A teacher’s work, duties and responsibilities go beyond
mere teaching of academic subjects to help students pass or
score in their examinations and eventually be successful in
getting a job. A true teacher has to see to the development
of the students in various aspects: the physical, intellectual,
emotional and spiritual. He also has to play the role of a
parent, a guide, a friend, a mentor and a counselor.
Over the more than 35 years of teaching and handling
students, I have found myself busy many a time to help,
guide and counsel students. There have been ‘counseling
cases’, some of them pretty tough and challenging ones.
One such case stood out as one quite unforgettable. It was
the case of Ah Kooi.
I first knew Ah Kooi (not his real name) way back in the
late 1980s. He was a student in Level 4 (for primary 4
students) of the Sunday School in our local Buddhist
Association and I was one of the teachers who taught him.
Ah Kooi was an extremely ‘difficult’ child … he had
already a ‘reputation’ in his day-school … he would breach
school discipline rules and he got into real trouble with the
teachers and his classmates …playing truant, being a
nuisance in class, not doing his homework, fighting,
stealing, gambling and ‘gangster-like’ behavior.
Ah Kooi was the only son and his parents, you could
imagine, were really worried and troubled. Counseling by
the parents and the school counselors did not seem to have
any effect and harsh methods of discipline including
corporal punishment did not work either.
Ah Kooi was hot-tempered, restless, ill-mannered and
prone to aggressive and violent behavior.
Ah Kooi’s mother’s health was greatly affected by so many
negative incidents involving her only son … she was
literally sick with worry and suffered heart palpitations
whenever reports came from the school that her son had got
into trouble again. His aggression was terrible … at
primary school, he had thrown chairs from the first floor
on to his ‘enemies’ at the ground floor!
His parents visited me a few times to find a solution to their
son’s ‘problems’. We discussed things over and I
suggested some psychological ways to transform Ah Kooi.
The parents also began to learn and practice some
psychology to help them understand Ah Kooi better and to
cope with the trying times handling him.
Ah Kooi received religious education and counseling at our
Buddhist Association right from his Standard 4 days until
he finished his SPM in school.
At the Primary level, he attended the various Children’s
Motivation Camps and during his Secondary School years,
he followed our religious classes, our community guidance
classes and participated in the various self-development
Youth Camps … both in Chinese and English. Of course,
things could not change overnight and there were still
negative incidents that happened in his day school in town
as well as in our Association.
I remember an incident when Ah Kooi was in Form 2 and
he slapped a gentle girl in his class. It was a great breach
of school discipline and the school told his parents that he
would be expelled. His mother approached me and pleaded
for help so that her son could still have a school to study
in. I went to see a friend of mine who was a Senior
Assistant at Ah Kooi’s school. We discussed matters over
and a way out was found … Ah Kooi had to be transferred
to another school.
In one of the counseling sessions that I had with Ah Kooi,
I tried to find out more about what happened and to get a
better understanding of Ah Kooi’s mind. It was on this
occasion that I first saw the ‘demonic’ traits in Ah Kooi.
His personality was transformed and his behavior was
rather bizarre. Anyway, it was patience, understanding,
love and compassion that could calm Ah Kooi down.
Over the years, religious education and counseling did bring
positive changes in Ah Kooi … albeit a slow or gradual
I recall another incident when Ah Kooi got into real trouble.
He had lost a lot of money in a World Cup Football betting.
The money was borrowed from some ‘loan sharks’ and one
day, some ‘bad hats’ (who must have connections with the
‘loan sharks’) came right to our Association to vandalize Ah
Kooi’s motor bike. Ah Kooi was at that time attending one of
my Community Guidance Classes.
I came to know the following week that Ah Kooi’s parents
later settled his debts.
The incident I remembered most vividly about Ah Kooi’s
‘demonic’ personality happened during one of our early Youth
Camps. Ah Kooi had finished his PMR and was a participant
in the Camp. One of the programs of the Camp was a Talent
Show to depict the different types of beings in the heaven, hell
and on earth. I wrote the script for the show. Each of the 5
groups had to send 6 members to play the roles of ‘A hell
being’, ‘A ghost’, ‘An animal’, ‘A demon’, ‘A human’ and ‘A
heavenly being’. The groups had about a week prior to the
start of the Camp to do all the preparation work … costumes,
props, dramatization practices and so on. I was the advisor to
one of the 5 groups… unfortunately not the group Ah Kooi
was in. It was too late when I realized that Ah Kooi’s group
had picked him for the role as a demon.
On the night of the Talent Show, where I was the MC, a most
shocking incident took place. When the time came for the 5
groups to parade their ‘Demonic models’ and for the models
to act out their roles, the situation nearly went out of control
because of Ah Kooi. He was too ‘real’ as a ‘demon’ … the
other ‘demons’ were terrified and I got apprehensive as Ah
Kooi did not seem to be just acting … he ‘became a demon’!
With his ‘weapon’, he was behaving most aggressively. I was
afraid something untoward might happen. With whatever
capability, understanding and wisdom I had, I managed to
‘cast the demon’ out of Ah Kooi. It was a relief when the
whole Talent Show was over. It was at around 10.30 pm and
the audience had left when something unexpected happened.
Ah Kooi apologized to all the group members, the Organizing
Committee and Advisors, for his ‘demonic’ behavior. He was
shedding real tears. I was touched beyond words. Everybody
forgave Ah Kooi.
Later in the night, I had a long private heart to heart talk with
Ah Kooi. He said to me, “Sir, is there a demon within me?
Had I lived before in a demonic world? Will my character
become more and more demonic? I feel at times I am a “2 in
1”. I spent some time talking with Ah Kooi giving him
counseling advice. Deep down inside me, I knew he could
transform gradually and overcome his ‘demonic’ traits.
Ah Kooi, after finishing his SPM, continued his education
elsewhere. I met up with him a couple of times when he was
furthering his studies in college. He had become a mature
young man with many good qualities to be proud of. I knew he
would be successful in his career and family … thanks to the
Dhamma, patience, understanding and educational guidance.
I have lost touch with Ah Kooi over the years. When I look
back with vivid memories of the years I associated with this
student, I feel happy that the power and ‘miracle’ of Dhamma,
educational guidance and counseling can transform even a
‘demon’ like Ah Kooi into a ‘saint’. Even Angulimala the
serial killer could become a Saint at the end!
* In every person, there is some good and there are also
weaknesses or bad traits. In some, the bad traits can be quite
challenging to remove.
* Patience, understanding and love can help the parents,
teachers or counselors handle trying characters in a better way.
* No ‘bad student’ is really beyond ‘redemption’. What a
person becomes is dictated or influenced by many factors such
as his past karma, inherent biological tendencies, the home
circumstances and parenting, education and the environment,
peer groups, the mass media and so on.
* To effectively help and counsel, one has to develop himself
in terms of knowledge, education, love, compassion and
wisdom. For this, nothing beats the Dhamma way.