True story as told by Mr Sid Geel:
When I worked for Burmah oil in the 1960s, a young man working for the company came to Burmah as an oil field manager. At the time, it was commonplace to have one’s wife accompany you on long-term overseas positions. The managers were provided with a company house and three, sometimes four servants.
I should mention, the servants were exceptional, as they were paid four times the local rate: and none would wish to lose their jobs. One of the best ways to keep their employment was to learn to speak English. However, they had a strict code of conduct and would never talk to their employees unless spoken to, and I mention this because it is relevant to the story I’m about to tell.
We will call the couple Jon and Jane Smith:
They arrived in Burmah with high expectations. Becoming a field manager would always lead to better jobs within the company. Our happy couple were given a large company house overlooking the bay. Unfortunately, the garden was neglected, something of a rare occurrence. Its previous occupants had left under a cloud, and the property became neglected.
It was a difficult time for any new Burmah Wife. They quickly had to learn about local traditions and the tremendous social impact of connecting their husbands through a social network. Burmah Wives were expected to put on minor parties and entertain regularly. Do not think for a second they resented this part of living overseas. Many made lifelong friendships. And do not forget, this was an oil business: substantial wages and bonus packages meant they would buy large homes in England outright after only ten years of overseas service.
Jon and Jane became a popular part of Burmah Oil life. All went well for a year or so: however, Jon was a hard worker, the company ran through his blood. After a year, Jane became resentful of the long hours and felt she was giving more than she was given. Later she would recall that she could not understand why she felt this way. Jon also felt their marriage was under threat, and the more they attempted to work through the issues. The worse the ‘atmosphere’ became. Arguments over nothing became a common occurrence.
About a year after they arrived in Burmah, Jon made the mistake of staying overnight at Burmah House, our head office, where we had accommodation for single employees. The food and bars and servants made staying there very comfortable indeed. Although, no-one would tell Jon to remain at Burmah House when a company house was allocated was frowned upon. He was jeopardising his career. Burmah Oil was very much a family, and Husband and Wife overseas management was considered essential to stability. This policy had repercussions during the second world war: many European wives were taken prisoner by the occupying Japanese and endured the most horrific degradations.
Jane was readying herself for a return to England, and she knew the outcome would be catastrophic for her husband’s career. Many of the company wives had rallied around to give support and advice. But the stumbling block had become Jon: he was not prepared to give an inch: the situation seemed hopeless.
One morning a maid broke the rules:
She sat next to a wretched Jane who was in floods of tears. And she crossed the line, a line which could surly end in dismissal. She spoke on a personal level to her employer.
“Mrs Jane, I beg you to ask our local Buddhist priest to come to this house and talk to you. Please, think about this: I feel he could help”. Jane snapped at the woman and told her to get on with her work. The following day, the maid sat next to Jane and made the same request. Again Jane snapped at her, saying: “This is none of your business”. The following day the maid knew she would lose her job, so she came to work in her beautiful traditional clothes. She carried a single lotus flower. “I know I have lost my job: but I cannot leave without asking you for a third time to seek the local priest”.
Jane’s plight became worse:
Jon had not returned home for days, and everything was now on a knife-edge. Worse of all, the staff had lost their kind nature, and although sound in their work, there was nothing personal. No flowers in the rooms: food was plain and without the special presentation. Jon had no interest, and he’d not seen sight or sound of the house for days.
One afternoon Jane took a walk which took her miles away. She became lost. Almost at her whits end with fear, she saw a small temple and sitting next to the temple was the priest. He smiled and asked her why she looked so unhappy. “I’m lost”,, she replied. “Then I will take you home”. He stood up and said, “follow me”. He did not walk along the road; he walked along the wooded path: Jane had no option but to follow.
An hour or so later, Jane saw her house. Not a word had passed between her and the priest who walked a few metres in front of her. On arrival, she said, “I must reward you for your kindness” His answer “Some food and water: your servants will know what I will eat. Can we sit together looking over your garden while the food is being prepared?” Of course, they did so, and the frightened and lonely English girl and an old and wise Buddhist Priest exchanged few words. Jane was surprised to learn he’s been educated at Oxford University, and he’d come from a wealthy family. She was intrigued by this man: never had she felt so comfortable, and her unhappiness seemed to dissolve in his company. When he’d finished his meal, he said, “Many thanks for your kindnesses. I would suggest you employ two gardeners and return this garden to its beauty. And it would be best if you supervised the work. But remember, you must not change anything: whatever you find, you must restore. Please do this before you leave for England.” The priest left.
The following day Jane was again angry. She bathed and changed into a white cotton dress. She marched up to the maid’s house. The maid came out of her humble home: “Yes, Mrs Jones?” She saw Jane’s anger: and listen to seemingly unfair words: “Where the hell have you been? My house is a mess without you, and the staff have no idea about flowers and food and how to keep my clothes the way I like them. You will return tomorrow, and that is an order” The young girl was speechless, and Jane continued “, And I want you to find two good and reliable gardeners: I need the house to be tidy outside as well as in”.
The next morning Jane awoke to the smell of fresh food being cooked and the house being cleaned. Outside she could hear activity in the garden. Half an hour later, the maid bought Jane her breakfast and, while she ate, prepared her morning bath.
By mid-morning, Jane had walked around the house and could already see the changes. Flowers in the rooms and already a feeling of organisation and peace. She spoke to the maid “I wish for you to talk to me at any time and make suggestions for the smooth running of the house. And I would like you to provide Burmese food at least four times each week. If possible, I would like to come to the town with you once a week to meet local people and learn Burmese customs. The maid agrees to Jane’s wishes.
The Hidden Buddha
Later in the week, the gardeners had cleared the worse the weeds and overgrowth. At the far end of the garden was a small temple, which had fallen into disrepair. A giant Buddha lay facedown in the grass. Jane felt compelled to have the temple returned to its former state: gold paint and many colours repainted by a local artist who enhanced every aspect, and the area around the small temple became a sacred place. A few days later, she retraced the path to the priest’s temple and asked if he’d come and bless the Buddha and the temple.
When the garden was complete:
Jane asked the maid and her family to come to the Sunday Blessing of the now repaired temple, and she asked the maid to arrange for food and drinks for all who attended. The blessing was a fantastic success: and Jane realised she’d found purpose in her life.
It had been nearly six weeks since she’d seen Jon. Something which was frowned upon by the company. On a Friday evening, she listened to his car park at the front of the house. He was in a sorry state: and miserable and unhappy.
Jane greeted her husband as if he’d left for work that very morning. As he tried to explain, she put her finger to his lips and said, “That was yesterday, Jon: today is all that matters, and your dinner will be ready at seven, so you’d better get a move on”.
During dinner, he asked how she knew he’d be home that evening. “Your clothes and dinner have been ready every evening, Jon. That is all you need to know” She told him about the garden and the temple and the way she worked with the servants and was learning the Burmese language and customs. “If it makes you happy, that’s all that matters, Jane”.
Up until 1965, when Burmah Oil entered into financial issues Jon and Jane thrived in Burmah. She became loved by the community and respected by the directors of the company. Fluent in Burmese, she was a mediator in many small and large disputes. When the time came to leave Burmah, the local people put on a two day festival for Mrs Jane.
The maid (whose name is Hlaing) came to England and took on British nationality. She opened the first Burmese restaurant in Soho and prospered beyond her humble beginnings. Jane and Hlaing became equals, and close friends. After all, Jane owed her friend everything she had: once, she asked Hlaing about the priest.
“He knew the temple in your garden needed saving: it is a sacred place. Although he knew if he told you directly to find the Buddha and restore the temple: you would not do so. Therefore he asked you to tidy the garden. The Buddha saw your kindness and fairness and rewarded you for your actions”.
Jane already knew this, and any who enjoyed one of her garden party’s would testify: a small temple had pride of place in her garden. When asked about the fat Buddha, she’d always reply: “They (The Buddhas) are happiness and kindness and understanding. You do not have to believe in the Buddha or his teachings: but to respect another religion is the height of spiritual awareness”.
Many do not understand the message, those who do possess the secret of happiness and all aspects of prosperity.
See You Soon