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23 Apr 2010

No way but up

Sharon Saw relates how her colleague David Lai found his voice as an author and speaker after he came out as gay with the Rinpoche's teasing and guidance.

I first met David Lai about four years ago, when he was 26 years old. I was volunteering at Kechara Media & Publications (KMP), which was then a tiny publishing house occupying a room in a rented terrace house. David was attached to KMP but I began to realise that he wasn’t really, because he spent a lot of time with Rinpoche – usually until dawn, which meant that he would only come to ‘work’ around 2pm and sit there looking stoned.

Because of his erratic time schedule and his attachment to sleep, he often didn’t fulfill deadlines for his writing, and what writing he did submit was often so full of grammatical and spelling errors that they gave the editors apoplexy. Finally, the then CEO decided that we would just not expect anything from David and if he produced something, it would be a bonus.

However, David was an attractive boy-next-door with a smooth, guileless face. He had a lovely, open heart without a malicious bone in his body. Aside from the occasional pout, he never lost his temper. And he had a phenomenal memory, especially for the Dharma.

Jamie Khoo, KMP’s senior editor, had the hugest crush on him (then), so despite the editorial headaches, she was never mad at him for long. Of course, Rinpoche would tease her to death about her crush… asking her why she liked trees with no fruit. For the longest time, she wished David was straight. 

At that time, David was still wedged in the closet. While he looked straight, Rinpoche would joyously tease him about his sexuality in public. In a restaurant, Rinpoche would send David to the other side of the room on the pretext of fetching something and Rinpoche would holler loudly in his booming voice, “Excuse me, are you gay?” We would see David freeze and it never ceased to be amusing.

This would also happen regularly outside cinemas and, of course, in lifts. 

What was it all for? It was what Rinpoche did best – to push David’s buttons where they have never been pushed before. Together with the constant and endless late nights, David was slowly but surely being nurtured to transform from a spoilt, hedonistic momma’s boy to… an articulate, confident author and speaker. With his ability to remember exactly what Rinpoche said and his willingness to share, he is always at hand to patiently explain a Dharma point until the listener understood.

Some of you might cringe and wonder why would Rinpoche tease David publicly like that. Especially if you are in the closet yourself. Basically, Rinpoche knows full well what David can take and where his limits are. As the Lama, Rinpoche does not arbitrarily tease everyone because different people will react differently. Rinpoche always employs skillful methods to customise his teaching methods. 

Over the years, I saw David evolve before my eyes. Rinpoche had always told David to write, write, write, but David had not believed Rinpoche. Half-heartedly, he finally began to write his autobiography. Rinpoche had told him that his book would benefit many, but David resisted and struggled all the way, with Rinpoche constantly pushing him. 

Rinpoche tried all ways with David – cajoling, scolding, bribing, screaming, ignoring and praising him and always with pure love and the sole motivation of bringing David to the next level. 

There’s no way but up is available on Fridae Shop at US$10. 

Finally, about a year or so ago, David broke through and leapt over what he thought was an insurmountable obstacle, namely himself. After a gestation of two years, There’s no way but up was finally born. 

This book is not David’s first, having published Vajrayogini and other sacred power places in Nepal last year, which was a beautiful coffee table book about a pilgrimage to the holy sites of this high female tantric deity in Kathmandu. However, this was his first novel, and what a novel it was.

There’s no way but up charts David’s journey from childhood up to today. The book focuses on how meeting Rinpoche and learning about Buddhism via Rinpoche’s unconventional method of spirituality changed David’s weltanschauung (worldview) and thus his entire being. David’s writing speaks straight from the heart, without any attempt at literary artifice. He tells his story candidly and brings the reader together with him from page to page as he reveals his various experiences, and his most private thoughts and moments. 

In its third reprint now, There’s no way but up is KMP’s most popular book so far. This is remarkably successful considering it was only released in January this year and the official launch is yet to be held at the end of this month! It’s been featured in national newspapers in Malaysia and readers from as far as the United States and Australia have ordered the book and given good reviews. 

Duke Okkelberg from Iowa said, “David, I finished your book last night. In record time too! Your story is both amazing as well as inspiring. You are a very good example of the change that can be found when a person is sincere with his/her Teacher and with the Dharma. You have incredible karma to be learning from such a holy Teacher as Tsem Rinpoche. I also enjoy your humor as well. You help me see that we do not need to be so darn serious all the time. What a beautiful Teaching your book was. Thank you so much.” 

David is now in the process of publishing two more books this year. If you haven’t read There’s no way but up, get it now from Fridae.com shop. You won’t regret it.

Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A selection of Buddhist and non-Buddhist related books from Kechara Publications is now available on Fridae Shop. You can follow Sharon on Twitter. This column will appear every other Friday.

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-04-23 14:38  
Yes finally! I got it on Wed...and YES, 'Gurus For Hire' too...FINALLY
Next, your book and Paris' one (I gave away my copy of her book to someone else recently) ....

To me, this 'no holds barred' book is an insight into what a real life Guru-Disciple relationship is all about..with its stark realities and lessons. On page 274, there was the part about Rinpoche giving the ultimate 'You're fired' to the poor chap until he fled from the house but later managed to make a miraculous come back reminded me of one Zen story I read.... http://www.ymba.org/parable/parabfr3.htm
"An elderly Zen Master, feeling that his time would soon come, hit upon an expedient to help his chief disciple achieve a Great Awakening. He decided to drive the younger monk out of his complacency through an elaborate plan to "frame" him as a thief in disguise.

In the middle of the night, the Zen master would hide one of his valuable Buddha images and then cry "Thief, thief." The younger monks would all rush in, but there was no thief to be seen. Finally, after the third time, as the chief disciple ran into his room, the old master grabbed him and threw him on the floor, "This is the thief. At last I have caught you red-handed!" The chief disciple was then denounced to one and all throughout the land.

The accused monk, once the teacher of a huge congregation, now completely disgraced and with nowhere to turn, his ego totally shattered, mulled over this flagrant injustice and at times even contemplated suicide. After several weeks of utter desperation, he suddenly experienced a Great Awakening: life is a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow. This is the very teaching he had been trying to impart to the novices for so many years! He then rushed to the Master, who upon seeing him, stood up, greeted him warmly and conferred the succession upon him."

I recall one late Ven Master's words...
'It's all a test of our mind, resolve and conditions...one misstep and it's all over again"

In my long years of searching for a Guide in many places, this book has reminded me of a deep reflection: 'Am I fit/ready/worthy for discipleship?' Hence, this present moment and all moments are so precious...

Recently someone asked me in a jest:
'So when are you going to take Refuge with Rinpoche?
My answer was: (with clasped hands)
'Ami tuo fo!' (Amitabha Buddha!)
Comment #2 was deleted by its author on 2010-05-02 18:51
3. 2010-05-02 18:51  
David book is full of inspiration, is a MUST to buy!!!

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