As a verse in the musical adaptation of the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings goes, “All things are constantly in formation and cessation, there is no cause for wonderment.” All phenomena in this world, including our very lives, are subject to the natural process of birth and death and one should therefore take the law of impermanence in stride. From Aug 1 to Aug 3, 2014, Tzu Chi Singapore Branch presented a sign language segment from the prelude to the musical adaptation of the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings at the auspicious seventh lunar month prayer and blessing ceremony. The prayer hall was filled with serenity as the dignified presentation dispelled the misconception that the seventh lunar month is the month of the ghosts.
36 Tzu Chi Faith Corps members together with Tzu Chi commissioners went onto the stage in an orderly manner to offer flowers, lights and fruits as they led the audience to pay homage to the Buddhas and to formally launch the event themed “celebrating an auspicious month by creating affinity with all sentient beings and to take care of the earth.”
“Recently, there were cases whereby the fire from burning incense paper spread and even burned the cars nearby…” Without need of a getai (seventh lunar month performance), Tzu Chi volunteers promoted the notion that the seventh lunar month is an auspicious month through a short performance. In the short skit, a woman offered a lot of fish and meat to her ancestors while waving colorful paper money in the air to pray for blessings. Tzu Chi volunteers then enlightened her that the seventh lunar month is actually an auspicious month; burning incense papers not only pollutes the air, it is harmful to our health as toxic gases are released during the burning process.
A member of the public, He Jing Yuan, shared what he had learnt: “I learn the true significance of the seventh lunar month, in the past I used to burn a lot of paper money either at work or at home as a habit, from now on I will start to avoid burning incense paper. To pray by offering flowers and fruits is worthy for all to follow.”
Awakening from Ignorance and Practicing Joyful Giving
“Let’s offer the fragrant incense of a pious heart, with sincerity we observe the Buddhist precepts and accumulate wholesome and kind thoughts together…”at the five blessing ceremonies held over three days, Tzu Chi volunteers on the stage with the use of simple sign language, led more than 2000 participants in offering prayers. At the five ceremonies, Tzu Chi volunteers Ke Shui Yuan, Kuang Guo Mei, Shen Sen Ping, Li Hui Zuan and so on took to the stage to share their personal experiences and to promote right beliefs and thinking in Buddhism, urging all to give rise to right thoughts, observe the precepts and protect the environment, while sincerely praying for the wellbeing of all sentient beings on earth.
“In the past I always drove my lorry to the wholesaler to stock it up with paper money, ”Li Hui Zuan said. Before joining Tzi Chi, entrepreneur Shen Sen Ping and his wife Li, were like many others who celebrated the seventh lunar month in the traditional manner by spending as much as $500 dollars on paper money and other offerings. They even had to buy from wholesalers as the quantity of incense paper they needed exceeded that supplied by most retailers. They believed that by burning more paper money and being more generous in their offerings, the “good brothers” (ghostly beings) would give more blessings to their business.
They took pains to observe every detail as they made the offerings, for example, they had to wear red outfits while making the offerings. “(This was done) to attract the best of luck, and the clothes had to be new. My mother-in-law instructed that one must wear new clothes while making prayers,” Li recalled.
Li was grateful that she got to know Tzu Chi in 2009 and has since learnt that the raw material for making paper money is wood; many trees have to be felled to make the paper money, destroying nature and causing landslides and other disasters as a result. She started to feel uneasy and decided not to burn paper money anymore. The big barrel in which she burned paper money is now used to keep recyclables and she now donates money to charity instead of buying for offerings.
“I feel happier now that I don’t burn paper money, and I keep the money saved in a bamboo coin bank to help the needy.” After turning his superstitions into right beliefs and stopping the practice of burning paper money, Shen indicated that his business is still as good as ever, and even better. As such, he told all with certainty: your business will not get affected adversely even if you do not burn paper money.
Su Xiu Qin who once owned a business supplying paper money, has decided not to burn the paper notes this year. Noticing the market for paper money was shrinking, she folded up her business in 2009. After that, she continued to burn small quantities of paper money under peer pressure, despite the occasional feeling that what she was doing was not environmentally friendly.
After getting to know Tzu Chi, Su received Master Cheng Yen’s teachings every morning via internet. She gradually understood what constituted right beliefs and right thoughts, decisively quitting the practice of burning paper money this year without any fear or anxiety. Not only that, she took six of her friends with her to attend the blessing ceremony. “Apart from understanding the significance of the auspicious month, we get to learn about environment protection and vegetarianism. All these require the purification of one’s mind.” One of Su’s friends, Ding Shu Zhi, shared with the rest.
Observing Filial Piety at All Times
Apart from being an auspicious month, the seventh lunar month is also one that celebrates filial piety and gratitude. As a Jing Si Aphorism goes, “We should not delay doing two things on earth, one is to observe filial piety and the other, to do good deeds.” A special tea offering session was incorporated into the 2014 seventh lunar month prayer and blessing event, providing an opportunity for children to offer tea and their gratitude to their parents under the witness of all. It was a heartwarming session, the heartfelt gratitude expressed by the children touched the hearts of many among the audience and moved them to tears.
As it was a rare occasion for four generations of the family to get together, He Xiu Qiong capitalized on the opportunity to take her elderly mother, children, son-in-law and grandson along to participate in the prayer and blessing ceremony. Though having difficulty in kneeling down after a back operation that took place a few years ago, 63 year old He insisted on offering tea to her 86 year old mother. “To show my gratefulness to my mother, though I have difficulty in kneeling, I did it with the belief that ‘with great will comes great strength’!”
Making a spontaneous decision to go onto stage to offer tea to her mother, Li Ming Wei held her mother tight and said tearfully, “Thinking of my deceased father, I realize I will have no opportunity to offer him tea anymore…”Recalling her father who passed on due to a heart attack the previous year, Li Ming Wei shared the pain of not being able to take care of one’s parents when one wishes to do so. “I feel deeply for myself that one should cherish the opportunity to take good care of one’s parents when they are still around. As such, I will cherish my time with my mother even more.”
Li, together with her husband, children and mother attended the ceremony under the invitation of her superior who is also a Tzu Chi volunteer. Hailing from Penang, she brought her mother to Singapore to live with her after her father passed away. Her mother is still trying to adapt to the new environment and Li hopes that her mother’s long term social visit pass will be renewed so that she can continue to take good care of her mother.
Besides sign language presentations, skits and tea ceremonies, Tzu Chi volunteers also made use of the slope beside the Jing Si Hall and the car park behind it to set up booths to display Tzu Chi’s Jing Si publications and natural products, as well as to set up an environment protection educational area for the public. Through their friendly and interactive approach, Tzu Chi volunteers drove home the message that burning paper money and killing animals to make offerings are harmful to the environment, thereby spreading right beliefs and encouraging all to develop wisdom and right faith.
At the conclusion of the ceremonies, all participants offered up their blessing cards to the Buddha, with the hope that in the auspicious seventh lunar month they would remember to do good deeds to repay their parents’ kindness and to create good affinity with all sentient beings while also adopting a vegetarian diet to protect the earth.