When I was growing up, Christianity was an “atas” religion adopted by the well-educated. My perception of Buddhism was that it is enshrouded in rituals and mysticism. Influenced by an evangelical primary school teacher, we sang Christian songs in class and even paid frequent visits to our teacher’s church. That teacher would have been censured today, but Christianity remain an “atas” religion in the minds of many Singaporeans out there. Just look at our mega churches. Being a kampung boy by nature, such things didn’t appeal to me.
For most of my teens and early adulthood, I’ve been a freethinker and as a young adult, I was no different from most ambitious yuppies desperately seeking 5Cs until an emotional setback made me realise that I might not have had the best game plan for happiness after all. Our country is obsessed with “security”, so much so that our reserves, whether in our personal capacity or at a national level, is never enough.
I began travelling adventurously at the age of 29. I went to poorer countries and got a feel of life at street level. While it did make me feel fortunate to be in Singapore, there was an even more important lesson that I took away. People who have less than we have can be happier than we are. People who are quick to give and share are a lot more pleasant than people who need to be drowning in excesses before they give something away. A visit to Borobudur and new, deeper understanding of Buddhist concepts in a graphic and dramatic setting introduced a new philosophy to a mind that was still shallow with materialism.
Phra Goh’s philosophy is the one I subscribe to. You don’t need to keep going to temples to tham boon (make merit). Buddhism can be practised anywhere. I stay positive but I identify bullshit (especially those coming from politicians). I try to do good and forgive but I recognise evil and won’t hesitate to call it out. I try to be compassionate in that I don’t bay for blood when someone has made a mistake. 得饶人处且饶人。Suffering arises from greed and grasping. Compared to the vast majority of Singaporeans, I’m easily contented. I want less and I let things go. Whenever appropriate, I unleash my sense of humour.
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