On the 12th of May, 2013, Tzu Chi members concurrently celebrated Vesak Day, Mothers’ Day and Tzu Chi Day. With the same solemn sincerity that characterized the first Buddha bathing ritual held at the Jing Si Hall in Hualien, Tzu Chi Singapore Branch held the 47th Anniversary cum Blessing Ceremony at Bedok Stadium with utmost sincerity and team spirit.
Apart from commemorating the birth of the Buddha, the ceremony also called for all to purify their minds and to express their gratitude to the Buddha, their parents and fellow sentient beings. In continuing to adopt last year’s celebration format, representatives of ten major religions in Singapore accepted Tzu Chi’s invitation to lead participants in praying for blessings for the world. It was propituous that 118 leaders of different branches of Buddhism came together to lead close to 8,000 people in praise of the beauty of the teachings of Buddha, and to pray for purification for all beings and a disaster-free world.
The Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Teo Chee Hian, Senior parliamentary secretary, Mr Sam Tan, North West CDC mayor, Mr Teo Ho Pin, Member of Parliament, Gan Thiam Poh; the Ambassador of Israel to Singapore, Mrs Amira Arnon; Taipei representative to Singapore, Mr Fadah Hsieh, as well as many political and business leaders were among the dignitaries who had accepted Tzu Chi Singapore’s invitation to grace the ceremony.
Getting Closer to the Masses
The 2013 event was the third outdoor Buddha Bathing Ceremony held by Tzu Chi Singapore Branch. It is also the first one held in the Bedok Stadium, as the previous two ceremonies were held Yio Chu Kang Stadium. Located in the east of Singapore, Bedok Stadium is surrounded on all sides by HDB flats, making it closer to the masses. Two weeks prior to the event, Tzu Chi volunteers started visiting residents in the vicinity, introducing Tzu Chi and the blessing ceremony to them. Some residents could see from their flats the progress of the preparatory work and the ceremony itself; there were also those who were passing by or who came to exercise at the stadium who voluntarily extended their help in the preparation of the ceremony.
Mr Xu Qingping, a resident who lives nearby, witnessed for himself how Tzu Chi volunteers worked like an army of ants in setting up the venue on the eve of the ceremony. Upon learning more about the significance of the Buddha bathing ritual the following day, he chipped in spontaneously to help out, deciding that he too, would take part in the Buddha bathing ritual. He laughed as he said, “I feel that all of you are very close to each other like a family, if need be, I will stay on to be a volunteer.”
Due to some restrictions, Tzu Chi volunteers could only enter the stadium in the evening of the 11th of May to set up the venue. They did it under a starry sky and continued the morning of the next day. All functional groups worked seamlessly together, with the younger generation of volunteers learning from their seniors and preparing themselves to succeed them in organizing future such ceremonies. All strived to welcome participants with the greatest warmth and hospitality.
While paying attention to all details, much effort was also put into cultivating a wholesome mindset; Yu Chenghan, a Tzu Chi Youth leader, shared with us, “all of us learn how to communicate and plan with an open and pure mind, this cuts down the number of meetings to make decisions.”
A Procession Formed by a Flurry of Invitations
This year participants in the Buddha bathing ritual were divided into four groups, forming the totems of the numbers“4”and “7”, a“Bodhi leaf” and“the ship of Dharma”. In addition, there was a Bodhi path in the middle leading directly to the area signifying the light of Buddha. These signified the 47th anniversary of Tzu Chi, the great love of Tzu Chi that reaches out to all, and the Singapore Tzu Chi members’ vows to uphold the spirit of Tzu Chi to spread Buddhism.
The previous year, the formation of the human totems were awe inspiring, so this year Tzu Chi volunteers tried to do even better by inviting even more volunteers and members of the public to participate in the ceremony—they succeeded in getting a total of 2,320 participants. Among them were 200 and 180 people who were invited by Tzu Chi entrepreneur members and Tzu Chings respectively, thereby doubling the numbers of previous year. They invited both individuals and families, and through 25 briefing and invitation sessions conducted islandwide, the formation of these artistic human totems became a reality.
“In the beginning I was both worried and discouraged, as from time to time there were team members dropping out and manpower redeployment. Luckily the Tzu Chi community commissioners remained undaunted and grew more tenacious as they kept on extending their invitations to even more prospective participants that saw to the success of the ceremony eventually!” A coordinator of the event, Boh Shu Hui was grateful to all Tzu Chi volunteers for their tremendous patience and tenacity, as well as their willingness to shoulder responsibility and cooperativeness in pulling off the event successfully.
Armed with two years of experience, all the challenges faced in the run up to the grand event were resolved readily by Tzu Chi volunteers through their cooperative and accommodating spirit. Due to the general elections in Malaysia, the majority of Tzu Chi volunteers who are Malaysians needed to go back to Malaysia to cast their votes; hence the rehearsal which was originally slated for the 4th of May had to be cancelled in the last minute. Though the rehearsal could only take place on the same day as the event itself, everyone took it seriously and with the team spirit developed over time, as well as the excellent guidance provided by volunteers who were among the sea of people, the totem formation was completed successfully.
On the 12th of May itself, everyone observed the precepts of Buddhism faithfully and prayed with sincerity, and no one ever thought of giving up as they practiced and rehearsed earnestly for the ritual under the scorching sun the whole day.
An Interfaith Blessing Graced by Political Leaders
In the company of refreshing evening breeze, Tzu Chi 47th Anniversary cum Blessing Ceremony was declared open amidst much anticipation of the 8,000 -strong participants at the stadium. Representatives of the ten major religions in Singapore, namely Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Taoism, Jainism, Catholicism and Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and Bahaism, led all at the stadium to observe one minute of silence to pray for world peace.
“To maintain a peaceful society, we need long term cooperation between the people and the government, and we have to be understanding to each other and be respectful of each other. All religions aim to teach people to be good and help the underprivileged, as well as to have faith in fairness and justice.” Attending the ceremony for the second time, Mr Teo Chee Hian,the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, recognized Tzu Chi for its contributions in his address. “Tzu Chi promotes understanding among all religions and helps to create a cohesive society, and it too reaches out to the needy both in and outside Singapore; all these are commendable feats worthy of our recognition.”
Paying Homage to All Buddhas
Amongst the bed of flowers and makeshift lotus pond, the lapis lazuli statue of “The awakened one of the universe” emitted awe inspiring light beams. 2000 Tzu Chi volunteers who participated in the totem formation moved steadily in synchronization with the chanting of Buddha names, the ceremonial procession embodied the beauty of serenity and humanitarianism. When “Praises to the Buddha” was played, people sang out loud their salutation to all Buddhas with sincerity and reverence.
“Seeing that the world is full of disasters and that many are suffering, I make it a point to participate in the blessing ceremony!” A care recipient of Tzu Chi, Ye Rong Guang, shared his feelings with much determination. Years ago an accident at work left his left eye with only 0.5% vision, but he deeply believed that his son, Ye Shun Cheng, could be his “eyes” as he joined the rest in the Buddha bathing ritual and the totem formation.
The filial Shun Cheng stood next to his father and with his hand resting on his father’s shoulder, he accompanied his father in the procession with perfect teamwork between themselves. Though couldn’t see with his eyes, Rong Guang could feel for himself the resonance of the mind power of all at the ceremony and he could imagine in his mind what was happening around him—a picture of perfect beauty and solemnity.
Master Da-ren, after having learnt about the missions of Tzu Chi, humbly mentioned that he did not do much; and from the demeanor of the Tzu Chi people he could see for himself the power of the teachings of Master Cheng Yen, “the Master is indeed a worldly bodhisattva.”
Through the efforts of Tzu Chi volunteer Wang Yong Zheng, this year there were as many as over 60 Thai monks of the Theravada tradition who took part in the ceremony. “This serene and elegant ceremony is highly inspiring to people of all faiths, not just to the Buddhists.” Phrakru Sophon Buddhikum, the first vice president of Thai Sangha Samatcha Singapore, said that Buddhism believes in all of us equally having the same Buddha nature. In a multiracial society like Singapore, the master expressed his admiration for Tzu Chi for actively promoting the interfaith blessing ceremony and he too encouraged the other religious organizations to emulate Tzu Chi in promoting such activities.
Mr Gan Thiam Poh, a Member of Parliament, also mentioned that it is an achievement to have different religions getting along harmoniously in Singapore. In view of the many clashes among religions in the world nowadays,this event is indeed a very meaningful one!
Repent the Past, Start Afresh
Apart from gathering the wholesome thoughts from all in praying and bathing the Buddha, a new segment on , “The Great Repentance” was included in this year’s interfaith ceremony, inviting participants to repent for their wrong doings, to have their minds cleansed by the blessings of Buddha and to purify their bad karma.
“I feel that in the past one year I committed a lot of wrongdoings due to my selfishness, jealousy and cravings. I bring brought my wife along in the hope of correcting my wrongs and purifying my mind through bathing the Buddha bathing. There are endless sufferings in this world, it is now time to be awakened!” The husband and wife team of Zhang Ming Xing and Zhang Shui Ping, who hail from Shanxi, of China expressed their determination to purify their minds,. and uUpon learning about the Tzu Chi Buddha bathing ceremony, they registered themselves for the occasion without a second thought.
Zheng An Yu, a Christian, got to know Tzu Chi seven years ago through Singapore Children Cancer Foundation when her son had to go for bone marrow transplant. Since then she has been harboring the thought of reciprocating to the society and after watching the Da Ai drama “The Rain Dew Waltz” with her husband, both of them are now more certain than ever about their new direction in life, “our lives in this world are short, we want to make it a point to help the others.”
“To take part in Buddha bathing is even more meaningful than receiving a gift from my kid!” Joining the rest for the first time, Zheng An Yu experienced for herself the harmonious atmosphere and the great efforts of the Tzu Chi volunteers, prompting her to consider becoming a volunteer herself to understand better about Tzu Chi and to learn from the rest how to make contributions to the society wholeheartedly.
“Buddha, we chant your name tens of million times, we have tens of million wishes, may we present to you tens of millions of our sincerest hearts…”8,000 people held their lotus candles high up in the air and prayed in unison, with the sounds of prayers resonating in the sky. Between the sky and the earth, the countless lotus candles formed a sea of lights and all were immersed in an atmosphere of serenity and peacefulness. Afterwards, under the guidance of Tzu Chi volunteers, the participants formed queues orderly to take turns to bathe the Buddha. While feeling themselves immersed in the blessings of Buddha, they in turn transmitted the blessings to all others in the world.
“Having been in Singapore for so many years, this is the first time I have come across Tzu Chi.” Bala Subramania who comes from southern India was participating in the ceremony for the first time through the invitation of his Indonesian friend, Feranika Husundo. Though he is a Hindu, he was also very touched upon seeing so many people participating in the ceremony just to pray for world peace. This has given him much inspiration about how he should make his contribution to world peace.
A journalist from China, Xu Fu Gang, has known Tzu Chi for many years and he came into contact with Tzu Chi again five years ago in the wake of the Wen Chuan earth quake. He expressed, “today is also the anniversary of the 512 Wenchuan quake, my feelings are mixed but my attitude towards the ceremony is a sincere one.”
Xu Fu Gang fully identifies with the philosophy of Tzu Chi about disaster relief and he mentioned that he would readily participate in all Tzu Chi activities. He too was very concerned about the earth quake in Ya’an, Sichuan province. While praying for all in the world, he too would bring the care and concern of Tzu Chi people in Singapore to his compatriots in Sichuan.
Though finding ourselves in the degenerate era and a world of turbidity, may the Dharma be internalized in all of us, eradicating our ignorance and worries so as to regain our serenity, wisdom and blessings that are equal to those of the Buddha. In this great era, with our most sincere and purest thoughts, may we go beyond religions and races to pray for a disaster-free world for the many years to come.