In 2011 straight after New Zealand Fukiko went back to Japan for a while and I went to Malaysia with the aim to study Islam. After couple of days visiting mosques in Kuala Lumpur and other towns and after many talks with their leaders I was advised to go to east coast of Malaysia. It was said the Islam there is still very strong…
So I pointed my finger into the map randomly, took a bus and arrived to a place I knew completely nothing about. I started walking from a bus stop towards the sea and soon I met some big monkeys on the trees and big dragon lizard crossing my path in front of me. I walked further and when I met some villagers I straight asked them about “Allah” and presented them my request to learn about Islam. They were surprised but open and eventually they let me stay with them borrowing me a flat close to a beach and later even whole house in their village. I lived inside their community by a sea shore for about a month participating everyday prayers and eating mangos, coconuts and tapioca chips from the garden of my neighbors. I also participated many religious events and I met many educated Muslims who were giving me lectures about Islam. And they called me “Nur Iman” there which was translated to me as “The Light Of Faith”.
In Malaysia I also went to visit jungle in Endau Rompin National Park. With the lack of responsibility and experience I didn’t follow an advise of the locals and entered the jungle alone. It was not very clever idea. Soon I got seriously lost in the middle of wilderness being climbed by dozens of lychees and constantly attacked by various jungle creatures and plants. Luckily I met some indigenous people Orang Asli who were just fishing by a river. They accepted me friendlily and I spent a night with them on a primitive bamboo bad. Next day they guided me out of the jungle while finding out, according to footprints, that I was back trapped by a tiger the previous day…
From Malaysia I went to Vietnam with the purpose of study the Vietnamese culture. The reason for that was that there live many Vietnamese people in Czech Republic and despite an university research I did in past about their religion I had very little knowledge about them in general and about the environment they come from.
I travelled through Laos first where I stayed for two weeks in order to taste the Theravada Buddhism and to smell Laos mountains and countryside. First I stayed couple of days in one Buddhist monastery in the Laos capital Vientiane following the practices of local monks and teaching juggling to some of them. Then I walked about a hundred kilometers through mountain villages to the ancient city of Luang Prabang where I enjoyed old Buddhist temples and calm shores of the river Mekong.
In Vietnam, apart from the social and cultural studies, I also wanted to stay for sometimes in Zen monasteries in order to improve and deepen Zazen – the Zen way of meditation that I have been practicing since 2006. I browsed through internet in Hanoi city and I learned about the biggest Zen sect in Vietnam called Truc Lam . Next morning I took a bus, walked half a day in stunning heat through rice fields and arrived to the biggest monastery of Truc Lam Zen sect in north Vietnam. There the monks didn’t want to accept me first but I insisted and eventually I was allowed to stay and practice with them.
The practice consisted of three hours of sitting meditation every day plus additional prayers and daily works. I followed that and in my free time I talked to monks or I was helping the local teacher with his English classes for the monks.
After couple of days in that monastery I asked for meeting with the abbot and soon I was accepted. The abbot gave me private Dharma talk. We talked and discussed matters concerning Buddhism for about an hour and eventually the abbot told me: “According to your understanding of Dharma, it seems to me you probably were a Buddhist monk in your previous life.” I was pleased… Then he wrote me a reference for another monastery.
Soon I left from there and I went to the place where the sect was originally established. Thanks to the reference I was easily accepted in another monastery of Truc Lam nearby. This time I participated four hours of sitting meditation plus one hour of prayers every day. But unfortunately that place seemed to me too busy and unfriendly so I left from there after one week of stay and moved to another monastery situated in central Vietnam. And there, in the foothills and forests of Bach Ma National Park, on a peninsula surrounded by water damn, I stayed for another six weeks. And it was one of the best time in my life. I was practicingZen surrounded by wild plants and sounds of subtropical insects and animals. Daily I was cleaning the paths and stairs of the monastery, studying sutras and learning the local Buddhist songs from local monks. I was drinking green tea in warm evenings and playing my flute on the shores of the damn. And time to time I got invitation from the abbot of that monastery for private talk.
The abbot was quite young but relaxed and happy man. We sat together to talk but eventually we mostly didn’t talk much. Rather we just enjoyed the presence of each other and observed the translator, one of the young monks of the monastery, moving awkwardly through our simple sentences.
Towards the end of my stay the abbot gave me a name “Chang Ngo” which was translated to me as “The one who has understood the true nature of all things”.
All together I stayed alone in the monasteries 49 days.
When Fukiko came to Vietnam we wentto Bach Ma monastery for one more week together and then we travelled through middle and south Vietnam exploring other religious and cultural centers of the country. And we also stayed in the countryside for a while trying to deeply appreciate a rare meeting with elephants – animals of great power and mystery for us.
Then we moved to Cambodia.
In Cambodia we walked for about two weeks by the south coast of the country, time to time spending nights in local Buddhist monasteries. We were visiting the oldest temples we could meet on the way trying to spent some time in their presence. Such meetings are always precious as it is still possible to smell the wisdom, skill and power of the ancient people through the walls of the buildings and through the air that surrounds them. I can remember clearly the thick and grounding energy of one small and very old Hindu shrine inside a big cave which was hidden near a small village. Little big diamond of south Cambodia…
Then we let ourselves enjoy Angkor Archaeological Park and from there we went straight to Bangkok catching a plane to India.