From Villa to Vihara, the Story of VBR
It all began in the year 2012, when a gentleman named Ooi Lin Kah decided to purchase a two-acre land in the scenic hills of Balik Pulau, and turn it into his retirement abode and hobby farm.
The piece of land was part of an orchard farm owned by five generations of the Leow family, and Brother Ooi had bought it from a land investor who had earlier acquired the front portion of the durian farms from the Leow family, and partitioned up the land into one-acre lots for sale, complete with water supply from higher ground and access road. However, the old durian trees and some rubber trees which used to occupy the land, had been removed, leaving only two mangosteen trees at each lot.
Born and bred in Penang, Brother Ooi studied at Chung Ling High School before pursuing his university studies in Singapore. He decided to stay on in Singapore after completing his studies, entered the civil service as an engineer, got married and raised a loving family.
After his retirement, Brother Ooi had planned to spend his time in Penang and pursue his passion in hobby farming, as he loved Penang for obvious reasons. Needless to say, when he was introduced to the piece of land, it was “love at first sight” – the serenity, location, land profile and scenery captured his heart, and the rest is history.
Construction of a three-storey timber house began almost immediately with some skilled workers from Myanmar as well as the locals. 14 months later, in July 2013, the timber house stood proudly on the land, complete with electricity supplies, filtered water systems, telecoms, sewer with septic tank, etc. The main area of the house consists of a living hall, kitchen, dining room, a front balcony and a covered veranda at the back. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and downstairs, another three bedrooms with a small hall-cum-pantry. There were engineering challenges to stabilize the slopes, build the rock walls and new access. In later part, a ramp leading up from the front garden to the house entrance was constructed, as well as the addition of two toilets at the back of the house, and installation of awnings.
The quaint and cozy timber house quickly became a favourite retreat for the Ooi family and friends…. but unfortunately, Brother Ooi’s illness which was already showing symptoms even before he retired, became more evident and in late 2013, he was diagnosed with degenerative motor neuron disease. As his health condition deteriorates, Brother Ooi was not able to spend as much time at the beloved timber house, as he would like to, and he eventually became wheelchair bound in early 2017. However, the timber house continues to serve as the family’s retreat home, albeit without his presence.
The turning point came in mid 2017, when his sister, Chen Chen, attended a meditation retreat conducted by Chao Khun Keng. Inspired by his dhamma teachings, she decided to invite Chao Khun Keng to stay at the family’s timber house. Her invitation was accepted and Chao Khun came to stay for a period of time. Impressed with the quiet solitude of the timber home, Chao Khun recommended Luang Por Boon Chuay, a well-respected Thai forest monk, to come and spend his Vassa (Rains Retreat) at the Ooi family’s timber house. At that time, Luang Por was waiting for recommendation of a suitable place to enter Vassa B.E. 2560 (2017). Luang Por arrived from Thailand just a few days before commencement of Vassa, and was respectfully received by Brother Ooi, his sister, Chen Chen, along with many other devotees who were all very excited and feeling blessed. After assessing the site, Luang Por, together with Bhante Khema, Bhante Yo and Bhante Hong, concluded that the place was suitable and agreed to spend his Vassa at the timber home, as recommended by Chao Khun Keng.
Everyone rejoiced upon hearing the wonderful news and Brother Ooi then took the opportunity to request Luang Por to give the place a name. After thinking for a while, Luang Por said: “BoonRaksā“, hence the birth of Villa BoonRaksā, an expression in Thai that means “a villa that is nurtured by merits, cared for and protected by merits”. Luang Por also shared with Brother Ooi about his spinal injury and how he used his mind to manage and overcome this injury, encouraging him to always chant the mantra ‘Buddho, Buddho, Buddho’. Brother Ooi was highly motivated and felt a sudden urge to know more about Buddhism, hence, he decided to stay on for a longer period of time at the now named “Villa BoonRaksā (VBR)”, to learn more dhamma from Luang Por. After searching for answers throughout his life, Brother Ooi finally found faith in Buddhism. He became a Buddhist in Sept 2017 and was blessed with his head and eyebrows shaved by Luang Por and Bhante Khema. Deeply inspired by Luang Por’s teaching “Keep the Mind Still, the Body Belongs to Nature”, Brother Ooi came out with the idea to design T-shirt that embodies the teaching. A limited edition of the T-shirts were printed and distributed to devotees.
Luang Por Boon Chuay’s Vassa stay in Penang provided a very rare opportunity to the laity to learn the dhamma practice of the Thai Forest Tradition. Devotees came from as far as Johor and even Singapore, to offer dana and to listen to Luang Por’s dispensation. During Vassa, Luang Por also paid visits of goodwill to monasteries in Perak, Kedah and Penang, and organizes life liberation activities, i.e. the act of releasing animals back into the wild. Luang Por also planted two trees near Villa BoonRaksā, to bless the place.
The Vassa of B.E. 2560 also presented yet another rare opportunity for devotees to visit Luang Por Boon Chuay’s monastery in Bangkok, the Wat Purithat Patitharam, in conjunction with the official opening of Luang Por Jiak’s Memorial Hall by the Sangharaja or the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, in end August 2017. The devotees also met the Sangharaja in person to pay their respects, together with Chao Khun Keng. They also visited Luang Por Boon Chuay’s elder brother, Luang Ta Den as well as Luang Por Gunhah. It was the experience of a lifetime for the devotees who were blessed to have Luang Por Boon Chuay leading the memorable trip.
To mark the successful completion of Vassa B.E.2560, a Phapa ceremony was held on 7 October 2017. It was a very special event for the Penang devotees. More than 30 monks from all over Malaysia, including Thailand and Singapore, graced the meritorious occasion. The Phapa also saw the participation of more than 500 devotees, including a 40-strong group from Thailand, led by Nong Bee. Everyone happily took part in offering food and requisites to the Sangha, listened to dhamma talks and chants of blessings by the monks.
The following year, as the Vassa B.E.2561 (2018) approaches, Brother Ooi together with other devotees requested Chao Khun Keng to send monks to VBR so that devotees could continue to learn the dharma and perform dana. Everyone rejoiced when Ajahn Huat Poh came with Phra Nob. Ajahn Huat Poh was the embodiment of dhamma practice, inspiring many with his daily chanting, meditation and dhamma talk sessions which had greatly benefited the lay community. The dhamma talks by Ajahn Huat Poh were very insightful and practical to the practitioners. During the Vassa, VBR was very honoured to receive the visits of Chao Khun Keng and Luang Ta Siri, both of whom gave very enlightening dhamma talks. We were also privileged to have Chao Khun Keng leading the Phapa ceremony at the end of Vassa, with about 30 monks in attendance.
For Vassa B.E. 2562 (2019), the devotees were blessed with the return of Ajahn Huat Poh, this time, with Phra Klai, providing yet another precious opportunity for the lay people to learn the dhamma, practice meditation and participate in the Uposatha evening chanting sessions. During this period, a group of devotees mooted the idea of acquiring VBR and donating it to the Sangha. From the very first moment of hearing this suggestion, Brother Ooi had been very supportive of the idea. However, the plan had to be shelved temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Devotees decided to pursue the idea once again upon Ajahn Huat Poh’s return to VBR for Vassa B.E.2563 (2020). With the blessings from Chao Khun Keng, the acquisition started in earnest from August 2020.
And so it is, from Villa BoonRaksā to Vihara BoonRaksā, the transformation of VBR, from a beloved timber Villa which has produced many happy memories as the Ooi family retreat home, and subsequently as a place of stay for the Sangha during Vassa, to officially becoming a Vihara, a spiritual sanctuary for the monastics, as well as the laity. From Villa to Vihara, it was a story that was beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle, and beautiful in the end.
The doer of good delights here and hereafter; he delights in both the worlds. The thought, “Good have I done,” delights him, and he delights even more when gone to realms of bliss.Dhammapada
Editor’s note: B.E denotes “Buddhist Era”
The above story was a personal account as told by Brother Ooi Lin Kah, in his own words, dated August 27, 2020, and edited for clarity.