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.
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.