The Importance of Spiritual Friendship in an Ageing Society

Written by @missrachelreads
Edited by Wilson
Illustrations by Clifford
3 mins read
Published on Jun 21, 2024

TLDR: Singapore is rapidly ageing and it is important to educate ourselves on death literacy, and aging, and develop spiritual friendships to sustain us through our golden years.

“As Buddhists, we should develop spiritual friendship as a refuge in old age,” Dr Ng Wai Chong explained, striking a chord deep within my heart.

I recently attended the 12th Global Conference on Buddhism organised by Buddhist Fellowship at Expo Singapore. Dr Ng’s talk on “The Challenging Happy Problem of Dying in Old Age” really got me thinking.

This essay might be a bit biased due to my friendship with Brother Wai Chong, which developed over the past 5 years where I got to know him at the Medical Dhamma Circle. However, I think this is an important topic to write about, seeing that we have a rapidly ageing population in Singapore where we have an increasing life expectancy where we are expected to live up to 83.2 years old (2019), compared to 78.4 years old (2000)

“Many of us are not afraid of dropping dead,” he says, but the fact is that most of us don’t drop dead. Only 7% of people do. Most people either die of a terminal illness or organ failure (38%), or slowly (47%). 

What does this mean for us as Buddhists? 

Death Literacy

Brother Wai Chong defined death literacy as “the knowledge and skills that make it possible to gain access to, understand and act upon end-of-life and death care options”.

These include understanding what good end-of-life care looks like for individuals, what happens when someone dies, what legal processes need to be followed, and what support is needed and available at different stages, among other things.

Thankfully, there are organisations that are starting the conversation around death literacy popping up as we speak. 

Issues and vulnerabilities for the Buddhist community

In addition, he pointed out that there exists a group of ageing monastics in Singapore. 

He raised the pertinent question, “Who will take care of our ageing monastics if they do not have a family / kappiah (volunteer helper) / devoted supporter / affiliated monastery?

Thankfully he says, the Aranya Sangha Dana Fellowship helps with that somewhat. 

I like how Brother Wai Chong quoted from the Mahavagga the following:

“Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you? Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick.”

Many seniors, lay or monastic, face the risk of social isolation in old age from spiritual friendship when disabled, frail, and ill. 

See also  As a Buddhist, how can we care for a love one who is chronically ill?

To that, he proposes a whole host of solutions.

Possible solutions


As a queer millennial, unlikely to enter a heterosexual marriage and have children, I sometimes wonder if I’ll die alone in my 2-room BTO and be discovered a week later by my neighbours due to the stench of my decomposing body.

This came to mind when Brother Wai Chong brought up the fact that such cases are becoming increasingly common due to isolation of the old.

A dream of mine is to live together in a queer commune with other queer Buddhists in order to offer support to one another.

These could include support whether physical (accompanying one to the doctor, cooking for one another when sick or ensure that falls are immediately taken care of), spiritual (meditating together every morning or chanting together before a meal every evening), emotional (commiserating over my lack of love life or offering comfort during breakups), or psychological (offering a hug or words of comfort during times of depression or when one’s friends and family is not supportive of our sexual orientation even though it is not explicitly prohibited in Buddhist scripture).

Thus, it was gratifying to hear when Brother Wai Chong talked about Older People’s Associations (OPA) that are groups created to serve the needs of older people.

He used the example of the “Happy Village” OPA conducted online using Zoom that he was a part of, to demonstrate how technology can be used to help connect people.


What I have written is but a fraction of the rich and educational talk Brother Wai Chong presented. I think the most impactful part of the talk (at least for me) was where he highlighted the importance of spiritual friendship as part of active ageing.

If anything, I am looking forward to future sharing on the topic of death by him.

For if anything is a certainty, it is the certainty of death. Instead of being afraid of it, why not embrace the inevitable, and take steps to prepare for it today?

Wise Steps:

@missrachelreads is a reader, writer and educator. Her hobbies include reading books of every genre (except horror), crocheting, taking long walks by the beach, and making TikTok video readings of the books she loves. Visit her blog

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