean I have never lost my appetite in my life, under all circumstances, even when I’m not feeling well (touch wood). I love food – all food!! How could I survive the blistering heat and not eat and only drink water??? What am I getting myself into??
The saving grace was that, this isn’t the typical meditation retreat where I have to follow strict meditation schedules. I get to set my own meditation schedule. Not like those in India. This was even more relaxed than the yoga + meditation retreat I went to in Nepal. I just have to wake up for breakfast at 7:45 am. Room and board is free – they only ask for a donation if you are so inclined.
Mr. Yeoh picked me up from my hostel and drove me to the temple himself. He said, Sitavana Vihara is quite difficult to find due to its location. I had no idea that the temple actually overlooks the famous Kek Lok Si Temple, up on it’s own private road, half way up the mountain.
When I arrived I met the Abbot and the nun who resides at the temple, coincidentally, 2 monks were visiting from Myanmar (Burma). However, I could not communicate with the Burmese monks as they did not speak English or either of the Chinese dialects that I speak – Cantonese and Hokkien.
A tour of the property was given by the excited Mr. Yeoh – it was obvious that he is very proud of the numerous fruit trees he has grown on the property. Pineapples, green beans, banana, jackfruit, sour sop and durian are some of the varieties. He shared the ripe fruits with me and they were delicious!
At this point in time, I cannot call myself a Buddhist, despite growing up in a Buddhist/Taoist family. At one point, I called myself an atheist, then I just went label-less. I was curious about religion – some more than others. I did not pick a side and I still have not. I just believe there’s a greater force out there but mostly I believe in the Universe and that there’s a Universal energy and Universal knowledge that we can all tap into for personal benefit and for helping others. I mean how else do I explain Reiki and how it has helped me and those that has allowed me to practice on them?!
Now I do have a small alter with images of Guan Yin, Buddha, Ganesh and Jesus and a few other spirits and guides. However, I cannot say I have a regular meditation practice. I meditate when I feel the need to, I listen to my intuition.
What amazed me the most during my stay was the devotion shown by the devotees. Each morning at about 6am, 3 to 4 men will show up with lots of cooked food on their motorbikes. Some are bought, some are made at home. This is their way to contribute to the temple, the Abbot, the nuns and those staying at the temple, me included. A lady shows up to cook lunch. This is EVERY Day that they do this! Another man, he built the tire and concrete pad (above photo) by hand by himself. They come to the temple before heading off to work or on their day off. Everyone donates in their own way. Some donate the money to buy the supplies. Some donate their energy and time. It was amazing.
The location was perfect for what I needed – I could unplug, recharge my body and my mind – be in touch with nature and ground myself. The issue – mosquitoes!!!
I have always called myself a feeder, they love my blood. This explains why I went through a mild bout of Dengue fever when I was in Brazil. I sprayed and spread layers of mosquito repellent lotion on me, I even tried the repellent laidened stickers and nothing worked. It is probably not a good idea to label myself as a feeder, as that probably send out the wrong vibrations and end up attracting more mosquitoes my way. I shall make a point to stop that!
Mr. Yeoh pulled out the super sized pop up tent for me so I could try to meditate. The Abbot meditates at the Sima hall inside a mesh tent. It’s better than covering my body with chemicals. In the end, I did cut my stay short, I had planned to stay for 1 week but the heat got to me and the mosquito bites on my skin. I took leave after 3 nights.
Even though it was only a 4-day retreat, I believe that I received some very beneficial teachings and a better understanding of Buddhism. I found out there’s 2 main schools of Buddhism: Theravāda and Mahāyāna. There was enough of a difference that the Abbot left China and Mahāyāna behind and travel to Burma to learn the teachings of Theravāda Buddhism. He shared with me his technique for meditation and gave me a book from the temple’s library. It was quite a treat when he allowed me to look at some of the original Pali texts – I got quite the buzz from just coming into contact with the text.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!