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Tzu Chi Singapore’s 20th Anniversary Bowing Pilgrimmage

The scene of a dignified procession of volunteers taking part in the bowing pilgrimage solemnly was a fitting symbolism of the efforts that Tzu Chi had put in over the last twenty years in Singapore. On 6 October 2013, 626 participants revisited the years of efforts that were put into the various Tzu Chi missions over the years, and remembered with gratitude, the hard work that the pioneering volunteers had put in. With the warm blessings and advice of Master Cheng Yen still fresh in their minds, Singapore volunteers look forward to creating a future that will be just as inspiring.

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With every step they took, volunteers sincerely prayed for a world free of disasters. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

At 5.00am in the morning, the rain showed signs of abating. Chen Zi Rong, tasked with the role of marshaling 420 volunteers lined up neatly at the road beside Jing Si Hall, called out :“The rain has stopped, get ready for the bowing pilgrimage.”

Prostrating reverently with every three steps, their bodies coming into contact with the wet ground, everyone was a picture of pious sincerity. Elderly volunteers who had difficulty bending simply took part in the pilgrimage standing up. Not a single volunteer dropped out of the procession as they proceeded with the pilgrimage.

The bowing pilgrimage marked the start of the 20th anniversary and half-day training and sharing session on 6 October 2013. Though there was the problem of space constraint in northeastern Singapore, which sees no lack of towering residential buildings, strong winds and a shower of rain earlier, the atmosphere during the pilgrimage was reverent and serene. It was as though the sweet rains had washed away all the tiredness and troubles of everyone instead.

Volunteer Chen Zhao Yun feels that ten years have gone by in a flash. With every step he took, memories from the past re-surfaced in his mind. “When the procession headed towards Jing Si Hall and I saw the long lines of volunteers at the back, it came to my mind that those of us in front must progress quickly, so that the ones at the back can follow,”he shares rather metaphorically.

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Even the early morning rain could not dampen the spirits of volunteers as they participated in the first large-scale bowing pilgrimage organized by Tzu Chi Singapore. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)

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The atmosphere was filled with peace and serenity as 420 volunteers formed a long procession, reciting the Buddha’s name as they reverently prostrated with every three steps they took. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

Sincere Pledges Transcend Borders 

When the dewdrops on the trees reflected the first rays of the rising sun, 626 people proceeded inside the building so that they could attend the videoconference linking up Jing Si Abode in Hualien with Jing Si Hall in Singapore, and where they could participate in the “Morning Volunteer Assembly” to hear wise words of counsel from Master Cheng Yen.

The Master made special mention of the history of Tzu Chi Singapore. Sister Liu Jing Lian who had resettled in Singapore after marriage, had started engaging in charitable undertakings with a group of like-minded friends and family in 1987. On 20 September 1993, the Singapore branch was finally officially registered, and it quickly embarked on the four Tzu Chi missions of Charity, Medicine,Education and Humanity and established a network of community volunteers. Tzu Chi volunteers, who now number more than 27,000 have since then been engaging in activities such as house visits, distribution of medicine, organizing study sessions, recycling and encouraging vegetarianism. In December 2013,Tzu Chi Singapore will also stage a large-scale presentation of the “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation.

If one can mindfully put every second of one’s time to good use, regardless of whether our lives are short or long, we can still maximize its usage. Apart from expressing her gratitude for the sincere efforts and contributions of everyone, the Master also thanked the Singapore volunteers for their hard work, which has been acknowledged by society, over the last 20 years.

Then, in a resonant voice, Tzu Chi Singapore Branch CEO Low Swee Seh lead all in their sincere pledges to delve into the Dharma with a heart of great repentance, to uphold vegetarianism to protect one’s body and mind, to eliminate habituations and purify one’s heart, and finally, to spread the right teachings and encourage others to volunteer. The willingness of every volunteer to espouse the Master’s causes and put her teachings into practice was palpable in the air.

SG20131006 GNA CQH 077Brother Low Swee Seh, CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore leads volunteers as they make their pledges to Master Cheng Yen during the “Morning Volunteer Assembly.” (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)  

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This is the first time that Tzu Chi Singapore has linked up with the Jing Si Abode in Hualien via videoconference for the “Morning Volunteer Assembly.”Volunteers respectfully listen to Master Cheng Yen as she speaks about the pioneering work of the Singapore branch. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

Remembering the Pioneering Spirit

Tzu Chi Singapore’s work in the areas of charity, medicine, education and environmental conservation arose from Master Cheng Yen’s philosophy of working to benefit Buddhism and all living beings. In the early days, this was accomplished through the committed efforts of some three to five dedicated volunteers. Everyone was taken down memory lane as they watched the images of old photographs and published materials unfold on screen. The pioneering volunteers also took to the stage and shared with everyone the challenges they had surmounted, and how their convictions and aspirations gave them the strength to persevere on.

Taking the initiative to seek out the lost and needy existing in the dark, forgotten corners of our society, volunteers worked tirelessly, rendering help in areas such as subsidies for leukemia patients, care for the elderly living alone, and assistance for the poor. To date, more than 18,000 families have benefitted.

Zhang Pu Duo, who was part of the very first group of volunteers tasked with conducting house visits shares her experience : “When we first embarked on our charitable undertakings, we did not know where to start, so we proceeded to the Singapore General Hospital to show our concern to fellow Buddhists who were ill.” The case which had left a deepest impression on her was that of a young girl who was stricken with leukemia and urgently in need of $10,000 for medical treatment. Though the volunteers were few in number and they had very little funds at their disposal, they did not hesitate to pay for her treatment. “This girl is now all grown up, but she still remembers to visit us from time to time. We have experienced the joy of Dharma through our work, and this is the beauty of a single thought of kindness.”

As Singapore is an important medical hub in Southeast Asia, volunteer Cai Li Lin who had helped out in many international humanitarian medical clinics in the past, began to ponder how she could involve the skilled local doctors in humanitarian undertakings. She wrote an introductory note on Tzu Chi’s international humanitarian work and mailed out 100 invitation cards to doctors from the big hospitals. One of those who responded was the well-known surgeon, Dr. Fong Poh Hin.

When it came to his turn on stage, Dr. Fong recounted how thousands of people crowded the site of the free medical clinic in Philippines. Seeing the mass of people, he realized that it was not possible to help all of them as the team had only two days. It was then that the suffering (Dukkha - one of the Four Noble Truths) that the Buddha had spoke of came to his mind. The poignant memory of that day overcame him and Dr. Fong was momentarily choked by the rush of emotions that surfaced. It was a touching moment and the audience downstage broke into encouraging applause.

It was in 1999 that the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) was officially established and Dr. Fong had played a key role all these years as TIMA’s convener, a responsibility he had shouldered after meeting with the Master in Hualien.

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During the segment of recapping the past, volunteer Zhang Xiu Lan shares the challenges of carrying out their charitable undertakings in the early days. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)

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Tzu Chi’s global director Brother Huang Si Xian shares some words of wisdom and reminds volunteers that we should build positive affinities with others. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

Passing the Baton On 

Tzu Chi already has two free clinics in the southwestern and central parts of Singapore, and plans are underway to open a preschool in the north in 2014.

In recalling the beginnings of the Tzu Chi children’s class, volunteer Lin Shu Ting smiles as she tells the audience how in the early days, there was no fixed venue for the class and both Maha Bodhi School and the Poh Kwan Foh Tang temple had been used as the class grounds. The boisterous children inadvertently injected a good measure of liveliness into the serene temple grounds; fortunately, the kindly monastics were very accommodating.

Promoting the concept of recycling at source, Tzu Chi organizes recycling activites once a month in the neighbourhood communities. The recycling point in Shunfu was the second one to be set up in the year 2000, and is still functional today. Volunteer Chen Ya Ting, who used to sell cultured milk drinks in the neighbourhood door-to-door, would take the opportunity to explain the concept of recycling to the residents as she went about her sales. Her efforts paid off as many of the residents started to recycle their newspapers and other items, and this culminated in the setting up of the recycling point in Shunfu.

Shen Long Fa also contributes his thoughts, telling the audience that it is easy to carry out the mission of environmental protection at the grassroots level, and it is a good way to recruit more Tzu Chi volunteers. Because of the love that volunteers have for the Master and the environment, there are now 30 recycling points across the island.

As the sharing continued, it was evident how inspirational the session was for the volunteers. Whenever she feels her resolve waver, Tzu Chi commissioner Qiu Min Hui reminds herself of the pioneering efforts of the volunteers in the early days, and how step by step, they had gradually carved out Tzu Chi’s history.

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Volunteers gather for a picture in front of Jing Si Hall to commemorate Tzu Chi Singapore’s 20th Anniversary. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)

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Huang Fu Shun had participated in Tzu Chi activities during his school days, and though he had been too busy with family and career over the years, a visit to Jing Si Abode in Hualien last year made him reconnect with Tzu Chi again. He now hopes to pass down the Tzu Chi spirit to others. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

With Hearts as One

That day, 21 Tzu Chi commissioners, 40 Faith Corps members and youthful Tzu Chings presented with gusto, the various Tzu Chi songs. When the previous batch of Tzu Ching seniors who were present in the audience stood up to sing in accompaniment and show their support, one could sense how the different generations of the Master’s disciples had their hearts closely linked as one with her.

Seventeen-year-old Zhuo Qin Ying, treasures the opportunity to engage in Tzu Chi’s undertakings and hopes to eventually become a certified Tzu Chi commissioner. She was touched by the piety shown by volunteers during the bowing pilgrimage. “The ground was wet but all of them still prostrated themselves on the ground. Looking at their wet hands and dirtied pants, it was as if I saw the image of human Boddhisattvas in the midst of our troubled world.”

Volunteer Huang Fu Shun and his family, which includes two children in primary school, woke up at 4.00am and hurried down for the bowing pilgrimage. His wife Zhong Cui Ping says that they could not miss it as it was organized just once in ten years.

Huang used to take part in Tzu Ching activities while in varsity, but due to work and family commitments, he only started becoming active in Tzu Chi again the previous year. Heeding the words of a Jing Si monastic - that children are bodhisattvas who have returned to Samsara, thus one should not deny them the opportunity to cultivate wisdom, he registered his children for the parent-child bonding class in Tzu Chi in the hopes that the whole family can grow together spiritually in a congenial environment. Huang now says, “Seize the opportunity to contribute, and pass down the Tzu Chi spirit to the next generation.”

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Sweet dumpling soup and “peach buns”were prepared and shared with all, in the wish that everyone will cultivate both wisdom and blessings, and that together they can create a more inspiring future. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)

The Wellspring of Dharma Teachings Continues to Flow

Via the videoconference, Master Cheng Yen urged her disciples to work together harmoniously as they engage in the undertakings of Tzu Chi and to progress spiritually by taking in the teachings of the “Wisdom at Dawn” programme.

Tzu Chi Commissioner Dai Yu Mei cherishes every opportunity to watch the programme“Wisdom at Dawn” by the Master, and ensures that she is ready to receive the teachings every morning at 5.30am. At 8.00am, she listens to the repeat telecast and even downloads the video into her smartphone so that she can revise the teachings in her spare time.

Dai says that she has finally understood that the inner sanctum of one’s heart can be muddied by defilements just like how dirt gathers on the floor. Therefore one must cleanse one’s heart on a daily basis, conscientiously sweeping away the impure thoughts or they would start to pile up. On this day, Dai felt strongly the sense of belonging to one big family; with every volunteer walking the same path earnestly, she is never alone in carrying out Tzu Chi’s undertakings.

Volunteers were fortunate that Tzu Chi’s global director Brother Huang Si Xian had specially made the trip down to Singapore after concluding a meeting in Brunei. Sharing some words of wisdom, he tells volunteers that the Master is willing to carry the load of the world for all beings; she does not wish for a lighter load but only an increase in strength. As disciples of the Jing Si Dharma Lineage, we should cherish our precious human body and the rare opportunity to learn Dharma from the Master.

In a lively and humorous speech, Brother Huang exhorted the importance of cultivating mind and body, that we may be accommodating to everyone, and be able to deal with whatever comes our way. In so doing, we can offer the merits of these benefic deeds as a spiritual offering to the Master.

With an established foothold in the Lion City, Tzu Chi volunteers look forward to the next ten years, following in the footsteps of their pioneers and spreading the seeds of love far and wide. Reflecting the celebratory mood, and as a symbolism of the Four Boddhisattva Virtues (giving, kind words, beneficial conduct and inspiring others to walk the Boddhisattva path), everyone was presented with a bowl of four-coloured, sweet dumpling soup by two deputy CEOS of Tzu Chi Singapore and the community leaders, with the wish that the volunteer network would spread over the entire island, and all volunteers work towards the same goal.

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