TAIWAN. Kaohsiung. 1998. Lung-Fa Tang Temple. Mental patients

Dear Mom,


Though it has been 30 years since we've seen each other, I can still vividly remember your dejected face. I write this letter to let you know I am all well now and I have been promoted as a squad leader in Long Fa Tang Temple since I have behaved myself and never produced any trouble for Master Shih Kai-fong.

When I was ill, you always cried and reproached yourself: "It is a sin, I am cursed, what did I do wrong in my previous life?" I hated those pills and shots that only made me feeble and dizzy, but they said I had to take them because I was deranged. Now, no medicine, no shots, I can work as a useful man. I know it was the Master who saved me. Please weep no more, because your son is not a lunatic anymore.

They say Long Fa Tang is our final sanctuary, but I don’t want to die in the backyard of a chicken farm. Will you come if I promise I won’t play with fire again? Actually I haven’t had the chance to do so since June 1970, the day you brought me to the Master to be his first disciple.

You told the Master, “Be careful, my son likes to play with fire.” The Master mumbled, “I have just built my thatched hut and I can’t have you burning it down,” he got a cord and tied me to his waist.

Day in and day out, linked by the straw rope, we went to tend the pigs, to feed the chickens, to eat and to bathe. I hated to be chained, especially when I was forced to stand outside the earth closet waiting for him to take a crap, until another disciple arrived with his father.

Like me, his head was shaved after his father left, but this time, his waist was chained to mine. I was happy to become the leader on the chain.

At first, it is a straw rope, then a nylon rope, later an iron chain, and now a steel chain that the Master calls ‘the chain of compassion.’ You can tell by the changes that we are doing good business.

To join the ‘Long Fa Tang Big Band’ was one of the highlights of my life. Mom, can you imagine that I can play the trumpet? They said I played like Elvis, my hero. One day, our band members, dressed in mourning clothes, went to a legislator’s home to present a ‘musical offering.’

The legislator had suggested that those who living in Long Fa Tang be supervised by the new Mental Health Law. The Master warned it meant that we would be forced to take medicine and shots. We didn’t want to suffer again so we played somber music for him to show our fear.

That was in the late 1980s. I still love those songs we played, though they said that they predicted at somebody in the building would die soon.

I thought it might be me who was going to die soon and be buried with those dead chickens, but the legislator thought it might be him, so he promptly issued a statement saying that he was not against Long Fa Tang. Again, the Master saved us from medicine and shots. This is good, but frankly sometimes I am desperate for any doctor when there is somebody suddenly dying in the temple like the chickens. The Master can’t save us from the death.

There are tourists who visit us for entertainment every weekend.

To amuse them, we are summoned to play pop music then show them a video: “Without pills, without shots, Long Fa Tang has created a miracle in Taiwanese psychiatry,” again and again, in the video the Master proudly describes the use of a chain as a mark of pride, though some of us hate it to death. These visitors say the Master will win the Nobel Prize of Medicine sooner or later and generously empty their pockets to donate lots of money to the Buddha. “The alms given will be very good for your transmigration,” says the Master.

I am always trying to find your face among them. I don’t know if you like the music since I never heard you sing a song before, but don’t you like chickens? I remembered you were so happy whenever our old hen laid an egg; you would immediately break it into my mouth and ask me to swallow it. You said it is good for my health. Mom, now we own the biggest chicken farm in Taiwan, no, in Asia, no in the world, because we have one million chickens.

Have you ever seen one million chickens? One million! One million!

The endless crackling of one million chickens are different pieces of a symphony-some excite and some depress you since we sell many eggs and make a lot of money, I have never been paid for my hard work. The farm keeps getting bigger and bigger but we only have around 700 people here.

Imagine how busy we are! Everyday, from five a.m. to six p.m., we feed chickens, gather eggs, and clean up all that shit!

Any lazybones refusing to work is punished severely. The ‘chain of compassion’ becomes the ‘chain of compunction.’ You know, as a squad leader, my job is to make sure everybody is working because the chickens keep eating, laying and shitting!

“Hey, you! Go to the ‘shit sweeping team!” I have the authority to order those who don’t obey me; only those who listen to me are sent to the egg collection or feeding teams. Everybody is afraid of sweeping up the shit barefoot, but the Master says it is a way for us to learn the Buddha’s wisdom.

But Mom, I’ll tell you a secret-promise me not to leak to the Master, because you are the only person I trust in the world. Today, there are five black sheep that have run away and are calling the Long Fa Tang a ‘Black Jail.’

I was very surprised to see them on the television after work. Watching the television is a privilege only for the squad leaders and all of us were so astonished that those five guys had squeezed themselves into this small box. They said they risked their lives to escape this asylum in the hope that no more mental patients will be sent to Long Fa Tang. They must be crazy to go out. I tried once but was found by the guards and beaten almost to death.

“ Some of us are stripped and tied our beds with iron chains; others are hit on the soles of their feet with bamboo staves if they are not obedient,” said one of them. Well, they deserved to be punished because they don’t follow the Master’s orders.

“Young female patients are summoned by the abbot Shih Kai-fong to his room for Buddhist treatment,” another said “Nobody knows what happens in his room.” How dare they call the Master by his name! I must report to the Master tomorrow how mad I was to witness their degeneracy.

Then a nun suddenly came to shut off the television and urged us to sleep. It was the first time I lay on the bed before 8 o’clock and it was too early to fall asleep, so I got up to write this letter. I have a bad feeling that something will happen here soon. The feeling comes from the strange quietness. It is always quiet in the temple since a nun’s rigorous glance would be enough to force us to do anything. But the quietude tonight makes me quiver that something will happen to me.

Is it because I watched the television? Remember I am a squad leader now! I don’t want to be chained any more. To tell you the truth, Mom, I am sick of eating slop with millions of flies in it, bathing chained with hundreds of rotten slobs, sleeping with schizoid schleps on a long wooden board, and feigning compliance with the Master’s bullshit.

Three decades are long enough to learn the Buddha’s wisdom, and it is time for me to get rid of the chain and start my new life. Who knows which nutty guy might kill me by the chain someday! Mom, you can’t argue with a man with persecutory delusion.

Last summer, with the chain wrapped around his partner’s neck, a nut killed one of our squad leaders. The crazy guy asserted the squad leader ‘controlled his brain for more then 10 years’ and he couldn’t stand it any longer. It is untrue, because I know they were chained together for only 9 years. To me, it is just like yesterday.

The killer’s family sent him back here after the interrogation at the police and the Master told us that it was his fate. Is it our fate that we are all going to die in chain? Mom, I am not afraid to dies soon. But before putting my toes into the grave, you will be happy to know that now I am a squad leader and I want to play my trumpet for you. Not now, it is so quiet that I don’t want to make any noise to cover your soft voice of calling me to go back home.

Yes, Mom, I promise you not to play with fire at home; you can chain me with you and I will do nothing except follow you. I already know that normal people play trumpet and only the abnormal play with fire.

Come to see how normal your son is now, Mom, will you?


Your son


PS. Mom, it has been 30 years since anyone called me by my name; do you still remember it?


Letter of a Madman

By Cheryl Lai, January 21, 2000

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