In the late 70’s, the evening news in Hong Kong was always about the refugees from Vietnam. I remember seeing them on the TV, and I still remember. When they finally made it to the shores by those flimsy boats, of course they were joyful and excited. However, I couldn’t miss noticing signs of torment, fear, worry, exhaustion, sickness, even death, written on the sun-scorched face, matted hair, torn clothes, and starved body. There are many stories to tell.
But, as a matter of fact, none of them likes to talk about their journey. I have friends who were the “boat people”, they do not want to talk about their times on the boat. They just don’t! They have seen sickness, hunger, trenchery, robbery, death. What they had experienced was terrifying, inhumane, painful and sad. I couldn’t imagine what it is like on a tiny boat in the sea, only to meet with the blazing sun, the angry ocean waves, pirates, sharks and diseases, all coming at once to harm.
What was that made them leave their familiarities behind, with almost nothing on them and hop onto a small boat?
What did they envision that they would pay big money for the unpromised dream?
… I leave that to you to answer.
Yesterday at the Refuge vows ceremony, Khandro-la asked:
Why are you taking Refuge?
What is Refuge?
Oh… wait a minute (light-bulb moment) … AM I A REFUGEE NOW?
That’s when those faces I saw on TV all came back to me.
DO I LOOK LIKE THEM?
I wish I could! I really do!
I wish I had their kind of determination, to give up everything for a one-way ticket, and not turn back. I wish I had their kind of faith to jump onto a boat right here right now. I wish I had their visions of what awaits in the dream land.
If I am not a refugee, there is no refuge being taken.
Unless I take refuge with the refugee’s demeanor of courage, undistracted determination and unwavering faith, I am not truly taking refuge.
Renunciation is the foundation, Khandro-la said. It is the very essential part of liberation. This is so true! If the boat people never had taken the leap of faith, they would never have found liberation. At all costs they jump onto the boat, their strong determination conquers all obstacles. I shall remind myself the demeanor of a refugee everyday when I recite <Taking Refuge>:
Not until I call out to Buddha: Please help!
Not until I cry out to the Dharma: Please save me!
Not until I beg the Sangha: Please let me in!
Not until I see myself as a refugee, I am not truly taking refuge.