Sunday, February 12, 2017

Unconventional Wisdom

My neighbor in Singapore is a devout Buddhist. There is also a large painting of Kuan-ying, the Goddess of Mercy, in her very tastefully furnished home.

Mrs Cheong lives with her husband; they have a Filipino maid. She is perhaps in her 70s, and her husband, 80s. Mr Cheong is always immaculately and stylishly dressed. In his suspenders, he looks stately! I see that they are a wealthy couple – this upmarket condominium of theirs in Singapore, a house in California, investments in China and Papua New Guinea, etc. Their daughter and Canadian husband live in the adjacent block.

Usually people living in condominiums don’t quite care about their neighbours. Mr Cheong is different. One day I struck a casual conversation with him on the ground floor lobby and hearing that I also hailed from Malaysia, he immediately invited me to join him for his family’s lunch gathering which he was about to host at an expensive restaurant in Orchard Road’s Paragon. I was in shorts, but he insisted it was completely fine. He is very knowledgeable; we had many things in common.

From then on, my wife and I got invited to their beautiful home from time to time.

Mrs Cheong believes in yīnguǒ bàoyìng (因果报应), a Buddhist-Chinese cause-and-effect concept in explaining the fortunes and misfortunes of all living beings. To her, every life is a reincarnation of a previous one. Your present good or bad fortune is a result of how you conducted yourself in the previous life. It is not dissimilar to karma in Hindu belief. “Look at those poor children in Africa, have they done anything since birth to deserve those sufferings?” She asks. 
Yīnguǒ is not about this life. It is about your next life! I don’t want my next life to be like that, hence my determination to do good in this life!”
 Can you argue with her on that? Mr & Mrs Cheong are a loving couple. But apparently, he was a Casanova when he was younger. She amused us with tales of his infidelity with him laughing them off embarrassingly in front of us. “I had to spend months on end overseas. My husband had a tendency to stray. He had even brought back women to stay in this very apartment. They knew I knew; but I didn’t say a word. One woman was bold enough to try to plot to make him leave me. I knew he would come to his senses and he did. “People are always talking about revenge or how to spite their husbands or their lovers when it comes to things like this. I don’t do such things. “And many wives lose their husbands, why? “They forget to also love their husband’s parents! “They grumble if their husband is partial to his own parents. How can they do that? You should also love them the way you love your parents!” How wise this lady is!

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