By Bro Bernard
It was a mixture of karmic affinity and joy when I first met Bro Kian at the inaugural Buddhist Youth Forum conducted by Fo Guang Shan (FGS) Singapore during the month of December 2013. We were sharing on our first encounter with the Dharma and how it has changed our lives. Little did we expect, the conversation has also revealed our common passion and love for nature, the environment and the outdoors. Bro Kian was a Kayaking Coach as well as a Sea Scout Leader, while I am a freelance outdoor expedition leader. We have a common interest, and that is outdoor education in nature. We believed that nature has a lot to teach us and we should take care of the environment. Since then, we have been thinking of innovative ideas to encourage more Buddhist Youths to be exposed to the outdoors, to connect with Mother Nature and to find a deeper meaning of life as they embark on their spiritual journey.
And then the idea of meditating on a kayak was planted by Bro Kian, and I thought that this was a great idea! We did a first trial late last year at Lower Seletar Reservoir where we launched our kayaks and attached all the kayaks to a buoy during sunset. After when we have settled down, we calm our mind down and start to meditate. It was a therapeutic experience and we later proposed this idea to the Buddhist Youth Network (BYN) via the Community Sit in March 2014 with all the participants present on that day at Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF). We were very happy that our idea has received positive feedback, and with the support from Buddhist Youth Network (BYN) and the various Buddhist Youth groups, we have organized the first Community Sit in the outdoors. The initial response was overwhelming but we were also careful to limit the total number of participants to a manageable size for safety reasons, without compromising the fun element and wholesome spiritual connection with nature.
There were a total number of 49 participants (including Bro Perry, Bro Kian and me) for the inaugural Community Sit in the outdoors. And this time round, there were a total of 5 Buddhist Youth groups joining us for the Community Sit, and they are from Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association (TCCYA), Singapore Buddhist Mission Youth (SBMY), Buddhist Fellowship Youth (BFY), Singapore Buddhist Federation Youth (SBFY) and Pak Au Meditation Centre Youth (PAMCY). It was a beautiful Sunday in the outdoors and we started the Community Sit with the Pali chanting of the ‘Homage to the Triple Gems, The Three Refuges and the Five Precepts’ followed by the chanting of the ‘Heart Sutra (般若波羅蜜多心經)’ in Mandarin. Fellow Buddhist Youth Leaders were then invited to share on their personal profile, the activities from their Buddhist Youth group and their meditation practice.
Bro Kian then took over the helm for the briefing on kayaking, safety and meditating on the kayaks before we were out on the waters. All the Buddhist Youths were subsequently tasked to play the first game on land to segregate themselves into pairs, and the idea is that they were not supposed to be paired up with anyone they know, and so this gives them the opportunity to mingle with other Buddhist Youth on the waters. Bro Kian was instrumental in the pairing between the swimmers and non-swimmers, further segregating them into first timers and those whom have paddled before. After which, all of them worked together as a team to unload the kayaks from the racks and carried them to the launch pad near to the shore with all their PFDs and paddles. The weather was really great, and the sun has begun to slowly set in the background while we made our way to Bro Kian, whom have paddled to the buoy where all the kayaks will be eventually tied intrinsically to form a flower shape in the waters. Before that, we played some games on the kayaks before the flower formation was formed, and then there was complete silence. We meditated for a good 30 minutes before paddling back to the shore for the sharing. It was a wonderful meditation experience in retrospect.
After all the kayaks and logistical items have been kept, we sat down again in a circle and this time round, we were privileged to have Bro Lai Hock (Founder of Ground-Up Initiative) to share his life journey, the community start up of Ground-Up Initiative and he encourage fellow Buddhist Youths to be grounded and grateful for what we have today. Bro Lai Hock has a wonderful wealth of life experience that spanned over many years of backpacking and traveling in both city and rural environments, and he has emphasized to all of us on the notion of respecting all life, especially on the concept of soil. The word humility, was derived from the Latin word, humus, which means, soil, similar to the Chinese saying, 脚踏实地. He mentioned that all activities conducted in Ground-Up Initiative has a common tenet, and that is being grounded at all times. He further encouraged all Buddhist Youths to be grounded and grateful in everything we do in our lives, and try to inculcate more hands-on activities in the environment to discover more about ourselves, to connect with nature and to be grounded at all times. On a personal level, Bro Lai Hock has also shared with me that he is a regular to Dharma Drum Mountain Taiwan for annual retreat, sharing with me the environmental projects that he has personally witnessed while he was there. In fact, Venerable Master Sheng Yen founded Dharma Drum Mountain with two perspectives: education and environmental protection.
The first Community Sit started off as an initiative by Bro Perry earlier this year where the original intention is to gather and garner all the Buddhist Youths from different Buddhist Youth Groups to connect, learn and share on their approach to the practice of their spiritual journey. Another objective was to provide a pleasant, cohesive and collaborative environment where the Buddhist Youth Leaders could interact and exchange ideas for their youth activities and events. Last but not least, Buddhist Youth Network seek to foster a closely knitted Buddhist Youth community where we could connect, share and collaborate to develop future Buddhist Youth Leaders through experiential learning, community service and servant leadership. This Community Sit is very special for us, not only is this our first outdoor activity together, but we were also very privileged and grateful to have Bro Kian facilitating the outdoor meditation on kayaks and Bro Lai Hock on his sharing of being grounded in whatever we do while being grateful in what we have today.
I strongly believed that we should be grateful for what we have today, and being blessed to be born and/or to live here in Singapore with no imminent natural disasters. 2,500 years ago, the Buddha and the first disciples lived and walked in lush subtropical monsoon forests. Fast forward to the present modern era, we do not see such lush forests anymore, only exhausted soil and polluted waters. We see less natural environments and we see more buildings and shopping centers these days, but do we really need so many buildings in the first place? The only reason I could think of, is that we have become disconnected with the environment because we are all too caught up in the daily rigmarole of technology advancement and economic success where we have slowly forgotten that all of us are all interconnected, not only between sentient beings, but with the environment as well. By connecting with the environment, we become mindful of nature, and we are able to change our behavior with less effort. Lastly, we consider this as a seed that we are planting for future Buddhist Youths to be more aware of the environment, connect themselves with nature more often and to live a simple, grounded yet meaningful life.