Buddhists mark Vesak Day with virtual celebrations amid Covid-19 pandemic

Refuge ceremony, concert and talks among events held online amid Covid-19 pandemic

Singapore Buddhist Mission's Venerable K. Dhammika Maha Thera (left) and Venerable T. Chandima Thera conducting Pali chanting for a virtual audience yesterday, as Buddhists went online to commemorate Vesak Day.
Singapore Buddhist Mission's Venerable K. Dhammika Maha Thera (left) and Venerable T. Chandima Thera conducting Pali chanting for a virtual audience yesterday, as Buddhists went online to commemorate Vesak Day.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Families piecing together jigsaw puzzles to practise mindfulness, new believers being brought into the Buddhist faith through a refuge ceremony, and an international concert starring Buddhist singers and musicians from around the world.

All these activities to commemorate Vesak Day - which celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha - were held online yesterday.

Amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, Buddhists in Singapore and around the world adapted, observing Vesak Day virtually for the first time.

Traditionally, Buddhists visit temples on the day for rituals such as chanting, three-step-one-bow and bathing of the Buddha statue, or take part in retreats.

With Singapore's circuit breaker extended until June 1, temples were not able to organise their usual Vesak activities.

In the morning, some temples and Buddhist groups kicked off the online celebrations - hosting morning puja, guided meditation and talks. Puja is a reflective ritual that is meant to deepen one's appreciation of Buddha and his teachings and calm one's mind. It includes chanting and the offering of symbolic items such as water and flowers.

At the Buddhist Fellowship's virtual Vesak Day celebration held via Facebook livestream yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran sent greetings to Buddhists here.

"The core values of compassion, understanding and resilience as espoused in Buddhist teachings become all the more important amidst the turmoil brought about by Covid-19. It is these values that will keep us strong and help us prevail over the virus," he said.

Citing examples of how some in the community have helped others, including those who have bought food for neighbours serving stay-home notices, he added: "These collective acts of selflessness and kindness, and many more like them, cheer us on and give us hope."

The Singapore Buddhist Mission (SBM) held an international e-concert just before lunch time, with the event featuring Buddhist musicians from Singapore and abroad who sang live. Award-winning Singaporean flautist and composer Rit Xu was among those who took part in the concert.

After lunch, 36 families gathered online on Zoom with jigsaw sets that SBM had mailed to them prior to the event.

Alongside a Buddhist monk, they took their time to piece together the puzzle. The aim of the activity was to train both the parents and their children in mindfulness.

 
 
 

At 4pm, a group of about 10 people got ready and stationed themselves online to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

They were about to participate in a refuge ceremony, which is undertaken by devotees who are ready to commit to following Buddha's teachings. It was the first time that the Thekchen Choling temple in Beatty Lane had held the refuge ceremony virtually.

The temple's spiritual director, Singha Rinpoche, gave a short lesson about Buddha and the meaning of taking refuge.

The refuge takers proceeded to repeat the prayers and commitments after him.

After going through the ceremony, all participants received a new name, symbolising the start of a new life with a new identity.

One of them was student Lee Journ Ing, 14, who had explored the faith for seven years before deciding to undergo the ceremony.

"I was disappointed at first when I found out it was to be done virtually, as I would have preferred to take it face to face," he said.

"However, Covid-19 has taught us about impermanence... I am grateful that I had a chance to do it virtually. It was a unique experience that I will cherish."

• Additional reporting by Melissa Heng

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2020, with the headline 'Buddhists mark Vesak Day with virtual celebrations'. Subscribe