Thursday, September 29, 2011

Intervarsity Youth Leadership Dharma Camp

The Intervarsity Youth Leadership Dharma Camp was held at Fo Guang Shan (FGS) on the 24th and 25th September 2011, after much preparation work by the Young Adult Division (YAD) of the Buddha Light International Association Singapore. NUSBS, NTUBS, NYPBS, SIMBB, NPBS joined in. The idea started a few months before, back to around February 2011.

FGS was inviting representatives from the various Tertiary Institution Buddhist Society (TIBS) in Singapore to come together for a tea in FGS to discuss about a camp that they were planning and wishes to invite the TIBS to make this part of our integral activity. That's the reason they invited us, the Presidents/Vice Presidents of the TIBS to come and be part of the organisers. My initial feelings for this is that this is too much, first Camp Lions, then Awaken Challenge, now comes this which involves the TIBS. Even through we have a Public Relations Director, it is too taxing for NUSBS (at least) to be able to send people to attend these events. Then, as I see that they are quite determined and made lots of preparations for this camp, including having the camp conducted in English, designing the T-shirt of the Camp (done by Nanyang Poly Buddhist Society), and making it free and just for 2 days, as well as asking us to put in the activities we want to be in there to make the camp ours too, and not something that is thrown in from outside. As I saw all that, I decided to suggest that we put in a leadership training and structural sharing inside it.

I've been to lots of AGMs/Anniversary/ Investiture of the all 6 of the TIBS now, and I've gathered enough maturity during the 1 year+ time I was going to all these to see that we can all benefit from each other's sharing of how we run our society. We all have the same structure of the Management Committee lasting only for 1 year, and we all have to study besides running the society. What came as a problem is our different schedules. We discussed about which is the best time to have this 2 days camp over a weekend to be. We happened to have stumbled upon holidays, avoiding exams and finally fixing it on September, after the AGM of NUSBS, NTUBS and NYPBS (all 3 would had relatively new MCs for 1-3 months). This is good too, to let the new MCs of the TIBS to get to know the people from other TIBS, to know that they are not alone in handling all these workload, and to train them up in terms of management skills, and structural sharing so that things can change immediately if required.

So the initial plan was for everyone in the MC of every TIBS to come together and have this camp. However, perhaps I was too harsh on NUSBS's side that I let the weekend be the end of our recess week (bad timing, as people tend to want to still study during this weekend and the previous 7 days wasn't enough), to fit in with everyone else. At least 3 other MC members in NUSBS stayed overnight, 8 MC came to the camp, making it 10 from NUSBS in total.

Well, then we had a meeting about once every 2 months from then on. I just missed one of the meetings there. (It was at Punggol, and I didn't mind the travelling distance) Still, I hadn't done the calligraphy over there yet. There was some effort from YAD (main organiser for the camp) to include the TIBS as facilitators and we even had a facilitator training. However, the facilitator from YAD themselves are more than sufficient in handling the camp. This is what I think can be improved on in the camp: How to involve more of the facilitators from the TIBS?

For the camp itself, in order to cater for the English speaking, they had 4-5 venerable specially flown into Singapore from various parts of the world to come and be our facilitator. Before that, I proposed for the TIBS to send in slides of how each Buddhist Society works, and we all did. I send in NUSBS's one for reference. It contains no picture, but there wasn't initiative to put them in from the latter people. And the venerable had a short briefing of what TIBS (that's our slides) is on Friday night before the camp itself and the venerable are not even familiar with Singapore and our situations! That is what I call as dedicated, super, nice, and cool. One of the YAD commented that the Venerable are really really good, in teaching, facilitating and everything. Looking back now, I think I agree too, there wasn't much of a constrain even with venerable handling most of the events. They let us talk enough!

Well, let's skip to the camp then. NUSBS and NTUBS booked a bus together to get to FGS, we had a good time interacting in the bus! I was, as always, the social mixer... We arrived early, earlier than 8:30am, the time for reporting. And so we had a good breakfast! I was amazed at NYPBS to bring 16 people to there! We were separated into 8 different groups, each containing about 10 people.

We participated in morning chanting, and had the Buddhist society: roles and responsibility talk first up. The conference room was just awesome! I like the style of the venerable conducting it, prompting us to think about our duties and then go back to the basic. That's the message for this activity: back to Dharma. Back to why are we doing this, why are we promoting Buddhism? It is to practise the Dharma. Even after Uni, even after we go back to our own countries, even after the year ends, and we step down from the MC. To let go. We even had a game session where we partner up and then say good things about our partner. It was easy for me. Too easy. Well there's a saying of Do good deeds, say good words, have good intentions. 做好事,说好话,存好心。Also we had a game where we grab the right thumb of our partner with our left hand and then try to grab the right thumb of our partner with our left hands. It teaches us to reflect: are we more focused on grabbing or on letting go. For me, I am more of being ignorant until the things had happened and then I see that I can't grab my partner's thumb (use her body to block me). I had to let go later on, because it becomes too hard, too not worthwhile seeking on, and time was running out.

The next activity is Buddhist Etiquette. It was nothing much I haven't learned before. However, I do relearn how to do a Mahayana half-bow, full prostration, and the FGS style of eating. This style of eating is to be brought over to our next session: luncheon. We had a chanting before the lunch, slow chant at that, but it was over within 10 minutes. I think it maybe even 5. Well, anyway, the eating style is that we get to have one main plate for dishes, one rice bowl and one soup bowl with only chopsticks. We had to eat in noble silence, and make as little noise as possible. First, we had to move the main plate to our front, and move the rice bowl from the right to the left, the soup bowl from the left to the right, criss-crossing them. And finish up all the food! I asked for more (by putting them back to original position). This is an efficient eating method, especially for hundreds, or thousands of people eating together at the same time. It lets us finish within half an hour. Also trains on our mindfulness.

After eating, we had some free time, where we see where are each of us going for the individual group sharing. Most of us had a temple tour, grouping by our Buddhist Societies. I do think that this can be improved upon, it should had been by the 8 groups of the camp. And later on, we had a good meditation session. Walking meditation first, followed by a sitting meditation. The teaching was nice, my meditation... not so good, still can't concentrate immediately, Meditation was from 1-2pm. Then the group sharing sessions began!

The group sharing is one of the best features of the camp! It features 5 groupings:
  1. Presidents/Vice Presidents, with focus on how to lead the society,
  2. Secretary/Welfare: Admin
  3. Treasurer: Finance
  4. Dharma/Public Relations: How to attract people
  5. Events/Publicity: How to improve events
Each groupings discusses on the problems and shares on the solutions. The venerable who facilitate each small group were very good too! They managed to give lots of relevant ideas and solutions for our problems. I was in the Secretary session as there wasn't a representative from NUSBS. In our group discussions, we shared on finance, membership, admin, interfaith, publicity, events, etc...It was a rather fruitful discussion from our end. The other groups shared lots of things too, the full minutes are complied by FGS, and will be send out soon.

Now the time has come for the Tea Zen session. It was the first time for me to use such a minimalistic design for making tea. Nice. Mindfulness during the whole process, of warming up the tea cups, cleaning the tea leaves, brewing for 40 seconds, pouring to the other tea pot, pouring into 2 cups for ourselves. Then the tasting tea part is to sip and breath out, sip and immerse your mouth with the tea, and then the 3rd sip is to feel the feeling of the tea going down our throat. I had a lousy time practising mindfulness then too. Haha. Too distracted. Well, we get to pour into the next 2 cups to exchange and share with our neighbours, left and right. Well the problem is that, we get to do the whole process 3 times. So by the second time, the cups would had already been contaminated by saliva... Oh well I didn't mind. (Strange for me, as I am sensitive to no saliva sharing.) Oh and before doing it for the 3rd time, we get to meditate a bit. I got to cool down and relax a bit too. This is to see what do we feel, tasting the tea after calming down a bit more.

We had the power point presentation sharing of our individual Buddhist Societies after that. That's really cool. Each person are given 3+2? minutes of sharing on their whole Buddhist Society. History, Objectives, Events, MC structure, problems, and solutions found. Really felt nice about this session. Mostly about this session! Haha. Dinner was afterwards, with the same style.

Then it's movie time! The movie was really nice! Fluke (1995), explores about Karma and living life to the fullest. Letting go and the danger of greed, hatred and ignorance. The movie was 96 minutes long, and we had a 45 minutes good discussion afterwards with the venerable in charge of this. Cool one I say. Currently ranked the best activity so far. Really really nice analysis of the film in the lens of Buddhism. We all enjoyed it tremendously.

Next up is the candle light ceremony where it involves candles, chanting, offerings etc. The highlight of this I think is when we read Master Hsing Yun's night prayer. It was long and meaningful. Nicely composed overall, don't remember much other than these. Then it's supper time/shower time! Oh and before that, we had a photo session because 5 of NUSBS are leaving to go back to school to study and 4 of NUSBS are staying back. Good photo shoot!

Now on to supper time! I had a very nice chat with a few good people talking until very late... and then the next morning, we had a splendid breakfast, after a good morning chanting. We also cleaned up our sleeping quarters and getting ready for the next session, which is the sharing of the individual group discussions!

Then there was a session on Humanistic Buddhism? I wasn't paying much attention here, too sleepy...

And after that...we gone down and waved hello to the usual crowd of Sunday morning people, which is a lot I saw for FGS, nice... and then lunch. Finally we have some group structure, following the group to lunch and chatting with our respective groups! The next one is an introduction to Buddhist Hymns, and we had Buddhist Hymns songs, featuring a singer/composer who flew in from Malaysia just for this session! He grabbed every single minute he has! Austin Woo of Circle Media Group. Really nice songs! Speaks Chinese to the masses, so we had some fun time listening to the translation. I ranked this as the best so far now. FGS even gave us a copy of the songs CD & DVD each (that's right, 1 CD & 1 DVD)! AMazinG!

Next up, we had a 8 realisations of the great beings, It was one of the best Dharma lessons, deeply making us spiritual! Ranked higher than the songs.

A tea break.

Now the cool stuffs starts to come in. 1 representative from each Buddhist Society comes up to the front, the panel discussion and we are to present on what's the future direction of our each Buddhist Societies. 3 Presidents came up, NUSBS was represented by me, NPBS by Angela. After some talk by the Venerable to wrap up the sharing session earlier on, there was a video of the new University by Fo Guang Shan. And then we all shared. I stated that I am just an ordinary member now, ex-VP, and therefore no power to set any new future direction for NUSBS, so I shared on NUSBS's 3 goals for this year:
  1. Grow in Dharma Knowledge amongst the MC.
  2. Maintain current active members, increase 20 more new faces as active members by the end of this year.
  3. New avenue of getting Dharma Knowledge.
After I shared, they asked me if I feel the umpt of these goals. I say, I'll support the MC as an active member and senior. Then the others shared. It is nice to see everyone going nicely forward!

And then before it all ends, I took the mike and shared on the long term goals of TIBS which I think we can decide upon, since we were all there then.

Long term goals for the next 10 years:
  1. To have the ex-committee members of all TIBS to continue contribute in any arena of Buddhist work even after graduation.
  2. To have the TIBS to be well managed, well financed, well publicised, events organised to be smooth and slick.
  3. All members of TIBS to be exposed to a good Dharma learning.
  4. TIBS and other Buddhist Organisations work together, so that the youths who are studying in any TI joins in TIBS, and then after graduation joins back the Buddhist Organisation to continue to contribute. (solves manpower shortage problem)
  5. Membership double every 5 years. (to address the declining Buddhist in Singapore)
  6. Active membership more than 50%.

Vision: Strong Buddhist Community, at least at TIBS level.

Short term goal (1 year)
  1. Get SPBS in the next Intervarsity Youth Dharma Camp,
  2. TIBS meditation retreat
  3. Sharing on the Standard Operating Procedure, list of temples, list of speakers, how to organise specific activities/events etc....
  4. Keep current membership pool. (not to reduce)
Then the camp ends, we got some cool souvenirs, NTUBS gives cheer, we all sing Harmonize, and Charlie called for a cheer! Then we all eat steamboat and gone back. Discussions to be continued on facebook.

1 comment:

Memories said...

I love your post and thought for the whole camp, you wrote what I am feeling, I was just too lazy to write =D looking at you, i guess i going to learn from you, not going to be lazy and update my blog which is collecting dust ><