Exploring the lesser-known Buddhist scenes of Singapore Part II

Exploring the lesser-known Buddhist scenes of Singapore Part II

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Jom, an independent journal website that has allowed us to republish this article. The original piece can be found here. This article has been further edited to follow HOL’s standards. This is a two-part article series on Marissa’s journey through the Buddhist scene in Singapore. Read part I here.

TLDR: Marissa explores Bedok & the mettaverse hidden gems where peace is often hidden amongst these bustling areas of Singapore.

3. Simpang Bedok

Having been raised Catholic, I was surprised to learn that Buddhists are not required to visit temples for worship. If however, a visit is paid, intention and clarity of purpose is more important than blind piety.

In both the Mahāyāna and Theravāda traditions, dāna (generosity in Pali) is the first in the list of pāramī (perfections) that beginners are taught to cultivate. You can’t learn to meditate without first learning how to let go. And how can you let go if you don’t learn how to give? This was the premise for my first visit to Palelai, a Theravāda temple on top of a hill in Simpang Bedok. I offered Yakult to the monks and made a mental note to arrive earlier next time, to give my mind time to really settle into the giving, instead of worrying about being late.

Afterwards, I stood in the shade of a bodhi tree as my friend, Kweh Soon Han, told me the story behind the four-faced brahmā statue that gleamed golden in the sun. Brahmās, I learnt, dwell in a subtle realm hidden from the sensual plane.

Some call them gods. The four faces reflect the fact that a brahmā’s mind knows only four sublime states: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Brahmās are incapable of evil.

Four-faced brahmā statue at Palelai in Simpang Bedok.

The most famous brahmā is Sahampati, who in a past life was friends with the man who would become Buddha, when they were both training as monks. After this man got enlightened, he very nearly stayed a silent Buddha, for he perceived that the path was too difficult to teach.

Luckily, Sahampati knew the Buddha’s mind. On bended knee, he invited Buddha to teach the Dhamma, out of compassion. “So,” Mr Kweh finished, “you can say, ‘Thank god for Buddhism.’”

Mr Kweh often worried about Buddhism losing ground with younger Singaporeans, so he took care to be my guide. Indeed, Buddhism in Singapore is so entwined with folkways and superstition that its essence is easily hidden from view. The nontheistic Buddhist worldview syncretised famously well with other Asian religions, so confusion may also arise when images of Guan Yin—the bodhisattva of Chinese Buddhist cosmology who hears the cries of the world (“观世音”)—are spotted alongside those of Confucius and Taoist deities in Taoist temples and shrines.

Finally, it doesn’t help that those Buddhists who have had a glimpse of nirvana tend to be low-key, preferring solitude.

I used to attend a Friday night meditation class at Palelai where I was one of just three students. But we spoke freely with Bhante Varañāṇo, a teacher who answered all our questions skilfully, and it felt like everyone was there for the right reasons. The challenge for many temples here is how to create an environment conducive to meditators in a place like Singapore, where the grating details of urban living are always just round the corner.

During a recent retreat at Palelai, an elderly monk was leading us in qigong outdoors. Perhaps 80 of us, young and old, were hanging loose and opening our meridians when a mechanical hum closed in and thick chemical clouds descended from the narrow drain that separates the Palelai garden from the houses above. We were all fogged, together with the mosquitoes.

On the whole though, Singapore is not a bad place to practise.

When many are gathered with the right intentions, the quality of light that defines Palelai can swell into something quite palpable. Like on nights when public talks are held in the semi-outdoors, and everyone sits silently in rows on the long reed mats, listening. Really. Listening.

4. Into the Mettāverse

I used to tell people that I started meditating as a way to deal with the pandemic’s restrictions: “You can’t travel outward, but you can travel inward.”

Now, post pandemic, I’ve come to enjoy spending entire weekends at home, just sitting and reading, toggling between interoception and introspection.

I’m not a skilful meditator, so I get stuck in my practice every now and then. When that happens, I try to use the flavours of different emotions to compose or energise my mind as I go along. Sadness is particularly useful. When you are desperately sad, the urge to be emptied of yourself should arise like a reflex. Misery is more humbling than joy in this way. But once the doors of perception have been opened a crack, it is laughter and gratitude that have the power to change your mind.

At least, that’s what I experienced. I was sitting alone one day when my mind drifted to a funny moment from earlier that morning.

I laughed at the memory and felt gratefulness welling up in me, and tears. I reflected on the joy of having friends who are so dear, and I could feel my heart fill up like a special kind of vase, brimming with contentment that seemed to come with a knowing that if I let it spill out, more would fill its place. That gave me the energy to keep sitting.

When I tell my friends about going to Buddhist meditation retreats, I sometimes get sceptical, even worried reactions. This is natural. We live in a troubled world where cynicism has become an important defence. Religion is also a sensitive subject. But meditation is not an inherently religious activity. Anything can be an object of meditation—a Bible verse, a candle flame, the breath, body sensations.

Many Buddhists like to meditate on mettā (loving-kindness). In mettā meditation, you basically focus on what goodwill feels like, and then try to direct that goodwill to everyone, unconditionally.

It is not difficult to feel goodwill towards those who are dear to you, or even to strangers—but try radiating loving-kindness to people you dislike. It’s impossible unless you learn to let go of self-absorption. One way to do this is to try and notice thoughts and habits as they arise, in order to step back from them.

So you could say that meditation, and the troubleshooting that’s required to get into deep meditations, is really a scientific inquiry. It is about knowing your mind. In Buddhist circles, this isn’t called spirituality. It’s called reality. Many people practise meditation without Buddhism—it was trending in South Asia long before Buddha was born (in the 6th century BC). But for me, Buddhist wisdom and meditation go together because my intention is to see things as they really are. And the more I sit, speak with or read about people who meditate, the more it becomes clear to me that the gross reality that our minds experience cannot be the ultimate reality.

But for now I am still puttering about on a small island, trying not to get too caught up in the names and occupations that we recognise for expediency in a language that comes from one way of seeing things. I wonder if the biggest enemy of Buddhism is not any other religion, but rather, materialism and wanton consumption, narrow-minded capricious living.

It recently occurred to me—and then only because someone mentioned the word—that I haven’t been bored in a long time. I’ve stopped using Netflix or YouTube as opiates, and I don’t need alcohol to help me scatter my aversion towards this hot, dense city.

Maybe this is what it feels like to have found a dependable worldview. It’s a thought that makes me feel glad and silly at the same time. Two years ago, I would never have guessed that the nearest thing to magic in my life—the magic of a world within a world—would unfold right here between the charmless slabs of office towers and malls.

I just had to learn how to look.

Exploring the lesser-known Buddhist scenes of Singapore Part I

Exploring the lesser-known Buddhist scenes of Singapore Part I

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Jom, an independent journal website that has allowed us to republish this article. The original piece can be found here. This article has been further edited to follow HOL’s standards.

TLDR: Marissa explores Paya Lebar & Geylang’s hidden gems where peace is often hidden amongst these bustling areas of Singapore.

1. Paya Lebar

The story of how my mind changed begins in 2021. Almost 30, I was bummed to still be living with my parents but too prudent to rent a room of my own. I was anxious to make meaning out of my life, but unsure who I wanted to be except in relation to someone else. I had fixed ideas about love, duty and reasonable behaviour, which were frequently deflated.

It was the middle of the pandemic, when many were most vulnerable to the blues, and I was open to mellow pursuits that could help time go by more quickly. One day, recalling an earlier conversation I’d had with a friend, I asked her where I could go for free group meditation classes. Just like that, I fell into a routine.

There was nothing obviously special about the place, but I found that I liked being around women who speak softly and smile with crinkles lining their eyes.

Dharma Drum Meditation Main Hall

At the end of my second class, I was wiping down someone’s mat when a lady leaned in gently and smiled: “Thank you.” She took me by surprise; it felt like evening sunshine after a long day indoors.

It made me realise how fulfilling it can be to just slow down once in a while to make an offering to others of one’s warmth and serenity. To put them at ease. So I followed the sign.

As part of the routine at Dharma Drum, we would also dedicate our practice. My Mandarin was never any good, so I just mouthed the words they flashed on the screen without knowing what they meant. I later discovered that I had been vowing to help all sentient beings attain enlightenment (“众生无边誓愿度”).

How to keep this promise? I panicked. Then I relaxed. A key teaching in Buddhism is that all birth is rebirth. We have been and will be here for longer than we know. I have all the time in the world to keep my vows. But I was also curious to know more about this different way of moving through time.

2. Geylang

Chinese New Year, 2022. I was restless for an excursion. I’d recently heard of the Buddhist Library, situated in a Geylang shophouse. Being alone inside the walls of books made me feel spacious and at home.

Although Geylang tends to evoke vice and not virtue, more religious communities are clustered there than anywhere else in Singapore. This is partly by design. In 1992, some 50 hectares of the neighbourhood were rezoned so that clan associations, political parties and other civic and cultural groups could benefit from the lower rents.

Vegetarian joints and Buddhist general merchandise stores flourished alongside each other. Many know Geylang as a garden of earthly delights. Few know it’s also Singapore’s enlightenment hub.  

As the days of the new year passed, I kept going back to the Buddhist Library for my dose of old world wisdom. Travellers’ tales of India and Tibet, essays by Chinese and Japanese Zen practitioners, biographies of Thai forest monks, and rare gems like Ian Stevenson’s meticulous case reports of children who can remember their past lives.

All three major Buddhist traditions—Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna—coexist on the shelves of the library and in the streets outside. (Some 31 percent of Singaporeans identify as Buddhist, a plurality; and over 18 percent as Christian, the next biggest group.) Each recognises the same truths about the harmful nature of the worldly life. Where they differ is in the practice of various paths to liberation.

The Theravāda path, the “way of the elders”, is the oldest of the three. It is focused on the teachings of the historical Buddha in India, and has spread southeast to thrive in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Mahāyāna, the “great vehicle”, is the path followed by the majority of Buddhists in East Asia and Singapore. They recognise a larger pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who can be called on for support. Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Vajrayāna, the “diamond vehicle”, which evolved from Mahāyāna and absorbed practices from ancient Indian tantric texts.

Ajahn Kalyano giving a talk at Nibbana Dhamma Rakkha in Geylang. This and next photograph courtesy of Goh Kuan Seng 

Two streets east of the Buddhist Library is a building where visiting monks are often invited to give public talks. One evening, at the end of the Hungry Ghost Festival, a Buddhist abbot was no more than 10 minutes into his discourse on mindfulness when a roar rose up from three floors below.

“HUAT ah! HUAT ah! HUAT ah,” senior citizens yowled, reaching across their banquet tables and stabbing with their chopsticks.

“Everything changes,” the abbot said, pausing to observe this feature of reality. By the end of his talk, the party was in full swing. Karaoke rattled the doors of our elevator when it opened onto the first floor courtyard. A trembling old man was belting out in Hokkien: “Wa meng ti, wa meng ti…” (“I ask the heavens, I ask the heavens…”)

In the park behind, a bonfire was leaping two storeys high at least, as other folks burnt offerings to the departed inside a circle of red candles. In Buddhism, simplicity and wisdom is encouraged. Burning of “hell money”—a Chinese folk custom—is unnecessary because what is burnt here cannot materialise anywhere else. It only turns to ash.

Yet here we all were, in the riot of contrasts called Geylang—creatures of different minds crammed into one corner block by the invisible hand of the free market to act out our conditioning, side by side. Not every scene however dissolves easily in laughter. Worldly amusements are often brittle, like the pair of caged toucans in the beer garden of Happy Seafood Village where the house special is a flaming volcano chicken.

The world is a hot mess. But we already knew that. Buddhist practice is about relating to your environment skilfully, without getting caught up in notions of right and wrong. Without losing balance. Did you know that perfectly enlightened beings cannot feel anger? A thought occurred to me as I left the Buddhist Library one night—even if I go nowhere in my meditation, I must try to be the place where ill will ends.

The journey continues in Part II publishing this friday.

6 Buddhist Courses in Singapore to enroll in this February 2024

6 Buddhist Courses in Singapore to enroll in this February 2024

Does January feel like a trial month to you? 

As February unfolds, you might find yourself pondering how best to invest the rest of your year meaningfully. If you thrive on structure and routine to maintain discipline, why not consider enrolling in a course to deepen your understanding and practice of Buddhism?

With options available across Singapore and online, there’s a course to fit your schedule and preferences. It’s never too late to invest in personal development!

Here are 6 comprehensive Buddhist courses in Singapore currently open for registration:

Note: The following is not ranked in any particular order.

1. Introduction to Buddhism Course by Buddhist and Pali College of Singapore (BPC)

Are you familiar with the core teachings of Buddhism? If not, this course might be perfect for you! Tailored for beginners with minimal or no prior knowledge, it serves as an excellent introduction to Buddhism

Affiliated with the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka, BPC has a track record of nurturing Buddhist scholars and is now in its 26th year of offering this program. Graduates have the option to further their studies in Buddhism by enrolling in the Diploma in Buddhism course.

By the course’s conclusion, you’ll confidently articulate core teachings, such as The 3 Characteristics of Existence, The 4 Noble Truths, and the Noble 8 Fold Path, while gaining insights into Rebirth, Karma, and the significance of Buddhist rituals and meditation practices. Next time your friend asks about Buddhism, you’ll be ready to provide accurate insights.

🗓️ When: 28 Feb to 15 May (Every Wednesday, 7.30pm – 9.30pm)

🎓Great for: Beginners seeking fundamental knowledge about Buddhism

By donation

📍Location: Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple (near Eunos MRT)

📞Contact: Sis Lynn @ 8288 9888

✉️ Register via: [email protected]

Find out more about the course here

2. Meditation and Dhamma Class at Buddhist Library (Singapore)

Looking for a blend of meditation practice and learning new knowledge? The Buddhist Library‘s popular program might be just what you need. Led by seasoned mentors, Sis Foo Siew Fong, Sis Foo Siew Ee,  Sis Tan Sock Hoon and Bro Tan Chau Yee, this intake focuses on deepening your understanding of the topic “Kamma.”

Each session offers a holistic experience, including homage to the Triple Gems, guided meditation, insightful Dhamma bites, engaging Q&A, and a second guided meditation session.

This course is designed for individuals with prior meditation experience and a basic understanding of Buddhism. Don’t worry if you lack these prerequisites; mentors will offer personalised guidance during the initial 2-3 sessions in a separate classroom.

Compared to others on this list, this course has a relatively shorter duration. If you’re seeking a balanced blend of practical application and theoretical understanding, this program is an excellent choice!

🗓️ When: 24 Feb – 4 May (Every Sat, 2.30-4.30PM)

🎓 Great for: Beginners and seasoned practitioners

💲Price: Free

📍Location: The Buddhist Library, No.2, Geylang Lorong 24A Singapore 398526

👉Register: here

Find out more about the course here

3. Dhamma Foundation Course 1: The Fulfilling Lay Life at Buddhist Fellowship Singapore

Tired of uninspiring lectures?

Dhamma Foundation Course 1 (DFC1) offers a refreshing alternative. Guided by esteemed Buddhist teachers, Sister Sylvia Bay and Brother Chye Chye, this program transcends traditional teaching methods. Participants gain practical insights to integrate Buddhist teachings into their daily lives, fostering joy and fulfillment.

The course’s standout feature is its interactive and practical approach. Engage in lively discussions, explore diverse viewpoints, and reassess your life’s direction. Grounded in the Buddhist Pali Canon, you’ll delve into timeless wisdom.

After completing the course, there’s also the option to delve deeper with Dhamma Foundation Course 2, starting after Vesak 2024. Psss…Seats usually fill up fast for this. Grab them before they’re gone. 

🗓️ When: Every Sat, 2 Mar to 11 May, 2pm – 5pm

🎓Great for: Those seeking to apply Buddhist teachings to their daily lives while deepening sutta knowledge. 

💲Price: Free (Suggested administration fee of $30)

📍Location: BF West, Dhamma Hall

👉Register here

Find out more about the course here

4. A 3 Year Buddhism Course (In English) at KMSPKS Monastery

Looking to commit to learning throughout the year? Look no further.

With three terms, each comprising nine lessons, this course stands as the most comprehensive Buddhist program on our list. Set within the serene surroundings of Bishan, you’ll have the opportunity to study in one of Singapore’s largest Buddhist monasteries.

Throughout the course, you’ll delve into a wide array of topics, including the life of the Buddha, Buddhist observances, the Three Refuges, the Five Precepts, the Eight Precepts, the Ten Wholesome Actions, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the Sigalovada Sutta.

🗓️ When: 28 Feb to 6 Nov 2024 (Wed, 7.30pm to 9pm)

🎓 Great for: Deepening understanding of Buddhism

💲Price: $110 per course year

📍Location: Venerable Hong Choon Memorial Hall, Level 1 @
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, 88 Bright Hill Road, Singapore 574117

✉️ Email: [email protected]

📞Contact: 6849 5345

👉Register Online: Click here to register for the first year.

Find out more about the course here

5. Introduction to Buddhist Fundamentals by Dot Connections

This is the only option on the list that is held online! So if you’re a busy bee but would still like to dedicate yourself to learning the basics of Buddhism, this is for you.

The comprehensive course with 12 lessons is designed for beginners to explore the life of the Buddha, delve into the core teachings, and different Buddhist traditions and ponder the relevance of Buddhism today. By the end, you’ll be equipped with the basic Buddhist knowledge required to pursue a Diploma in Buddhist Psychotherapy and Counselling course.

🗓️ When: May 3 to Jul 19

  • Online Orientation on Sat April 27 (2 to 4 pm)
  • course closure on Jul 27 (2 to 4 pm)

🎓 Great for: Participants with limited prior knowledge of Buddhism

💲Price: Usual fees: $120 | Early Bird: $100 | Student: $80

📍Location: Online via Zoom

📞 Contact: +65 85014365

👉 Register by Apr 21 2024: Click here

Find out more about the course here

6.  Discovering Buddhism at Amitabha Buddhist Centre (ABC)

Seeking a modular learning experience?

This 14-module course offers a profound exploration of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism’s teachings, and is anchored in the profound Stages of the Path (Lamrim) teachings.

Preceded by two successful editions of Introduction to Discovering Buddhism at ABC in 2022 and 2023, each module delves deep into key themes like Mind and Its Potential, The Spiritual Teacher, Karma, and more. With each module spanning 4 to 6 sessions, participants gain a solid understanding. The program adopts a flexible, modular format, allowing individuals to enroll in specific modules without prerequisites

Modules 4 and 5—‘The Spiritual Teacher’ and ‘Kamma and Rebirth’—are currently available for registration. Led by FPMT-Registered Teachers, Bro Benny Law and Sis Koh Guat Cheng, you’ll delve into the pivotal role of the spiritual teacher and the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship. Additionally, you’ll explore the profound concepts of death and rebirth, learning how these impact our existence and guide us in fulfilling our life’s purpose.

🗓️ When: 

  • Module 4-5: 2 Mar – 27 Apr 2024
  • Thursdays: 7.30pm – 9.30pm, 
  • Saturdays: 10am to 12pm

🎓 Great for: Deepening understanding of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism

💲Price: N/A

📍Location: Amitabha Buddhist Centre
44 Lorong 25A Geylang
Singapore 388244

✉️ Contact: [email protected]

👉 Registration: click here (Not required for classes, but necessary for course materials)

Find out more about the course here

Closing remarks

Understanding the teachings of Buddhism transcends intellectual curiosity; it serves as a profound pathway towards personal transformation and the attainment of inner peace. May you find the mental strength and energy to not only absorb these teachings but also to actively integrate them into your daily lives. Through mindful application and sincere practice, may the wisdom gleaned from Buddhism illuminate your path, guiding you towards greater clarity, compassion, and fulfilment in every day of your life.

Knowing death is part of life, why do I still get overwhelmed by grief as a Buddhist?

Knowing death is part of life, why do I still get overwhelmed by grief as a Buddhist?

TLDR: What do we do when a loved one passes on? Being in a situation where not everything can be Googled, Fang Huey reflects on her experience as she navigates her way through grief. 

We are all so familiar with birth, ageing, sickness and death. However, when our loved ones pass on, we are often caught off guard and most of us do not know how to handle grief. Is grief really the price we pay for love?

The days leading up to my PoPo’s (Grandma’s) passing were undeniably tough. 

From the day PoPo was warded, many scans and treatments ensued, until she could no longer be treated and was terminally discharged.

“Stage 4 cancer? I do not know how to feel about the possibility of my grandma passing on. How do I prepare myself for death? What do I expect? I do not know.” – 8 February 2021 (An extract from my diary)

It was heartbreaking to witness PoPo’s health deteriorate rapidly within such a short span of time. 

The day I dreaded most arrived. 

The doctor informed us to prepare for the worst while they were carrying out resuscitation efforts.

It was a familiar scene in movies but having to experience that scene myself was hard to process. A sudden realisation hit me that such a close family member would soon be gone permanently from our lives. 

I reached out to my Puja (chanting) book to chant and share merits with PoPo. A few pages later, I couldn’t continue even though I was very familiar with the verses. 

Everything became blurry. I felt lost, uncertain and panicky. 

What should I do? I was helpless.  

Everything happened so quickly and PoPo left us a month after being diagnosed.

Reflecting back on the journey, the following snippets of Dhamma recollection resonated with me. 

Grief hurts

After the funeral, I snapped back to reality and took time to process my emotions. Everything felt just like a dream.

No matter how much I tried to occupy myself with schoolwork and return to ‘normalcy’, I still found myself missing PoPo, spending nights scrolling through photos of her. 

A week after PoPo’s passing, a neighbour asked, “Are you going to PoPo’s house?”

She might just be striking up a casual conversation but I was jolted towards my loss and that I could no longer accompany or chat with PoPo. 

Rings of a bicycle bell would remind me of PoPo coming to my house. I couldn’t help but check the gates during the initial days of grief like responding to Pavlovian conditioning. 

Tears welled up in my eyes when I realised that I would never find PoPo at my gate on her small bike anymore. I felt my heart numb by pain once again. 

There is so much sorrow in knowing that PoPo would not be here with us anymore. The regrets of not spending more time with her surfaced time after time; I only have memories to look back on.

I felt terrible. I turned to Google to search about losing a loved one and whether I would feel better. 

There were sharings from others who have lost their loved ones, but I was unable to find one that satisfied me. On the contrary, reading the articles made me sadder and amplified my loss from resonating with what they have gone through.  

Instead, I had to turn back towards the Dhamma for guidance.

Acknowledging Grief and Suffering Exists

When a loved one passes on, one goes through a period of grieving. During this time, it is easy to lose ourselves and wallow in sadness. This is one of the eight sufferings – the suffering of separating from loved ones.

We are fast to cling to what brings us happiness; we try to get rid of the unpleasant feelings and desire to return to the past when our loved one was still with us. 

By acknowledging that grief exists, without making it personal and accepting suffering as “there is suffering”, instead of “I suffer”, I was able to stop being sucked into the vortex of suffering. I reflected and became more aware of my feelings and thoughts, seeing things as they are. I saw grief as suffering rather than my personal misery. 

“We tend to grasp and identify rather than to observe, witness and understand things as they are.”  – Ajahn Sumedho

Understanding the Reason Behind Sufferings

We suffer due to attachments to our desires. 

I craved PoPo’s presence, company and care for me. But I couldn’t find them back anymore. It is hard to accept the hard truth. 

Her keys, flowers at her windows, soya milk, and many things that I see and hear kept reminding me of her absence. The traces she left behind were everywhere. 

There are many changes I have to deal with. It felt strange; I felt a great loss and a void inside me. 

I wanted PoPo back and for things to be back to normal again, but this wish can never be fulfilled and it causes my suffering.

After recognising and identifying the desire for our loved one to be back with us and for things to go back to normalcy, we can start to let go of the desire. When we no longer grasp and react, but instead lay our desires aside without passing judgement, we start recognising that desire is the cause of suffering. 

Knowing that there is an End to our Suffering

Through investigation and reflection, we see that all conditions are impermanent. All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing. I tried my best to accept PoPo’s passing; I convinced myself that it is actually good that she passed on quickly and was free from physical pain. 

Our family tried to fill the gaps that PoPo left behind. 

We took on chores that she had been doing all these years and appreciated her even more. 

PoPo’s demise actually brought us closer. As days went by, we adjusted better and better to our new lives. 

By being patient and observing grief, I realised that emotions would cease, and we need not run away from these negative feelings each time it arises. By allowing these conditions and feelings to cease naturally, we experience cessation and non-attachment; we are left with peace. 


Author with her PoPo

Although it has been over half a year since PoPo passed, grief and sadness still arise at times.

With time, I learnt how to cope with these feelings betters, by understanding suffering and attachment. I also allow these feelings to exist and naturally fade away with time. 

Over time, we also started realising and appreciating the good PoPo has done more and more. I remember PoPo for the generosity and kindness that she has for people around her. I aspire to be as giving and understanding as her, by incorporating these little acts of kindness into my life. 

Looking back, I am glad that I turned back to the Dhamma as it gave me peace and relief, helping me to understand grief and cope with my feelings better.  

Wise Steps: 

  • When we experience suffering, slow down to observe and witness the suffering without judgment. 
  • In life, we face many obstacles and unpleasant situations. Be kind and gentle towards yourself; give yourself time. 

Top 4 places for Forest Bathing & Nature Basking in Singapore – Why & Where?

Top 4 places for Forest Bathing & Nature Basking in Singapore – Why & Where?

TLDR: Nature is calling out to us. But are we ready for its gifts? Ophelia muses on the lessons of impermanence inspired by nature. She will walk you through her favourite forest-bathing treks in Singapore.

Have you ever noticed the birds chirp when you first open your eyes?

What about hearing cicadas sing as you pass by trees? 

Who’s there? Fort Canning Park. (Photo Credit: Author)

Do you remember those Circuit Breaker days when you can’t go anywhere but the parks? Since the borders have relaxed, we find our friends (or ourselves) heading out abroad for mountains, waterfalls, beaches and forests, as if nature has a certain magnetic pull. Why the allure?

A Collared Kingfisher getting ready to take flight, spotted in National University of Singapore (Photo Credit: Evan C.)

Blue Light & Feeling Blue

These days, our awake moments are steep in constant scrolling, clicking, and typing on our devices. Blue light screams from LED screens. How do our minds grapple with what’s real and what’s not? Our bodies release dopamine from experiencing fleeting sensory bombardments within the virtual “aethers”.

Then, there’s the spinning of reports, rushing of deadlines, chasing numbers. All in the name of productivity and efficiency. Faster. Faster. Faster!

We get anxious. We get annoyed. We get angry.

Blue screen blues. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoehne, Unsplash)

Harbouring this agitation, we turn towards self-help articles, Netflix, e- gaming and infinite scrolling. None of them seems to cut it. They can’t hit the scratch of calm. The affliction spirals deeper. 

Couple the digital dizziness with an overcrowded “air-conditioned nation” and mask-wearing: we need fresh air, literally. 

We need a break. Nature’s calling.

Pause. Listen. 

Let your eyes rest on the greens, browns and blues. 

Let the breeze caress your weary face.

Symphony Lake, Singapore Botanic Gardens. (Photo Credit: Author)

Collectively, we need to slow down and find our grounds, such that the next wave of mind-bending circumstance or emotion doesn’t crash our sanity.  Together, we can heal with resilience. Nature has been teaching us how.

And the hike begins! (Photo Credit: T. Heng Xuan)

Stepping into a forest, we can leave our worries and anxiety at its fringe. The hike leads us to a simple earthly presence. An awareness of what’s around us, of our breathing. Our senses sharpen and so does our observation. 

Immediately, nature’s beauty impresses upon us. It lures our thinking mind out to bodily sensations. We feel nature in the sweats of our skin. We hear the leaves rustle with the cooling breeze against our faces. We smell nature from the damp undergrowth. We see green shades and organic shadows, simply existing against the blue skies. 

Look up to the Yellow Flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum) at the Band Stand, Singapore Botanic Gardens. (Photo Credit: Author)

In nature, we are overwhelmed by the solace and solitude wilderness brings, albeit temporarily. We start to notice what moves: insects, unexpected guests like wild boar, monkeys, welcoming birdsongs, and fluttering butterflies. Each organism’s mere existence relies on and supports other organisms.

Soon enough, the mind tunes into a quiet existential background beneath all the cacophony: the sheer fabric of awareness that recognises we are all alone collectively, our interdependent co-existence.

Part of a greater flow we can’t force nor stop

Nature teaches us to grow with the right conditions. There are some things we can’t force. Having been scattered away from its parent, saplings germinate when sunlight pierces through a clearing in the forest canopy. They grow taller with torrential rain but we can’t yank them taller. Flowers bloom only with the season’s liking. Fruits only get born after the right pollinators fertilise their flowers. Vines climb up where branches hang. 

Close up of a cluster of budding African Princess, a species of Ginger (Costus phyllocephalus). Gallop Extension, Singapore Botanic Gardens (Photo Credit: Author)

Just like humans, each plant species has its season and time zone. When given the right amount of sunlight, water and nutrition, can the plant grow. Apart from ensuring that the conditions are met, we leave the rest to let nature run its course. We learn the pace of nature, patience, and not rushing into wanting the tree to grow overnight.

Nature shows us that there are some things we can’t stop either. Flowers wilt. Leaves brown and fall. Even the sturdiest hardwood falls after an unfortunate lightning strike. Streams flow from higher grounds to lower levels. Tropical thunderstorms pour whenever the clouds are too heavy. Much as we hate deterioration and want to stop it from happening so badly in nature, we can’t. 

The rain shall not dampen my heart. Sun Dial Garden, Singapore Botanic Gardens. (Video Credit: Author)

This cycle of impermanence whirls on, turning what we thought was beautiful into the unbeautiful.

Yet a dead log and the leaf litter form the fertile ground for fungi to emerge from, for the next sapling to nestle in. What gives way to death, gives way to growth. This circular economy within the forest is a mere microcosm of what’s happening in our urban modern city.

The dead and alive rest side by side in the forest (Photo Credit: T. Heng Xuan)

When we observe Nature, we can look inwards better. After all, we are part of Nature ourselves. Earth, wind, water and heat – the four elements of nature return to dust, just as all living beings. In the forest, when the cycle of life and death is littered in every step of our way, every sight we see… we learn to be detached, to see things as they really are, to let go of wanting and not-wanting.

A tree stump continues to grow in different ways. Rain Forest Trail, Singapore Botanic Gardens. (Photo Credit: Author)

Where can we experience our natural “self”?

With the benefits of ‘natural remedy’ in mind, below are a few parks I have personally trekked, not in any particular order:

1. Singapore Botanical Gardens

If you fancy prim and proper paths with a trimmed landscape, the Evolution Garden in the Singapore Botanical Gardens transports you back in time (NParks’ guide) while the Rain Forest trail introduces a slice of our tropical primary jungle to you without getting your shoes muddy.
Perfect for a stroll with your loved ones, especially if you want to pepper the walk with heart-to-heart talk. Most paths in the Gardens are barrier-free.

Who knew Singapore had such alien-looking trees? Evolution Garden, Singapore Botanic Gardens (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

2. MacRitchie Reservoir

For an authentic forest bathing experience, the raw, exposed, and sometimes peaty treks across Singapore’s nature reserves invite your soles to kiss its earth gently. Challenge your stamina by hiking from MacRitchie Reservoir to Bukit Timah summit, cutting through Central Catchment Reserve from Chestnut Park to Mandai (drop by a pumping station for a water view), or along the northern stretch of Rail Corridor (Kranji to Bukit Panjang). 

Get ready for complete immersion: jungle hat, hiking shoes, dry-fit attire, sunblock, a neat bottle for hydration, and poncho/umbrella if the weather is unkind. Some altitude is expected. What fun is there if the journey is all flat and smooth?

View of the Rail Corridor (Kranji) on an old bridge. (Photo Credit: Author)

3. Pasir Ris Park & The islands

Fifty shades of green too much to digest? No worries. There are equally scenic routes for restless adventurers, whose attention spans are more engaged with a geographical variation. Fortunately, there remain in Singapore a few of these 3-in-1 natural sanctuaries (forest, mangroves, coastline). 

Forget the overrated Coney Island. Try its neighbouring Pasir Ris Park, which is famous amongst birdwatchers. If you have an entire day to spend, why not head down to Lazarus Island and St John Island via scheduled ferry? Pack your swimsuits to complete your day-cation.

The soft light of dawn glazes over Marina South ferry terminal. Partly cloudy weather is optimal for day trips. (Photo Credit: Author)

4. Bukit Brown Cemetery

Rounding off the list, we introduce the ultimate forest experience in the Bukit Brown Cemetery. Obviously not for the faint-hearted. Top off the bucket list with death-contemplation meditation (read these links here and here for greater details).

[Warning: Do explore the area in groups, especially after daylight.]

Stray off to the lustre greens residing in the depths of the Bukit Brown Cemetery. (Photo Credit: Author)

After all these recommendations, jio (invite) your family and friends to dip into the cool shade of Singapore’s forest canopy while it still stands. 

For in this land-scarce country, the concrete jungle is taking over our lush natural heritage as our days go unnoticed. When that time comes, perhaps that’s the final lesson of letting go that nature can give us. 

A male Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker outro. National University of Singapore (Video Credit: Evan C.)

The path through the forest bides you to enter its embrace. Rain Forest Trail, Singapore Botanic Gardens. (Photo Credit: Author)

Wise Steps:

  • Commit a morning and pick a park! Be on your feet – get ready to explore and to discover solo or with a like-minded company;
  • In nature, notice the sensory contacts – what you see, hear, smell, touch – what is going through your mind?
  • If there is a quiet spot in nature, meditate on your breathing. Be aware of how inner and external chatter gets in the way of appreciating the gifts nature offers us.
  • Have fun along the way! Know your Tree and spot the different trees familiar in our Garden City. Learn bird calls as you tune into nature’s ‘symphony FM92.4.’
30-day Meditation Challenge

30-day Meditation Challenge


This challenge was launched after Vesak in Year 2021 and held on Telegram. The following is a compilation of resources and daily prompts that we sent over the 30 days. You may choose to consume them according to what you need, or conduct your mini 30-day challenge with a few friends using these curated contents.

Hope you’ll find them useful and stay mindful!


Hey there! 👋

Welcome to this 30-day challenge !

Congratulations on making an effort to cultivate your mind! 

Joining this 30-day challenge is a great first step.

New to meditation? Don’t worry. We’ll be sharing some recommended resources and guided audio to get you moving. To get started, read: https://handfulofleaves.life/get-started-with-meditation/

Recommended meditation app (FREE): https://insighttimer.com/

Available on iOS and android. 

Day 1: Find your ‘Why’

Before you set yourself a goal on how long to meditate daily, first, clarify your purpose.

Why do you want to meditate in the first place? Don’t settle with a generic answer such as “to find peace”. Dig deeper into what is at stake if you do not meditate and paint a vivid picture of how your life would change for the better if you do. Your motivation won’t be 100% the same as others. So, own it. 

If ever meditation feels like a chore to you, recollecting why you started in the first place will be incredibly helpful to keep you going. And when you truly internalise and experience the benefits of meditation, it will become an integral habit – just like brushing your teeth. 

Challenge for today, fill in the blanks below and paste it at a visible location to remind you daily about your “WHY”. 

I’ve chosen to meditate daily even if [ describe potential that can get in the way ]. And I’m doing this because [ describe why it matters to you ]. 

Recommended guided meditation: 

Basic Body scan and breath awareness by Tara Brach

Duration: 11 minutes

Day 2: Reflect on your meditation experience

Can’t seem to empty your mind? It’s normal!
A successful meditation is not just about how long you sit or how quiet your mind is. 

A successful meditation session is one you have learnt something from – something that can help free you from the causes of dissatisfaction.

We recommend taking a few minutes after each meditation to reflect on your experience. 

This allows you to grow your awareness and grow as a person. 

Here’s a downloadable reflection template for you: Download now

Recommended guided meditation: 

The RAIN of Self-Compassion by Tara Brach

Duration: 11 minutes

Day 3: Dedicate a mindful corner

The physical setup of a space has the power to prime our minds for formal mindfulness practice. 

Here are 3 tips to create your own mindful corner:

  1. Free the clutter. The environment we create is a reflection of our state of mind. Vice versa!
  2. Free the distraction. Distant yourself from TV, computer, bed, or anything that can cause you to lose focus. 
  3. Make it comfortable (but not too comfortable!). Positive association to the space can help attract you to the practice and make it joyful. 

Do you have a dedicated place at your home to meditate? Snap a picture and tag us on Instagram or Facebook!

Recommended guided meditation: 

Basic instruction to listening by Luang Por Viradhammo 

Duration: 10 minutes

Day 4: Recognising thought patterns

Meditation is about understanding yourselves and nature, so that you can adopt skilful measures to change your life for the better. Daily experiences interactions have effects on our mind; our formal meditation experiences have effects on our daily experiences. 

A moment to reflect:  

Did you recognise any patterns? 

What are the causes of your peace/restlessness? 

How did meditation contribute to your happiness in the day? 

Recommended guided meditation: 

Mental Noting by Charles Freligh, PhD

Duration: 15 minutes

Day 5: The attitudes of mindfulness 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, shares the attitudes that create a strong foundation for mindfulness practice.

  1. Non-judging 
  2. Patience 
  3. Beginners’ mind 
  4. Trust
  5. Non-striving 
  6. Letting go
  7. Acceptance
  8. Gratitude 
  9. Generosity  

Watch this 3-minute introductory clip:


In the next few days, we’ll be sharing guided meditation tracks based on these themes. 

Today’s guided meditation is by Jon Kabat-Zinn himself.
Duration: 10 minutes.

Day 6: Attitude of Non-judging

Liking and disliking;

Wanting and not wanting.

Our minds are constantly swinging between these two extremes, with tons of judgements playing in the background. Listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn about the right way to cultivate a non-judging mind in order to not be imprisoned by our thoughts. 


Recommended guided meditation: 

The judging mind by Joseph Goldstein

Duration: 11.5 minutes

Day 7: The attitude of Patience 

Are you missing the present moment because of impatience?

Here’s a 2-minute reflection on how to cultivate patience and its benefits.


Recommended guided meditation

Finding peace through patience by Amy Pattee Colvin

Duration: 12 minutes

Day 8: The Beginners’ mind

How is your meditation practice going?

Meditation can seem boring after some time, or we might think we know all about meditation already. Jon Kabat-Zinn shares how a beginners’ mind can help us find novelty in every moment to keep the practice interesting and to grow in wisdom.


Recommended guided meditation: 

Simply begin again by Joseph Goldstein

Duration: 8 minutes

Day 9: Trust 

Do you trust yourself and your ability to overcome the challenges in life?

Watch this 3-minute interview about how the attitude of trust can be cultivated in meditation and help us in our daily lives. 


Recommended guided meditation: 

Trust in self and others (mantra and movement meditation) by Ashley Brodeur 

Duration: 8.5 minutes

Day 10: Non-striving

Are you trying to get something out of your meditation? To stop thinking, to feel peaceful, to experience this or that?

Watch this 2-minute clip about the beauty of letting things unfold naturally and letting go of the doing-mind:


Recommended guided meditation: 

Let go by Ajahn Amaro

Duration: 19 minutes

Day 11: Letting go 

Brain Research shows the hardest thing for the brain to do, is to let go of thoughts. 

“If we find it particularly difficult to let go of something because it has such a strong hold over our mind, we can direct our attention to what “holding on” feels like. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. We can become an expert on our own attachments, whatever they may be, and their consequences in our lives, as well as how it feels in those moments when we finally do let go and what the consequences of that are. Being willing to look at the ways we hold on ultimately shows us a lot about the experience of its opposite. So whether we are “successful” at letting go or not, mindfulness continues to teach us if we are willing to look.” Credit: G Ross Clark

Watch this 4-minute clip about letting go:


Recommended guided meditation: 

Letting go by Bhante Sujatha 

Duration: 6 minutes

Day 12: Acceptance 

Put on the welcome mat for pain and unpleasant feelings! Jon Kabat-zinn shares how he teaches patients who are dealing with chronic pain: 


Recommended guided meditation:

Acceptance by Bhante Sujatha

Duration: 4 minutes 

Day 13: Gratitude and generosity 

Wrapping up the series “attitudes for meditation” by Jon Kabat-zinn with gratitude and generosity. He shares how these qualities are interconnected and seeing things as they really are:


Recommended guided meditation today: 

Gratitude for the miracle breath and body by Dr Elise Bialylew

Duration: 14 minutes

Day 14: Lost in thoughts?

“Ugh! I can’t seem to quiet my mind!!!” If you’ve thought of giving up meditation because you ‘failed’ to free your mind of thoughts… don’t! Because there’s a victory of being lost in thoughts. 

Watch this 3-minute interview with Joseph Goldstein about reframing the experience of a restless mind:


Recommended guided meditation: 

A meditation for patience and resolve by Mark Bertin

Duration: 18 minutes

Day 15: Daydreaming 

If you’re struggling to keep up with any of the meditation techniques, you may consider a practice of doing nothing. Simply put, just let the mind do its thing and watch it. You might notice that it’s easy for the mind to start to daydream. How do we deal with that?

Here’s a 3-minute clip that answers the question:


Recommended guided meditation: 

Place attention to the nature of your mind with Vinny Ferraro

Duration: 14 minutes 

Day 16: Morning and evening ritual

We’re halfway there! How has your meditation practice been?

Again, if you’ve missed a day, it’s completely fine. Start again, even if it’s as little as three mindful breaths. 

Hot tips: 

  1. Remind yourself why you’ve started in the first place 
  2. Lower your goals to make it easier to overachieve them (for a boost in motivation)
  3. Set a specific period in the day for the practice. E.g. before breakfast/ before bed. 

Recommended guided meditation by Jonathan Lehmann:

Buddha Morning: https://insig.ht/hZl8CxEDsgb

Buddha Evening: https://insig.ht/QkAn2Rf7qgb

Day 17: Is meditation working?

Meditation isn’t about clocking the hours on the cushion! How do you know if you are progressing? 

Use these simple yardsticks: 

  1. Has my greed, aversion, and ignorance reduced?
  2. Have I become responsive rather than reactive to situations?
  3. Has my overall stress level reduced?

Recommended guided meditation by Tara Brach: Vipassana (insight) meditation

Day 18: Staying present when it feels unbearable

Not all days are filled with rainbows and sunshine. Do you run away from reality or face it with courage? In this 15-minute clip, Thich Nhat Hahn shares a sustainable way to deal with painful feelings that might be unbearable:


Recommended guided meditation: 

Transforming Difficult Emotions by Patty Hlava, Ph.D. (AwakenPeace Healing)

Duration: 15 minutes

Day 19: Practising with unpleasant emotions 

In this short teaching video from the Deer Park Monastery (February 2004), Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) guides us on how to take care of emotions when they come up. Every time a painful feeling is born, we go home and take good care of our feelings with the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness here is like a mother coming to hold and embrace the pain that is crying out to us. This is the practice of love: telling our painful emotions, “Darling I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.” Credit: Plum Village


Today, we recommended two guided meditation tracks. You can choose to meditate with either depending on the time you have:


Processing unpleasant feelings by DarioHealth

Duration: 4 minutes

Mindfulness Meditation For Stress And Worry by Hugh Byrne

Duration: 29 minutes

Day 20: Meditation is not a cure for all

In this journey of life, we all come with different baggage, some heavier than others. We have to acknowledge our own limitations and be open to seeking and receiving help to lighten the load. Sometimes, meditation is just not the right support at the moment. 

Read more in this article by Cheryl Cheah about “3 Things I Wished I Knew Before Starting Meditation”

Recommended guided reflection by Charles (PhD in Clinical Psychology): Caring for your inner child

Duration: 13.5 minutes

Day 21: Introduction to Loving-kindness meditation

Does the thought of Loving-kindness make you squirm? You’re not alone. Is it because love and kindness seem to be the polar opposites of courage and success? Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg discuss this in this 7-minute clip:


Recommended guided meditation: Loving kindness by Sharon salzberg

Duration: 15 minutes 

Day 22: Opening of the heart

In these chaotic and trying times, we could all do with more goodwill. While spreading thoughts of goodness to others, remember you deserve loving-kindness too! 

Recommended guided meditation today is by Tara Brach: Loving this life; metta meditation

Duration: 16.5 minutes

Day 23: Sending goodwill to those whom we feel don’t deserve it. 

When you’re practising metta meditation, recognise that it is okay to struggle with sending thoughts of goodwill towards some people. Especially to those whom you dislike and those who hurt you. Recognise your emotional capacity and wish yourself well. Then, when you’re ready, set the wholesome intention to free your heart from enmity little by little. 

Recommended guided meditation:  “Just like me” by Miraibai Bush

Duration: 5 minutes

Day 24: Overcoming the 5 hindrances 

You must have met these 5 common ‘folks’ during your meditation.
1. Sensory desire: wanting pleasure through the five senses (yes, fidgeting is part of wanting).

2. Ill-will: enmity towards oneself or others.

3. Sloth-and-torpor: laziness and the lack of energy/effort.

4. Restlessness: mind filled with thoughts.

5. Doubt: questioning the meditation experience with a lack of trust.

Master Shi Heng Yi, a Shaolin monk, described these different mental states and how they cloud our minds to make the right decisions in life. 

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQSffSfw-Nc

Recommended guided meditation: the 5 hindrances.

Duration: 15 minutes

Day 25: Accessing inner wisdom

“How can I feel good all the time if everything is changing?”

Watch Master Shi Heng Yi’s reply: 


Recommended guided meditation: Strengthen the access to your inner wisdom by Dr Karolien Notebaert

Duration: 14 minutes

Day 26: How to cope with stress

The million-dollar question for lay practitioners: Is it okay to look forward to binging Netflix series to de-stress?

Dan Harris talks to Jeff Warren about how to cope with stress and begin where we are. 

Watch this 24-minute interview with practical advice:


Recommended guided meditation: 

Mindfulness Practice For Stress Reduction by Beth Kurland, Ph.D.

Duration: 22 minutes

Day 27: Dealing with work stress

Thought of throwing in the towel due to stress? Here Timber Hawkeye gave a beautiful answer to a friend’s question about whether she should quit her job: 


Recommended guided meditation: Visualisation for stress elimination

Duration: 6 minutes

Day 28: Staying Present

Two more days to go! 

Have you been planning what to do next? 

Or have you been looking back at the past with thoughts of “what if?” “I should have”?

Planning and revisiting history are essential for us to lead our lives. 

But if we are caught up with too much thinking, we won’t be able to enjoy the present moment. 

Staying present is an ongoing practice, explains Eckhart, which can be supported in ways that include following the breath, becoming aware of sensations in the body, and by cultivating “the Observer”. Watch this video:


Recommended guided meditation: Breath meditation by Luang Por Viradhammo

11 minutes

Day 29: Mindfulness in daily life 

One more day left to this challenge! You’ve come this far, and what’s most important is to integrate this meditation practice into your working life and personal life. 

With the demands of modern times, it can be difficult to live a life that feels truly balanced. Scientist and author Jon Kabat-Zinn says mindfulness can be a vital tool in cutting through the noise of daily life.

Watch: Stopping: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat Zinn


Recommended guided meditation: Walking meditation by Tara Brach

Duration: 7 minutes

Day 30: Continuing the practice

Last day! As we end this challenge, take a moment to celebrate the efforts you’ve put into cultivating your mind. Even if you did not meditate for all 30 days, meditating for a day is better than none at all. Meditating for 1 minute or just one mindful breath is better than none. So give yourself some credit! 

You may continue to keep up with this daily habit or make it a weekly affair. An important note is that meditation is not just when you sit on the cushion. The mind finds itself in all postures and in all activities. 

Today, we are closing off with these two recommendations: 

  1. Listen to this 10-minute recording of Ajahn Dhammasiha about integrating meditation into daily life.
  2. Fill in this Daily mindfulness habit tracker (Template)


    • Download here: You may use this to keep yourself accountable of the habits you want to build. And take 2 minutes daily, to jot down your reflection. See the image above as an example.

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