Monday, December 27, 2010

Dharma Drum Youth Retreat [24/12 - 27/12]

Introduction

Dharma Drum is having their 4 days 3 nights (Chan San - 法鼓山禅三) retreat again this year. As compared to the previous one, this time round it's over the Christmas holidays instead of the New Year's holidays. Time really flies and one year has past. To take a look at last year's retreat, click here.

The main differences to last year's one is that it is held at Jiu Hua Shan Bao En Si (九花山报恩寺). Secondly, this retreat is especially catered to youths aged 18 to 35 years of age. There are also substantial differences to the timetable, which will be shared further down. Lastly, participants wake at 5.30am instead of 5am.

The retreat application was opened in early-November. It took me a while to sign up for it as I was still considering over my schedule in December. Finally once my Christmas schedule looks accommodating, and after consulting AJ and discussing with DK about it, I submitted the application.

I remembered going for Dharma Drum retreat for the first time last year and heard Hao Jie chatting with Zhi Hao that it's a once a year reunion for everybody. It is very true indeed! Except Zhi Hao is preparing for his wedding this time round, Hao Jie is one of the retreat helper. hmm... (will I be a helper next year?) I also caught a few familiar faces at the retreat. I was pretty late this year as I have a few appointments before the retreat and only got there at 3pm. Just in time for it!


Jiu Hua Shan Bao En Si (九花山报恩寺)

I quite literally ran towards the temple. Luckily I'm not the last one to arrive, I noticed there are 3 others behind me. phew. Here is Bao En Si.

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This place holds a special place in my heart. I first came here in 2003 and had my nusbs mc term-end retreat at the older temple (before it is upgraded and rebuilt). The caretaker of the temple is Mr Lee and from him we had heard a great deal of history about the temple and the vicinity around it. The last time I visited the temple was about 2 years back and can be found here. I will share more about the history of the temple and the vicinity if the opportunity arises.

The view from the temple is fabulous. To one side we have the view of West Coast.

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And the other side we have Kent Ridge Park and Bukit Chandu. All surrounding the temple are landed houses. This place is very quiet and peaceful; a great place to hold a retreat. The facilities are new and in abundance. There is not a need to queue for shower-rooms.

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Here is the corridor directly outside the guys dormitory.

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Notice the different shades of brown as cast upon by the afternoon sun.

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Retreat Activities

Let's get into the retreat!

The main difference is that there is very much less meditation sitting as compared to the previous one. There is a special outdoor activity on the Sunday morning call 户外禅. And notice on the 3rd day evening, there is a 月光禅.

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On certain days, there are duties to be performed by the retreat participants. All participants did at most 2 duties. I am M15, so I'm in charge of cleaning the dining area after breakfast.

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Another notable characteristic is that all participants have to observe noble silence.

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Here is where we have most of the activities during the day, the meditation hall. The activities are not all meditation sitting. It is spread equally with yoga exercises (sitting yoga and standing yoga), prostration and walking meditation. A single activity is at most 30 minutes long. Nevertheless, as everyone is too used to sitting on a chair, there is some getting used to sitting on the floor.

Besides Breathe, Hua Tuo and Mo Zhao method (refer to the previous blog entry), we also learnt the Yue Guang (月光禅) method on the last day. This is similar to Tibetan methods of visualization. The purpose of these different methods is to help us reduce wandering thoughts and to achieve a calm abiding mind.

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Here are some of the common instruments used to signal the transition of activities.

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Below we have Venerable Chang Yuan (常願法师) sharing with us his experiences. The other teacher is Venerable Guo Qi (果祺法师).

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Each morning and evening, we have prayers and dedication session. Let's take a peek at the prayer book below.

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We have breakfast at 7am, lunch at 11.30am and dinner at 5.30pm. All our meals are at the dining hall below.

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The meals served are buffet style and I believe everyone enjoy the meals. During the sharing session, everyone complimented on it.

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If in between meals, participants would still want a quick snack, there is a refreshment area which is fully loaded up all the time.

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Below is how the male dormitory looks like.

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Outdoor Activity (户外禅)

Venerable Guo Qi mentioned this activity is more like an excursion outdoors and having fun. It's my first time participating in it, so I'm also quite curious what's coming up. We departed at 8am towards Kent Ridge Park. It is a 10-15mins walk through the quiet private estate and uphill.

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And we arrived at Vista Park Open Space. Here is where we have an outdoor gaming activity.

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This game is based on a story during the Buddha's time. It goes like this: there was a Bhikkhu that had been receiving offerings from a King for many years. One day, the King told to the Bhikkhu that he is not an accomplished monk and will behead him if he fail a challenge. The challenge is to carry a bowl fill with oil and to walk from the palace to the city gates. If he were to drop a single drop of oil, he will be beheaded. Mindfully, he walked from the palace to the gates, ignoring all the distractions and people around. When he finally approached towards the gates, the king was waiting for him at the entrance. The Bhikkhu saw him and immediately threw the bowl of oil away and said he is not afraid of death. The king was impressed and made offering to him. It was during the period when he was walking out, the Bhikkhu achieved enlightenment and no longer fear death.

The game we are going to play is similar to the above and everyone of us have to carry a bowl full of water. We are split into 4 groups.

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Here is my bowl.

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The game is not as simple as it seems. The retreat assistants are the game masters and as we approach them, we have to performed a few actions as accordingly the instructions written on the cards. The most challenging is hopping with one foot off the ground and the second one is the rope skipping obstacle. To find out more about the games, please take a look at the video towards the end of this post.

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For this, we have to walk under the rope with the head facing up.

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During the final day group sharing, one of my group member shared about ant(s) climbing up his pants and while he has to hold on to the bowl. It sounds pretty funny. He managed to overcome this 'obstacle' by asking the retreat assistant to hold his bowl, while he search for the culprit.

We continued our walk after the game towards the peak of Kent Ridge park.

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Here is the top most point of Kent Ridge park.

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The view is breath-taking.

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We took a 30mins break here and did meditation. While I was sitting silently and cheerfully observing the peacefulness, a park visitor is quite fascinated by it and approached me asking me what activity are we involved in. As I am observing noble silence, one of the Dharma Drum staff, Norman, who happened to be standing nearby explained to him the activities.

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The teacher and the disciple in silent contemplation.

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We continued our walk through the treetop canopy.

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And down the winding paths. I remembered 2 years back, visitors can just bash down the paths. Now everyone is compelled to take the turns.

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Here we are walking towards Hort Park.

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After reaching Hort Centre, we made our way back to the peak and had our packet lunch (bento) at the peak.

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To have a feel on how far we have walked, I have drawn a map below based on memory. Click on it for a larger size. (1) Walk from temple towards Vista Park Open Space where we have our games. (2) Walk towards the peak of Kent Ridge Park and have a relaxing meditation there + lunch. (3) Walk towards Hort Culture. Thereafter walk back again towards the temple.

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I also share with you some rare photos. Below is a photo taken at night. The colour of the pagoda changes every few minutes. The most beautiful image is when it is illuminated in yellow-red.

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Below is a picture capture from the base of the pagoda.

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On the final day morning, we have a group sharing. The 40 participants are split into 5 different groups. Below we have Group 1 giving the first sharing. Overall, everyone have lots of fun and many happy memories and moments to share.

A few of the girls in my group mentioned they celebrated their birthdays in the retreat. One of them suggested that next time we can have a pubbing-meditation or clubbing-zen.

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Here is our group photo. Click for a larger size image.

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The blanket which we used for our meditation. The words in chinese means Dharma Drum Culture.

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On the final day afternoon, we had bento lunch boxes again.

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Before we left, they gave us each a goodie bag. Here are the things in the goodie bag. The IBM mouse is one of the gifts.

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The retreat is very well-organised. Kudos to the organisers, venerables and retreat assistants. It is indeed a splendid time to take a good time rest away from urban lifestyle and have personal time to myself and natural surroundings.

Click the play button to view the 8 minutes video below.






Sunday, December 12, 2010

Indians in Chinatown Walking Tour [11/12]

I stumbled upon the Preservation of Monument Board (PMB) website and that they actually have November and December Holiday Walking Tours around places of interest in Singapore. The guided tour is free and it can be registered online. I managed to sign up for it online before registration is closed.

We rendezvous at the bus stop directly opposite the Sri Mariamman Temple at 2.45pm. The walking tour commenced at 3pm and we have our tour guide below. She is a volunteer tour guide with PMB and is from Switzerland. I am very impressed by the in-depth knowledge she has about the different religions, the history of Singapore and the story behind the places of interest.

We begin the first stop with the Jamae (Chulia) Mosque. Below, she is explaining to us how the Indians come to Chinatown. This area has been gazetted by the first resident Farquhar to be the Chinese area.

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Thereafter the typical external design of a mosque is explained. The colour green is frequently used in Islam as it symbolises the oasis (in a desert). There are the two towers shown below and towers are also frequently used in the desert to direct people in different directions (similar to lighthouse of the seas). Then there is also the dome which is part of the architectural design. Domes have been in use since Roman times and is part of the architectural design from the Mediterranean region.

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We crossed over the road (via traffic light) and arrived at Mosque Street. The name says it all, there is a mosque here.

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There is this plaque next to the entrance of the mosque.

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Footwear have to be removed and we entered the mosque. It is in stark contrast to the outside. The mosque is so quiet and peaceful. In the mosque, our guide explain to us the 5 pillars of Islam and also the different layout and design to this mosque. It feels very Zen-like.

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Here are the different times.

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The main prayer hall is shown below.

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The mosque is actually very large. Though it looks small and narrow from the entrance, visitors can actually walk quite a distance in to a very quiet sanctuary part of the mosque.

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After the visit to Jamae Mosque, we come to the Sri Mariamman Temple. The Chinese call this the Pagoda Street (as there is an Indian Pagoda). In constructing a temple, there is a need for fresh water. After searching around for a good spot, they finally decided on this place.

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Indian temples normally taper towards the top as it will give visitors a sense that it goes high up into the sky.

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Here we have the tour group looking up.

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Footwear also have to be removed before entering. She told us to enter using the right foot as it is auspicious. A here is our guide explaining to us on how the temple is built. The temple has to be refurbished (re-consecrated) every 12 years. The design is shaped similar to a mandala and she show us a picture of a mandala. When entering an Indian temple, all our senses can be used to interact with the surroundings.

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Thereafter she explained to us the paintings at the top of the temple. It shows the evolution, the different avatar of Vishnu. There is also the Buddha who is said to be an avatar of Vishnu. The animals we see in the paintings are also symbolic. Each element represent a psychological dynamic of the human mind.

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We walked round the compound.

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Here are the coconut offerings.

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The Hindus also believe in the one God and that there are many different representation of the one God in order to relate closer to the people.

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Here is the tour group again.

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A tall pole which is used for ritual.

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This temple is dedicated to Sri Mariamman.

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Here we have a holy man getting ready for a ritual.

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The tour ended at 4.15pm.