In June 2013, long-time Tzu Chi volunteer Khoo Khean Yee, a distributer of herbs for 28 years, learnt that he was suddenly saddled with a bad debt of more than $200,000 in cash. At that point, he only had about $3,000 cash left on hand, and with his own additional liabilities of $500,000, he was at a great loss as to what to do.
Years ago, when the young Khoo was still working for others, he had a friend who constantly encouraged him to set up his own business. After he ventured out on his own, this friend was a great help to his business. They had mutual trust in each other, and his friend was also very responsive to Khoo’s activities at Tzu Chi, having donated much in terms of money as well as medical equipment to the organization. Whenever Khoo’s friend needed to place orders for goods, he would allow Khoo to bill him as necessary without a further thought. Now that Khoo was under a mountain of debt, apart from the huge financial losses that he had to bear, what was more upsetting to him was the sudden disintegration of 28 years of trust he had placed in a friend.
With Great Resentment Comes Great Torment
Khoo, the current Deputy CEO of the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), had been involved in Tzu Chi’s missions for more than ten years. Upon receiving the bad news, he could not but question why he was in such a sorry state—how could it be that the good he had done all these years in Tzu Chi had reaped such misfortune?
Based on the trust he had in his friend, Khoo had not thought to question further and readily lent the money out of goodwill to tide him over. It was truly a shock to Khoo then, when he learnt that his friend had chosen to end his life after succumbing to his troubles. Prior to the tragedy, though Khoo had caught wind of ominous rumours circulating around, his multiple attempts at questioning his friend had not yielded any result; his own heart was thus already filled with doubt and suspicion.
His inability to accept such a manifestation of impermanence played out before his very eyes resulted in a stream of negative thoughts surfacing in Khoo’s mind in quick succession. After attending the funeral, Khoo had to help the bereaved family handle the goods which his friend had left behind. He admitted candidly that at that point, he simply could not find it in his heart to forgive his friend and was terribly upset.
“Should I try and recover this debt through lawful means without sparing their reputation, or should I pursue other worldly means to demand his family return the sum to me?” Khoo had once mulled over this question.
Family Support and Love Prevails
During this period, Khoo’s wife Li Guo Xiang and his children were his pillars of mental support. Not wanting to worry his family, he downplayed his bad debt by vaguely describing it in tens of thousands. Li did not blame him nor his friend, and instead consoled Khoo, encouraging him to forgive. She persuaded him to visit the bereaved family and see if he could render them any help.
Though the wife of his deceased friend responded with: “If you intend to demand repayment, then don’t come,”Li still advised Khoo to face it all with an open heart. Finally, after his wife had persuaded him thrice, Khoo reluctantly appeared at the home of the bereaved family. “A human life matters more than anything else. Money is not the most important, it can be earned back even if it has been lost.”Li felt that what really mattered then, was to comfort the grieving family members.
Though Khoo had held himself back from considering the various harsh measures to deal with the situation, yet his heart was most unwilling to take it all lying down. Seeing this, his eldest daughter Yan Yu felt sad. “My father is normally a happy-go-lucky type of person. This is the first time I’ve seen him this depressed, so I know that this came as a big blow to him.”
Though she frequently had disagreements with her father, she had seen how much sacrifices he had put in for the family and knew she had to give him her support. As Khoo was one who often hid his troubles under a carefree exterior, she decided to talk to him about what had happened in order that he could have an outlet to express his emotions. She even watched the movie “Un Secret”with him, hoping to remind him of the importance of positive thinking. She is convinced that if one thinks that there will definitely be a solution to a problem at hand, then that problem will lend itself more readily to a solution.
As the money that Khoo had loaned to his friend was actually meant for his daughter’s educational expenses in Australia, he had apologized to her. Yan Yu though, had never blamed him and her tutor had even offered to lend her a sum of money so that she could proceed overseas for studies with peace of mind.
Accepting One’s Karma With Joy
“My daughter says that the money was possibly a sum which I owed him in a previous life, and so I have to return it in this life.” Khoo says with a smile. He now views what happened as an opportunity to set an example for his children by practicing forgiveness. In those moments when misgivings surface in his mind, he will remind himself that the law of cause and effect is working silently behind the scenes. Perhaps the money was meant to be placed in “safekeeping”with his friend where it would naturally be returned to him in the next life. Afterall, Khoo and his friend shared a close affinity with each other and in the past, he had indeed received much help from him in his career.
Unwilling to burden fellow Tzu Chi members with his troubles, Khoo had only mentioned the matter to the CEO of Tzu Chi, Low Swee Seh. Sharing his own similar experience with Khoo, Low encouraged him with these words: “Businessmen will inevitably encounter some form of unrecoverable debt in the course of doing business.”
It was Khoo’s experience that whenever he hit a bad patch in life, he would somehow receive the help he needed. When July approached, he was caught up with the intensive rehearsals for the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation and had no time to dwell on the matter anymore.
“Even Dharma Master Wu Da who had been cultivating for ten lifetimes could not escape from his karmic retribution, what more to speak of myself? While Master Wu Da was plagued by a human-faced sore, I only have financial troubles to deal with.”With this thought, Khoo was able to put the past behind him, knowing that willing acceptance of one’s karma enables one to face what comes with equanimity. Through this incident, Khoo also realized that he was neither broad-minded nor sanguine enough where money was concerned.
During a volunteer sharing session on 21 December 2013, Khoo admitted: “Without Tzu Chi, I would still be brooding over the incident. Tzu Chi is not an insurance company, (being involved in charitable undertakings) does not guarantee that your life will be smooth-sailing and without its challenges, but it gives you the opportunity to internalize the teachings before your meet your obstacles and ensures that you can surmount them.”
Since the beginning of the new year in 2014, Khoo has been walking over to the nearby Mount Faber at 6.45am in the morning, and with his smartphone, he would listen to Master Cheng Yen’s teachings as he trekked up the hill. Sometimes, he would practice the sign language used in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation together with his wife as they walked.
Resolve Negative Affinities, Build Positive Ones
With a change in one’s mindset, fortunate circumstances arise. Though Khoo had not disclosed the matter to his counterparts in the industry, it was his friends and relatives who were also his customers, that took the initiative to enquire about his financial circumstances.
In his time of need, one of his customers placed a large order with Khoo so as to assist him in his cash flow. What was most unexpected was that some customers even took the initiative to settle their payments even before the due date was up. While Khoo had thought he was saddled with a huge problem initially, he soon realized that the problem had resolved itself even without him knowing it.
In favourable circumstances, we must bear the law of impermanence in mind; in times of difficulty we must remind ourselves of cause and effect. Khoo feels that he is fortunate to be able to participate in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation and come to the realization that the law of karma never fails. Having experienced impermanence, he also understands that as long as we accept karma with equanimity, the problem can be resolved. Today, Khoo has chosen the path of forgiveness, and even invited his friend’s family members to watch the stage adaptation. Though they did not turn up in the end, Khoo’s heart is still at peace; he did not forget the kindness he had once received, and if there was any resentment, he had let go of them all now.