Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Buddhism in Asia Singapore Leg Day 1, 13th May

Sorry for being gone for so long, now I'm going to update this blog heavily. So before the trip, we travelled to various places in Singapore to the a feel of what form does Buddhism takes in Singapore.

Our day started with a briefing session in USP building, level 7. There I was, at 9:10 a.m. thinking that I'm late despite rushing on to school all the way from Woodlands. But then there was a change in schedule and venue, and I'm spared of the shame of being late on the very first day.

So our speakers are both members of the Sangha and arrive at around 9:40 a.m. Venerable Bodhi, whom I've meet before in NUSBS Dharma Camp and Venerable Chuan Cheng from the Singapore Buddhist Acedemic research. Venerable Chuan Cheng talked about his experience as one of the director in the Buddhist Acedemy, apparantly, the Acedemy is for members of the Sangha to train in adecemic research at an undergraduate level, and was finding hard for the support of other Universities to acknowledge their programme and take their students to Masters and Ph.D levels.

Venerable Bodhi continued the discussion by briefing us on Buddhist Research. The history of modern Buddhist research came from the Westerners discovering relics of the Buddha in India and verified that the Buddha in Buddhism was a real person that existed, hence the "historical Buddha". Then they started to take interest in what Buddhism is, which text of Buddhism came first and so on.

Buddhist research itself can be divided into many different parts: the research into Vinaya, and textual studies on the Tripitaka (as we shall see later this is taken up by the people in Fo Guang Shan) , the Politics (Thailand is one interesting example of how much the influcence of religion can affect politics) , Sociopolitical (same as before, just adding a social to it), the History of the spreading of Buddhism( of what happened after the parinibbana of the Buddha to the present day) , Neuroscience (where the workings of the mind as described in Buddhist text are compared to the findings of science), Transnational Buddhism (different forms of Buddhism in different countries, their interactions, their similarities and differences), Transreligion, modernisation of Buddhism and so on.

Then we had a nice luncheon with the Venerables in Enginneeing Canteen, during which I asked them if I can be a monk and hold Ph.Ds, and the answer is of course, yes, but if it is Physics, then they adviced me to fulfil whatever worldly chase that I want to first before becoming a monk.

After the lunch, we went to Geylang to visit the Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF). We do our first time introduction in the bus, and then it's Venerable Chuan Guang's time to show us around the modern building of the SBF. Inside the 6? or 7? story building, there are the main shrine hall, and classrooms, and office rooms. During the tour around SBF building, the others were puzzled by my acquaintance with the second venerable of the day, and it's from the same camp.

Later on we had a talking session with Venerable and he outlined the objective of SBF.

SBF Objectives

To unify all Buddhist institutions and Buddhists in Singapore.

To observe Buddhist precepts, to practise Buddhism and to propagate Dharma.

To promote culture, education and social welfare.

Singapore Buddhist Federation(SBF) was initiated and formed by the chinese community of Buddhist in 1948.It is the parent body of Singapore Buddhist organisations and followers.It consist of the following components:

The Singapore Buddhist Federation Foundation
was set up in the late 1990s. It was renamed as the Singapore Buddhist Community Foundation on 24 June 2005 to reflect more appropriately its objective to serve the community. It aims to bring relief to those suffering in the following areas:

  • Extending assistance to victims of disasters (e.g. floods, famines, pandemics and wars).
  • Offering help to individuals and their family members who are unable to work due to old age, sickness or accidents.
  • Awarding bursaries to students from primary to tertiary levels.
  • Supporting organisations that share similar objectives as the Foundation (e.g. hospitals, educational institutions, refugee camps, orphanages).
  • Sponsoring educational, cultural and religious organisations.
The above is taken from the website itself. His blog is :

According to him, Buddhism can be classified as Theravada-Sri Langka, Burma, Thai, Cambodia and Mahayana Buddhism-China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Tibet (Vrajayana), 2 main schools within Mahayana is Chan (Zen) and Pure Land Buddhism. At the question and answer session, he shared that if someone said that different religion is just different routes to the same place, it is not exactly true. It's more like being on the road, just because you are drive a certain car to a certain place, you don't have to shout to the person next to you that they are moving in the wrong direction.

After some more photo taking session, we went off to the Singapore Tzu Chi Branch. Right in the front entrance of the Tzu Chi Building, it is the picture of the Abode of Still Thoughts (one of the places we are going to visit). We were guided to the video presentation. In the presentation, there were many instances of Tzu Chi helping people in Singapore, no matter how hopeless, no matter how poor, no matter how much help they need, and not as a one off event, they keep on coming back to check out on the progress of the person they helped. Teach a person how to plant instead of giving him vegetables. The video also highlighted the 4 missions of Tzu Chi, namely Charity, Medicine, Education, and Culture.

After the video, we had a sharing with one of the volunteer of Tzu Chi. She recalled her experience of volunteering for Tzu Chi and that her husband was initially against her coming to volunteer instead of spending more time working. But through slow cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion, she had gain her families' trust and support and even her husband is now starting to volunteer for Tzu Chi. Before this, she punished her children for getting 90 marks in an exam (instead of 100 marks) , but after joining Tzu Chi, she had a more open mind and is just grateful that her child is healthy and well. One particular touching episode is that later on, her child called to ask her whether she will come back for dinner, indicating that they wanted her back at home.

After the experience of Tzu Chi, one is tempted to join them and be one of their big family as everyone called each other brother or sister. They even have a bookstore where one can buy organic grains, instant rice (for relief aid purposes), and compressible chopsticks. After that, we had a discussion of what we learned during the day and off we went back to our homes in Singapore!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Buddhism in Asia Day 1, 16th May

Woke up around 5:00 a.m. then got ready to reach the Changi airport, budget terminal by 6:15a.m. credit must go to my uncle for being so accurate in the timing. The plane starts on 8:15 and reaches Phuket, Thailand on 8:45 local time, which is +7 instead of our +8. So after reaching the airport so early, we had to wait for the travel agent to pick us up at the airport, the first meal (breakfast) that we had to cover for ourselves is in the airport. Well, I'm a bit surprised as I thought that the meals should be covered, but it seems that I wasn't careful enough in reading "Students will have to pay for other expenses such as meals, local transportation (if any) etc, where applicable"

So, after the travel agent picked us up, we got to our first temple visit in Phuket!

Wat Chalong

Which I just got the name from the internet and more information about it than what I've learned from there.
Well, reproducing and analysing my field notes, this is what I've gotten:
Thai King is a reincranation of the god Vishnu of the Hindu religion that protects the people. There are monks statues for worshipping and fortune telling which is a variant from Chinese traditions. The flag of thailand has 3 colours, red-white-blue to symbolise the nation-religion-king, with
94.7% of the people are theravadan buddhist. It can be seen that the temple is an example of very large deviation from the tripitaka. The function of Buddhism in Thailand is a unifying factor and the function of the temple is mainly for tourist attraction.

At 12:00p.m., we continue our journey towards Surat Thani (the city of good people) and reached our first hotel at 4:30p.m. Banjung Buri Hotel. During the trip on the bus, I learned a lot about the humanistics, art and social sciences, collectively I shall call the "Arts" from talks with William, Jack and Prof. It seems that the people from Arts believe that there is some internal consistency of the human behaviour, that they can explain some social trend and infer the rules from observing the world. In physics terms, it's like deducing General Relativity from the observation of the bending of lights by gravity. But the people in Arts don't expect to make any predictions about the world in which we live in. Well, anyway this just shows that they actually think that what they do makes sense, by just using common sense. And the ideas that people has thought before has been assumed to be thought by a resonable person using reasonable evidences. The theories are variable, (which they said it's like physics eg, the theory of gravitation it's hard to argue with them that their rule changes every now and then, but gravity doesn't) then they build upon the "old theories" by these "earlier" people and construct the whole of their social sciences without much use of maths.

Ok, now about the night time, we went to a boating seafood dinner at $10 singapore dollar (another blow towards my not expecting to use any money on the trip). Well, one thing I need to say about this is that it really is a nice experience, worth the money. We went on a boat on a river and had our seafood dinner while the boat is moving. While we were eating, our host on the Karaoke and we get to choose the songs we want and sing. We went upstream all the while, to see fireflies! After I've finished eating, I went to the front of the boat and stood there, wondering if this is the life that Luffy (OnePiece) wanted, strangely enough, I didn't feel any fear of falling or of the boat (made of wood) sinking. Then a few moments later, we stopped and waited for the appearance of fireflies in the darkness. Then like Christmas trees, lights appeared on a few trees along the river! The synchronization is amazing, every firefly on a tree blink its light with the others almost perfectly. Then I had to go to the toilet, so in the darkness of the ship, I when down to the toilet on the ship and took my time. It was only that when I came up that the boat started moving back again. It took one more hour to go back, so in the mean time, we sang the songs that we wanted. I choosed "I believe I can fly".

Well, we went back to the hotel later on and got into our beds, my roommate is Yean Chert.