“The censer’s incense is lit, its scent permeating the dharma realm Innumerable Buddhas from afar sense the fragrance……” Inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium, audience placed their palms together, their hearts as one, and sang “The Incense Praise” with great reverence. This was the opening scene that would usher in four presentations of the “Dharma as Water”stage adaptation over three days. In total, 18,000 people attended the 2013 Tzu Chi Year-End Blessing Ceremony, and apart from the presence of the VIP, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s Minister for National Development, Member of Parliament, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, also took on the role of the artist in one of the presentations.
Since 2011, Singapore volunteers had been actively involved in attending “Dharma as Water” study sessions and volunteer sharing sessions. They also invited participation from members of the public, exhorting them to purify their bodies through upholding vegetarian fasts and to learn the Dharma teachings through sharing sessions. The door of the supreme practice of repentance was thus opened, and led by Right Faith and sincere vows, volunteers busied themselves with preparations, making their progress forward gradually but surely, through public presentations of segments of the stage adaptation.
This year, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) celebrates its 20th anniversary and with the blessings of Master Cheng Yen, CEO of Singapore branch, Brother Low Swee Seh lead the volunteers in following a vegetarian fast, and successfully concluded the presentation of the“Dharma as Water” stage adaptation, in the hope that every participant will be able to live out the Dharma teachings. In total, there were a total of 1,728 participants this year, up from 143 participants two years ago.
Each side of the stage had 504 participants, and over four three-hour-long presentations in three days, they were joined by close to 16,000 members of the audience. Participants upheld their vegetarian fasts and overcame much mental and physical challenges, engaging in intensive practice sessions over six months in order to be able to successfully present the adaptation which was the largest Dharma assembly held in years. The adaptation was also a most treasured gift from the Master to the Singapore volunteers to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Tzu Chi Singapore. It was broadcast live over the internet, enabling audiences both local and overseas the opportunity to take part in the Dharma assembly.
Rare is the Opportunity to Encounter the Dharma
As the drum team started up their resounding drumbeats, the thunderous drumming became a wakeup call to one and all to create a harmonious society for mankind. Onstage, amidst a thin veil of mist, participants gathered, leading the way for everyone’s heart to resound with the drumbeats and to give rise to thoughts of goodness.
In the middle, there stood 294 stately and dignified Buddha images for all to see, as the participants sang with piousness: “The Dharma is deep and profound, rare is the opportunity to encounter it; now that I have the chance to learn and practice it, I vow to realize its true meaning.”Coordinated in their movements, participants gathered onstage and vowed to follow the path of the Buddha even as they sought to liberate others.
The three-hour long “Dharma as Water” presentation during Tzu Chi Singapore’s 2013 Year-End Blessing Ceremony wove the various performing arts of dance, drama, singing and sign language together in an easily understandable format to bring forth the teachings contained within the text by Master Wu Da from the Tang Dynasty, known as the “Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentence Text.” By creating visual representations of a water droplet (representing the pure Dharma that cleanses like water does), lotus flower and a Dharma ship etc. through their group formations onstage, participants lead the audience into the spirit of the Dharma assembly.
The origins of the“Water Repentence Text”can be traced back to the story of Imperial Dharma Master Wu Da, who, upon giving rise to arrogance after receiving favourable treatment from the emperor, suffered greatly from a human-faced sore that formed on his knee. It was Venerable Kanaka that unravelled the negative karmic bonds formed ten lifetimes ago between Yuan Ang (now Master Wu Da) and Chao Cuo, through the blessings of the Samadhi Dharma water. Realizing the truth of cause and effect, Master Wu Da retreated to a hut and penned the Repentence text for the benefit of future generations. Through various short drama skits, the message of the law of karma was brought clearly across to the audience.
Huang Jing Hui, a member of the audience, was inspired to do more to protect lives after watching scenes of the karma of killing unfold on stage before her eyes. “I’m not completely vegetarian; I usually just try to consume less meat if possible. But after watching the stage adaptation, I feel the urgency in becoming fully vegetarian.”She is also more aware now that many products we use in our daily lives are obtained through harming and killing animals. “Our bags may be made with leather; after seeing those scenes onstage, I am now convinced that I must make concrete efforts (towards protecting lives).”
Zheng Wei Hong, social worker from the Green Haven Halfway House was introduced to the Repentence practice by a friend. He feels that this practice is very suitable for former prison inmates, hence he invited 38 of them to watch the adaptation with him. In order to attend the Dharma assembly with purified bodies and hearts, he specially arranged for a vegetarian dinner on top of the usual vegetarian breakfast and lunch provided for them.
“Today I’ve realized how easy it is for us to commit evil through speech.”Zheng hopes to be able to do constant self-reflection, and has recently started to encourage the former inmates to greet each other with kind words every morning.
Fang Yong Ming, another member of the audience, was encouraged to watch the stage adaptation by a colleague. He shares that he is inspired by the message that everyone has goodness in his or her heart, and understands the need for the repentance practice. He now has another reason to be compassionate after watching the segment “Experiencing the Six Realms in a Dream,”and wishes to make efforts towards a vegetarian diet.
In Purifying Hearts, Disparate Paths Lead to the Same Goal
From 2003 to 2008, in view of the troubled world that we live in, Master Cheng Yen revisited the teachings in the “Water Repentance Text”and expounded them. The “Dharma as Water”stage adaptation is based on these teachings and since 2011, there have been 24 public presentations of this work. Two years later, public presentations of the adaptation began in Hong Kong and Singapore.
As a prosperous country, in recent years, the people in Singapore are no strangers to material comforts and indulgences; the intellectual elites in our society have seen a spate of clandestine sex scandals, and the completion of two casinos in our midst is a worrying influence. In the scene “Repenting the Obstacle of Afflictions,”one sees how man’s heart can fall prey to the temptations of the external world. Endless misery accompanies one’s insatiable desires, with the result that one’s Buddha-nature becomes obscured.
In the role of an artist in this scene, CEO of Singapore branch, Brother Low, depicts how a once pure and peaceful state of mind becomes tormented by one’s own desires and afflictions. Even towering skyscrapers, casinos and developed tracts of land cannot bring about satisfaction, and the artist becomes entangled in the web of desires he spins, suffering greatly.
Brother Low, who last year gave up his business to became whole-heartedly involved in Tzu Chi’s missions, shares his takeaway from taking on the role in the adaptation : “ From an ordinary and uneventful life, I progressed to having more and more desires after I set up my business, and that resulted in the creation of more afflictions. Now that I have decided to return to a non-profit organisation, I feel in touch with my pure inner self again. Everything is indeed a product of our minds.”
On this occasion, 111 local Dharma Masters graced the event with their presence. Secretary-General of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, Venerable Guang Pin, praised the use of drama and dance to deliver the teachings of the “Water Repentance Text.”This is especially so since our society today has a need for the reiteration of ethics and morals, and the occurrence of man-made and natural disasters in many places around the world is a result of the thoughts and actions of man.
A representative and secretary of the religious harmony unit here also commented that the occasion allowed for everyone to learn from each other and develop mutual understanding. All religions have their own doctrines but the end goal remains the same, and that is to guide others towards good. He expressed how many conflicts in our world are the result of misunderstanding between different peoples, and he was very glad to be given the opportunity to learn from others.
Tzu Chi Singapore also took the opportunity to raise funds for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, and many members of the public donated in the hope that the survivors would be able to rebuild their lives quickly. Cai Miao Ying, who is 81 years old, may be suffering from leg pains, but she nevertheless attended the event with four friends and her maid. A Tzu Chi member herself, she took back a Tzu Chi “bamboo coin bank” last year, and knows the importance of cultivating a good thought a day as she puts some money into the coin bank every day. In returning her coin bank to Tzu Chi, Cai only has one simple wish : that the money be used to help the needy.
Vanquishing Disasters and Giving Impetus to the Dharma
Master Cheng Yen had taught that though many people think that repentance can mitigate disasters, in actual fact, it is our timely self-reflection and repentance, followed by our attempts not to err again, that is the key to mitigating the occurrence of disasters.
Two years ago, Liang Jia Sheng suddenly became unwell, and the cause of his illness could not be diagnosed by doctors. His aunt, a Tzu Chi commissioner, then suggested that he listen to the “Dharma as Water”CD compilation. Gradually, he began to understand the law of cause and effect, and realized that he had indeed committed much negative karma in the past. Through his involvement in Tzu Chi activities, he slowly walked out of his self-cherishing thoughts and began contributing back to society. Since 2012, Liang has been actively involved in the stage adaptation. This time is no exception either, as he has taken on the responsibility of a sign language facilitator, guiding new volunteers in taking in the Dharma.
Lin Jin Xing, a taxi driver in his seventies, overcame his weaknesses of a degenerating memory, stiff joints and lack of expressiveness in order to accompany his wife who had taken on the role of a sign language facilitator. Even while waiting for passengers, or stuck at a red light, he would take the opportunity to practice sign language. Lin has great determination, and was quick to uphold a vegetarian fast upon learning the law of cause and effect. Even his wife has been influenced to put in greater efforts upon seeing his commitment.
Huang Shu Ling, a passenger of Lin’s, had casually flipped through a “Dharma as Water” sign language manual that he had placed in the taxi. Upon her asking, Lin explained to her at length about the stage adaptation and seized the opportunity to ask if she was interested to participate. This was how Lin came to sign up for the adaptation. After having conscientiously studying the teachings, Lin hopes to bring across her realizations and move the audience.
Outside the performance area, it was a bustling scene as volunteers warmly received members of the public who were interested in browsing through the publications and items produced by Tzu Chi amidst the elegant booth setup. Huang Ya Xin had just bought a “Dharma as Water”CD compilation and inspired by the earlier presentation, expressed that she wished to listen to the contents of the CD in the comfort of her home to gain a deeper understanding of the teachings.
As this was also the occasion of the annual Year-End Blessing Ceremony, Tzu Chi members respectfully presented a red packet of blessing and wisdom to the attendees, a gift from Master Cheng Yen to all, in the hopes that everyone can look back at the past with a grateful heart while looking forward to the future with sincerity.
Among the audience and backstage helpers were Tzu Chi members from Germany, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. CEO of Tzu Chi Malaysia, Lin Ci Tian said : “I can see the commitment and diligence of the Singapore volunteers. They overcame the challenges of insufficient manpower by recruiting from the public, exhorted everyone to uphold vegetarian fasts and guided them into the Dharma and Repentence practice.”The Malaysian branch for Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, and Indonesia too, hope to kick off their own public presentations of the stage adaptation next year.
“May Buddha’s teachings of the Great Vehicle spread, that by evil doctrines sentient beings cannot be mislead…..”The Dharma ship formed by 1008 chorus and sign language presenters has already set forth. It is the hope of the Tzu Chi Foundation that humanistic Buddhism would spread among the masses and continue to lead others across to the other shore.