Tzu Chi’s 49th Anniversary cum World Peace Interfaith Prayer Ceremony was held on 10 May 2015 at the Singapore EXPO, to commemorate the three occasions of Buddha Day, Mothers’ Day and Tzu Chi’s anniversary. This year, however, the event was held indoors, and an exhibition area was set up at the venue to enable attendees to learn more about Buddhism through the use of various media.
“We want to facilitate others to have a better understanding of the Buddha as well as Tzu Chi (this time round) as the previous years’ events inevitably proceeded at a fast pace,” said Low See Seh, the CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore branch. He explained that this would bring the participants’ support beyond just making donations for charity, and he hoped that after understanding more of what Tzu Chi stands for, more would join the ranks of Tzu Chi volunteers.
Although the space at the venue this year was smaller than the outdoor space provided by a stadium in previous years, because the Interfaith Prayer Ceremony was held over five sessions, one of which was for volunteers, more people could participate and they even had more time to browse the exhibition area. Seow Beng Lan, volunteer in charge of the exhibition area, explained that the unique thing about this year’s exhibition was that it deepened participants’ understanding about the Triple Gems ─ Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
As soon as attendees stepped into the venue, they could browse around the various exhibits accompanied by explanations provided by volunteers, and thus gained an understanding of the significance of celebrating Buddha Day, Mothers’ Day and Tzu Chi’s anniversary together. They were also shown the origins of Tzu Chi and how the Foundation has developed into an international NGO with the four major missions of Charity, Medicine, Education and Humanistic Culture.
Through the use of multi-media at the exhibition site, “The Story of the Buddha”, which traced events from his birth till his enlightenment, was presented to the attendees. Video clips introducing Master Cheng Yen’s Dharma books and the way of life of the Master’s monastic disciples at the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, Taiwan, as well as Tzu Chi’s relief efforts in the aftermath of the recent Nepal earthquake, were also screened. Attendees could also read inspiring Buddhist teachings on the posters about the “Ten Grounds of Bodhisattvas” in the exhibition area. On display, too, were ten beautiful crystal statues of the Buddha in both big and small sizes, which allowed the attendees to experience the joy of viewing the Buddha’s sacred images close-up.
A Dignified Ceremony for World Peace
During the first session attended by Tzu Chi volunteers, 29 religious leaders and representatives from the Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Ba’hai faiths were present. For the remaining sessions, time-management was made more efficient by having half of the participants take part in the prayer ceremony while the other half browsed the Buddhist exhibition area. The groups were later rotated. In the five sessions, a total of 4,700 attendees and 623 event helpers took part.
Seng Han Thong the Member of Parliament from Ang Mo Kio GRC and invited VIP for the first session, was a first-time participant. The event made an impact on him, and he even brought his 85-year-old mother and his spouse with him for the afternoon session so that they could participate in the Buddha Bathing ritual, too. He praised Tzu Chi for its holistic approach as it not only spreads the tenets of love and compassion for all, it also focuses its efforts on education.
Taoist representative Su Zheng Long took part in the interfaith prayer session for the first time, and after viewing the exhibition area devoted to “The Great Awakened One” (the Buddha), he expressed that the crystal Buddha statues are a symbol of Great Love, the concept of which also encompasses love for our Earth. He also commented that the Buddha Bathing ritual, walking meditation, and prayers for our fellow beings held great significance and was conducted in a very dignified manner.
Mr Ong Lye Hwee, Chairman of the Senior Citizens’ Executive Committee of Yuhua Community Club, said that since seven to eight years ago, Tzu Chi had been attracting many senior citizens, youths and children to its recycling activities and also encouraging them to make monthly donations to help those in need. He commented that his committee always rendered their support to Tzu Chi whenever it held an activity.
Giving to Help Earthquake Survivors
Representative from the Muslim faith, Mr Haji Alladad Khan shared his view that every religion teaches its followers to do good, and he wholeheartedly affirmed the humanitarian efforts of Tzu Chi in Nepal. Impressed by how Tzu Chi’s instant rice product can ease the hunger of disaster victims with just the addition of water, he expressed his wish to work together with the NGO on how to transport the instant rice to the disaster zone. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) had started fundraising after the earthquake struck and had placed donation boxes in 68 mosques the week before. Mr Haji Alladad Khan also revealed that he would be initiating street fundraisers with eight Islamic schools the following week, and planned to send medical teams, medicine, food supplies, and water purifiers to Nepal.
Vulnerable Sonam Gyaltse Gnale from Manang, Nepal, said with emotion, “Offering prayers for Nepal today was very meaningful as Nepal is a poor country with many mountainous regions; goods cannot be transported easily and life there is rather hard.” In 2014, the Venerable started the “Bo Gangkar Manjushree Project” to help educate the children and orphans there. Currently, there are 21 beneficiaries.
“When other humanitarian aid groups have left, you stay on till the last.” These words were those of Venerable Shi Jing Wen, a long-time supporter of Tzu Chi. A few days prior to the event, she had requested a donation card from Tzu Chi Singapore’s Deputy CEO Xu Xue You, and managed to get more than 80 people to donate to the cause.
Ran Bahadur Rana, a Nepalese who volunteers with Tzu Chi Singapore, was moved the moment he stepped into the venue and saw the donation boxes set up for the victims of Nepal. His parents reside in Nepal, and though their house was damaged by the earthquake that struck on the 25 April 2015, it did not collapse and they are safe and sound.
Today, seeing thousands pray for his countrymen, Ran said that there were no words to describe the emotions in his heart. Though he was sad at the misfortune suffered by his countrymen, he was grateful for Tzu Chi’s fundraising efforts. Having made a donation himself, Ran was confident that the money would definitely be used to benefit the disaster victims. As a grey uniform volunteer, he had one wish: he hoped for an opportunity to be part of Tzu Chi’s humanitarian team if the chance arose in the near future.
A Timely Expression of Love for One’s Parents
Li Yu Zhen is in the jewellery business and had made special arrangements with his daughter to fly down from Beijing to join his wife and son in Singapore. This April, Li and his children stepped into the Jing Si Hall for the very first time to take part in a tea gathering promoting filial piety and gained a new understanding of Buddhism; in the process, they also formed a good impression of Tzu Chi.
Since his wife Gao Qiu Xiang had joined Tzu Chi three years ago, he had observed changes in her which had resulted in positive changes in his family. As it was also Mother’s Day that day, he had brought his children along to attend the event as a form of expressing gratitude and an acknowledgement of her efforts. Li believes in the Chinese maxim: “First bring order to the family, then govern the country well and peace in the land follows.”
The jeweller used to understand Buddhism simply as a matter of going to the temple and offering prayers and incense to Buddha. But he later saw that Tzu Chi took the initiative to connect with people, bringing humanistic Buddhism into their lives and encouraging them to practise the Dharma. He further elaborated that a grateful heart naturally brings about societal harmony, and hoped that the might of the Dharma could attract more people into its fold and that Tzu Chi’s philosophy of Great Love could spread widely throughout China.
Daughter Li Shan Shan said, “Today is Mother’s Day and having grown up, I finally see that it is not easy to be a mother and a lot of sacrifices have to be made. I will express my love to my mother more often in future.” On the other hand, Li’s son, Jin Ze, a secondary school student, hugged his mother, Gao Qiu Xiang, and announced: ”It has been 17 years; Mom, I love you!” With tears in her eyes, Gao said that she had found happiness and bliss in Tzu Chi.
At around 3pm in the afternoon, the prayer ceremony welcomed 34 attendees from the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH). Each was accompanied by one person who was either a Tzu Chi or SAVH volunteer, or a SAVH staff, as they proceeded to bathe the Buddha. Liang Zhi Cai, a visually handicapped attendee, is from the Catholic faith and was quick to agree to come along for the ceremony. He commented that he felt at ease while bathing the Buddha, and as it was Mother’s Day, he wanted to send the blessings to his mother. Liang’s mother had passed away last year; the gratitude he had towards her was truly moving.
Through the day’s events, the interfaith prayer ceremony had its objective in inspiring the goodness that is found in everyone. Praying for all beings to enjoy peace and for a world free of disasters − this was the same wish that stemmed from the compassion resonating within everyone’s heart.