“What does Buddha look like?” A visually handicapped individual asked a volunteer. The day 10 May 2015 marked three occasions—Buddha Day, Mother’s Day and Tzu Chi Day. On this significant occasion, 34 visually handicapped individuals slowly made their way into Singapore Expo Hall 3 while accompanied by volunteers.
“There is a crystal Buddha statue in front of you. The Buddha looks very compassionate, with one hand holding an alms bowl and another hand lightly touching the Earth, comforting sentient beings,” explained a Tzu Chi volunteer. A group of volunteers then gently guided the visually handicapped attendees as they partook in the Buddha Bathing Ceremony; touching the water, smelling the fragrance of the flowers, and feeling how many flower petals there were.
All sentient beings possess Buddha nature. Bathing the Buddha is a sign of respect and gratitude to the enlightened one. It is also a time for self-reflection and purification of the mind. During Tzu Chi's 49th Interfaith Prayer Ceremony, members from the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped joined in to pray for world peace and happiness.
Great love transcends race and religion. Although their eyes could not see, they could still sense, hear, smell, and experience the solemn ceremony and the tranquility of the Buddha Bathing ritual.
Chen Shi Hui, a staff member from the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), had taken time off to accompany the visually handicapped attendees. She said, “Seldom do they have the chance to go outdoors so this is a good opportunity for them. Hopefully by taking part in the Buddha Bathing ritual, a seed of kindness will be planted within them.”
An Inspiring Event, A Rare Opportunity
Ali and Sharifah are devoted Muslims and the couple are severely visually handicapped. Even though they did not participate in the Buddha Bathing ritual, they understood what was going on by listening to the emcee and feeling the entire atmosphere.
Ali said, “This is the first time I have attended a Buddhist event and learnt about another religion. I believe such an event can build mutual trust amongst religions.” As the song “Our Earnest Prayers” filled the hall, his heart was also filled with inner peace, and he commented that he could feel everyone around him praying together for world peace.
Sharifah felt that all religions teach good to mankind. Like Ali, she could also sense the kind thoughts of everyone present and the solemn ambience of the ceremony. This inspired a deep sense of gratitude in her, and kindled in her a wish to love and protect all living beings.
“I’m very glad to be given this rare opportunity to attend the Interfaith Prayer Ceremony”, said Madam Zheng Shao Xia, who is 72 years old. She almost had to miss the event because the bus was full but SAVH helped to fulfill her wish eventually.
Madam Zheng came from a humble background. Her father died when she was young and her mother brought her up single-handedly. When she spoke about her mother, she broke into tears and said, “Mother, I miss you.” However, she was also comforted by the fact that she had a filial daughter. “My sight is not completely lost, unlike some of the people here. I hope to come back to this world again (in my next life) with a clearer vision."
Transforming Personal Love into Great Love
“This is a very touching song. It melted my heart and I want to learn it,” said Vinoth, a physiotherapist from India, as he asked for the title of the song, “Praise to the Buddha”. As the only Indian in TIMA, Vinoth was moved to tears despite the fact that he could not understand the Chinese lyrics. He said the inner peace he felt was more than words could describe.
Vinoth joined Tzu Chi as a volunteer in April this year, and he was thankful to Dr Edwin Lim for inviting him to join the Interfaith Prayer Ceremony. “Everybody treated me as part of the team, and they patiently explained to me the Buddha Bathing ritual.” He could vividly feel the force of the combined kind thoughts and prayers.
Vinoth also brought his mother, Natarajan Santhi, to join the ceremony so as to let her understand more about Tzu Chi. “The smiles on the volunteers’ faces, and their patience in explaining the exhibits are admirable. Mother’s Day this year is really meaningful.” As for Santhi, she was overjoyed too. She loved reading books on Buddhism but could never stop worrying about her children. After listening to the volunteer’s explanations, she understood that she should learn to give her children blessings instead and transform the love for her children into Great Love to help the less unfortunate.
Understanding Cause and Effect
Tzu Chi beneficiary Mr Li accepted a volunteer’s invitation to join the ceremony together with his 47-year-old son, who suffers from spasms. Both wheelchair-bound, it took them over an hour to travel from their home to the Expo. Two years ago, Mr Li had to have his left leg amputated because of diabetes. His son is mentally challenged and unable to take care of himself, the result of a bout of high fever suffered when young. Three years ago, he started having problems with his digestive system and his swallowing function became impaired; he now has to be fed through a nasal tube. Mr Li’s wife passed away twenty years ago, leaving him to care for their son alone. Even though life is tough, Mr Li has accepted his fate with equanimity.
“We are the architects of our next lives. Life is like a light bulb and our soul is like the electricity that runs through it. When the bulb does not work anymore, similarly too, our life ends. So we get a new bulb and continue with the next life. Both Heaven and Hell are in the mind.” When he was touring the exhibit, “The Ten grounds of Bodhisattvas”, Mr Li smiled and said that what Buddha taught had given him the most inspiration.
Through the Interfaith Prayer Ceremony, Mr Li wished to send blessings to his sick brother who was hospitalized. He also prayed for the Nepal earthquake victims and aspired to do more charity work to help the needy.
Giving Love and Gathering Kind Thoughts
This was the first time Madam Hu Mei Fong celebrated Mother’s Day with her mother in such a meaningful way. Madam Hu's mother normally stays home to look after her epileptic son, who is also mentally challenged. "In the previous Buddha Bathing rituals that I had attended, the ritual was to sprinkle water on the Buddha statue. But Tzu Chi’s Buddha Bathing ritual is really unique, and I felt a calmness in my heart,” her mother said joyfully.
“There was a volunteer explaining about the Buddha Bathing ritual and during the ritual, I felt a sense of serenity and all my troubles seemed to have vanished. When I was standing in front of the dignified crystal Buddha statue, I instantly developed a sense of respect for Buddha.” Madam Hu wished to pray for her family and the world at large; she hoped that everyone would be blessed and that the merits be dedicated to her sick brother.
Madam Hu also listened to the volunteers' introduction of the Jing Si products made by the Jing Si Abode’s Dharma Masters and was so fascinated that she bought the all-natural soap and instant rice back home. “It felt good to be vegetarian for a day and I would try to continue vegetarianism. I wish to bring my mother along next year too.” Before she left, she did not forget about the Nepalese people and donated some money into a Tzu Chi bamboo coin bank.