Practise of Buddhism in Singapore
Dhamma in practise, not just words
by Dharma Sri Thilakawardena
Extracts from an interview with Ven.Dr.K.Gunarathana Thera, a patron of the Maha Karuna Buddhist Organization of Singapore.
Q. People in developed countries enormously rich with power and wealth are grappling with the search for spiritual tranquility in the modern world. How is the trend in Singapore where you are domiciled? Are the people in Singapore inspired to embrace Buddhism to meet this end?
A. Yes. This is especially so in the case of Chinese domiciled in Singapore. These people do not take for granted the Buddhism that we preach. They probe and argue before accepting. They are not in the habit of practising Buddhism as a fashion to impress the neighbours. They are not prepared to roam about temples merely for the purpose of salutation. In their view, realisation of the truth is a mental process. Because of this attitude Chinese Singaporeans are amazingly attracted to Buddhism nowadays in Singapore. They study the Dhamma not to pass examinations but to apply the teachings practically in day-to-day life.
The people in our country under the modern way of life have no time to be conscious of spiritual solace. They are weary of finding solutions to economic problems. Our ancestors did not have too many aspirations. As against this background, modern life of people is filled with desires covering a vast spectrum from the unborn child right up to the aged who are nearing the grave. Therefore, they are ignorant of spiritual bliss and are concerned with only material welfare.
Europeans suffer from mental unrest more than the people living in Sri Lanka. Europeans are imprisoned in a mechanical world. As far as Singapore is concerned, every citizen is indebted to the state. Therefore, they have to work day and night in order to repay debts. They earn money but have no mental rest. Under such circumstances they are prone to look out for places where they can obtain mental calmness. The majority of Europeans who embrace Buddhism are those who seek mental relief.
Q. Do you observe a decline in organised activity among Buddhists in Sri Lanka?
A. Yes. All Buddhist organizations in our country should unite under one banner. If that takes place, the so-called threats to Buddhism will not be difficult to be brought under control. Singapore is the only country where you find a Buddhist organisation in which Sinhala Buddhists wield power.
Q. All the time we are talking about ushering in a righteous society in Sri Lanka. Yet, crime is soaring high day by day. Why is that?
A. Leniency of the law is the basic factor behind the rise of crime. Whatever the gravity of the crime committed, there are people to defend the offender. This phenomenon tends to erase from the criminal, the fear to commit crimes. They start committing murders, assault people and molest women under the eyes of hundreds of people in broad daylight. People who witness such criminal scenes turn the other way fearing repercussions if they intervene. Criminals must be punished. Even during the time of Buddha, offenders were subject to severe punishment.
In countries like Singapore, not only law enforcers, but also those who are protected under the law are keen to abide by the law. In Singapore, a young woman can walk in the streets at 12 midnight without any harm. On the contrary, even at 12 noon, a young woman is not safe on our streets.
First of all we must be true to ourselves.
Before we blame the neighbour or the ruler, we must identify ourselves and correct our frailties. To do wrong and blame others in order to cleanse ourselves is not the right thing to do.
For instance, our President took steps to put an end to alcoholism.
At the beginning, criticism rose from all corners. But the President was determined and went ahead with the campaign. It has proved to be a success. This is an example worthy of emulation. Things started with good intention will not fail.
We need not strive to make Sri Lanka another Singapore. We have a religion, a culture and a civilisation to call our own. We have a set of rules and regulations.
Sri Lanka was reckoned as the spring of justice and the source of morals over a period of 2500 years. We have to mend our way. We must obey the law.
The Buddhist clergy has a great responsibility to discharge this.
If laymen do not come to the temple may Bhikkus go after laymen to put them on the correct track. If a layman cannot understand the word of the Buddha even after preaching 100 times, revisit him another round of 100 times to make him understand.