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Witnessing the Beauty of Religion at the 2012 Interfaith Prayer Ceremony

On 13 May, a World Peace Interfaith Prayer Ceremony was held at Yio Chu Kang Stadium to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, Mothers’ Day and the 46th anniversary of Tzu Chi Foundation. The event was Tzu Chi Singapore’s first to gather close to 10,000 government officials, religious leaders, members of the public as well as its own volunteers to pray for a harmonious society and a world free of disasters.

Religious representatives from IRO Singapore leading the congregation in a one-minute silent prayer. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

“Do you guys see that? The number ‘46’ and the Bodhi leaf totems are visible on the screen now!”

That was the voice of the ceremony event coordinator speaking excitedly into the crew walkie-talkie. The hard work of copious volunteers and community residents throughout the past three months had finally paid off when the stunning, 1798-strong human formation appears on the stadium lawn and awed the close to 9300 present.

Following last year’s first outdoor ceremony, Tzu Chi Singapore once again held its anniversary celebration at the Yio Chu Kang stadium in the evening of 13 May 2012, this time forming a massive human formation with the number ‘46’ signifying the anniversary of its Taiwan headquarters and two Bodhi leaves to commemorate the day when Shakyamuni Buddha gained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, India over 2000 years ago.

The round formation in the center of the lawn symbolizes Master Cheng Yen’s vision of a single ‘Worldly Gem of Spiritual Unity’ where all Tzu Chi members work together to spread Buddha’s wisdom and light far and wide.

Besides its volunteers, beneficiaries and donors, the grand ceremony was also graced by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) of Singapore2, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, MP of Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC, Mrs Amira Arnon, Israel Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Hsieh Fa-Dah, Representative of Taipei Representative Office in Singapore, Ven. Sik Kwang Sheng, Chairman of Singapore Buddhist Federation, nine religious representatives from the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) Singapore, and several invited guests.

Also in attendance were 103 dharma masters, including ten dharma masters from Cambodia who came purposely to attend the prayer ceremony hoping to learn Tzu Chi’s way of Buddha Day celebration.

Bridging religions

The entire day of 13 May was all breezy with balmy weather, thanks to the sincere piety of all ceremony attendees; most of them have been observing a full-day vegetarianism just for the solemn occasion.

At around 6pm, DPM Teo arrived at the stadium in folded palms and broad smiles with his officials. In his brief opening remarks, the DPM commended Tzu Chi’s international and local efforts and stated, “Community organizations like Tzu Chi Foundation play a useful role in promoting interfaith understanding and social cohesion in Singapore. Events like today’s World Peace Interfaith Prayer Ceremony help to bring people together to work towards shared goals that all of us value, regardless of race or religion. I hope that more community organizations will come forward to promote racial and religious harmony in Singapore, and also to help those who are in need, so that we will continue to enjoy a peaceful life, and remain a strong and united society.”

Before the commencement of the Buddha Day ceremony, all nine IRO religious representatives took to the center platform and led the ceremony participants in a one-minute silent prayer. The sight of the representatives of Singapore’s Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Baha’i Faith leading the congregation in praying for world peace was a truly moving scene.

Islam representative Mr Syed Saleh Ahmed Ali Al-Attas, who first participated in a Tzu Chi event, commented that it was a “fantastic ceremony”. “I’m very impressed by the way of how it is being carried out. I see all the Buddhist monks praying together for the peace of the world and the fact that this ceremony is held on Mothers’ Day to honour our beloved mother is very unique. When we are all together – all religions united as one praying just for peace –is truly amazing and wonderful,” said Mr Syed.

Chairman of Singapore Buddhist Federation, Ven. Sik Kwang Sheng noted in a later interview, “There are no disparity and no discrimination in Buddhist teaching. This is the trait of Buddhism. With Tzu Chi’s philanthropy reaching so many corners of the world, the organization is also spreading the true teaching and the seed of Buddhism.”

Unity in diversity

Indeed, racial and religious harmony has been and remains a precious part of our national identity. The uniqueness and diversity of our society is also reflected in the diverse participants in the human formation for the ceremony. Many have had no qualms about following Tzu Chi’s way of walking meditation and familiarizing with the accompanied verse in the past three months practicing and rehearsing for this occasion.

Among them was Captain Erol D’Monty, a devout Catholic who prayed at his church before coming to Yio Chu Kang Stadium on 13 May evening. The former Indian ship captain himself hails from an interfaith family – his father is a Hindu, while his elder sister was wed to a Muslim man.

Captain D’Monty felt that mutual respect and understanding among different religion is very important in today’s almost continuous social upheaval. This is also why he gladly accepted the invitation to be part of the prayer ceremony formation.

Although he did not understand the words from the walking meditation verse, he persisted on throughout the community practice sessions and followed closely with the rhythms and motions. The captain also went vegetarian on 13 May like other formation participants. “The fact that we’re doing this to pray for the world has made me much focused on my steps although I didn’t quite understand the meaning of the verse (previously).” The captain also intends to share his joy and the Facebook photos of the ceremony with his family in India after the event and is looking forward to be part of the formation again in next year’s ceremony.

Eldon, another 17-year-old formation member, had never heard of Tzu Chi before more than two weeks ago. A chance encounter with several Tzu Chi volunteers promoting the prayer ceremony outside a MRT train station piqued his interest and prompted him to “contribute since it is for world peace”. He then signed up to become a formation member and began adopting the vegetarian fast.

“(The diet) is something new for me,” said the junior college student who is busy juggling schoolwork and Judo competition. Despite so, when his family members urged him to take the meat dishes during meals worrying that he’d be undernourished, he would part them lightly and nip only the green dish, determined in keeping to the fast he vowed to observe.

“When we sang the song ‘Love and Care for All’ (one of the two prayer songs played during the ceremony), it struck a deep chord with me. A voice inside me kept telling me that I should help more people and I must do something for the society,” said the youngster who volunteers regularly at a mental care centre.

Revering the Enlightened One

During the second half of the 3-hour ceremony, the Buddha's birthday was celebrated through a Buddha-bathing ceremony to pay homage to the Enlightened One and to cleanse people's minds and hearts. Participants held the ritual by bowing, tapping on scented water and offering flower to the Buddha.

Paul Gurda from New York has been a Buddhist for a year and he feels that he has gained a sense of freedom from his “individual worries and fears” from the ceremony.

“The entire ceremony keeps me hopeful in a world situation where so many people of different beliefs hate one another. I have no idea how many people here are Buddhist, how many people here are Hindu or Christian but it is good to see people gathered here for the same purpose, (which is for Peace),” he added.

It is interesting to know that Paul, who now works and lives in Singapore, has participated twice in our monthly community recycling activity and thinks that “the recycling and medical programmes of Tzu Chi is very much directed to and dedicated to relieving the suffering of people’s lives and that in the years ahead, more and more people will be aware of that and wanting to do something to help”.

For the past 46 years, the Tzu Chi Foundation has been upholding Master Cheng Yen’s aspiration to “Work for Buddhism and for All Living Beings” and has been working in the fields of charity, medical service, education, humanitarian culture, international relief, bone marrow donation, environmental protection and community volunteerism.

With our Foundation heading into its 47th year now, we hope to remain steadfast in our mission to purifying people’s minds and activating the love and compassion in people’s hearts so as to bring peace and harmony to the world.

The ceremony commenced with 103 dharma masters from various monasteries marching into the stadium under the sombre opening music. (Photo by Alvin Tan)

Islam representative, Mr Syed Saleh Ahmed Ali Al-Attas, who first participated in a Tzu Chi event, commented that the ceremony was “fantastic”. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)

Our Guest of Honour, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Mr Teo Chee Hean giving his opening remarks. (Photo by Chua Yek Guo)

Our commissioners presenting lights, scented water and flowers to the Enlightened One. (Photo by Chua Teong Seng)

Captain Erol D’Monty, a former Indian ship captain and a devout Catholic, hails from an interfaith family – his father is a Hindu, while his elder sister was wed to a Muslim man. (Photo by Alvin Tan)

Totally new to Tzu Chi, Eldon, 17, was quick to identify with the objective of the prayer ceremony and signed up to be part of it. (Photo by Alvin Tan)

Halijah, a former care recipient of Tzu Chi, offering her sincere prayer for the world in front of the Buddha statue. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)

Paul Gurda from New York has been a Buddhist for a year and he feels that he has gained a sense of freedom from his worries and fears from the Buddha Day ceremony. (Photo by Chang Yu Ping)

Many members of the public brought their parents and children to the ceremony to honour the Buddha, their parents, and all sentient beings. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

The massive human formation which comprised 1798 volunteers and community residents forming the number ‘46’ and two bodhi leaves to commemorate Tzu Chi’s anniversary as well as the teachings of the Enlightened One. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

The dimly lit stadium glows as all attendees hold their lotus lamp during the mass prayer wherein differences in religion was set aside as each one prays for the purification of the minds of the people, harmony in society, and that there be no more disasters in the world. (Photo by Alvin Tan)

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