#WW: “Join my religion. You will be saved.” Conversations on Religious Conversions

#WW: “Join my religion. You will be saved.” Conversations on Religious Conversions

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

Conversions and attempts at conversion are something Buddhists may keep quiet about. This week we explore this prickly topic and how we can manage proselytising when it happens. On the flip side, do Buddhist try to convert others? Let’s explore two resources today!

1. “Hi, would you like to convert to my religion?”: Agreeing to disagree

2. Do Buddhists convert people? : Don’t Ask Strangers If They’ve Found Buddha

“Hi, would you like to convert to my religion?”: Agreeing to disagree

Snapshot from the booklet

What’s going on here & why do we like it?

Yes, being subjected to proselytising is uncomfortable. As ‘nice’ Buddhists, we may feel uncomfortable to say anything so as to not upset others. 

This 2005 publication, yes we are internet archeologists, is a great resource on different settings from work, to deathbed, to home.  Sponsored by two of Singapore’s most famous temples, this resource also covers misconceptions about Buddhism and how Buddhism views other religions. Pretty neat.

We don’t need others’ approval to practise the Dhamma. But we do need to be convinced in our
hearts that what we do is right.

Wise Steps

Ultimately, people who try to proselytise to us have positive intentions to share their religion with us. Learning skilful means to reply is helpful in keeping harmony while being comfortable with your own religious beliefs

Check out the resource website here or the PDF itself!

Cover Page

Do Buddhists convert people? : Don’t Ask Strangers If They’ve Found Buddha

Have you found Buddha? Something you hardly/never hear
Cr: Unsplash

What’s going on here & why do we like it?

Barbara O’Brien, a Zen Buddhism Expert, shares why the Buddhist teachings and practitioners aren’t big on proselytising to other non-Buddhists. She draws from suttas and renowned teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh and Dalai Lama on why proselytising might be counterproductive. We like it because she tackles the topic from many angles in a succinct manner!

There is a snippet on Dalai Lama actually NOT having a wish to encourage people to convert to Buddhism.

“if it becomes important to you to prove to the world that your beliefs are the only correct beliefs, and it’s up to you to lead everyone else out of their erroneous ways, what does that say about you?”

Wise Steps

A common Buddhist saying “There are enough people trying to spread the Dhamma but not enough trying to realise the Dhamma.” Spread the Dhamma by practicing it, without having to use words, simply behave well so as to be an example to others through one’s manners and behavior.

Those of us who wonder how we can introduce our loved ones to Dhamma can start by cultivating our hearts towards greater happiness

Enjoy the article !

Why We Should Talk About Reclaiming The Chinese Seventh Month

Why We Should Talk About Reclaiming The Chinese Seventh Month

Editor’s note: Ghost month is often seen as a month full of superstition that may ring hollow for the younger generation. We reproduced this article because we enjoyed this anthropological take on Ghost month and what future opportunities it can offer. Through a Buddhist lens, we have offered different ghost month perspectives of burning joss paper, ghosts, and death. So we thought a different point of view would be a nice addition!

This article has been reproduced with kind permission from RiceMedia. The original article can be found here.

About a week and a half ago, I wrote a post on social media about why it is time for us to reclaim the narrative of the Chinese Seventh Month in Singapore, and revitalize it for our future. Growing up as a millennial, the discourse around the Chinese Seventh Month I was used to hearing was generally negative (and I am saying this as an ethnic Chinese person in majority-Chinese Singapore). Colloquially branded as the Hungry Ghost Festival, I had come to know of the Seventh Month as a season when older, less-educated Singaporeans engage in meaningless rituals to appease unseen beings, hoping that wealth, health, and luck will befall them. 

In other words, the Seventh Month was seen as an entire month where personal superstition was played out in ritual practices. Other younger Singaporeans lament the fact that they were forced by their elders to participate in the festivities which did not mean anything to them. Further, when they questioned the festival’s significance, they were not given answers. Instead, many were told not to question so much and to do what they were told so that ill-luck would not befall their families. 

In addition to this, younger people are aware of the potential environmental and health impacts from rituals such as the burning of joss paper. Inconveniences are also caused by the placing of candles and joss sticks on the ground in public spaces and the scattering of joss paper. What seems to annoy Singaporeans the most, however, is the failure of worshippers to clear up after prayer. This has led to a yearly barrage of complaints in online spaces. Netizens have called for a harsher restriction of these Seventh Month practices. Others have gleefully noted that with less younger Singaporeans being interested in the festival, it should just be left to disappear quietly into the night as its practitioners get older. 

Image from author

While I understand why many of my millennial counterparts feel that way, I believe that there can be a better way around all these issues without severe restrictions or letting the festival die out. I believe that this lies in the need for us as younger Singaporeans to reclaim and revitalize the festival for the future. 

Firstly, I do not deny that the Chinese Seventh Month is religious. However, it is important for us to see that underlying its religiosity, it is inherently cultural and communal. Take for example the ‘hungry ghosts’ which are commonly seen as the main target audience of the festival. Buddhists and Taoists might disagree on who these ghosts are and which part of the afterlife they came from. However, without going into the nuances of what they believe in, practitioners generally agree that these ghosts in one way or another represent all our departed ancestors. 

The worshipping of these wandering spirits then, represents a veneration of all our ancestors—all those who lived and came before us. The underlying essence of the Seventh Month is bigger and deeper than religion. It is actually about the commemoration of our shared past; the expression of our gratitude for all those who came before, and the establishment of a communal identity. These are secular values which we all hold as important and meaningful as individuals living in community. Moreover, one must also understand ritual from a more anthropological lens. Rituals are performed not just for the dead or divine, but are a vehicle for the living to express their feelings and thoughts through action.  

One can see the celebration of community at the heart of the festival when more attention is paid to it. Rituals and Getai concerts are conducted in public places. Makeshift altars are built under HDB blocks, at car parks, and beside hawker centres. The festival is meant for everyone to participate in. If you notice carefully, Seventh Month altars have free joss sticks available for anyone to come by to use. Some altars have little boxes for donations that ensure food offerings and joss sticks are replenished. These point to the underlying notion that the festival is ultimately about building a sense of kinship and cooperation through communal filial piety and societal remembrance. 

The festival, thus, is an avenue for the community to express gratitude to all those who preceded us for their part in establishing community. It recognizes that every individual who came before us had a part to play in making us who we are today. It is also for those forgotten souls who fell through the cracks of society and history. 

An example of these forgotten souls can be seen in altars set up particularly for those who passed away very young. Offerings of candy, toys, and children’s clothes are placed on these altars as a sign of remembering those who could not live a full life. These souls remain embodiments of hope, love, and joy to their parents who bore but lost them at a young age. Most of all, the Seventh Month is about the love for our unknown neighbour, which is why the notion of “wandering spirits” surrounds the whole festival.  

Image from author

I admit that I used to be cynical about the Seventh Month. It was only after doing some research and talking to my dad who observes the Seventh Month that I came to understand what a truly meaningful festival it is. I realized how reclaiming its inherent narrative would actually assist in creating a more compassionate and understanding community for the future. Reclaiming the narrative of the Seventh Month to me, however, needs to go hand-in-hand with revitalizing the festival for a cynical generation and making it relevant for the 21st century. I was inspired to think about how these could occur after living for some time in Los Angeles. 

When I was living in LA, I had the opportunity to experience the Day of the Dead festival—a remembrance festival similar to the Seventh Month celebrated by the Mexican community in California. Like the Seventh Month, the Day of the Dead festival at one point of time had been seen as too religious and superstitious. Apart from older Mexican-Americans, it did not have much attention in the wider community. However, in the 1980s, Mexican artists led the charge in revitalizing the festival in California, making it relevant not only for those of Mexican heritage but for the wider community as well. They did so by combining Mexican religious traditions associated with the festival with modern American pop culture. Art, dance and music forms were intermixed, making the festival go mainstream, appealing to not only the younger generations, but people of ethnicities too. 

Today, face painting, processions, concerts, food markets, and altar displays celebrating Mexican culture have become the norm and are held across the state. The revitalization of the Day of the Dead helped the Mexican community in California to embrace the beauty of their roots, enabling them to be proud advocates of their culture. Altars set up in Mexican family-run businesses quickly became the norm again and younger generation Mexican-Americans are making it a point to visit the cemeteries during the festival. In addition, you would see people of all ethnicities taking part in the festivities while learning about and enjoying Mexican culture in America. Activists also use the festival to highlight local social issues on immigration, poverty and racism. 

Image from author

I had the privilege to attend the annual Day of the Dead celebration at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in LA, and encounter this revitalization first hand. There was a carnival-like atmosphere to the festivities and the celebration reflected the unique Americana vibe to the commemoration of this ethnic festival. Mexican elements were combined with contemporary American ones in art exhibitions and music concerts held on site. The event also saw an altar building competition where apart from traditional altars being built, people of different ethnicities and nationalities were invited to create altars unique to their own culture but in a style appropriate to the festival. I saw people of all ages and colours attending the celebration with many opting to paint their faces and pick up sugar skulls as souvenirs. I could only describe the event as a celebration of Mexican-American culture and the pluralism of California.  

I wondered how we could reclaim and re-enchant the Seventh Month in order to ensure that these deep and meaningful values continue to be commemorated and celebrated. After all, like LA, Singapore is a multicultural city with a vibrant and youthful population excited to move further into the 21st century while embracing their heritage. Discovering the deeper meaning behind the Seventh Month and seeing how a similar festival was revitalized halfway around the world made me realize how important knowing and celebrating our roots can be in establishing a more cohesive society. This is especially so for generations so invested in creating individual identity while remaining rooted in community. 

Image from author

My journey of discovery not only connected me to a heritage greater than myself, but got me to think how the values of my culture can be a positive driving force in creating a pluralistic Singaporean society today. The essence of the Seventh Month in building community through remembering our ancestors extends far beyond the Chinese community. This has to include our friends of other ethnicities as well. They are an integral part of our community and their ancestors, too, had a huge part to play in making us who we are today. To reclaim and revitalize the Seventh Month then, is for us to think how we would be able to make the festival relevant for all of us as an entire country while celebrating its Chinese roots. 

I anticipate with awe and hope for a more hybrid and multicultural Singaporean Seventh Month. This would also mean that the religious aspect of the festival would be better understood by everyone simply because people would be more familiar with the festival. However, the revitalising of the festival for the wider society would also mean that certain religious practices would need to evolve and adapt. This might mean more discreet burning of incense papers, and the intentional clearing up of candles and joss sticks on the roadside after prayer. The Seventh Month’s focus on community at its core has to reflect the necessity for all of us to take ownership of our living community, be respectful to those of different traditions, and to preserve the environment for all to enjoy. 

Could Getai concerts be made bilingual, and mainstreamed and modernized for a younger audience? Could there be altar building competitions and community processions organized throughout the month where anyone could participate? Could there be fairs, exhibitions, food and night markets celebrating local Chinese culture and raising awareness of social issues? Could there be a cleaner and greener way for rituals to take place?

What the Seventh Month looks like for Singaporeans in the future is anyone’s guess, but I am certain that reclaiming it will have more positive outcomes for the future. 

Image from author

I recall a short conversation I had with a Taoist friend who noted that the exact origins of the Seventh Month are debated but its practices do evolve slightly with every generation. The festival’s essence and its values on community and remembrance however, remain fixed throughout the centuries. Thus, with these core values in mind, I hope for the reclamation and revitalization of the Seventh Month to be an organic one, and for younger generations to spearhead. 

Film Review: Lunana – Finding happiness in a dark valley

Film Review: Lunana – Finding happiness in a dark valley

​​Buddhist Film Reviews is a partnership between HOL & THIS Buddhist Film Festival 2022 (3rd Sep 2022). THISBFF 2022 features 1 film this year for viewers to get a taste of 2023’s full film festival!

TLDR: A reluctant educator is sent to a ‘dark valley’, what will he learn? Will he find happiness there or does happiness await for him in a place like Australia?

Where is happiness? Where do we pursue it?

Perhaps in Bhutan, the world’s happiest country.

Director Pawo Choyning Dorji explores the answer of happiness in a real-life inspired narrative and picturesque stills taken mainly in Bhutan’s Lunana, a remote village sitting on the Himalayan highlands along the Bhutan–Tibetan border.

The Dark Valley

Lunana, literally translated as the dark valley, is an eight-day hike from the nearest road. No electricity. No cellular data. Harsh cold winds. An isolated community of 56, Lunana is surrounded by the daunting heights of the Himalayan mountain range. 

No wonder the main protagonist, Ugyen, a reluctant educator from Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, who so desires to migrate to Australia, finds it tough to accept a teaching stint to the children of Lunana, for them to be more than yak herders and cordyceps gatherers.

Weaving skilful cinematographic techniques with multi-layered storytelling, such as contrasting long shots of Himalayan mountains and close-up shots of character interaction, the film allows its viewers to experience humanity’s warmth that flows from a heart purified by Lunana’s vast pristine landscape. 

Throughout every intentional juxtaposition of characters sprinkled with dashes of humour, Director Pawo guides us to witness Ugyen’s growth from a stuck-up young adult into a self-sacrificing teacher that “touches the future” of Lunana’s young generation. 

Generosity in a material scarce land

Credits: THISBFF

As if the purity of Lunana’s land and its villagers’ humble hearts steeped into his, Ugyen learns how material scarcity distils into easy contentment and unwavering generosity. 

The latter virtue is most impressionable amongst the Lunana villagers. We observe the giving of material comfort to a stranger, the giving of compassion towards an unappreciative city-dweller, and the giving of goodwill towards all beings through an offering of songs. 

A yak in the classroom

Credits: THISBFF

The film’s recurring song, titled Yak Lebi Lhadar, has a heart-stirring tune that calls out the precious bond between a yak and his herder. In Bhutan, yaks are gentle creatures the highlanders depend on for fuel and meat. 

Viewers soon learn of this song’s significance in the film when Ugyen had to leave this village of simplicity before winter. 

From a receiver of Lunana villagers’ warm hospitality to a giver of hope and motivation to its children, Ugyen is seen to experience happiness in heart-warming moments as his generosity grows with the spirit of the highlanders.

But is this happiness limited to being in Lunana? Where else can Ugyen seek it from? Would Ugyen return to Lunana again for the following spring? The viewers beg to wonder.

This film reveals details at the most unsuspecting moments to form the dots for viewers to connect! If you intend to watch, give all your attention to the little nooks and crannies in the story. The answer to happiness awaits in your awareness.

Liked what our author experienced? Book your tickets right here!

Follow THISBFF on Facebook

#WW: 🎣 Are you a dying fish playing a social media game?

#WW: 🎣 Are you a dying fish playing a social media game?

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

Today, we look at two stories with the theme of endings. One talks about how we might inevitably kill our self-confidence. The other talks about our unwillingness to face the uncertainty of death.

1. Here’s how we unwittingly devalue our accomplishments

2. The dying fish fighting over water and the lessons we can learn

Here’s how we unwittingly devalue our accomplishments

flat screen computer monitor turned on

What’s going on here

Liz and Mollie, a famous Instagram page for doodles, shares a poignant image of how we shatter our confidence just by simply scrolling through social media. The caption provides greater reflection for those of us who consume social media before we get out of bed in the morning.

Why we like it

This post reminds us of how we can do a disservice to ourselves by scrolling through social media. We often try to use social media to distract us from boredom…only to find ourselves feeling guilty for not moving fast enough/being good enough/being smart enough. This image is an easy reminder to not over-scroll on Instagram.

“If you’ve ever found yourself scrolling and self-loathing, remember that we usually only get to see people’s highlight reels.”

Wise Steps

Set an Instagram timer using its settings to make you pause through your scrolling. This prevents you from going into a loop of self-loathing.

Read it here or below

Want a more tangible way to grow? Check out Liz’s book on embracing emotions at work!

The dying fish fighting over water and the lessons we can learn

body of water surrounded by trees

What’s going on here

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, a monk famous for translating loads of suttas into English & his uber-low voice, talks about how the impermanence of life can really motivate us to be better people. You could die today, are you ready to go? This 12 mins talk reminds us that if we don’t pull our act together, no one is gonna do it for us.

Why we like it

Venerable Thanissaro challenged us to look at our minds right now, and see if we are like fish fighting in a pond that is being drained of water. His calm narration would lure you back to reality and see what is truly important. This talk reminds us of how things are uncertain and how we can’t control our bodies & health.

“The world is drying up and the fishes are beating each other for whatever water is left.”

Wise Steps

Contemplating the impermanence of life can ground us in the present moment and guide us to prioritise the things that matter most in life. There is work to be done and we can’t be complacent.

Enjoy the talk here or play it below!

What my less than ‘perfect’ eyebrows taught me about beauty and the Dhamma

What my less than ‘perfect’ eyebrows taught me about beauty and the Dhamma

TLDR: How often do our looks influence our self-perception? With social media becoming increasingly consumed, how does that shape our self worth? Nana reflects on her eyebrows and the Dhamma.

I do not know about you, but I have minimal eyebrows. 

They are so light that it almost appears like I have none.

Eyebrow tattoos?  

At work, my colleagues would constantly tease me about them, and advise me to get an eyebrow tattoo. They often discuss beauty-enhancing measures, such as botox, fat burning, nose jobs, and the list goes on.  

On one occasion, I shared about this work environment with a good friend, and she reminded me to be mindful because I could get swept away by the constant association.

I secretly thought it was ludicrous; my Dhamma roots are strong and going! I will not be swayed by such comments that people make.

Eyelid stickers and the creeping vanity

Recently I learnt about eyelid stickers, which really helped me look prettier (in my humble opinion), and they became my daily use.  

Not long later,  as I was waiting at the MRT station I caught myself searching up eye surgeries for double eyelids! I even began noticing the fine lines across my forehead and debated the use of botox to preserve my youth. 

This was something that has never crossed my mind before, not in all my 29 years of life.  Yet here I was, trying to find a way to beautify myself and prolong it.  

I became self-conscious of each facial imperfection which never bothered me before. 

To stop me from giving in to these desires,  I began observing those who are old;  and I have yet to find an 80-year-old person who retains her youthful looks.  

What I came to realise is, that no matter what products we apply to our faces, or the beauty enhancement procedures we undergo, physical beauty will inevitably fade.  

This experience reminded me of two things the Buddha has taught:

1. Associate not with the fools, but with the wise.  Who we associate with, is also what our mind associates with.  This affects us in a wholesome, or unwholesome manner.

2. Constantly bring to mind, the five daily reflections; one of which is “I am subject to aging.”

After this realisation, my colleagues who talk about beauty products no longer stir my mind to seek beauty. I, instead, try to focus on building my inner beauty. To be unshaken by praise, blame, fame, disrepute, gain, loss, happiness, and sadness.

Wise Steps:

  • Reflect on the people you mix with for they can affect the way you view yourself
  • Recollecting on impermanence and ageing is a great way to overcome unhealthy obsessions with beauty 
#WW: ☸️ 2500+ years ago a wheel was turned. Here’s why today is special

#WW: ☸️ 2500+ years ago a wheel was turned. Here’s why today is special

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

Happy Asalha Puja (Dhamma Day)! The lesser known but significant date on the Buddhist calendar. This day marks the first teaching (aka turning of the wheel of the Dhamma) Buddha gave after his enlightenment. The decision to teach the Dhamma had clear results; the first students eventually gained enlightenment! This showed that the Buddha’s method was replicable and accessible to all. Here are two stories to inspire you on this holy day!

1. Established more than 500 years before Oxford University, this Buddhist university is roaring back to life

2. You discovered something profound, who do you share it with? Or do you keep it to yourself?

Established more than 500 years before Oxford University, this Buddhist university is roaring back to life

Credits: BBC

What’s going on here & Why we like it

BBC shares a short reel on Nalanda, a university founded in the 5th Century. It is believed to be the world’s first residential university. Established more than 500 years before Oxford University, at its peak Nalanda hosted over 10,000 students. This video covers the inspiring and amazing task of reviving the university and turning it into a place to develop peace. We like it because it shows how Buddhists with a vision came together to rebuild a place of learning.

“But out of those ashes, now the new university will be coming and that would give the message of peace and nonviolence to the entire globe.”

Wise Steps

Start looking into Buddhist history and head to a museum like ACM in Singapore to understand the rich Buddhist history in Southeast Asia that is often overlooked

Check out the video here or below!

You discovered something profound, who do you share it with? Or do you keep it to yourself?

The first five students of the Buddha

What’s going on here & why we like it

Bhikkhu Thanissaro, a famous translator of the suttas into English, shares the significance of Asalha Puja and the journey Buddha took post-enlightenment. We like it because Bhikkhu Thanissaro neatly summarises the importance of the day and how we can take our practice further.

“The truth of stress and truth of suffering is something that eats away at our minds. It doesn’t just sit there and let you know about it. That’s why the Buddha said that our duty is to comprehend it. So as you learn these truths, you learn about how you can implement it.”

Wise Steps

What emotions and desires are you pursuing right now? Reflecting on what we are chasing enables us to realise which of them are causing us deep suffering. Is the suffering worth the chase of our desire? May you grow in the path of peace on this awesome day!

Enjoy the advice below!

Help us spread more goodness to the world