On the 18 and 19 of January 2014,the plot of land beside the Pasir Ris MRT was ambient with festivity. Under a huge white canopy, red lanterns, Chinese New Year couplets and other decorations greeted the eye.
Offering a spread of 51 enticing vegetarian food options, and a mind-boggling array of Chinese New Year goods and flowers, Tzu Chi volunteers bustled about, raising funds for charity even as they promoted the concept of vegetarianism to members of the public. Many visitors also spent time browsing around in the area that showcased books produced by Jing Si Publications. This year, visitors to this area were also introduced to the Da Ai TV programmes in the hope that the wholesome content produced by the station could touch the hearts of more people and awaken the goodness within.
A Two-Pronged Approach - Vegetarianism and Conservation
Recently, the weather has been acting erratically; though springtime heralds, the cold lingers on in many parts of the world. Scientists say that we will increasingly experience more of such weather anomalies. Adopting a vegetarian diet is one step towards slowing down global warming, and in order to promote the message of vegetarianism and environmental conservationism, Tzu Chi volunteers have spared no efforts at this year’s charity bazaar.
Posters exhorting one to adopt vegetarianism are on visible display in front of the food stalls, the creative efforts of the volunteers who hope that members of the public would think twice before they consume meat products.
As some who wish to follow a vegetarian diet may face some difficulty in knowing where to obtain appropriate products, this year’s sponsoring merchants were allowed to display their name cards at the stall and sponsored product brands were also prominently shown.
The public were encouraged to cut down the number of meals they consume outside in favour of nutritious home-cooked meals with the family, and to this end, a series of vegetarian cook books were available for sale at the Jing Si publications area.
Lin Jin Zhu, who has been vegetarian for 12 years, visited the bazaar with a friend and credits her health and alertness to her vegetarian diet. She favours recipes that call for natural ingredients in place of mock meats and shares that she already owns a few vegetarian cook books by Jing Si Publications. This time round, she bought a book on vegan cakes and pastries so that she can prepare confections that are both delicious and nutritious for her family during the new year.
Besides vegetarianism, environmental conservation can also reduce the effects of global warming. Of the “5Rs” of environmental conservation (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle), “refuse”is the most direct way to reduce the creation of more waste. This year, the charity bazaar stalls do not provide any disposable containers – visitors brought along their own carrier bags and food containers in the bid to play their part for the environment.
Lin Shi Qiao, a visitor, is aware that he needs to cut down his usage of disposable chopsticks. He had once attended a Tzu Chi activity in Kuala Lumpur, where he noticed volunteers picking up rubbish and sorting them out without a complaint after the event had ended. Impressed by what he saw, he had brought his own food container to the charity bazaar in order to minimize the creation of rubbish.
Xu Zhen Yao, a volunteer said, “Many people feel that it is a hassle to buy something if packaging for takeaway food is not provided. Though I was worried that visitors would not be able to accept this, if we do not implement this, we will never be able to achieve the concept of cleanliness at source which Master Cheng Yen advocates.”
The recycling team of volunteers ensured that before the bazaar began, every stall would have two different coloured rubbish bags for sorting out the various types of waste generated. They also briefed those manning the stalls on the importance of refusing the use of styrofoam containers.
In addition, Xu felt that as those manning the stall have direct contact with customers, they are the best people to educate them on the issue of cutting down on waste. He reveals that last year’s bazaar generated ten garbage bins full of waste, while this year, it was reduced to eight and a half bins.
Purifying Minds in Visible and Unseen Ways
To promote Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture, this year, the display of books and other products from Jing Si Publications was moved to the entrance area of the bazaar. This ensured that many visitors were indeed attracted to take a closer look; every book by Master Cheng Yen, and every CD on display containing the sound of Dharma, is a valuable companion on one’s spiritual journey.
“Buddhism opens up a spiritual path for us. May you grow in wisdom and blessings and bask in the joy of Dharma!” Local artiste Nick Shen called out cheerily to visitors. Walking around in his “Cai Shen Ye (God of Fortune)” costume which he had brought himself and giving out chocolates to all, he attracted a lot of attention as he did his bit for the charity bazaar in his capacity as a Tzu Chi volunteer.
Shen also handed out slips of paper with Jing Si Aphorisms on them. He said, “the Master often says, a kind thought can transform a person. Handing out words of wisdom like these Jing Si Aphorisms during the festive period is very meaningful since it may change a person’s life.” Seeing how selflessly the volunteers contribute of themselves, Shen is moved and hopes that in the new year, he too, can become more diligent and contribute more towards Tzu Chi’s causes.
During the bazaar, many people were introduced to Da Ai TV programmes, and the various platforms through which the programmes can be viewed. Though Singapore is a technologically advanced country, many still do not know that they can watch Da Ai TV’s content online via their smartphones and tablet devices.
“Though a lot of good programmes have been produced, if people do not get to see them, we cannot spread the message of goodness.” Over the last two years, Tzu Chi employee Yu Zhen Sen had invested much effort into testing and improving the technological platforms through which Da Ai TV programmes can be received. As the station strives to produce accurate and wholesome content, he feels that they should be widely promoted.
Yu patently attended to the queries of many interested visitors, introducing them to the various Da Ai TV programmes which include medical and educational topics, vegetarian cooking and many others. The programmes cater to the interests of a wide age group, and Yu lists the example of the animated version of“Stories Told by Dharma Master Cheng Yen,” that delivers Buddhist teachings in an interesting and easy-to-understand format.
If we know how to leverage on technology, it becomes a Dharma tool in our hands. Yu not only assisted visitors in downloading the required application into their smartphones, he also distributed cards that had the information printed on them so that they could similarly encourage friends and family to easily access Da Ai TV programmes.
Professor Huang Yi Guang from the National University of Singapore and his wife had previously used different media TV boxes to receive Da Ai TV programmes, and had also watched these programmes online. However as it was too much of a hassle, they gradually stopped watching. Having bought an Android box at the bazaar, Mrs Huang happily said that it would soon be very convenient for her to watch Da Ai programmes.
In just two days, the charity bazaar came to a successful conclusion. Not only was it an environmentally friendly event that attracted an unprecedented number of visitors, many people also went home knowing of the accessibility of Da Ai’s wholesome programmes. Through an event like this, Tzu Chi hopes to inspire the seeds of goodness in others; as we strive for spiritual purification, so should we protect and love the earth that we share.