Moments before dawn, around 5.30am, as a sprinkling of stars dotted the pre-dawn sky, a team of Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the Jing Si Hall, to make final preparations for the grand outdoor Buddha Bathing ceremony to mark 51 years of Tzu Chi Compassion.
The five-coloured Buddhist flags and Tzu Chi flags fluttered in the wind that blew through the grounds, akin to welcoming the arrival of honoured guests. A light fragrance of magnolias wafted from the Buddha Bathing counter. As the dawn sun peeked over the distant horizon, 815 Tzu Chi volunteers in blue/grey and white uniforms quietly arrived at the outdoor carpark, where they neatly lined up to form a beautiful live picture of “51”.
On 14th May 2017, Tzu Chi Merit Organization (Singapore) held the Buddha Bathing ceremony outdoors at the carpark next to the Jing Si Hall. The day also marked an occasion of triple joy -- the joy of Buddha’s birth, Mother’s Day, and Tzu Chi Day. It was an occasion of thanksgivings not only to the Buddha, but also to all mothers and all sentient beings. With the karmic union of these three joys, 24 Dharma masters solemnly entered the ceremonial grounds, to lead the volunteers in the ritual of bathing the Buddha.
“With minds of pristine purity and vows that are as vast as the universe…”
As the familiar song based on verses from the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings wafted through the air, the “emblem-forming” volunteers, with pious respect, moved in unison in walking meditation. The contingent moved in an orderly and rhythmic manner, as a symbolic turning of the Dharma Wheel, evoking a deep spiritual ambience at the venue.
Buddhists United in Dharma Service
Dharma Master Ji Guang from Di Zang Lin could feel the unity of the Tzu Chi multitudes and remarked, “The songs played during the Buddha Bathing ceremony were really beautiful and their lyrics evoked a deep sense of respect and piety for Lord Buddha.”
He also praised the humble and polite attitude of the Tzu Chi followers, who paid deep respect to all sangha members regardless of their Buddhist sects. “The deep conviction of Master Cheng Yen, in leading the multitudes to bring benefits to all sentient beings and in broadening the reach of the Dharma, is truly a very remarkable spirit.”
The Dharma masters leading the ceremony came from various Buddhist sects, including Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan. Venerable Dr. Sri Pemaloka Nayaka Mahathera expressed his affirmation, and commented that everyone was united in a solemn and harmonious spirit, which helped to deepen their faith and sense of belonging.
The Venerable would practically accept the annual invitation by Tzu Chi to take part in this ritual of bathing the Buddha. He had practised in the UK for 15 years, and has been to various countries around the world, where he witnessed Buddhists of different nations and traditions united as one big family.
Three sessions of the Buddha Bathing ceremony were conducted, including one session for volunteers and two sessions for members of the public. Some 3,000 people shared in the joy of this deeply symbolic ritual. Many even brought along their family members with the hope of spending a memorable Mother’s Day and Buddha Day.
“I felt spiritually at peace after bathing the Buddha,” said Mr Xie Yue Sheng, a past participant of this ritual in Tzu Chi. He added that people are often tired and stressed by their work and environment, and this ritual could “purify one’s spirit”. On this day, he had specially invited his mother and friends to join him, as a celebration of Mother’s Day too. Ms Chia Mui Neo, who was taking part for the first time as a volunteer, shared that she had dedicated the merits of her participation in the ritual to her cancer-ridden mother, and prayed for blessings for her ill mother.
Pious Hearts and Dharma in Action
Even though the limited space on the grounds posed severe constraints to the movement of people during the ceremony, volunteers tried every means to overcome the restrictions and made use of all available spaces, including spaces inside and outside the Jing Si Hall. Meaningful activities that included a “Filial Piety” station, “Bamboo Era” sharing station, sale of Jing Si products, promotion of eco vegetarianism, etc. were held on the same day.
The Vegetarian Lifestyle area located at the carpark behind the Jing Si Hall was jam-packed with people. As members of the public enjoyed their vegetarian meals, they could also listen to an informative talk by TCM Dr. Lim Lee Huang. Dr. Lim shared with the enthralled audience health tips from the TCM perspective on how healthy eating could promote healthy living. For example, a balanced diet could be achieved by consuming foods of “five colours and five tastes”, and food with cooling and heaty properties.
Tzu Chi volunteers on duty actively advocated “World Ethical Eating Day 111” and even urged participants to pledge online to go vegetarian for a day on 11th January, to raise global awareness of how vegetarianism can help save our environment.
Other than the solemn Buddha Bathing ceremony, there was also the heart-warming “Filial Piety Tea Ceremony”, where children had the chance to offer tea to their parents to show their appreciation. Seeing their children kneel before them with cups of warm tea in their hands brought many parents to tears.
Although Mr Kalithas, a Tzu Chi aid beneficiary, was not feeling well this day, he insisted on accompanying his wife and daughter on the Tzu Chi shuttle service to take part in the Buddha Bathing ceremony. His wife, Mdm Vasanthi, shared: “Although we have different ways of praying because of our racial and religious differences, I believe that our goal is the same.”
After bathing the Buddha, Kalitha’s daughter, Teresa Maryanne, under the guidance of a volunteer, took part in the tea ceremony, offering tea to her parents for the first time in her life. Mdm Vasanthi said: “From the carnation offered by the bus captain, to my daughter’s tea ceremony, today is really a special Mother’s Day, and I feel really warm at heart.”
From one of the volunteers’ visits, Mr Kalithas heard the story of the “Bamboo Bank Era”, where Master Cheng Yen started Tzu Chi’s work with 30 housewives, who each saved NT$0.50 from their grocery money in a bamboo coin bank daily, to help the poor. And his entire family was inspired to start their own bamboo coin bank savings. Mdm Vasanthi, even with a tight family budget, expressed her hope of helping others in need by saving what her family could afford in the coin bank. Teresa, who is a Christian, firmly believes that, regardless of religious beliefs, all religious teachings are intrinsically the same, and Buddhism is worthy of respect too. On this day, the family brought their bamboo coin banks back to Jing Si Hall and donated their savings to Tzu Chi’s Charity Fund. They also took home an empty bamboo bank to be filled again.
After the Buddha Bathing ceremony, volunteers shared the story of the Bamboo Bank Era (i.e. how Tzu Chi in Taiwan started from scratch by pooling together every bit of loving contribution from people in society) with the attendees. Whether it was through videos, volunteers or even beneficiaries as witnesses themselves, the audience were encouraged to adopt a bamboo coin bank and help the needy, so as to add to the spirit of goodness in the society. Where there is love, there will be blessings.
Achieving Together for Family Joy
On this occasion of family joy, to minimize inconvenience to neighboring residents, 89 Tzu Chi volunteers had pre-empted 870 households in the neighborhood, to inform the residents of the upcoming Buddha Day celebrations. This simple act of goodwill not only sowed seeds of kindness in the neighborhood, but also provided volunteers with opportunities to share about Tzu Chi and the Buddha Day event, as well as invite the nearby residents to share in the Dharma joy.
Two months prior to the event, volunteers had actively reached out to friends and kin or business associates to invite them to share in the Dharma joy. Businessman Sim Hee Chew, who is a member of the Tzu Chi Entrepreneurs’ Association, engaged his associates via individual phone calls, SMS texts or even personal visits. He had personally invited close to 200 entrepreneurs and executives to take part in the event.
Mr Sim even specially invited ten of his business associates, to participate in all three sessions of the Buddha Bathing ritual, to assist in welcoming and accompanying the others. Among them was young and enthusiastic Mr Su Jun Hong. Although this was his first participation in the Buddhist ritual, he bravely took on the role of welcoming the entrepreneurs. Mr Su shared, “I saw Brother Hee Chew’s kindness in dealing with every person and how he formed good karmic affinities with many people. He is truly a role model for us in the Tzu Chi journey.”
“With each passing year, the Dharma grows deeper and deeper in my heart, and the teachings grow stronger roots,” shared Ms Foo Ai Kian, a committed Tzu Chi volunteer and a participant at the Buddha Day event.
Foo, who has been participating in the ritual consecutively for the past six years together with her son, took on the role of an usher in the emblem formation area, helping to guide volunteers to their allocated spots. She added, “The scale of this year’s ceremony is much larger than previous year’s. I’m very honored to join in the prayers for blessings.”
This year’s solemn Buddha Day event, which saw attendees of different religious and racial backgrounds, was an epitome of the beauty of Buddhism, allowing participants to express sincere gratitude for their parents and living beings, and inspiring goodness in all as they pray for a world free of calamities.