Member of the public Hong Ye Sheng came alone to the 2014 book fair, and surprised himself by being able to sit down quietly to read a book for close to an hour. “The set up here is very conducive for taking a peaceful break,”he says.
From 10 - 6 June 2014, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) welcomed visitors to enjoy quiet moments with a good cup of tea at their booth space during the Singapore Book Fair 2014, held at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre. Lifestyle products were also available for purchase, and Tzu Chi’s two-hour talk on 15 June titled “Vegetarianism for Our Earth and Spirit”attracted an audience of a hundred.
The Singapore Book Fair is the largest publications fair with an established presence locally. This year, it chalked up a visitorship of approximately 100,000 people. The Tzu Chi booth took up 216 square metres and was situated right at the back of the exhibition hall. Boasting a muted theme of white, grey and dark blue, it employed the use of hanging banners, partitions and posters to demarcate an area in the open concept space that served as a quiet“reading haven” amidst the bustle and babble of visitors.
Recreating the serene atmosphere of the Jing Si Book Hut at the exhibition hall, and carving out a space for enjoying a good read while sipping tea was the biggest achievement for Tzu Chi at this year’s book fair. In today’s fast-paced society, the organization hopes to advocate time for reading and quiet contemplation. Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) Zhao Xin Yu explains that the aim was precisely to allow visitors to experience the luxurious feel of a few quiet moments absorbed in a book with tea by their side.
Many visitors and also fellow exhibitors from other booths were impressed; they popped over to visit and even took pictures. Zhao also feels that the entire set up of the Tzu Chi booth space at the fair can be seen as a wordless medium of transmitting the Dharma to others, and an opportunity to create kind affinity with others.
Purifying Hearts through Reading and Quiet Contemplation
There are three aspects in tea drinking: the first—“gratitude,”when one recalls the hard work of the tea farmers; the second, “contentment,”reminds us that we must be grateful for what we have; and the third, “value,”reminds us that we should not waste a drop.
Visitor Hong Ye Sheng, who came to the fair alone, was looking for books on the philosophy of life when volunteers warmly invited him to sit down for a cup of tea. Immersed in the fragrance of tea and books for close to an hour, he finally decided to purchase two copies of the “Jing Si Aphorisms” and a text devoted to the “Sutra of Infinite Benefits.”
Hong says that the “Jing Si Aphorisms” are presented in a simple and easy to understand manner, yet the meaning behind is profound and inspires one towards right thinking. After volunteers introduced him to Tzu Chi, Hong immediately filled up a form in the hopes that he will be able to join the ranks of volunteers in the future.
“The Power of Heart,” “Returning to Our Pure Nature (回歸清淨的本性)" and “Expounding the Sutra of Infinite Benefits (說法無量義無量)” are the three books that were promoted at this year’s book fair. Many visitors purchased a copy of the latter which uses simple analogies and stories to bring across the teachings of the “Sutra of Infinite Benefits,”and Zhao Qing Fa was one of them. Zhao shares his opinion after reading it, saying that through integrating simple Buddhist teachings within stories, people can relate to the teachings in their daily life. It has inspired in him the realization that whenever he meets with setback, he should face up to them with right thoughts. He has also decided to pass these beneficial books on to his friends after he has finished with them.
For Wang Jing Yuan, arriving at Tzu Chi’s booth was akin to finding the direction for the next chapter of his life. His affinity with Tzu Chi began in 1993, and Wang had participated in many activities such as recycling and study sessions etc. In 1999, he even visited Hualien, Taiwan and took part in a retreat by Tzu Chi. Since then, due to the demands of work, he has gradually dropped out of the organization’s activities. As an Associate Professor at the Nanyang Polytechnic’s Environmental and Water Technology course, Wang has reached a high point in his career and wished to retire soon.
As he chatted with volunteers while browsing through the books, Wang realized that perhaps he had been missing out on something important in the years that he had been away from Tzu Chi. He expressed with some emotion that he realized now that what he had been searching for was actually Tzu Chi. With that, he has decided to revisit Hualien, his spiritual home, and let his initial aspirations to benefit others guide him in his future path.
Appreciating the Pure and Natural
Soap made with natural ingredients, Tzu Chi produced instant rice and eco-friendly bowls and chopsticks are displayed on a wooden table as volunteers share the spirit and philosophy behind these products with visitors.
Health conscious visitor Mai Hua Zhen happily purchases powdered mixed grains and vegetable based seasoning for home cooking use. She says that many products nowadays have preservatives added, even those that claim to be organic and this worries her. Feeling that the products were reasonably priced, she purchased a few items at the fair and intends to buy more if she likes them.
Tui Na massage practitioner He Shao Dong has visited the fair two days in a row. On the first day, he finished watching the documentary on Master Cheng Yen which he bought, and this spurred him to return the next day to find out more about Tzu Chi. He is in agreement that we must practice the Buddhist teachings in our daily lives and out of admiration for the Master, he bought a related text on the “Sutra of Infinite Benefits.”
He had already heard about Tzu Chi as far back as 2003, and when fears for the safety of food manufactured in Taiwan broke out in 2010, he spend a few hundred dollars buying nutritious and tasty food products produced by Tzu Chi as gifts for friends and family. He is glad to know that till now, some of them still continue buying these items for consumption.
The Many Ways of Going Vegetarian
To promote vegetarianism in the local population, Tzu Chi accepted the invitation to host a talk entitled“Vegetarianism for Our Earth and Spirit”on 15 June 2014.
Tzu Chi International Medical Association members, TCM doctor Zhou Qi Shi and nutritionist Li Ling Feng spoke separately on the benefits of vegetarianism in combating illness and how one can ensure a balanced vegetarian diet from the viewpoints of Traditional Chinese Medicine and nutritional science.
Dr. Zhou pointed out that cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol are the most common illnesses seen in meat eaters. He advised everyone to consume more vegetables to decrease the risk of developing cancers, and that a balanced vegetarian diet is necessary to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Nutritionist Li Ling Feng also shares with the audience the correct way in which a balanced vegetarian diet can be achieved. Lin You a member of the audience, remarks that in understanding the nutritional profile of the food we eat, we no longer have to depend on meat products to meet our dietary requirements. A vegetarian himself, he is aware that food intake must be in suitable amounts, varied and made of natural ingredients.
Professional culinary instructor Wu Hui Li used slides to illustrate the various methods of preparing tasty and nutritious vegetarian foods. As the venue only allowed for a non-oily method of cooking which does not produce fumes, Wu demonstrated how to use Tzu Chi’s instant rice product in her cooking. She also stressed that vegetarianism supports both spiritual and environmental causes. “Just as humans want to live, so do animals. I hope that every one of us can develop a compassionate heart, stop our pursuit of pleasing our tastebuds and co-exist peacefully with them. Living simply is also a form of happiness.”
In order to make the seven-day fair a success, many volunteers took leave from work to help out at the booth space, taking turns to be on duty. The Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore expressed her gratitude for the hard work of everyone, the efforts of the new planning team, and the display of cooperation that brought about the successful conclusion of the event.