“Being an entrepreneur myself, the seminars that I had attended before had all been about ways to expand businesses. But tonight is different. Tonight we are here to learn how to extend loving kindness.” The CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Low Swee She, said this in his welcoming address to the 171 entrepreneurs and volunteers present.
Among them were close to 100 entrepreneurs and volunteers from Tzu Chi Indonesia, KL-Selangor and Klang, who came to Singapore to attend the Tzu Chi charity concert to be held at University Cultural Centre the following day, featuring Israeli countertenor David D’Or, Taiwanese singer Johnny Yin and Italian art maestro Vittorio Amadio.
In recent years, the Singapore Tzu Chi entrepreneurs’ group have called on the Indonesian and Kuala Lumpur branches several times to learn from their counterparts. Playing host for the first time, they took pain to create an environment imbued with humanistic beauty to welcome the visitors, paying much attention to details of the tea ceremony and décor of the stage. They also invited fellow Tzu Chi volunteers to present a tea serving ritual and put up a sign language performance for their guests.
In his welcoming address, Brother Low commended his fellow entrepreneurs for contributing to the socioeconomic wellbeing of their local societies, as well as in Tzu Chi, which were instrumental in helping Tzu Chi volunteers promote Tzu Chi missions in their respective localities.
The CEO also shared the remark by Master Cheng Yen which prompted him to entrust his business to his staff to take on his current post: “One can never own all worldly wealth so it is best to put one’s energy into doing good for the society”.
Like Brother Low, many entrepreneurs were also inspired by the Master and are now very devoted members in Tzu Chi.
On stage sitting side by side were the vice CEO of Tzu Chi Indonesia, Sugianto Kusuma, director of Indonesia Da Ai TV, Mansjur Tandiono, convener of Indonesia Tzu Chi honourary board members, Hendra Sakti Sek, convener of Tzu Chi KL-Selangor entrepreneurs’ group, Tong Siew Bee and convener of Tzu Chi Singapore entrepreneurs’ group, Sim Hee Chew and Ong Wee Heng. In a talk show setting, the six shared with the seminar host their gains and experiences in Tzu Chi.
Turning Animosity into Love
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are multi-racial and multi-religious countries. However, during the 80s and 90s in Indonesia, whenever there were social unrests, the poor ethnic Indonesians were easily incited to vent their resentment on the relatively rich Chinese. The country was ravaged by a global economic crisis in 1998. In 2002, the capital, Jakarta, was hit by a massive flood, rendering the Indonesian society much damage.
Sugianto Kusuma, who had just got to know Tzu Chi then, rallied a group of entrepreneurs to lend their hands to the poor and flood refugees. They also worked with the Indonesian government under the suggestion of Master Cheng Yen to revamp the Kali Angke river in a five-part plan: pumping water, tidying up and sanitizing the area, conducting free clinics, and then building a Great Love Village. Through relocation, vocation training and education, the quality of life of the locals was improved gradually.
“I first met Master Cheng Yen in 2001 and was very much impressed by the organization she built. When I got back to Indonesia, I knew I had to get involved and start doing something,” shared Brother Sugianto, who is also the president of Indonesia’s Agung Sedayu Group and Artha Graha Group.
“The Master explained to us that the unrests were not solely due to racial discrimination in Indonesia but the widening gap between the rich and the poor. And we have to overcome animosity with love.” Brother Sugianto bore the Master’s words in mind and after the Great Love Village was completed, he began putting in effort in promoting Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture in the school community.
“We can see the children becoming more confident and hopeful after receiving education at our school. Many are different from their old selves now!” added Brother Sugianto.
The revamping of the Angke River and the construction of Great Love Village was not only the biggest charitable project undertaken by the Indonesian entrepreneurs, it also won much recognition from the government and is now a model village that other organizations visit and try to learn from.
Mansjur Tandiono, a friend of nearly 30 years of Brother Sugianto, was deeply touched by his commitment in Tzu Chi missions. The coffee trader confessed that he did not expect his friend to be so serious with volunteer work at first. Later with his encouragement, Mansjur took on the esponsibility of building the school in Great Love Village and later helmed the local Da Ai TV –both were undertakings that he knew nothing about initially. Luckily, with the assistance and support of fellow Tzu Chi members, the entrepreneur volunteer took one step at a time and slowly learnt the ropes. The school later went into operation in July 2003, and the Da Ai station, in August of 2008.
Though the Chinese press reported Tzu Chi activities in Indonesia, not many were aware of it as most Chinese Indonesians do not know the Chinese language. In order to promote Tzu Chi’s spirit of Great Love to mainstream society, the Indonesian volunteers overcome much difficulty and finally managed to secure the last license issued by the authorities to run the television station. In September last year, the TV station subscribed to satellite services to bring its programmes to Indonesian households with satellite dishes, reaching out to even more viewers.
Brother Mansjur shared that while engaging a translation company to dub and display subtitles for the Taiwan-produced Da Ai Dramas, the company voluntarily provided a discount upon learning Tzu Chi’s works and philosophy. Da Ai TV Indonesia also produces many quality children and environmentalism programmes that benefit both children and housewives, thereby creating stronger awareness about environmental protection among the locals.
A worthwhile life
Brother Sugianto described his encounter with Tzu Chi as a turning point in his life. The joy he derived from doing voluntary work had been very fulfilling and different from that of his past life in entertainment.
Recalling when he first visited the Kali Angke neighbourhood and witnessed how the locals there drank dark, filthy water and were bothered by mosquitoes and insects even before sunset, Brother Sugianto realized how tough life was for the underprivileged. It was only through firsthand experience like this that “entrepreneurs understood the hardship of the poor and learnt how to help them”.
“Moreover, helping others is tantamount to helping ourselves. It is only when society is peaceful and stable that we can make economic progress as a whole,” said the devoted volunteer.
Speaking on the attitude change of the native Indonesians towards the local Chinese, he concluded, “Tzu Chi has become the driving force behind everyone who is trying to serve the society.”
“Brother Ah Guan (Sugianto) is truly my saviour,” shared Hendra Sakti Sek, the convener of Tzu Chi Indonesia’s honourary board members who sat beside Brother Mansjur on stage.
Before he joined Tzu Chi, the fruit trader would spend his days indulging in vices such as smoking, drinking and gambling. His career was stable then and he had a lot of spare time and money with which he squandered on his bad habits. Sugianto’s advice and coaching helped him see that he was not making good use of his life. After getting to know Tzu Chi and Master Cheng Yen’s ideology, Hendra learnt that leading a simple life is a form of blessing and began turning over a new leaf.
“Gambling the money away creates bad karma and donating it to the needy is doing good. Since the money I lost in gambling could have been used in charity, I should be wise enough to know what to do, shouldn’t I?” These few simple words from the now Tzu Chi volunteer drew laughter from the audience.
Sister Tong Siew Bee, convener of the Tzu Chi KL-Selangor entrepreneur group, was once lost in her life too. Hailing from a rich and happy family, the co-founder of Top Gloves Corporation Berhad, the world's largest rubber glove manufacturer, has much to be envied for. Yet she confessed that she used to be really unhappy because she "had too many material desires". She would nitpick on her family members, quarrel frequently with her husband and scold her children whenever they did things that weren't in her favour.
After joining Tzu Chi and participating in home visits to needy families, she learnt how fortunate she had been while others were going through much hardship in life. She then started to count her blessings and learnt to be more forgiving and grateful towards people around her.
Nowadays she and her husband Lim Wee Chai are responsible for leading the Tzu Chi entrepreneurs' group in Kuala Lumpur. She indicated that it was not easy to summon support from entrepreneurs in a blessed country like Malaysia, so she is grateful that the headquarters conducts entrepreneur camps every year that allow new entrepreneurs to learn about Tzu Chi missions in Taiwan and how to cultivate themselves to be both prosperous and noble.
Vegetarianism – the way to rid unwholesome habits
In recent years, the tireless effort of local volunteers has inspired many Singapore entrepreneur volunteers to help plan and execute charitable activities such as the Great Love Charity Fair, Chinese New Year cookies and Mooncake charity sales, leprosy home visits and charity concerts. Despite their busy work schedule, the entrepreneurs have exhibited their “can-do” spirit and committed themselves to volunteer training. Some of them have even taken on the role of Tzu Chi commissioners.
“I was ‘conned’ into visiting Tzu Chi Headquarters in Taiwan in 2007,” joked Sim Hee Chew, the executive director of Nylect Engineering Pte Ltd and chief convener of Tzu Chi Singapore’s entrepreneurs' group.
This volunteer who visits Taiwan four to five times every year to participate in the entrepreneur camp was delighted to share his volunteering experiences with the audience. “I started with recycling work and realized how the environmental equilibrium of our planet was upset and also the importance of educating our young generation about environmentalism. I then learnt about the plight of the poor families through home visits under our ‘Seeds of Hope’ bursary programme, and through blood donation drive I came to know that one pack of blood can save the lives of three people.”
He confessed that he had dropped his habit of ‘finger pointing’ while at work and stopped being hot tempered. Instead, he has made it a point to be respectful, grateful and forgiving towards his customers and employees. He has also implemented a profit sharing scheme with his employees and his business has since grown bigger by the day so both he and his wife have been able to devote more time to Tzu Chi’s work.
Ever since he became part of Tzu Chi, Brother Sim has been feeling much at ease with himself; and with a clear and unperturbed mind, he has been able to make sound judgments which makes his business plain sailing.
Another convener, Ong Wee Heng, shared how he kicked his bad habits and improved his relationships with his family members after becoming a Tzu Chi volunteer. In the past, the executive director of Lim Kim Hai Electric Co (S) Pte Ltd always got home late as he had to entertain his clients by having drinking sessions with them. His wife was unhappy about it and turned to alcohol too to relieve her own grievance.
Fortunately the situation got better after the couple began volunteering their time with Tzu Chi.
In a humorous tone, Brother Ong shared how he embarked on a vegetarian lifestyle in three phases. In the beginning, he felt he was being hypocritical if he continued to eat meat while promoting vegetarianism as a way to conserve the environment in the corporate green seminars held by Tzu Chi. So he stopped eating meat, followed by fishes and eventually, prawns. Seventeen months later, in May 2008, an earthquake and typhoon ravaged Sichuan and Myanmar, respectively. In response to the call of Master Cheng Yen, he vowed that he would be a vegetarian for the rest of his life and his future lives.
When he first turned vegetarian, Brother Ong was worried about bringing inconvenience to his business partners when having meals with them. But once he overcame his psychological barrier and made it open that he is not taking meat anymore, his acquaintances were understanding and supportive enough to opt for vegetarian meals when dining with him. “This is how I influence people close to me to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle,” he shared.
Changing for the better
“They are all successful entrepreneurs, but they disregard their social status and commit much of their time to volunteer work.” Ng Tiong Guan and his wife Ho Ting Choo who run a lubricating oil business remarked that they had learnt much from the seminar. Participating in a Tzu Chi activity for the first time, Ms Ho felt that Master Cheng Yen was referring to her when she spoke of people “indulging in good food and being materialistic”. She felt embarrassed as she reflected upon her lifestyle and expressed will to curb her material desires.
A Buddhist believer himself, Ng initially thought that being pious is to adorn the Buddha statues and chant sutras and mantras. It was only after participating in the Tzu Chi entrepreneurs’ camp that he realized true cultivation is to walk the path of the Bodhisattva and to serve the people and society.
After returning to Singapore, in the company of his business friend Sim Sem Peng, who is also the managing director of Malayan Daching Co. Pte Ltd and a Tzu Chi volunteer, Huang began assuming the chauffer role in the monthly Tzu Chi blood donation drives. “I feel very happy as I am making lives more convenient for others,” he said on the experience.
He also saw for himself how patient and caring Tzu Chi volunteers could be when they waited for care recipients who were not in, to return when the volunteers called upon them at their homes.
Ng has also observed changes in Sim, commending him for shedding his toughness and becoming a gentler person. “He truly is exemplary! He makes me want to follow him and learn from him.” Ng was grateful that he had met with a true friend who shed light on his life. He felt great too after having been on a vegetarian diet for two weeks, and decided to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle from then on.
Invited to the seminar by Brother Sim Hee Chew, Ker Hock Choon confessed that he was experiencing the low point of his career. Having listened to the sharing of the several entrepreneurs, he lamented that he too, had some bad habits and that he needed to change for the better and begin life afresh. “I hope I can come back to volunteer with Tzu Chi when my career improves,” he added.
The heartwarming seminar brought entrepreneurs from the four places of three countries together, witnessing for themselves that material wealth is never in conflict with self-cultivation – the rich can also practice Buddhism and lift themselves spiritually so long as they are committed to doing so.
Tan Lay Choo, a commissioner from Tzu Chi Klang, brought seven family members with her to Singapore. Among them was her godfather Teo Ah Li, a donating member of Tzu Chi for more than 10 years but who has declined invitations to visit Tzu Chi in Taiwan on many occasions. Sister Tan was most happy when her godfather commented that the sharing of the entrepreneurs was very inspiring and that he is thinking of visiting Taiwan later this year to understand the organization better.
The Jing Si Camp for entrepreneurs first came into being in 1995 and is conducted three times a year. It receives both local and overseas entrepreneurs and helps them to understand better the spirit of Tzu Chi and to contemplate about the value of life. It has inspired people in many professions who are successful in their field who, by attending the camp, came to realize that besides developing their career or business, they ought to dedicate themselves to working for the good of the world with a humanitarian spirit and care about the world.
We sincerely hope that more people will realize that there is more to life than making money and strive to improve the wellbeing of our society collectively.