At 10am on 3 July, the YMCA delegation arrived at Jing Si Hall and was greeted by the Tzu Chi youths (Tzu Chings) who performed the lively Tzu Chi signature song “The Blissful Face”. Together with the Tzu Chings' bubbly sign language moves, there was much vigour and zest at the scene.
Tzu Ching leader Seow Hong Cheong first led the 10 visitors to the poster board area and introduced Tzu Chi’s mission and vision to them in detail. The delegation was mesmerized by stories about the inception of Tzu Chi Singapore and those of Tzu Chi’s international disaster relief efforts. Some were seen busy taking lengthy notes.
Cheung Lung Yin, one of the YMCA youths, expressed her admiration for the Tzu Chi volunteers for their efforts in going wherever their help is needed. "The spirit to give and contribute is worth learning," she opined.
The next stop – the Jing Si Book Hut – proved equally captivating as the delegation was riveted by the elegant items and publications on display. The Da Ai Technology eco-textile products and Jing Si Publication's eco-friendly utensils, both fashionable and practical, were most popular with the visitors.
Wastage = Putting a strain on Mother Earth
Back at the meeting room, the leader of Tzu Ching’s environmentalism group, Yeoh Kuan Seong, shared with the YMCA guests on the origin of Tzu Chi’s environmentalism initiative, its current development and Tzu Chi's seven environmental thrusts: to promote it to the young, to practice it in daily life, to intellectualize it, to embrace it as part of family values, to escalate it to the spiritual level, to refine it and to achieve health for all.
Yeoh explained that Tzu Chings not only focus on reducing their own carbon footprint, but are also actively involved in creating environmental awareness among tertiary students and volunteering in Tzu Chi's community recycling activities. Through the participation, they have seen for themselves how things were discarded away before having been utilized fully, "all because the owners succumbed to their material desire in the beginning".
“Through participating in recycling activities, we learn how to curtail our material desire, and to use things without wastage is to escalate environmentalism to a spiritual level,” said Yeoh.
But that is not enough. The best way to protect the environment still, is to go on a vegetarian diet.
Through the “A Life Connected” video, the participants discovered that it is human's craving for meat and dairy products that spoils a peaceful coexistence with Nature. Due to our insatiable demand for meat, animals are killed and we make ourselves unhealthy by consuming meat, not to mention the damage we are causing planet Earth.
The final message from the video urges all to opt for vegan diet so as to protect Nature together with the animals inhabiting it.
Vero, which stands for 'Veggie Hero', is exactly the campaign brainstormed by the Singapore Tzu Ching to create awareness and actions among tertiary students in hope of inspiring more youths to join the ranks of saving the Earth by choosing correct food. Upon mentioning that, Yeoh further referred the YMCA counterparts to the website of Tzu Chi Hong Kong branch, encouraging them to visit and participate in the branch's environmental activities upon their return to Hong Kong.
Chairman of the delegation, Chan, lamented that it is difficult to promote resources recycling in Hong Kong as the island’s land area is small and is densely populated. But he is hopeful that if everyone starts changing their habits and influences others to do the same, it is still possible to achieve good results.
“If we educate our residents well on creating less garbage, it may not be necessary for the volunteers in Hong Kong to do recycling work. We can save 7 million PET bottles from ending up in incinerators if everyone uses one PET bottle fewer (as Hong Kong has a population of 7 million).”
Cherishing commonalities among differences
“Thoughts dictate actions which in turn become habits. If one has wholesome thoughts to begin with, the habits developed will lead to a kind personality and he will eventually become a person with compassion and wisdom. Such a positive effect doesn’t stop at the individual level. If an individual can influence others to also harbour compassion and wisdom, such positive effects will keep propagating and eventually the whole society will change for the better.” Ong Wee Heng, a counsellor of Tzu Ching, shared his understanding of YMCA's objective "Transforming Lives and Society" with all that was present.
Brother Ong pointed out that YMCA's motto of “To serve. Not be Served” is similar to Tzu Chi’s philosophy that “human beings have immense potential to do good” and “do things beneficial to the rest and bring more value to one’s own life”, which shows that Buddhism does share some similarities with Christianity.
Speaking of his observation on today’s youngsters, he said, "Most young people nowadays chase after ephemeral fame and material gain and confine themselves to their own small circles, often bereft of what the society needs the most from them – Love and Care for the needy and the unfortunate."
He then expounded the spiritual aspects of the Environmental 5Rs: to Refuse temptations, to Reduce greed, to Repair [correct] unwholesome behaviour, to Reuse [reinforce] wholesome thoughts and to Recycle good habits and relinquish bad ones, and encouraged the YMCA youths to aspire to "be optimistic and hardworking, loving and passionate about life, as well as being helpful to the others".
Interaction that breeds relish and gratitude
Ms Lee, the teacher who led the delegation, was the key person in making the visit to Tzu Chi possible. Ms Lee is a member of Tzu Chi Hong Kong branch and she identifies highly with Tzu Chi's education philosophy.
She mentioned that in the beginning the students were a little doubtful whether they should visit a Buddhist organization, but she exercised her positive thinking to encourage the students to transcend religious boundaries to learn new things so as to widen their horizons.
She was surprised that Tzu Chi doesn’t dwell on Buddhist’s ethics and morals all the time, much to her comfort and admiration. The Tzu Chi humanistic values and the attitude to identify commonalities among differences as exhibited by Brother Ong also endeared Tzu Chi to her students and made it possible for them to learn happily and willingly.
“Through this visit, I hope the students learn how to lead their lives with gratitude and be responsible to themselves and to the society. I also hope that apart from devoting their time to studies, they can also contribute to the society by involving in voluntary work. I will generate a report out of this trip to share my joy with my colleagues and students back in Hong Kong.”
We sincerely hope that our visitors from afar will practice what they have learnt when they get back to Hong Kong and embrace environmentalism in their daily lives. We too sincerely wish that they will try out vegetarian diet and overcome all difficulties to promote environmentalism in Hong Kong. Together we will make the world a better place and set an exemplary example for others to follow.