CatholicNews ■ Sunday May 27, 2007


and in rebirth/reincarnation (the concept that consciousness continues after death and finds expression in a future life). The highest goal for a Buddhist is to reach Enlightenment, a state of being which is beyond suffering and whence a deep insight into the true nature of life has been attained. The path to Enlightenment is advanced through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom. The core of the Buddhaʼs teaching is found in the Four Noble Truths (below) which, according to tradition, he gained insight into while seated beneath a Bodhi tree (a sacred fig or banyan fig tree). • Dukkha: All existence is unsatisfactory and filled with suffering. • Trsna: The root of suffering can be defined as a craving or clinging to the wrong things; searching to find stability in a shifting world is the wrong way. • Nirvana: It is possible to find an end to suffering through enlightenment. • The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to finding the solution to suffering and bringing it to an end. The Noble Eightfold Path, in turn, is divided into three sections: Sila (wholesome physical actions), Samadhi (the meditative concentration of the mind) and Prajñâ (spiritual insight into the true nature of all things). Sila is morality – abstaining from unwholesome deeds. It includes right speech (speaking in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way); right actions (avoiding action that would do harm); right livelihood (a livelihood that does not harm oneself or others, directly or indirectly). Samadhi is developing mastery over oneʼs own mind. It includes: right effort/exercise (making an effort to improve); right mindfulness/awareness (mental ability to see things for what they are); right concentration (being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion). Prajñâ is the wisdom which purifies the mind. It includes: right thoughts (change in the pattern of thinking); and right understanding (understanding reality as it is, not just as it appears to be). Today, Buddhism is divided primarily into three traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. While all three traditions share essential core beliefs, there are variations in sacred texts, doctrines, and practice. Theravada (Southern Buddhism) or Pali Buddhism – is practised mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and parts of Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Bangladesh.

Mahayana (Eastern Buddhism), also known as Chinese Buddhism, is practised predominantly in China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Singapore and parts of Russia. A branch of Mahayana Buddhism is Zen Buddhism – a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism which spread from China to Korea and Japan. Vajrayana (Northern Buddhism), or Tibetan Buddhism, is practiced largely in Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and parts of Nepal, India, China and Russia.

Most Buddhists in Singapore belong to the Mahayana tradition. However there are also Theravada and Vajrayana communities present here. It is important to note that Buddhist traditions are not exclusive and a Buddhist can be both Theravada and Mahayana at the same time, or non-denominational. Buddhism came to Singapore primarily through the Chinese migrants who settled on the island in the early 19th century. However these migrants brought with them Chinese syncretistic religions which combined Buddhism with Confucianism and Taoism. The first Buddhist temple was built as early as 1828 but activities there were limited to chanting and rituals. It was only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that Chinese Buddhist monks were invited to cater to the spiritual needs of the migrants and to conduct dharma talks. While older generation Buddhists in Singapore still practise their religion with a mixture of Chinese folk traditions, there has been a reformist movement since the 1980s, sometimes called Protestant Buddhism, which seeks to purify Buddhism from a diluted belief to one that is focused on canonical and orthodox teachings. There is a great variety of Buddhist scriptures and other texts, and different traditions place varying levels of reverence and value on them. Some view the texts as religious objects in themselves, others take a more scholarly approach. Unlike many religions, Buddhism has no single central text that is universally referred to by all traditions. This complexity of the Buddhist canons present a barrier to a wider understanding of Buddhist philosophy. There are currently between 300-400 Buddhist temples (or centres) in Singapore, some with links to Thailand, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and even the U.K. and the U.S.A. Buddhist temples are funded mainly by donations from their devotees. There are also some which raise funds by selling religious items (eg. statues, rosary) and books. While not all temples have monks or nuns in

residence, all would have one or more of the following: preaching, chanting, dharma talks or classes, and meditation. Some centres also offer religious counselling and praise and worship services. Unlike Christians who worship on Sundays and Muslims who worship on Fridays, Buddhists do not have a set day in the week to worship as a community. The Buddhist calendar is based on the lunar calendar and the monthly fullmoon days are usually days of worship. Most temples observe activities for the whole day during a full moon. Some temples also run “Sunday Schools”, where children from as young as three years are taught religious and human values. Although there is no central

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama prays at the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal in November 2001 during a visit to Portugal. CNS photo

TENZIN GYATSO, 72, is the 14th and current Dalai Lama, the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism. (In Mongolian Dalai means ocean and Lama means teacher, signifying the depth of his wisdom), After the collapse of the Tibetan resistance movement in 1959, Tenzin Gyatso fled to India, where he established the Tibetan government-in-exile) and sought to preserve Tibetan culture and education among the thousands of refugees who accompanied him. A charismatic figure and noted public speaker, Tenzin Gyatso is the first Dalai Lama to travel to the West, where he has helped to spread Buddhism and to publicise the ideal of Free Tibet. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are some of his quotable quotes: – If you want others to be happy, practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion. – My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. – Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you canʼt help them, at least donʼt hurt them. – Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isnʼt anyone who doesnʼt appreciate kindness and compassion. ■

authority or governing body for Buddhists in Singapore, they have an umbrella organization, Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF), that represents the various Buddhist organizations. The SBF established the Buddhist College of Singapore which opened last September. The college is administered by the Kong Meng San Phor Khar See Monastery. The college specializes in Mahayana Buddhism but welcomes staff and students of other traditions. It offers a bilingual programme that leads to a BA degree in Buddhist Studies. The SBF has also set up and funded many charity organizations such as free clinics and homes, and other institutions. Besides the SBF, there is also the Buddhist Fellowship, a non-sectarian lay Buddhist organization founded to propagate the dharma in new and creative ways whilst promoting fellowship amongst Buddhists. More English-speaking Chinese, especially the younger Singaporeans, have been embracing Buddhism in recent years because of the availability of modern Buddhist music, Buddhist books, websites and courses conducted in English, A person who wants to officially be a Buddhist would normally undergo a religious ceremony in the temple known as “taking refuge in the Triple Gem” – the Buddha, dharma and Sangha (community of ordained monks and nuns). It is called the Triple Gem because it represents three qualities regarded as excellent and precious, like a gem. As they pay respect to the Buddha, learn the dharma, and follow the advice of the Sangha, Buddhists believe they are able to attain wisdom and happiness. As Buddhists, they also willingly follow the Five Precepts, which are the avoidance of killing, of stealing, of misusing sex, of lying and of using intoxicants.

Owing to the syncretism of Chinese religions and the influence of folk traditions on Buddhism, there is sometimes confusion, even among those who call themselves Buddhists, on the topic of deities and prayer. Because of their non-belief in the existence of a God or a supreme being, adherents of Buddhism in its original form take Buddhism to be more a philosophy than a religion; for some others, Buddhism is not even a philosophy but an education with the Buddha as the great teacher. The goal of the Buddhaʼs teachings is to break through delusion and achieve enlightenment which is obtained at three levels: Arhat (Proper Enlightenment), Bodhisattva (Equal and Proper Enlightenment) and Buddha (Perfect, Complete

Enlightenment). Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arhat are common titles, not names for specific persons. Analogously, they are comparable to titles like Doctor, Master or Graduate for those who have earned educational degrees. Contrary to what some people think, the many variety of Buddha and Bodhisattva statues do not represent polytheism, the worship of more than one god. Rather, each statue serves to inspire wisdom and awakening. They represent certain aspects of Buddhism and remind followers of a particular virtue. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in the lap and a compassionate smile serves as a reminder to strive to develop peace and love within oneself. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching. Guan Yin Bodhisattva, the most popular Bodhisattva in Singapore, represents great compassion and kindness. Her statue would serve as a reminder to apply compassion when dealing with the world, both with persons and the environment. However, there are “Buddhists” who worship images of the Buddha and Guan Yin Bodhisattva as deities and pray for the relief of suffering, to eliminate obstacles and even to ask for special favours. This is regarded by Buddhist purists as a misconception and even superstition because the statues are merely expressions of concepts in Buddhism. Joss sticks or incense, an influence from Chinese folk traditions, have merely a symbolic function in Buddhism. The fragrance from the joss sticks symbolizes the fragrance of pure moral conduct. This reminds Buddhists to cultivate good conduct. Orthodox Buddhists say that they do not pray. When they chant, they chant the Buddhaʼs sacred words of love, wisdom and compassion from scriptures which help them to meditate. There are many forms of meditation in Buddhism. Yoga, in the form of mental exercise, is just one form and is distinct from the popular Yoga practised widely today as a physical exercise.

Buddhism shares some features with Christianity in areas of morality, justice and peace. Two Buddhist texts parallel Christʼs golden rule in Mt 7:12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”: – “... a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta NIkaya v. 353. – “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18. ■