A Day in The Forest

Dec 3, 2012 | Views: 209

by Tom Mellors

“Be generous with the bug spray people. The sandflies and mosquitos have been disturbed by the construction and will bite through your clothes. You won’t notice now but in a couple days you’ll itch like hell.”

JP’s advice sank in as I tied my boot laces. Bugs that bite through your clothes? Really?

My introduction to the Malaysian countryside was marked by a shower of bug spray – a modern-day ritual which prompted a sense of adventure mixed with dread.

I didn’t fancy being an insect’s lunch or waking up to red blotches all over my arms. But what kind of traveller would I be if I turned down an opportunity to see the verdant jungle of the tropics, the land people describe as the ‘real Malaysia’?

I was with a group of around 70 people, most of whom work or volunteer for Kechara. We came to see the land which will become the Kechara Forest Retreat – a retreat centre which promises quiet, solitude and simple living for the overworked urbanites of nearby towns and cities.

A tour had been arranged followed by an audience with His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche, the spiritual advisor to the Kechara Buddhist  organisation. A reincarnated high lama, Rinpoche grew up in America before entering the illustrious Gaden Shartse Monastery in India. He came to Malaysia in 1992 to spread the Dharma and within a decade Kechara was founded. City-slicker turned outdoorsman; our tour guide JP Thong wore a baseball cap, wellingtons and his trademark white shirt. He led us through the gates into the 35 acre plot of land. Immediately surrounding us were acres of marshland; wild reed grass hid the mysterious sounds of cicadas and swamp frogs. It was hard to imagine that all of this will be developed one day, that this wilderness will become a destination for people from miles around.

JP led us along a dirt track which cut through the marshland and snaked up a small hill. As we climbed the hill somebody noticed hundreds of red ants scurrying around on the floor. They hopped on people’s boots and ascended their trousers. We quickened our pace while trying to brush off the hungry little bugs. When we reached the top of the hill, the view of the surrounding greenery which stretched as far as the eye could see was well worth it.

From the top of a hill we gazed at the forested mountains in the distance. Where we stood is where the ladrang will be, JP explained. Looking at the fields below, I was impressed by the sheer scale of the undertaking. A lot of work to clear swathes of forest had been done already, but there is a long way to go before the distant forest enclave becomes a group of cabins ready to welcome Kechara staff for retreat. Further yet before the Kechara Forest Retreat would open its doors to weary workers from the city; people who are tired of traffic jams and shopping malls, who crave fresh air, greenery and peace.

Over the next two hours JP described how the Kechara Forest Retreat will be laid out.  The focus point for the retreat will be Shakyumuni World Peace Hall – a meditation hall which will seat up to 3,000 people. There, people can practice sitting meditation and find clarity and peace within. Kechara Forest Retreat seeks to blend the spiritual with the practical, so there will also be an organic garden and candle making facility. Candles will be made on premises and visitors will be able to burn them in the Butterlamp House as an offering to the Buddha.

After two hours hiking – and a few more baptismal showers of bug repellent – we rested our tired bodies in the temporary compound. As evening fell, we enjoyed a tasty vegetarian dinner provided by Kechara’s vegetarian restaurant. From here we filtered into the main tent, where Rinpoche would have a private audience with us. Upon entering and being seated, Rinpoche gently waved a traditional damaru drum while beginning the audience with a prayer.

During our audience he talked about how his inspiration for Kechara Forest Retreat was a spiritual community in Scotland called Findhorn. Since learning about Findhorn as a child, Rinpoche has wanted to create something similar: a place where people of all religions can practise meditation in a natural environment.

The Kechara Village within the Kechara Forest Retreat would be such a spiritual community, where Rinpoche’s students, who he fondly referred to as Kecharians, would be able to spend time relaxing and communing with their inner selves within nature.

Rinpoche envisions visitors learning two kinds of meditation at the retreat – walking meditation and sitting meditation. Both meditations can be practised by anybody – you don’t have to be a Buddhist. Although they appear simple, these meditations will help calm your mind; improving your memory, concentration and focus. Rinpoche ended his audience by handing out gifts and chanting one last prayer. Buddhists in the audience chanted along, filling the tent with the resonate harmony of Tibetan prayer.

A day to the countryside turned into a day of rituals, from insect repellent showers to ancient Tibetan chants. Simple rituals, sacred rituals – all of which share that common truth Van Morrison sang about: Behind the ritual, You’ll find the spiritual.

Leaving the night-time forest I felt comfortably tired from the long walk. I needn’t have worried about the bugs. Spiritual or not, I soaked up enough DEET to ward off every insect for miles.


2 Responses to A Day in The Forest

  1. Judy Lam on Dec 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Tom’s visit to Malaysia is both adventurous and meaningful, with a fully guided tour for the day and an audience with Rinpoche. I liked the way Tom inject a sense of humor into his encounters with the bugs, cicadas and frogs! May he bring these memories with him to UK and come back to KFR for more picture perfect photographers!

  2. deborah on Dec 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Nice article Tom. I’m glad you enjoyed your KFR experience well.

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