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!

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