Saturday, August 29, 2009

3rd Week of 2nd year in NUS

I've been here for longer than 3 weeks since the school starts, but I've not updated you guys on much of my activities. I've gotten very slow in Labs, but momentum is almost finished.

On Monday, I've meet Lord Martin Rees and had a dialogue session with him, then fell asleep in his night lecture..... Well, that's because I've only gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before. I'm trying to cultivate the habit of sleeping at 10p.m. and waking up at 3a.m. with only 5 hours of sleep, I've better not waste any hour during the night before sleeping. Oh, and how do I wake up? Ajahn Brahm gave a good method. Before I sleep, I look at the clock and told myself that I want to wake up at 3 a.m. in a clear way. I repeat for a few times in a clear mind and then forget about it and go to sleep. At around 3 o' clock, I woke up in the dark and see the time... It always is before the alarm time I've set. (7:30a.m.) So today I woke up at 5+a.m. not too bad. (It usually is more accurate, my body seems to require more sleep.)

Before I go to bed, I always join in the IS Session for the SPS. From Tuesdays to Thursday I've just sit in the class and do my work while observing the IS. There are some colourful newbies all around, with excitement untained by research. Well, missing the SPS NOC reduces me to know them through IS only..... There is one who follow in my footsteps completely, USP, SPS, double major, and one who wants to go for SPM, Physics major... The new blood makes me doubt my decision of not taking maths as my second major, but I shall see how things turns up before boiling my own blood in doing 10 modules per sem due to my greediness.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


INCOVAR stands for INter COllege & VARsity, a youth wing of the Buddhist Gem Fellowship (BGF).


Venue : Subang Jaya Buddhist Association

Date : 11th - 14th June 2008

Fee : RM75

Camp Eligibility
  • Non-Muslim
  • Age 17 and above
  • Studying in any college, university or institution of higher learning locally or overseas.
Well, as I am eligible to join in, I did.
On the first day of the camp, I was late........ for the morning puja. Then my group are forfeited, we had to wash the dishes. This is based on the Amazing Race theme that this camp has... for this time.

Now as I see among the faces of my group, I regonised them only through facebook pictures. Our group leader is Chow Foong, if this name sounds familar, you're right. He's Chow Fu's (the one who's in the top 5 physics Olympiad team) older brother.

So, we kinda know each other even before the camp itself. Except that I was in Singapore and I've just gone back to Petaling on the 10th June. The others had prepared a good slide show presentation on one of the ancient cities in India that relates to Buddhism.

The first day of INCOVAR is filled with activities, dharma talks, games in from the Amazing Race... Ok I don't remember the exact schedule. So I'll just tell you what I feel.

They asked who's the old people here? Well, we have people who are in this camp series from 5th timers to 1st timers. As Incovar Dharma Camp is a biannual thing and 4 in a series, the 5th timers were 1st timers 2 years ago and need not pay anything to join the camp! The first one is 4 noble truths, then 8 foldpath, 3rd one is karma (this is the one I'm in), and 4th one meditiation. So anyone who has gone through all 4 of them can be considered as having the knowledge of the basics of Buddhism.

Anyway, back to my feelings, the old timers were quick to warm up as they recognised their old friends, be it from University Malaya, IMU, UPM, etc.... and one old timer from NUS is Ken Juin, and we are the only 2 from NUS. So I naturally feel that the camp is a bit unfriendly towards the first timers, as the camp warden and the assistant are 3rd timers.

Due to insufficient preparation time, the first day passed by unsatisfactorily. I thought, man, 3 more days of these.... not fun, not as good as our NUSBS Dharma Camp.

But then, Ken Juin assured me that this is the worst one, it will be better. And indeed, I don't know how, but after the organisers got organised in the first night, I had to admit that I was enjoying myself in the camp.
Let's go through some activities in the camp....
We get to shop in the nearby shopping center, to buy materials for the egg protection game (our egg broke... what a professional pride lost... well at least I'm not an enginneer) which I believe that if we had swapped eggs (ours was a bit broken during contruction), our egg protector can stand more than 3 stories of drop (it has a parachute too).

Eating time is almost always a torture. First meal, Lunch time, we had to feed the person opposite you, not changing the plates. Well, my poor patner... you know why, I took so many food that he had to stuff them in. The trick here is to change the food, not the plate.
Next meal, we had to eat with our hands linked to each other, well, at least we get to feed ourselves. The 3rd meal is fun.... Blindfold eating. We had to feed ourselves with a blindfold over our eyes! I asked to wash my hands after a few unsuccessful attempts to eat by spoon. Then I ate using my hands! They said that this is the first time in many years that someone used their hands to eat blindfold, good strategy. The Forth one and the hardest one is the best one. Blindfold and feed your patner. Our group has just won in the advertisement activity and we get to sit on a chair and table as our reward together with orange juice, chocolate waffles, and so on.... as the others on the floor gets their blindfold, we were relieved.... Until they gave us the last of the blindfolds. Our jaws were on the floor as we had to endure torture even in the face of luxury. Well, there's no using hands this time round, so we guide our patner's hands to our mouths, blind feeding the blind. All these serves to incoparate dharma, as we experience it. The blind in the dharma leading the blind is a very dangerous thing to do, the floor will get messy, we will not get the food that we wanted.... and so on. Appreciation of how the blind eat is also one of the lessons that one can learn from here.

Talking about advertisement, we had an assignment for each group to perform. We had to advertise Incovar in a Sketch advertisement. We had it like Malaysian Idol style, with 3 judges and comments from them. One group used SpongeBob SquarePants and actually created it using yellow, square sponge! Our group acted with 5 people breaking the 5 precepts, gone to Incovar camp, and changed for the better. And we won!

The Amazing Race does features many exciting oppotunities to experience winning and losing. But the dharma lesson to be learnt from this is that winning or losing is temperary.

Well, we have Tai Chi Classes too in the morning, and kick-boxing class on the next morning, the Dharma talks were good, with opportunities for us to become the MC for the speaker. Perhaps the best event is singing time! We inspire, we're the fire, we're the spirite of youth's life..... You my beautiful friend, you bring me joy.... Ehi Passiko, come and see you'll know......Cradled in Buddha's Arms........

One memorable activity is testing of the 5 precepts and assumptions. We broke off into mixed groups and go from one station to another, passing the lying test, the drinking alcohol test , not opening ---magazine test, etc. It serves to tell us that even under excited states, under any conditions, if we don't adhere to our precepts, there's no point taking them. My group consist of all girls and me and the only guy..... we didn't get the first few stations but then, we reconsidered and played the rest smoothly. One particular station is the donation station, where one can donate (to who? donate what?), our group was the first one to go there and people are taking out their wallets, watches, etc to donate.... even an iPhone. I almost donated, but was reminded by them that you might not get it back.... so I reconsidered. This iPhone thing cause quite a stir from the other participants, they demanded to have it back to the owner (the owner didn't said anything). After one day, the organisers finally revealed to us that they had no rights to keep those stuffs, and they were planning to return them on the last day. This is to test to see what we would do. However, due to excessive demands by the participants, they gave it out early. We all learned a lesson that day. Never assume.

And the one unique experience in the Incovar camp is Incovar night. The things said there are to remain there. It's a heart to heart session with blindfolds and small groups, confessing our guilt, the people that we didn't forgave, and help us on a road to forgive them, and ourselves.

I didn't planned to write so long, but emotions are hard to control and harder not to express such beautiful experiences. After the Incovar night, we have our last night gatherings and I commented this to the organisers, "On the first night that I was here, I was disappointed and I wonder why so many of you guys keep on coming back. However, after all we have been through, I've to say that this is the best camp I have ever been to and I hope that Incovar last for a trillion years and beyond.

We each have a booklet that contains everyone in the camp, mine is more than half full signed by people around the camp. Well, lots of them are paises for me, as I revealed my silver status and my rubiks skills to them. Dan Yi Wong, the Malaysian who came to our NUSBS Dharma Camp, also came to the camp on the last day. All in all, I highly recommend this camp, if you have the opportunity to join, by all means, join it. I'm looking forward towards the next camp too, on November/December 2009, but it also depends on my CCAs here, and my exam time.
Just in case someone reading this is a organiser..... I might go back during my reading week on 14-20th Nov, or after 13th Dec..... anyway I'll go for the June one again if I missed the next one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Large Hardon Collider (LHC)

Disclaimer: This is inspired by the LHC rap by alpinekat, but with more words and explanations. Though it might not be as fun as the song, after reading it, you’ll be able to enjoy the song better as you would be able to understand more of what is going on.

Nested below the ground, at the border between Switzerland and France, a giant awaits. Its 27-kilometer long body is capable of shooting two of the fastest moving beams on Earth. The secrets of the Universe and the most energetic collision since the beginning of time will happen right in the four eyes of the giant when the beams meet. Right now it is licking its wounds, inflicted due to an electrical fault, but it will wait a few more months when its roar will be heard, and the mysteries of the Universe will be unravelled. It is the Large Hadron Collider.

Hadrons are subatomic particles that subject to the strong force. One example of such heavy hadrons are lead ions (with atomic number 82), stripped of all its electrons. This very LHC is capable of smashing such large hadrons with each other, hence the name. This baby can pack up to 14 TeV into proton-proton collision, and 1150 TeV into lead-lead collision. And its four “eyes” are called A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE), Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb), Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), and A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS).

Probably the biggest structure humans have build in the last thousand years, this baby cost so much that international collaboration is needed. It is so popular that the YouTube video of the LHC rap has reached over 5 million viewers. The questions in physics that might be answered by it are so big that over 10 thousand scientists and engineers are working on it. Indeed the only reason that the behemoth is built is to find out if there is a Higgs boson, if there more fundamental particles than quarks and leptons, if nature is supersymmetric, what dark matter is and, finally, why matter and antimatter do not exist in the same amount.
Let’s look at these questions one by one and see why they are considered important, starting with the Higgs boson. To understand the Higgs, we must understand the Standard Model which is currently the most accurate physics theory that has successfully predicted all of the subatomic particles found in previous accelerators. In particular, the story of the W and Z bosons are of interesting consequences.

In the standard model, there are four fundamental forces with three of them united with an accurate quantum mechanical description. Among them, the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force are the first ones to be unified into the electroweak theory. In this theory, the carriers for the weak nuclear force, two W-bosons and Z-boson, are predicted and found a few years later! However in the process of finding the theory, physicists assumed that the carriers of the weak force are massless bosons, and deduced from the theory 4 massless bosons, 3 for the weak force and the photon. To account for the mass of the W and Z bosons, Peter Higgs proposed a scalar field, called the Higgs field, that is everywhere and interacts with particles to give them rest mass. Just like alpinekat rapped,

“Some particle slows down and others race, straight through like the photon, it has no mass, but something heavy like the top quarks, it’s dragging its---”

It is kind of like adding air resistance to projectile motion. As with every field, quantum mechanics implies that a particle is associated with it. The Higgs boson becomes central to the Standard Model for being able to neatly explain the origin of mass. It is for this reason that the presence of Higgs bosons is a very popular theory. Being the only particle in the Standard Model that has not yet been observed only adds excitment to the mystery. It is now that the LHC will see if the elusive and heavy Higgs boson actually exists. The interesting possibility is that if the LHC does not find the Higgs, numerous other less popular theories would then be able to pit their predictions fitting what the LHC does find.

One such other theory is the preon theory, that quarks and leptons are composed of smaller, more fundamental particles called preons. Currently, the size of quarks and electrons in the Standard Model are regarded as zero. Experiments however, only shows that they are smaller than 10-18 metres. Now the LHC enables us to see at smaller scales, down to 2*10-19 metres, 10000 smaller than a proton. It may finally reveal that quarks or electrons have a finite size and be made of smaller stuffs, like preons. It is also tempting to think that there can be a simple explanation for the three families of quarks and leptons observed, as history had shown that the periodic table of elements hints of electron configuration. History has also shown that radioactivity and atoms changing from one to another hints at a nuclear structure with protons and neutrons, not unsimilar to the decay of heavy elementary particle like top quarks and tau into their lighter counterparts. Whatever the hints and possibilities, without an experimental observation of preons, all we can do is to wait and see.

Now that we know the main reason the LHC is build for, it is time for the giant to shed light on what we think is possible. SUperSYmmetry (SUSY) is a principle that states for every fermion (particles with spin n/2 and obey the Pauli Exclusion Principle like quarks and leptons) there is a corresponding boson (particles with integer spin and can occupy the same space with the same energy like photons) and vice-versa so we have electrons and selectrons, photons and photinos. It is symmetric because when we switch the bosons and fermions, the world is still the same. However, since none of the supersymmetric partners have been found yet, it is clearly not a perfect symmetry in terms of mass like matter-antimatter.

One would say that supersymmetry is absurd; if all the electrons are replaced by selectrons that can pass through each other, imagine what will happen to molecules. However, there are many theories that can make use of supersymmetry to explain various things. Most Grand Unified Theories (GUT) predict that the electromagnetic, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force converge to almost the same strength at around 1015 GeV (compared to 100GeV of electroweak bonding). However, the three forces do not exactly meet at one point. But with supersymmetry, the three forces cut exactly and there is a possible explanation of why the two unifications (GUT and electroweak) happen at so large an energy gap. More than that, if supersymmetric particles are created in the LHC, they will decay until there is the lightest supersymmetric particle (LSP). Therefore, if supersymmetry is true, there will be many LSPs in the universe waiting to be found. It is also this LSP that might be the mysterious dark matter.

Talking about dark matter, it is not a matter that is magically “Dark” or “Evil”. We call it dark initially because it is matter that does not glow, therefore escaping the observation of telescopes. However there is a double meaning to it, dark also means that we do not know much of anything about it, or, that we have too many ideas of what it might be. Embarrassing? You bet. Why not just do away with the concept altogether then?

Well, the reason we need dark matter is to explain how galaxies seem to be able to hold on to their galactic arms of stars. The stars at the outer arms of galaxies are moving too fast to be able to be gravitationally bounded by the luminous matter in the galaxy. So MAssive Compact Halo Objects (MACHOs) like black holes, burned out stars, asteroids and stray planets are possible candidates of dark matter, but Weakly Interactive Massive Particles (WIMPs) like neutrinos, or LSP does fit the bill of being dark matter too.

Unfortunately, both MACHOs and neutrinos encounter problems to be the dark matter needed to explain the galaxy mystery. Using Gravitational Lensing, astronomers determined that the amount of MACHO seems to be too little to account for the dark matter needed. (Gravitational lensing happens when a MACHO passes through the light path of a star, the star appears to brighten for a while then it dimmed back with certain characteristics.) Besides that, the amount of baryonic particles that make up dark matter is limited. Standard primordial nucleosynthesis pins down the value of baryon-to-photon ratio and through astronomical observation, the amount of dark matter greatly exceeds the amount of baryonic particles in the Universe. Neutrinos, on the other hand, are expected to have non-zero rests mass due to the neutrino oscillation. However they move near the speed of light due to their small rest mass and according to computer simulations, that is far too fast to make up dark matter. All these tell us that we do not know a lot about dark matter and therefore, we need more information from the LHC. If the LSP is found, we would be able to test its properties to determine whether it is the main bulk of dark matter. In particular, the ATLAS and CMS will use different designs and concepts to look out for any supersymmetric particle, Higgs boson, preons, or something else entirely different.

When we question what dark matter is, there is a bigger question unresolved, why should there be any matter at all? This can only mean that there is asymmetry between matter and antimatter, which is still a mystery to physicists. In more formal terms, it is called CP violations, or Charge-Parity violations. A Parity transformation is the flip of a sign in spatial coordinates, and matter is exactly the same as antimatter except that both their charge and the direction of their spin are opposite. That is why when CP-violation occurs, it means that there is asymmetry between matter and antimatter. In 1964, the decay in neutral kaons exhibits a small CP-violation. However, physicists expected a greater asymmetry in mesons involving bottom quarks. More recently in 2004, Belle and BaBar, both electron-positron colliders, discovered that the decay of neutral B mesons, made up of bottom and down quarks, shows a preference for matter 100000 times greater than kaons. The antimatter bottom quarks are observed to be 20% less than matter bottom quarks. Belle and BaBar are limited in their energy scale and confined to studying that particular decay. However, the LHCb will look out for the decays involving the bottom quarks (once called beauty quarks) to source out for more CP-violations in order to deepen our understanding of the reason that we are matter instead of all radiation.

Now we are left with ALICE, which looks at the collisions of lead ions. Lead-lead collisions aims to spread a lot of energy over a large volume compared to proton-proton collision. Having the collision energy of 1150 TeV, it can reach back and recreate the situations just 10-12-10-6 seconds after the big bang (the quarks-gluon plasma). Just like a transition phase from solid to liquid, the quarks-gluon plasma is a zero viscosity fluid that cools down to bound quarks at 10-6 seconds after the big bang. This phase transition is what ALICE will study and help in the cosmological mapping of events after the big bang.

Lord Kelvin once said that there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, all that remains is more and more precise measurement. However, more and more precise measurements reveals newer physics that no one can predict. And no one can predict what exactly the LHC will find. It can confirm come theories, and discredit others, it can answer some questions and/or raise more, it might even alter the paradigm of physics. Whatever it does, it will change the face of physics as we know it.

End note: The web contains an almost endless information and picture of the LHC; I hope that those interested will spend some time to find out more about the LHC as I think it is embarrassing if physics majors don’t know more than the average public readers out there about the most exciting experiment in physics. This article is written partly for that purpose in mind. The book that I based on most is Don Lincoln’s “The Quantum Frontier” 2009 The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Another book that helped is Lord Martin Rees’ “New Perspectives in Astrophysical Cosmology” Second Edition 2000 Cambridge University Press. Both books can be found in the Science Library in NUS. Lastly, I hope you enjoyed reading this.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Semester Busy Day, Busy Life

I'm very sorry for not updating things up to now, a clear sign that I was too busy to be stressed out. The below will be a outline for more contents when I am in the right mode to write about them, so don't complain that it might be too dry.

Since coming back from Thailand and taiwan, I have went to NUS and helped out in Physics Enrichment Camp, then came back to Petaling Jaya for the INCOVAR dharma camp, wasted one month playing games and stressing out from the pressure of wanting to write the Buddhism in Asia paper.

So I had to go back by 14th July to NUS to finish up my paper in 2 horrendously short weeks including 2 hours round trip from Woodlands where I stayed in my uncle's home to NUS. Then I had to prepare a slide for presenting my paper.

After that, it's Momentum magazine publishing time. I and Ronald got too many articles for the Momentum and now it's 4 extra pages compared to last years ones. Work is stil in progress but finishing by this week. I retired from Physics Society too to make space for the upcoming NUSBS and Nam Wah Pai CCAs.

Which talking about NUSBS, I had to choose between SPS Newbie orientation camp and NUSBS MC retreat which is at the same time, different place. I joined the Camp Ehi Passiko in East Coast Park, therefore missing my SPS camp trial. And now looking back at the photos and videos of SPS NOC, one has to admit that one shouldn't miss that for the world. Well, I am running for the Dharma Director or Deputy post in NUSBS and even had an interview where I realised that spending every Monday, Wednesday, Friday evennigs, and Saturday mornings every week is not enough for the Dharma Director or the Deputy.

Then continuing on from Saturday morning, I'm to join Nam Wah Pai's traning in the afternoon. I've just came back from the Combined Martial Arts Display (CMAD) there and I am amazed at how cool all these performentses are. Really inspired me to write a good scipt for them to incorparate all 9 or 10 martial arts club in the almost 2 hours show.

Now I'm a bit conflicted, with so many CCAs I'm involving in right now, I'm busy almost the whole week doing my CCAs instead of studying or doing my 7 and a half modules (normally people take 5 or 6). Tuesday I sacrificed my lab for Momentum (and finding and downloading OnePiece songs), Wednesday I spend my afternoon learning Black and White Photography developing cause the Demo Lab (I'm having a part time job there now) has not got the expected visitors. Then straight to NUSBS Dharma Subcom meeting/recuitment. Then I've taken some time to go for USS class only to come back to the meeting. Then from 9p.m. onwards, I've gone on a travelling trip around campus to paste the THIS buddhism film festival posters. Thursday, once I've finished my 6 hours of lectures from 8am to 2pm, I've gone to the UCC and helped out but more like hang out at the CMAD where I see their last reheasal and their actual performers until 10p.m. when I left and come back to SPS. Friday I'm going to Dharma Circle at night and Saturday, welfare visit during the morning and Nam Wah Pai welcome tea in the afternoon.

All these made me missed a lot of IS meetings, and due to my not attending SPS NOC, I've relatively poor knowledge of who's who in our current newbie. Plus the amount of time I've spend going out to do CCAs, I'm rarely in the room, except at night.

Not only I've missed SPS happenings, I've also missed a few lab sessions that I should attend. By the way my 7 and a half modules are:
PC2132 Classical Mechanics
PC2131 Electricity and Magnetism 1
PC2193 Experimental Physics 1
CS1231 Discrete Structures
PC3274 Mathematical Methods for Physics 2
PC3232 Nuclear and Particle Physics
SP2172 Investigating Science
and USS2105 University Scholar Seminar the half.

So you see that it is very desirable for me to finish up my lab as soon as possible to accomodate for other things. That's why I'm conflicted as to my real direction in NUS. It seems a fool of me if I think that I can excel well in everything, but I still want to try. I need time to review my theoretical classes too as they are new to me and mathematically demanding as in I need to know how to read the physics from the maths.

Ok, sorry for the long talking, the dam has stored a lot of water and finally it brakes. Now I've got to find a way to sleep for the 8am meeting with Phil Chan for the questions that I and a few friends are going to ask (Lord) Martin Rees on next Monday. (You see how busy I am? It's impossible to say Yes to everything in life, Yes Man is still a fiction.)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Buddhism in Asia

One year ago, three students started planning a trip to overseas to study about religions. After much discussions and research, they came to form a plan for a research trip to Thailand and Taiwan to study about Buddhism in Asia. This trip is then proposed under the University Scholars Program Global Program, thus USP will subsidize the trip to allow the students to learn and share their knowledge to the world.

On April 2009, a team of 11 undergraduate students, one Masters graduate, and one Professor was formed. The team is to go on a trip consisting of three legs of journey, from Singapore 13th-14th May, to Thailand 16th-22nd May and finally Taiwan 22nd-30th May. This is in order to study the Theravadan Tradition in Thailand, the Mahayana Tradition in Taiwan, and its mixture in Singapore.
On the Singapore leg, we learned that even the monastics can be involved in Buddhist research. There are many areas to look upon, from the Vinaya to Politics, from Textual Studies to Modernization of Buddhism, from History to Transnational spreading of Buddhism. There is even a Buddhist College in Singapore! There’s also the Singapore Buddhist Federation that serves to unify all Buddhist institutions and Buddhists in Singapore.

There are three examples of Buddhism in Singapore; Tzu Chi Foundation in Singapore represents the import of Taiwanese Buddhism in Singapore complete with the same architecture as the original building in Taiwan and the same functions of Jing Si bookstore静思书轩, along with the same activities, and ideas. The same goes for Wat Ananda and Wat Palelai, reflecting the Theravadan Tradition from Thailand. Guang Ming Shan Temple however sees the unique combination of both Theravadan and Mahayana tradition in its architecture and also local Chinese influences.

In Thailand where more than 90% of the population is Buddhist, we learned that the Buddhist temple in Phuket practices monk worshipping. The people pray and ask for fortune, health, and success. The temple also serves as a tourist attraction area. In Surat Thani, Suanmok, we have the chance to learn about a renewal of forest tradition based on the Tripitaka by Bhikkhu Buddhadasa due to the corruption of the true dharma mentioned earlier. Suanmok forest tradition, which is a short distance away from the city, provides exposure camps to school children, opportunity for the lay and monastics to undergo silent retreat (no talking) for 6 months straight, and a place where one can renounce and become a monk.

In Nakhon Si Thammarat, the stupa that contained the Buddha’s relics is “guarded” by demons, animals, decorated with influences by Hinduism. This reflects the belief that the Buddha is regarded as one of the reincarnation of the God Vishnu in Hinduism. In fact there are many local influences in Thailand; the people still pay respect to the city pillar, the heart of the city, and in hotels and supermarkets, there are altars set up to worship the local spirit in the place. Besides that, the people in Thailand wear all kinds of amulets for protection, health and blessings. In fact, the amulet market in Bangkok is a multi-million dollar business.

Talking about Bangkok, Wat Pho is located next to the Grand Palace, both huge and luxurious; this is a good strategy to instate Bangkok as the centre of Thailand. Monastics in Thailand receive government supplies and help and in return, the king of Thailand is supported by Buddhism. The existence of Universities in Bangkok also establishes it as the centre for monastic education. Being a monastic also guarantees a free education up to University, this is sometimes used for climbing up the social ladder in Thailand, as some monks disrobes and takes up jobs after graduating.

According to our Guide, the people in Thailand know basic Buddhism along with many Traditional beliefs. There are many ways to practise Buddhism including the strict forest tradition by Ajahn Chah in Ubon Ratchathani. Our group has the priceless experience of staying overnight in Wat Pah Nanachat, international forest monastery. The monastic there wakes up at 3 a.m. for the morning puja, gone for alms round at 5:30a.m. and take their one meal per day at 8a.m. After noon time, they go for meditation, have tea at 4p.m. and come back only at 6p.m. for the evening puja.
After a tiring journey across Thailand, we flew to Taipei, Taiwan. There we are fortunate to visit Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) 法鼓山 and received a warm welcome. Its founder, the late Master Sheng Yen empathises on education, protection of the spiritual environment, and balance between understanding and practise of the Dharma. In line with this effort, DDM Sangha University, Chung Hua Institute of Buddhist Studies, DDM Buddhist College and the upcoming DDM University are built to spread the seed of Dharma to everyone. They have outreach activities supported by the donations and an impressive temple ground complete with bell for the visitors to ring. They present traditional Buddhism in a modern way using wisdom and original intensions of the Buddha to stay true to Buddhism.

In general the Buddhist movement in Taiwan is of Humanistic Buddhism 人间佛教 which started from Master Tai Xu’s effort to change Buddhism from the religion of funerals during the late Ching清 dynasty to a religion that actively involves in the human activities. This is most clearly seen from Tzu Chi’s慈濟effort around the world. In accordance with their four main mission of Education, Medicine, Charity and Culture, many schools, hospitals, relief aid teams are deployed in helping the needy. There are also classes of flower arrangement, tea making in the Hua Lien Tzu Chi University. The medical students use the body of willing deceased donors as their silent teacher in anatomy classes, learning respect and gratitude towards their silent teachers. The Tzu Chi Hospital in Hua Lien, there are even places where the terminally sick patients of different religion can see their religious symbols just before they die. This clearly shows that Tzu Chi belief in Buddhism in Action, and the nuns under Master Cheng Yen, the founder of Tzu Chi, support themselves by working in the farms. With the spirit of Buddhism reflected through their actions rather than speech, Tzu Chi managed to pull in 10 million members worldwide making monthly donations to support the various activities. Amongst the members are non-Buddhist too and the halls and functions of Tzu Chi are always careful to be sensitive towards people with other religions.

Finally, Buddha Light Mountain佛光山 founded by Master Hsing Yun in Kaohsiung is our last stop in Taiwan’s mega temples. With holy water, Buddhist hymns singing, Big Buddha statue, pure land cave exhibit, and museums, it is clear that Buddha Light Mountain incorporates modern elements to spread Buddhism too. With millions of members in Buddha Light International Associations, it is also not negligent in education as there is Buddha Light University in Yilan and Buddhist College in the temple itself for all to live and learn the way of the Sangha. In short, the trip was enlightening, with many details unaccounted for here, but the most important lesson is to practise the dharma even when researching Buddhism.