Celebrating the birth of a book – Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium

There is a Chinese proverb about a red thread of fate that connects us. I felt that red thread pull me to my ancestral villages in China, and through the veil that separates most folks from the spirit world. It played such a huge part in my life even before I knew anything about anything. So, naturally, it graces the cover of my book that I just released on Amazon. I hope you’ll check it out.

Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium.

Through the course of writing my story, I am no longer a reluctant medium.

For more information about my book launch, appearances and, of course, a Hungry Ghost Festival, go to my Events Page.

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Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 My Journey to the West

Like Xuanzang, the 7th Century dynasty monk, who went West in search of knowledge from the homeland of Buddhism.

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I am heading West in search of the homeland of my Chinese roots. My journey has also been one of discovery about Buddhism, Taoism and even Christianity and the roles they have played in my families’ lives. For although I was raised in the Christian faith, I am open to exploring Buddhism and Taoism and feel I have gained much by what I’ve discovered. Like Xuanzang, I have a thirst for knowledge.

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Earliest known edition of the book, Journey to the West, a Chinese novel published in the 16th century during the Mind Dynasty and attributed to Wu Cheng’en

 

Even though I do not speak, read, or write Chinese, I am moved by calligraphy paintings and slowly but surely I am learning the language. If I do not learn anything else on this journey, I have discovered the truth about my Chinese name. For many years, I thought my name was Louie/Lei Bao Lian, precious lotus blossom of the Louie/Lei (thunder) clan. However, when I showed my Roots guide the paper where Dad wrote my name, he said that it translates to “precious age.”

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If that misunderstanding does not complicate the issue enough, there are the various spellings depending on which dialect you choose. Dad spelled my name Bo Line. Obviously, he did not follow the rules of transliteration, but rather created his own. I’m not sure why he told me my name had one meaning but then wrote the calligraphy for another. Maybe, he inadvertently gave me a clue about another lifetime, one as Precious Lotus Blossom. I wouldn’t be surprised because I do remember many life times in China. I believe those memories draw me back to China, and then, I wondered: did Xuanzang have a similar urge to go back to India, to read the original Buddhist texts because he remembered writing them long ago? I cannot say for Xuanzang, but for me the journey West has also been a journey within. How appropos as I explore the teachings of Buddhism. For in my search to find my father’s village, I have learned to overcome suffering, to walk the middle way, and to live my dharma. Even though I may be far from nirvana, I am happier about my journey in this lifetime.

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Quanyin on a lotus blossom

THE CENTER – RVA

Today is a very special day – the beginning of a new chapter in my life. For over twenty-five years I have been researching reincarnation. It all started with conversations with my father’s ghost. Dad was a Chinese Buddhist, and I wondered what his beliefs in reincarnation would mean for his next life. However, like so many people, he did not know a lot about Buddhist beliefs about reincarnation.

But when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Then, Brian Weiss, M.D., author of Many Lives Many Masters, entered my life and, like a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly, I began to change. Like the butterfly, whose struggle to come out of its cocoon is an important part of its process to be able to take flight in the world, I have gone through a process to prepare me for this day – the birth of THE CENTER – RVA, a center for spiritual growth.

My reincarnation research, my conversations with my father’s ghost and all the teachers who have come into my life, and putting what I have learned into practice has prepared me for this next chapter. After years of training with Sanaya Roman, Brian Weiss, M.D., and Carol Bowman, I am pleased to “move forward in the direction of my dreams.”

THE CENTER – RVA is a center without walls. It is more about a state of mind than a bricks-and-mortar place. I will offer classes, workshops and gatherings while I continue to work on the book, Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium, and prepare for a trip to my father’s birthplace in China with my Roots Plus group.

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Check out my website for THE CENTER – RVA and join me for my upcoming workshop, Karma 2 Dharma: From Healing the Past to Embracing Your Life Purpose.

Last, but not least, I want to say “Thank, Mom.” I had cared for her for over a year before she left her physical body in January, and I shared with her some of my beliefs about what happens and where we go when we die. It was an experience I will always treasure. So, I was not surprised when she came to me moments after she crossed over. Like a mother bird who pushes the baby bird out of the nest, she said, “Don’t be afraid. It’s time to fly.”

 

To people, food is heaven

The most common greeting in China is “Chi le mei?” (Have you eaten?) Maybe, because dining plays a central role in all social settings. An ancient Chinese proverb says, “Min yi shi weitian.” (To people, food is heaven.)  __Paraphrased from “A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts – A Collection of Deliciously Frightening Tales” by Ying Chang Compestine

When my dad died and, as per Buddhist tradition, there was a spread of food at his wake. At that time, I did not know the significance of each of the types of food, so I said, “I want cha siu baos at my funeral.” (Served during Dim Sum (“small meals to delight your heart” – sort of Chinese tapas), cha siu baos are buns with a Chinese barbecue pork mixture filling, and can be baked or steamed.)

So, here’s a strange question: What kind of food do you want in your heaven?

Me? I’d want a banquet of all sorts of food. Not just Chinese, but rather food from a variety of cultures, and of course, I would be able to eat and eat to my heart’s content without feeling bloated or gaining a gazillion pounds.

Til then, I will follow the Buddhist mantra: eat in moderation.

Take a mental break from shopping and explore the “other side”

I have known for a very long time that I had a “gift” for designing. I will never forget the day I had a vision of being a designer. I was only eleven but I knew that it is what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was not an easy path. Somehow, I jumped over every hurdle and it has been very rewarding.

Another vision beckons me these days: to be an author. More hurdles to jump, “learning curves.” I offer this little short story, which was an assignment for my writing class. I joined the group in October. In the spirit – pun intended – of Halloween, the first assignment was to write a story about a conversation among three ghosts who are buried next to each other. Since I am working on a story about the conversations I have had with my father’s ghost, this assignment was right up my alley.

This story is fiction; however, it is based on my experiences. My father was Chinese and his ghost told me about many of the things in this story – things I did not know when he was alive. Do not be surprised if you experience goose bumps when you read it!

CHING MING

April 1990
Colma, aka The City of the Dead, south of San Francisco, CA

Sunlight broke through the fog sending rays of light onto the copper lid of the coffin. Jimmy Lei stood there as if frozen. He watched as the family left the cemetery but still he could not move.

“What a waste,” he said as he looked at the elaborately carved granite double headstone and, then, at the well manicured grounds.

‘Well, will you look at that? What are the odds?” Ming Li tipped the pointed end of his fedora to the tombstones on each side of Mr. Lei’s gravesite. He adjusted the handkerchief in his breast pocket so that his initials were prominent.

“I don’t believe it,” W. G. Fong replied.

Jimmy said, “Who are you and what . . .” he stopped before he could finish. The man on his right died on April 5; so did the man on his left. “Wait just a minute. I died on April 5th, Ching Ming, the day I should honor my ancestors. The last time I saw my parents was in 1931. I was a new father and widower in less than two weeks. I had to leave my newborn son to return to America.” He looked around and saw the remnants of the Ching Ming rituals, evidence that others did indeed honor their ancestors.

“What are the odds that three people buried next to each other would die on the same day? Well, I’ll tell you. You have a better chance of winning the lottery,” Ming, who loved to gamble, said.

Mr. Fong recognized his family’s floral arrangement, the wreath with red ribbons inscribed with details about the deceased. His family, known for its beautiful calligraphy as well as its floral work, merged the Western tradition of placing flowers at a funeral with the Chinese tradition of an announcement scroll. “He must be Buddhist. See there. The words on the banner ask permission to enter into heaven and I heard a woman mumbling a Buddhist prayer as her fingers counted the beads on her mala.”

“What are you talking about?” Jimmy said.

Ming said to W.G. “He still doesn’t quite get it.”

“Don’t be so hard on him. You were the same, Ming.”

“Don’t remind me. It’s as if it were yesterday instead of fifty years ago.”

“At least, you were used to this country. I wanted to go back home to die or at least to be buried. I had no one here. In China, I had family who would honor me. I never dreamt that Huang Er, my brother’s second son, would come to the States and make good with the money I left him. I was a second son also. I knew he would be neglected in favor of the number one son. I knew Huang Er had talent but I see now that he also had ambition. He turned my little florist shop into a chain of fancy shops. When he dug up my body from the old Chinese cemetery, and had it moved here, I felt like a king. I guess it paid off to leave him my small fortune.”

“Old Uncle, you’re too old-fashioned.” Ming said. He patted the shoulder of W.G.’s mandarin jacket causing W.G.’s wispy white hair to fly up like a spider’s web disturbed by an intruder.

“Yes, but it is still an honorable thing to pay respects to your ancestors, whether you are a Buddhist like him; a rice bowl Christian, like me; or an Atheist, like you. Shou Shen, brother, Shou Shen.”

“Shou Shen – Filial Piety. You’re talking to an orphan, W.G., but I lived my life right. I did not need a parent or customs or a church to tell me right from wrong.”

“How can you be so sure you were abandoned? China was in chaos between the Japanese invasion and the fighting between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao’s Communists. Can’t you find it in your heart to forgive them, Ming?”

“So, you did learn a thing or two from the Christian priests.”

“Yes, but, then, why am I still here? It’s now seventy years. Why didn’t I go to the pearly gates?”

“W.G., I think it’s something more than a coincidence – this April 5th thing. Hey, Jimmy, what’s your story? Why are you here and not in the Buddhist heaven?” Ming said pulling at his eyebrow hair that persisted on sticking out.

Jimmy looked forlorn. He tugged at the well-worn buttonhole of his favorite cardigan. “I made the preparations: the roasted pig, the whole fish and chicken, the paper money and petitions to the guards of heaven to burn in the altar, the family blankets, and a band to ward off evil spirits. I did it all. You tell me. Why am I still here?” He knew these last minute compliances to rituals could not make up for years of neglect. He knew that he had not sent money back to China, squandering it instead on gambling, drinking and women. He shut out those words – Shou Shen – because he knew he had not paid the proper respects to his ancestors. He knew now that the ticket into heaven was not words on a piece of paper, nor dutiful submission to a long list of rituals. He knew that he would have to pay dearly for his deeds in his next life.

“I was wrong,” he admitted to his new neighbors, “but I have another chance to get it right.” His broad nostrils flared, making them look even broader and his eyes even smaller. He tugged at the buttonhole like a child caressing his “blankie.”

“What are you talking about?” Ming asked.

“We are all still here – because we are stuck until we realize our karma. W. G., you would call it “sins.” I thought I got away with my deeds. I have to accept what I did wrong and make it right. I know that now. You think it’s too late but I do not think I’d be here talking with you now if it were too late.”

“If there’s a way to leave this place, I want to hear about it. Maybe, it’s time for me to look at my life. I thought I did the right things but now I’m not so sure. It was the ultimate gamble,” Ming confessed.

W.G. held his head down as he tried to hide the tears that ran down his sunken cheeks. “I went to the mission so I could eat. We were so poor. I’d do almost anything to get some food for my family. I ate the rice in the rice bowl and I hid pieces of vegetables and meat in my clothes to take home to my family. I worked in the kitchen just so I could steal the scraps of food left on plates.

“I listened and pretended to pray. I tried to learn the English language. Of course, they taught it to us by reading the Bible. I wanted to learn the language so I could be a “Gold Mountain” man. After I came to America to find my gold, I discovered the truth. Gold was not everywhere as the traders told us. I worked hard and sent money home to China. I guess I learned enough about sinning to feel bad because I just could not believe in their Jesus. I was not a good Christian man but I did love my family.”

Something in them changed as they shared their stories. They developed an inexplicable bond with one another.
April 5, 1991
Colma, CA

“Look, our families are coming,” W.G. said. My nephew is an old man now but he looks young. He has a good family and a good heart.

“As many years as we’ve been here, our families never came at the same time,” he said to W.G.

*********

Jimmy Lei’s family passed the first tombstone. Jenny said, “Hey, guys, he died the same day as Goompa.” Lily set the basket on the ground and, then, sorted out the incense, papers, and Jimmy’s favorite foods while the neighbors swept the grave sites and added fresh flowers.

“Hey, this guy over here, Mr. Wai Gauy Fong, died on April 5 also – but in 1920 – and Mr. Ming Li over there died in 1940. I bet they would have great stories to tell if we could talk with them. This is weird. I have a feeling this is not a coincidence.”

*********

“Let them figure it out, either in this life time or the next. If we can, they will also,” Jimmy said to his new friends. “Are you ready to go now?”

“Where are we going?” W.G. and Ming said in unison.

“I’m not sure but I think we need to cross that arched bridge. It wasn’t there before but I feel we need to go over it. Remember, the Buddha said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

As if on queue, they took that step together.

Sand Mandala -Lessons of impermanence, compassion and being in the moment

Like sand through the hourglass, our lives tick away as painstakingly as the Tibetan Buddhist monks creating the intricate patterns that make up a sand mandala. If only my life could be filled with the compassion of the Kalachakra mandala, a sacred work of art which blesses the sand – and the world – through chants and prayers. The Buddhist teaching of impermanence inspired the Kalachakra mandala.

A few years ago, I shared the sand mandala experience with my eight and five-year-old grandchildren. We marveled at the patience it took to create the design. I loved it when my five-year-old granddaughter noticed how the monk indented three small dots of green sand with a tool making what she called a “bowl” to receive three small dots of white sand.

I told them what would happen to the mandala when it was completed. “The monks will scoop up the mandala, take the sand to the pond, and release it,” I said. My eight-year-old grandson replied,

And then the pond will have a sand mandala too.

Impermanence – it is such an elusive concept to grasp. We seem to hold onto it one moment with fingers cupped in understanding only to lose it the next as if our mental fingers open up to let the “impermanence sand” drift through to join other thoughts that escape us.

I can at least follow another Buddhist premise of “being in the moment.” I can enjoy the making of the sand mandala, the joy my grandchildren and I had in watching it grow from dots to bowls, to flower designs. Finally, I can play with the idea that the sand magically reconnects in the bottom of the pond to form another sand mandala. I feel blessed with compassion to share the experience with my grandchildren and, now, with you.

What now?

As I looked down at the funeral paraphernalia on Dad’s coffin, I wondered what happens now. To be more specific, what do Buddhists believe happens when a person dies?

Dad was a Buddhist, although not a very good practicing Buddhist. He left that to Auntie Tai, who prayed religiously at the family altar. As a Buddhist, he was subject to reincarnate into another life. I had no idea if he would reincarnate immediately or if there was a certain time before he would return. And if there is a waiting time, I had no idea where he would wait.

I tried to talk to Dad about Buddhism years ago, but he was not forthcoming. Mom raised me in the Southern Baptist Church after my parents split up, and we moved to Florida. For some reason, I did not have a conflict exploring Buddhism and Christianity. In fact, I felt even more curious about Buddhism. I especially wanted to know what was in store for Dad. Ultimately, I wondered if the same things would happen to me when I die.

Have you ever wondered: “What now?”