7th - 8th May (Thursday/Friday)
Vesak, a day where Buddhist all over the world celebrate and commemorate the birth, enlightenment and nirvana of Buddha. This is also the day where I look forward to catching up with old friends each year. Leading to Vesak, there are a series of talks conducted by Buddhist centres and societies all over Singapore. I visited the one at Sagaramudra Buddhist Society on both Thursday and Friday evenings. As the main hall is filled with people when we got there 20mins before the starting time, we adjourned to the meditation hall which has a video projection of the main hall. Though we sat on the chairs, the rows of meditation cushions in front has a unique zen feel to it, so I took a snapshot of it.
9th May (Saturday)
It is Vesak day. In the morning, it is time to catch up with my old JC friends who visit the Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple at Eunos every Vesak. We arrived at 10.30am and entered the main hall of the temple. They are having the Vesak morning puja there. When we got there, the hall is packed. Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple is a Theravada temple whose tradition is similar to those of the southern asian countries (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thai, Cambodia, Laos).
The ceilings and walls of the temple are beautifully decorated. This temple has a long history of a few decades and is one of the busiest Theravada temple in this area.
We walked out to the side of the main hall and cirumambulate around the Bodhi Tree. The Bodhi Tree has a special significance to Buddhist as it is beneath this tree where the Buddha sat and attain enlightenment. Devotees walk in a clockwise manner around the tree.
Once we arrived to the front, the devotees can make offerings of light (which symbolises wisdom and dispelling of ignorance) and the offerings of flowers (which symbolises virtue that man should have and the impermanence of things).
The Inter-Religious Organization also have a booth in the temple which introduces on the main religions in Singapore. Buddhism is not an exclusive religion and it is able to blend in well with society and with other religions. So it is actually the best religion to start out with for people.
Here I am with Ren Qiu and Hou Shun. A few years back I discovered they visit this temple during Vesak, so we arranged to meet up every Vesak morning.
And the great vegetarian lunch we have there. It is teeming with people.
I bid farewell to the rest at 12.10pm and quickly hop on a cab to Bishan. On this day, I organised a temple tour for a few of my foreign friends. They have been living in Singapore for a few years now and I feel I should play my part to introduce the rich culture of Buddhism we have in Singapore on Vesak Day. From Bishan, we got on service 410 to Guang Ming Shan (光明山 - Bright Hill Temple). This is the largest temple in Singapore. Visitors to Guang Ming Shan should take service 410W (white plate service) as it is faster. The green plate also goes there but it takes longer since it goes in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, the price are the same since it is a feeder service. From Sin Ming Ave, the first hall that come into sight is the Hall of Great Compassion where Guan Yin Bodhisattva of Great Compassion is represented. The rest of the guys setup their professional camera gears. I also met up with Catherine, who is doing volunteer work at Bright Hill Temple here.
This temple also have a few decades of history. The temple pillars, roofs and walkways are elaborately decorated.
Past the main hall, we arrived at the dining hall. It is around 1.30pm and the hall is still packed with people.
We went up to the top and have a good paronomic view of the temple monastery.
This is the Hall of No Form. It is very new and is only less than 10 years old. Devotees circumambulate around the great representation of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light.
Colourful Buddhist flags line up the walkways.
Bazaar has been setup at a part of the temple monastery. It is so vibrant and bustling with activities. A booth from Mercy Relief has been setup in the bazaar too. It is very encouraging to see people from different race and faith groups working together for the love and betterment of mankind.
Here is the library where Buddhist sutras, commentaries and books are kept. Just next to it is a large image of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion.
We took a group photo here.
There are also special boards where people put up their dedication message on it. The words written on the leaf is quite special. I think most of those who wrote on the walls are students. Click on the photo for a larger view to read what they have written.
Below are Buddhist flags which stretches from the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas to the entrance.
We left Bright Hill Temple at 2.45pm and proceeded to the Aljunied area. We arrived around 3.45pm. There is always a large tent setup in front of Aljunied MRT station. This is organised by the Amitabha Buddhist Centre (ABC) annually. The ABC follows the Tibetan tradition. When we arrived around 4pm, a great master - Khen Rinpoche is having a blessing ceremony and the central area is crowded with devotees.
There are prayer wheels where devotees likewise circumambulate clockwise and turn the wheels while reciting prayers.
After showing my foreign friends around and introducing to them aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, I bid them farewell and conclude the Temple Tour. I caught up with my old friends from nusbs. They were sitting around the Buddhist Library. We took a group photo here. To the left is two JB friends which we met in Quan Ying (Malaysia Inter-Varsity Camp), there after we have Fenny (with the Go Away shirt who just came back from Myanmar after a 3 years adventure there) and the rest of the guys.
We visited Foo Hai Chan Temple (福海禅寺) which is a short 10mins walk away. It is a large peaceful temple and I found the design are similar to Japanese Zen temples.
Just next to the Foo Hai buddhist temple is a Hindu temple. It shows a peaceful and harmonious mix of religion in Singapore.
We have dinner at Guan Yin Zai. Thereafter we went back to the ABC tent area for their evening talk and light offerings. Khen Rinpoche conducted his talk in Tibetan and it is concurrently translated to English and Mandarin. He also does speak simple English and his talk is dotted with anecdotes and humorous accounts. He concludes it by telling us to work for the benefit of others, do not be selfish and always remember 'b o d h i c i t t a'. There is also a refuge and precepts taking ceremony and we have people from all over who wish to take refuge and precepts under Khen Rinpoche. Tibetan Buddhism is really popular in the west as there are westerners who stood up and went to the front for the refuge taking ceremony.
Here starts the light offerings ceremony. This candle is sponsored by Mr Tan.
We circumambulate around the tent 3 times before coming before the image of Maitreya Buddha. The full moon glows in the foreground, giving this view a perfect Vesak feel.
Khen Rinpoche recites prayers and the lights are offered.
We place the lotus candles on the main offering tables and it is really a touching and majestic sight. The Buddha Dharma is like the light that dispels darkness.
It is almost 10pm and is time to conclude Vesak. It has been a long and tiring day indeed, but is a day well-spent. Singapore is a blessed country where Buddhism from all the 3 major traditions are easily accessible to the people. There are compassionate and learned masters visiting and residing in Singapore, who share with us the methods of living a happy and fulfilling life in a modern urbanised and busy city like Singapore. Sadhu~