Over 800 Buddhists join online Vesak Day meditation

Due to Covid-19 curbs, temples live-stream ceremonies, limit number of devotees on site

Venerable K. Dhammika Maha Thera, chief monk of the Singapore Buddhist Mission, addressing devotees taking part in the mass online meditation session to mark Vesak Day yesterday. The event included an online concert featuring more than 10 Buddhist mu
Venerable K. Dhammika Maha Thera, chief monk of the Singapore Buddhist Mission, addressing devotees taking part in the mass online meditation session to mark Vesak Day yesterday. The event included an online concert featuring more than 10 Buddhist musicians here and abroad.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

More than 800 devotees, young and old, gathered on videoconferencing platform Zoom to meditate on Vesak Day yesterday, in a "Great Metta Sit" that sent thoughts of love and kindness to all living beings in the world.

It is the first time the Singapore Buddhist Mission (SBM) has held such a mass online meditation session to mark Vesak Day, which commemorates the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and passing.

The event was organised by youth between 15 and 35, and included an online concert featuring more than 10 Buddhist musicians here and abroad.

Its theme, "OneMettaApart", was a wordplay on the "one metre apart" social distancing refrain and "Metta", which is a form of meditation. It was a nod to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced physical celebrations of Vesak Day online for the second consecutive year.

Around Singapore yesterday, Buddhist temples live-streamed their Vesak Day ceremonies to avoid having thousands of people congregating at the same time.

But unlike last year, when Vesak Day took place during the circuit breaker, temples stayed open for people to offer their prayers.

For instance, the Singapore Buddhist Lodge in River Valley opened to devotees only after 12.30pm, after Vesak Day ceremonies led by monks had concluded.

Other temples opened slots for booking by devotees to keep to the maximum capacity of 50 people.

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

With more than a million followers here, Buddhism is Singapore's largest religion, practised by more than 30 per cent of the population.

The Vesak Day rituals also include a light transference ceremony where devotees carry lighted candles while chanting the name of Buddha. At Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, the country's largest monastery, this has been postponed.

But it live-streamed to devotees the other highlight - the bathing of Prince Siddhartha, where perfumed water is poured over the young Buddha to signify his birth.

Ms Amy Tong, 35, who participated in SBM's celebrations from her home, said she was "touched to tears" even though she could not physically be with other devotees.

"Thanks to technology, we are still able to come together," added Ms Tong, who works in the banking industry. "I could feel their passion through the screen."

A Burmese devotee, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tun, said she and her family stayed home this year, "as there is nothing important that can be done at a temple that can't be done at home".

The 39-year-old housewife would usually go to Satipatthana Meditation Centre in Sembawang on Vesak Day.

"The situation can't be helped... (but) we miss seeing friends at the temple and the food," she said.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who participated in SBM's "Great Metta Sit", said in an opening speech that the online Vesak Day celebrations this year do not change the essence of the way of Buddha.

"Doing of good deeds, reflecting on teachings of the venerable Buddha, spreading the message of peace, love and kindness. Those remain unchanged," he said.

Wishing all devotees a blessed Vesak Day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that while some temples are open this year, Covid-19 precautions remain in place for safety.

"Even if you can't visit a temple, I hope you continue to practise the virtues of Buddha: kindness, patience, generosity and compassion," he said. "This is something the world needs more of, especially during this pandemic."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2021, with the headline 'Over 800 Buddhists join online Vesak Day meditation'. Subscribe