As the sun set, crowds of people began pouring into Bukit Gombak Stadium, and they were warmly greeted and welcomed by Tzu Chi volunteers queued up in neat rows. The "Tzu Chi 53rd Anniversary cum Buddha Day Celebration" was about to commence, amid the welcoming voices.
To thank and commemorate the Buddha for coming to this world to expound the Dharma and cleanse the afflictions away from people’s minds, this year’s Tzu Chi Buddha Bathing Ceremony was themed, "Turning the Dharma Wheel and Entering the Society using the Middle Path."
In the open field at the stadium, close to 1,800 volunteers came together and formed the "Bodhi Path", two sets of concentric circles which symbolised the Dharma Wheel, and the image "TC53", which represented the 53rd anniversary of the founding of the Tzu Chi Foundation in Taiwan.
As the night fell, a loud struck of the gong kick-started the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. Everyone at the stadium put their palms together and piously chanted “The Incense Praise”as they welcomed the 39 Dharma masters from various Buddhist temples and organisations in Singapore.
The ceremony was also graced by the presence of Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security; Dr. Teo Ho Pin, Mayor of Northwest District; Low Yen Ling, Mayor of Southwest District; Yeo Guat Kwang, Assistant Director-General in the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC); seven representatives of various religions; and Steven Tai, Deputy Representative of the Taipei Representative Office in Singapore. Together with around 4,000 volunteers and members of the public, the VIPs joined the prayers to express gratitude to all Buddhas, parents and sentient beings.
Strengthening social cohesion and spreading the spirit of Buddhism
Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-religious country. The group of seven representatives from different religions present at the ceremony was an epitome of religious harmony. The religious leaders led everyone in a one-minute silent prayer where people, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, sincerely prayed for a disaster-free world that is peaceful and prosperous, and for all to be replete with virtues and blessings.
In his opening speech, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean commended Tzu Chi for playing an important role in promoting mutual understanding and interactions among different communities in Singapore. He said that the VWO has been helping people through its Four Missions of Charity, Medicine, Education and Humanistic Culture as well as the Mission of Environmental Protection, and that this helps to strengthen social cohesion.
The Buddha Bathing Ceremony officially began after the speech by Teo Chee Hean. The 39 Dharma masters led everyone to sing “Praise to the Buddha”, which praised Sakyamuni Buddha for attaining enlightenment and expounding the Dharma to liberate sentient beings more than 2,500 years ago.
After that, everyone walked in neat rows to approach the Buddha Bathing altars to pay respect to the Buddha while reciting the Buddha’s name, with the emcee of the ceremony reciting aloud the three verses for the Buddha Bathing ritual: “Bow to the Buddha. Receive a fragrant flower. May all be blessed.” Through the ritual, everyone was reminded to cleanse their minds at all times in order to receive the Buddha’s grace and blessings.
The volunteers that formed the two sets of concentric circles moved around neatly to approach the Buddha Bathing altars, symbolising the turning of the Dharma wheel. An ever spinning Dharma wheel signifies the everlasting presence of the Dharma in the world to help sentient beings eliminate all their afflictions, prejudices and obstacles. Through the simple ritual, everyone was inspired to return to their initial spiritual aspirations and continue to follow the footsteps of the Buddha by going amongst people to help relieve suffering.
After piously paying respect to all Buddhas, members of the group formations started circumambulating the Buddha Bathing altars while reciting the verses of the walking meditation: "Do not seek the Buddha far away on Vulture Peak*; this Peak is in our own minds. We each have a pagoda on Vulture Peak, so we can practise at the foot of that pagoda."
Be it a senior citizen or a school-age child, everybody piously chanted the verses as they moved forward step by step, practising self-vigilance and reminding themselves to emulate the Buddha's compassion and wisdom at the same time.
*Vulture Peak is where the Buddha expounded the Wondrous Lotus Sutra, which teaches the Bodhisattva Path.
During the prayer segment, everyone lit the lotus lamps in their hands and sincerely prayed for world peace. After the stadium’s lights were switched off, the sea of lotus lamps twinkled like stars in the night sky, symbolising the pious prayers of the thousands of devotees reaching the heavens above.
“The entire ceremony is very well organised, and the atmosphere is very harmonious and solemn,” remarked Chandarkant Shah, the religious representative of Jainism.
This was the first time Chandarkant attended a Tzu Chi Bathing Buddha Ceremony and the solemn atmosphere reminded him of the Dharma as Water stage adaptation, which he had once attended. He was surprised when a volunteer told him that the stage adaptation was also an event held by Tzu Chi.
Chandarkant added that one needs to light up one’s own heart before one can light up the hearts of others. He shared that in an era where the world is continually ravaged by natural and man-made disasters, he was deeply impressed by the prayer ceremonies held by Tzu Chi, which inspired love and goodwill, foster social cohesion, and combined the power of sincere prayers from the masses.
“A true prayer can't be just for yourself. Everyone should pray for peace and harmony for the whole world," said Chandarkant.
Different races come together to pray for peace and harmony
Tzu Chi volunteer Helen Teh, who has been inviting her colleagues and friends to attend the Tzu Chi Buddha Bathing Ceremony every year, managed to invite more than 20 people to attend the event this year. Her Indian colleague, Surya, was one of them, and she was a participant in a group formation.
“I was worried that she might find it troublesome and decided not to come (to the talk on the Buddha Bathing Ceremony). I didn’t expect her to not only arrive punctually, but also bring another friend with her,” said Helen happily.
On the day of the ceremony, Surya was awed by the spectacular display at the scene. She said that she was impressed to see people from different races and also religious representatives from different religions present at the Buddha Bathing Ceremony, a major Buddhist event.
"The most heart-moving part was the moment when everyone held a lotus lamp and prayed together…. I felt deeply touched and a deep sense of calm and peace filled my mind,” said Surya.
She expressed her hope to join Tzu Chi’s activities in the future and planned to invite her husband to attend the Buddha Bathing Ceremony next year to experience the beauty of Buddhism.
Accompanied by her daughter, Ng Yuen Oi, 93-year-old Madam Zhang quietly sat in her wheelchair as she participated in the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. Due to the degeneration of her brain, Madam Zhang is unable to speak normally, but her eyes were shining with delight.
Ng’s mother, who is a patient of Tzu Chi Home Care Services, has been suffering from dementia for many years. In the past few years, Tzu Chi volunteers would arrange for them to attend the mini Buddha Bathing Ceremony at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic. This year, Ng seized the opportunity to bring her mother to the Buddha Day Celebration to experience the solemn event, as the venue was near to their home.
Although Ng was a foster daughter of Zhang, the mother and daughter share a very close bond. A Tzu Chi volunteer told Ng that she had given her mother a very good Mother’s Day gift by bringing her to the Buddha Bathing Ceremony, and even assured her that her mother could definitely feel her love. The kind words put a smile on Ng’s face.
Experiencing a different Buddha Bathing Ceremony
Madam Mook Hiam Huay, the widow of a former Tzu Chi Home Care Services beneficiary, Mr. Chua, was also present at the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. It was the first time she attended the event, and she had very much looked forward to it. In the past few years, the late Mr. Chua suffered poor health. Before he passed on, Tzu Chi volunteers and staff even visited him and his wife to give them a golden wedding anniversary photo shoot, to fulfil his last wish.
In view of Mr. Chua’s frail health, Tzu Chi volunteers would arrange for a mini Buddha Bathing Ceremony at his home in May in the previous years, so that both he and his wife could take part. The volunteers invited Madam Mook to join the group formation this year, so that she could experience a different Buddha Bathing atmosphere and celebrate the Buddha Day with everyone.
“I am very happy to be here today!” said Mook who was wearing a white polo shirt. She was saddened by the loss of her spouse after he passed away last year, but felt fortunate to have the companionship of Tzu Chi volunteers.
Another participant, Ye Shu Xi, brought along his wife, Liang Rui Ping, their three sons to the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. Ye, who is also a Buddhist, commented, “This Buddha Bathing Ceremony is conducted in a new style. It is different from the ceremony held in other temples. It is done in an orderly manner and really solemn!”
“I am thankful to be able to take part in this ceremony and am really grateful to all the volunteers who have spent a lot of time preparing for the event. My life is quite stable and peaceful at the moment, and I am grateful for everything that I have now,” shared Liang. She said that she would definitely make it to the Buddha Bathing Ceremony next year if there is an opportunity for her to attend.
The success of the ceremony on this day was the joint efforts of numerous Tzu Chi volunteers. Not only did everyone live out the Dharma, but they also showed their respect for the Dharma in action. May everyone understand the heart of the Buddha, emulate his compassion and wisdom, and be filled with enlightened love for all.