Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Awaken Challenge 2012

Awaken Challenge, an Inter Buddhist Youth Competition was started in 2010. Back then I was one of the four who was supposed to represent NUSBS to participate in this. There is two books to read up for the preliminary round and then 3 out of 5 teams where to go to the finals where the question can ask about anything in Buddhism.

That morning I woke up late, due to unhealthy sleeping patterns and habits, and Jasper had to replace me. NUSBS didn’t got to the finals, and when I saw the questions of the finals, I was glad we didn’t make it. I couldn’t answer half of the questions asked! Even through I prided my self as having read a lot of Buddhism during my secondary years.

When I found out that NTUBS team who won first prize would have their names put up on the Poh Ming Tse temple libraries’ wall, I was so jealous and a bit regretted for not treating the Competition more seriously and important. I promised myself that I would join in again if there is another chance and put my name there. Over the next two years, people would recall this story of how I woke up late and might have caused NUSBS to not get into the finals. I myself am not so attached to this particular mistake. What’s done is done.

In 2011, I was in London when Awaken Challenge was held. But I helped designed a lot of questions for the participants:

Based on the books for 2011:
1) “What Buddhists Believe” By Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada
2) “Buddhism for Beginners”

I had designed 40 questions taken from random and unseemly places throughout the books. I initially shared it to the NUSBS team, then to the rest of Singapore via the Awaken Challenge facebook group.

Here’s what I wrote in the quiz: Prepared by Ng Xin Zhao, NUSBS. Everyone (including non-NUSBS members) is welcomed to test their Dharma Knowledge here! So don't email me just to ask. It will be harder than MCQ for tougher preparations. Please do read everything in the two books before attempting to answer and be honest with yourself. Time allocated: 3 hours. (40 questions, most of them involves listing down things.) Go back now and read the books! Once you click on the next page, you have started!

Then recalling the insane difficulty of the finals, I designed this quiz:

This is opened ended and mostly based on my then knowledge from 3 years of experience with NUSBS and before. Because of these quizzes, I was asked to be part of the organising committee for Awaken Challenge 2012, but I had to say no.

In 2012, just before I attend my graduation ceremony I was determined to represent NUSBS, and win the first place.

During the NUSBS Melaka trip in the beginning of May (story’s coming up soon), the final round up for the members of the team to represent NUSBS was determined. Zi Hao and Dhi-Zen, the two SPS juniors which had known about this competition from Fang Cheng and Wai Kit when we had one of our dinners in Utown. Was two choice in. And Ren Huan, as Damon is training him to be in the MC is in too. I am very familiar with the two SPS guys, but Ren Huan… I do see him in NUSBS events much more often than when I was Vice President. So this is a good opportunity to get to work with the younger generations and teach what I can to them via example. Well, I wasn’t the best example, but still, I was more interested in making sure that their basic Dharma knowledge is well and solid for the next batch of MC.

So after the Melaka trip and me going to Singapore, I called each of them. I didn’t asked if they wanted to represent NUSBS in Awaken Challenge, I just told them that they are in the team and if they are free to join in the Competition. Then I arranged for a common time to meet. As I am almost totally free, from having finished my official undergraduate works, the schedule conflict was with the two SPS guys and Ren Huan. I decided to meet them separately anyway and set the meeting place at Poh Ming Tse, the temple where we will be battling.

First up, I met Dhi-Zen and Zi Hao, I showed them how to travel to Poh Ming Tse and pointed out the transparent glass display that has two teams of NTUBS names craved on it for both 2010 and 2011. They were saying that if we won then first place, it’ll be our names up there! It was the only motivation I wanted to give them. I smiled and go through the basics of Buddhism with them, matching from what limited knowledge we have the English version of the terms I know to the Chinese version of the terms they know. A few days later I went through this with Ren Huan again. The display and the highlighting of the important basic teachings of the Buddha.

They are:

  • Four Noble Truths,
  • 8 Fold path,
  • 4 Right speech,
  • 10 Wholesome Karma,
  • 10 Unwholesome Karma,
  • 31 Realms of Existence,
  • 6 Realms of Existence,
  • 4 Brahma Viharas…

And many more. The day that I met Ren Huan was also the Sunday when Tzu Chi celebrates Mother’s Day, Buddha’s Day and World Tzu Chi’s Day. I went off with 陈宽杰 to the Stadium afterwards, but that’s another story.

Then we finally meet together as a team on Monday night, just before MDC. Johan, Wen Xin, Damon and Andrew were kind enough to drop by and observe. We when through the requirements for the Awaken Challenge including the format, the Special Projects, the motivation for wanting to do this, some more basic Buddhism, including the 5, 8 and 10 precepts. To counter the final and semi-final rounds of open questions, we divided up our job to study further about each tradition as follows:

  • Ren Huan-Theravada
  • Me-Vajrayana
  • Dhi-Zen-Mahayana
  • Zi Hao-Modern Buddhism, later on changed to Ancient Buddhism including the details of the life of Buddha and the Buddhist Councils.

Then we set the date for the next meeting, I shared the two quizzes I made last year, and aim to finish the two books within two weeks. We had to meet online for the next meeting as only Ren Huan is the Singaporean in the group and three of us are Malaysians. After that meeting, my next adventure was to Kuan Yin Chan Lin Zen Meditation Centre for NUSBS meditation retreat. But then that’s another story too.

Two weeks later, on the next meeting, after I came back from the retreat with a deeper understanding of Zen Buddhism, we had another meeting. Johan and Wen Xin dropped by too and helped me to finish up a lot of food that was given to me from Pa-Auk Meditation Centre activity at McRitchie Reservoir the night before, again another story. Dhi-Zen was at the screen, and the rest of us was in SPS room discussing about the 40 questions that I had created last year.

Then I went back home to Petaling Jaya, knowing that I again had to come back to Singapore two weeks later mainly for the Awaken Challenge. During the time I was in Malaysia, celebrating my birthday amongst other things, I suggested that we each take turns to come out with a quiz a day based on the 2 books:

1) “What Buddhists Believe” By Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada
2) Be a lamp upon yourself

Then after 4 quizzes based on the books, we had 4 more based on the traditions and open. Just a nice number to countdown to the day of the challenge. It was ambitious. But here’s our quizzes:

10 questions book Ng Xin Zhao 2012
10 questions book Ooi Zi Hao 2012
10 questions book Lee Ren Huan 2012
10 questions Theravada Ng Xin Zhao 2012
10 questions book Ooi Zi Hao 2012
10 questions Mahayana Ooi Zi Hao 2012
10 questions open Lee Ren Huan 2012

We had a final meeting on the night before the Awaken Challenge itself in SPS room. This time all four of us are there again, along with Johan and Wen Xin. I got to say they are dedicated President and Vice President. We shared on our knowledge about the various traditions and Ancient Buddhism. Then we go through the slides that were to be presented as our special project: Flash Mob Meditation.

That night was as usual. I tempted destiny and luck. I slept late. Andrew had to wake me up! And 50+ miss calls! From a lot of people. When I woke up and noted that there is still time to go to Poh Ming Tse, I managed to stop feeling bad and set my priority on going to the temple. On the way there by bus, there was a lot of worry and calls from my fellow friends in NUSBS that helped to settle the rest of the things. I concentrated on calming myself down. And touched the pen drive in my pocket that contains the slides. Eventually, I called each of those who missed called me multiple times and apologized. Some were in the bus accompanying me to the temple. I managed to get back on track with staying calm and having a clean slate before the competition. On hindsight, Was this what I was testing myself with? At such great risk? Well, it was not that great a risk to me as I was not as attached to the Awaken Challenge as the rest of NUSBS is. Was I testing them? But is it fair to hurt them like this?

Good thing we managed to get to the temple in time, a few minutes before registration closes. The other three were there already, studying up last minute, using the answer sheet that we prepared for the 40 questions as last minute help sheet.

I didn’t wanted to do last minute study. Not really my style. My style was last day study. Well, jokes aside, I didn’t had the right mood to meet and know new people. I just went around and greeted those that I already knew, from previous activities together or from facebook. Then I went up to the toilet and shaved. Readying myself for the Awaken Challenge.

The preliminary will be by individual, we played a game to choose our ordering. Ren Huan got first, followed by Dhi-Zen, Zi Hao and finally me. I think it was not important. What is important is to keep calm and not be agitated whether or not our teammates got a question right. I also told the team to practise the 4 Brahma Viharas, no matter if we win or lose. I sat in a meditating posture, trying not to be too excited about the questions asked. Some of them are so easy I smiled from ear to ear. I just could not sit still, looking at how simple the questions were. Then I constantly reminded myself to calm down and shut my eyes. I’ll just listen to the questions and answers read by the Emcees. It was rare but some of the question I self answered, I got wrong. And those were the ones that my teammates got right!

As the first candidate goes to the second and the third, I was amazed by some teams like Buddhist Fellowship Youth, Singapore Buddhist Federation Youth and Thekchen Choling Youth. They got a lot of 9 out of 10. Awaken Challenge 2010 only had the Tertiary Institution Buddhist Society, perhaps that was partly why I was surprized at their capabilities. This however was played at my peripheral consciousness, my main focus was to calm down and meditate. There was fear too. Fear of getting discouraged by comparison, hence I try to close my eyes as much as possible and avert my gaze on the score board. Fear of getting arrogant by the easy questions, hence I let go of the questions, not bothered by it whether my teammates had gotten it right or wrong. It was all I could do to keep on breathing in and breathing out.

When it was my turn, NUSBS had gotten 23 marks out of 30. My aim: 10 out of 10. It does not matter if we don’t get into the semi-finals, I’ll just do my part. It doesn’t matter if I failed to do my part, I’ll just concentrate on one question as it comes.

And one by one, I tried very hard not to get cocky as I got the answer to the easy ones almost immediately. I looked up to the ceiling and breathe in hard, breathe out hard. Keeping calm all the way, my mind will be calm even when my body is a bit shaky.

There was this one question that almost got me. I changed my answer halfway, and raised up the right one just before everyone from each of the 10 participating teams are required to raise up our answers in unison. When I raised my answers up, it was always open my eyes to check if it was the correct one I was holding and keep my gaze on my area, not looking and comparing to see who’s competing with me, not at the scoreboard. If I know about the scoreboard, it was peripheral thinking again. Didn’t register with the main brain. Didn’t know what it meant. Didn’t interpret it. Caught the perception at the contact, not allowing the feeling to arise. Or if feeling has arisen, not having craving for the wanting or not wanting of the feeling. Just concentrate on keeping calm.

The last question was tricky. What did the Buddha told Ananda just before parinibbana? There were two correct answers there. I was a bit hesitant, and decided to use my luck as I had gotten 9 correct so far. So I’m not so attached to whether I got this right or wrong. Then the Emcee emphasised “to Ananda”. And I smiled. Knowing the right right answer from amongst the two potentially correct answer: “The Dharma and the Discipline will be your teacher when I am gone.”. Instead of “All component things are subject to vanish, strive on with earnestness.”  I finally allowed myself to smile as if this one was given to the others, they might have gotten it wrong as I emphasised to them about the Buddha’s last words as “All component things are subject to vanish, strive on with earnestness.” and did not go through with them the Maha Parinibbana Sutta. (Right besides me now.) I haven’t read it fully too, just an impression I had.

And so I allowed myself to look at the scoreboard. It was just nice that NUSBS got 33 out of 40 and qualifies to enter the semi-final as the third one in! The highest score was 34! And the lowest for semi-final was 32. That was a close one. And then I realised that I was the only one amongst 40 participants who got all 10 out of 10 correct. Lucky me! And tried very hard not to think about this to avoid getting arrogant.

Zi Hao and me were at the semi-finals, ready to cooperate and look at one question at a time until we got into the finals. The open questions were tough! I didn’t know half of it and all five of us got it wrong for the 2 Vajrayana questions. It took some discipline not to casually look backwards or to listen carefully for the (overzealous) suggestions from the ones in the audience who knows the answer. It does seems that I had not studied the Vajrayana tradition correctly as I don’t know the answers to them! Well, we got 7 out of 10 correct in the end, with the other two teams who got into the finals at 8 out of 10 each.

It was finally time for lunch! I just had a good bread provided by Damon (thanks!) for breakfast before the semi-final and now the lunch was super a lot and delicious. I was not my usual talkative-getting-to-know-everyone self. I took the time instead to eat slowly and sit with NUSBS people and catch up with Claron. Claron was a fellow novice monk with me 2 and a half years ago. He is representing Singapore Buddhist Federation now, along with NTUBS, we are the three finalist.

After lunch is over, the NUSBS team came up and practised on the slides for the Special projects part. As far as I could tell, I was a studying last minute trying to learn more about Vajrayana Buddhism. Not that it did any good later on.

When it was time for the finals, I represented NUSBS to come and take one of three signs, indicating which will be the first team to go. We happened to be the first one. There wasn’t really enough time for the Emcees, including Wai Kit to interview us before the questions begin. 10 questions, 4 choices as usual, but with 3 helplines. I was calm at that time, confident along with the others. Taking it one question at a time and not letting questions bother us. The first question was about Vajrayana. Again I didn’t know about it! So instead of trying to look at Wen Xin who’s busy trying to mouth the answer to us (I think? Sorry if I’m wrong, was only out of the corner of my eye), I convinced the team to opt for the phone a friend helpline. We asked Wen Xin and sure enough we got it right. The others were not so sure about using the helplines so early. My reasoning was that we take it one step at a time, when we need it.

Before the 5th question is up, we already used the 50:50 option too. However, the other ones were relatively easy, or at least the ones we know. One of them concerns about the Buddhist Flag, when was it designed and when was it used as the symbol for Buddhism. The first question we got wrong was another Vajrayana question. Well, I was glad anyway, my personality is such that I couldn’t blame myself, but if the others had taken the Vajrayana reading responsibility, I might worry about them blaming themselves or worry about me blaming them for not studying properly. As such, there is no internal conflict within me. The team noted that it’s amazing that we got our first wrong after the half way mark and near to the end.

At the very last question, we had a tough one, concerning Mahayana tradition. Dhi-Zen and Zi Hao were discussing amongst themselves. And we have one more helpline left. So I asked for the helpline to be used: Audience opinion. And I told our team to keep on thinking ourselves, eliminate the impossible ones first, then we might make use of the polls. Dhi-Zen and Zi Hao eliminated option C, and was between B and D when the results came in.

C was the highest followed by B. It was good that our team eliminated option C already. Then we took the decision with B. It was correct. 9 out of 10! We were smiling and shaking each other’s hand. No matter whatever happens later on, the stress is off. I can become nervous again. Finally. (My post exam nervousness strategy) Well. It was a bit unfair on the psychological pressure on the latter two teams. NTUBS came close, with two questions wrong at the start, but all the rest correct. When they got the first one wrong, we were preparing ourselves for the death match question. Then it was a good thing they got the second one wrong earlier too. Or else a lot of unwholesome thoughts might have arisen in my mind. It was really difficult to restrain the mind at that time.

I immediately took my camera out (just remembered that I had one with me) and took our victory smile.


I could saw words of congratulations being exchanged between the audience side, where NTUBS shook hands with Johan and the others. My other three teammates smiled a lot and I reminded them about practising the 4 Brahma Viharas. Equanimity is most apt now. I felt a bit of joy, but didn’t really get overjoyed. It was calm, before, during and after the Awaken Challenge.

The other questions of the finals were not that easy to us too! We were just glad that we got what we got.

Then we had the time of presenting our slides, we were pretty convincing, I think. However, I am glad that NUSBS does not have to suffer another one of my crazy ideas to carry it out when SIMBB won the Special Projects!

The feeling of getting the final prize later on was nothing much. I let the other three get close to the cheque. It’s not the first time I got this kinda thing.


The after feeling was awesome, I do remember to keep on saying that it was a team effort that got us the first prize (it’s true, I don’t know about half of the questions in the final.) when people start to congratulate me. They knew about two years ago. The reality of our names being emblazoned at PMT for posterity has not struck me too deeply yet. Not my first time too. (at elsewhere, but it’s the first that I have earned properly)

Then we had Fang Cheng Birthday Celebration, Photo takings, announcement of something big next year, and cleaning up by the champion team. I was thinking of the present moment while cleaning, but still got distracted by things I don’t remember now.

The only thing that I felt incomplete of the event was that I had not had the opportunity, or mood to get to know more new people.

I then took off with dinner from the leftover lunch, to Tzu Chi and then back in my uncle’s home, I SMSed the other three. Telling them that we should go back to Poh Ming Tse someday and take our photos with our names.

Here I would like to thank all who are involved in the Awaken Challenge, especially the ones who woke me up, and my family and relatives. Especially NUSBS for the ever forgiving attitude.

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