The Profound Parental Love musical of 2014 is a major event undertaken by the Tzu Chi Singapore Collegiate Youth Association (Tzu Ching). Based on the Sutra of Profound Gratitude Towards Parents, the public presentation which combines sign language and musical was held in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Auditorium on 20 and 21 September 2014. The preparation lasted eight months. Every stage of the process from committee formation, recruitment of presenters, organization of campus book clubs, promotion of 108 days of vegetarianism to coordinating uniform sign language, was a step forward on the spiritual path of Singapore Tzu Chings.
The beginnings of Tzu Ching “Profound Parental Love” musical started in October 2013 during the “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation by Tzu Chi Hong Kong. At that time, the Singapore’s own “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation planning team was in Hong Kong to observe and learn the ropes. Tzu Ching seniors Er Chern Han and Khor Chooi Kim witnessed the meaning and impact of the sutra adaptation and thus began the inspiration to lead the Tzu Chings in their own presentation of the sutra adaptation. During the Tzu Ching Executive meeting in November 2013, the committee agreed with the idea and joyfully accepted the challenge to participate in the sutra adaptation.
“Situations around us are ever-changing; I need to treasure this present opportunity in my role (Tzu Ching Deputy Convener) to push us to a new milestone.” Er who had since stepped down from his role, still feels a wave of emotions well up in him when he thinks of the past. “If I had not treasured it, I would not be the only one who would have missed out; every member of our team would also not have had the opportunity to benefit spiritually.”
At the end of 2013, Tzu Chi Singapore branch completed four runs of “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation, with more than 2,000 volunteers participating, including 98 Tzu Chings and 53 newly recruited members. The sutra presentation is not just a performance but an opportunity to be fully immersed in the Dharma. Participants are required to align both body and mind during the entire period of is thspiritual undertaking.
Having gone through the process for the “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation, when preparation began for the “Profound Parental Love” musical, Tzu Ching Chief Convener Zheng Yun Ran reminded everyone that it was imperative to have the study sessions and push through with the 108 days of vegetarian fast, else the undertaking would not be worth the effort.
During the executive meeting in January 2014, Tzu Chings established the study sessions and vegetarian promotion teams, and on the foundation of the teachings of the “Sutra of Profound Gratitude Towards Parents,” gathered the hearts of the youths together, giving impetus to the undertaking.
Seniors Help Transcend Language Barriers
Although the “Sutra of Profound Gratitude Towards Parents” is relatively direct, it remains difficult for young people who to fully appreciate the meaning if they do not use Mandarin to communicate on a daily basis. To improve understanding of the sutra, the Tzu Ching editoral team rearranged the sutra into a booklet, with English translations alongside the sign language, making it easier for everyone to read on the go.
Year four student He Yao Yong took up the role of sign language mentor for the first time. He said, “My biggest challenge is the language.” For someone who converses in English on a daily basis, it is a challenge to read and understand the sutra, then convey the Sutra’s meaning in Mandarin and sign language to the other students. He further elaborated that the adaptation is not just a coordination of movements as the presenter also needs to fully understand the meaning and practice them in daily life, hence he listed that as his greatest achievement.
May to July is the long vacation period for university students and many foreign students would return home to visit their families. The sign language team and editorial team joined forces and recorded tutorial videos, uploading them onto a shared drive so that everyone could practice on their own and catch up with the learning progress.
At the end of the holidays, the sign language team did a headcount and realized that many registered students had quit due to busy workload. To meet the required number of presenters, Tzu Ching seniors who had previously registered for other functions, made a concerted effort to come forward and fill up the vacancies.
Tzu Ching sign language leader, Xiong Yi Jie said, “Taking up such a responsibility is not as easy as I had imagined.” She explained that the JIPOS participants (a combination of individuals from the junior colleges, institute of technical education, polytechnics, Singapore Institute of Management and other institutions) included younger students with little understanding of Tzu Chi culture and the turnover rate of the participants is also high. Progress is further difficult as the sign language team requires participants to vary their formations for a different presentation style.
Faced with many challenges, Xiong expressed feeling lost and wanted to withdraw. The JIPOS students’ encouragement to each other and their perseverance helped her find courage to overcome the difficulties.
Amongst the many segments, the one entitled “Gratitude” is the most difficult. To represent the urgency of the message that “filial piety cannot wait”, neat pacing is to be coordinated with complex sign language. Tzu Ching senior Xu Hong Ye smilingly said, “To coordinate with each other we look using the corner of our eyes. Besides, the seniors patiently accompanied us, took group photos and prepared snacks for every practice session, bonding our team together and creating a greater sense of team spirit.”
Leaving Dharma Imprints in One’s Heart
Since May to August 2014, the sutra adaptation team which comprised of mostly seniors accompanied the students and held 18 study sessions. Sutra adaptation team leader, Chen Zhi Xun, shared the Dharma using the “concept of equality”, “skillful selection” and “living the Dharma life”. He hope that the session facilitators could share their personal experience instead of “preach” so that the concept of filial piety can be understood, and proposed recommendations of filial piety and the application of Dharma in everyday life.
Chen expressed that in Buddhism, great filial piety is a broad concept whereas if one merely does filial actions, these are acts of superficial love and attachment. Filial piety is a universal value, yet is to present filial piety from a Buddhist perspective, in a manner that would suit the young people was the main challenge of the sutra adaptation team.
Tzu Ching members of JIPOS are mainly younger Singaporeans between the age of 17 to 21, so when they encounter complex and difficult sutra verses or even hear the Mandarin words for “study session,” they will tend to beat a hasty retreat. Therefore the sutra adaptation leader took the lead from the study sessions in other schools, contemplated on and analyzed the sutra contents before sharing them with the rest using creative means such as drawings, videos and skits to discuss the spirit of filial piety. Chen abides by the three rules of thumb which are: to ensure that he shares the important segments of the sutra, to carefully select study session facilitators and plan interesting games to aid in understanding.
Towards the Final Goal
The next important criteria to participate in the sutra adaptation was to observe 108 days of vegetarianism and Tzu Chings were meticulous about this. Since three years ago when Tzu Ching promoted the “VERO (Vegetarian Hero)” event, advocating vegetarianism has taken root in the school grounds to coincide with the adaptation, the VERO team transformed into the “Advocates for Vegetarianism” to promote the purity of body, speech and mind.
The team took 15 minutes during each book study session to discuss topics such as “Protection of Life-- Respect Other Living Beings,” “Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Loving Mother Earth,” “Health: Treasuring Our Body,” among others. At the last session, there was an overall recap of the contents. When each school achieved the vegetarian target of 666 days, the team would present everyone with a “sweet, delightful mystery gift” – or vegetarian chocolate cake as an encouragement.
Previously active in VERO, Tzu Ching senior Qiu Qing Yong, undertook the role of group leader of the team. He observed vegetarianism for each meal to avoid wasting food. Qiu shared that, “‘Affinity’ as mentioned in the study session is a useful concept in my daily life, enabling me to let go of my stubborn habituations and I now try to build better and deeper affinities with friends and colleagues. Communication with my father has also improved after I learnt to speak humbly.”
Zheng Hui Ling, a team leader from National University of Singapore (NUS) expressed that she felt that vegetarianism is a means of showing compassion and to protect living beings. It was eye opening for her when the group highlighted that vegetarianism can reduce one’s carbon footprint, and also shared tips on how to achieve a balanced vegetarian diet.
“Finding contentment by reducing our desires” was the lesson most beneficial to Zheng. “To me, this concept is a novel way to encourage vegetarianism and a different approach from other methods and religions. Over the course of vegetarianism, we experience a spiritual improvement when we change our attitude towards life and reduce our reliance on material comfort. It is great.” said Zheng happily.
Another team leader Li Shao Wei who was previously NTU’s VERO convener, is not new to the topic of vegetarianism. However he said, “When it came to the topic of ‘equality for all beings’ we had no idea how to present this to the members. Thankfully, the suggestions and moral support from seniors Dai Ming Han and Xu Hong Ye seniors, we developed a consensus and found a solution.”
At the end of the 18 book study sessions, Tzu Chings held a two-day camp on 30 and 31 August. Tzu Ching seniors Zeng Bao Yi and Khoo Pin Joo were invited to conclude the vegetarianism activity for the “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation in 2013. Zeng asked, “Starting from today, can we continuously observe 108 days of vegetarianism?” The students responded “Yes!” in unison.
“The biggest challenge is in our lack of experience.” Adaptation coordinator and Tzu Ching main contact person Zheng Yun Ran said. “Fortunately we have the support of our seniors. Stronger bonds have been formed between the tertiary students and we are able to immerse ourselves in the Dharma through the study sessions and sutra adaptation.” At the end of the camp, the younger generation of Tzu Ching members took over the leadership roles and 23 new and graduate Tzu Ching members received their uniforms, passing on the baton and the blessings of Dharma to the next generation.