Nirvana in Singapore

About a week ago, an article appeared on StraitsTimes about Nirvana Memorial, a columbarium in Singapore that offers a final resting place in style — for those who can afford it.

The article featured two monks in its cover photo with the Buddha’s image shining forth multi-colored lightings.  If the paper was a multi-media device, you would also hear the full-featured melody and announcement made through the hi-tech audio system.  The two monks is non other than Bhante Dhammaratna, founder and Chief monk of the Buddhist Library in Singapore, and myself.  Elizabeth, the reporter who penned the article invited me for comments and since I had no idea about Nirvana memorial at all, she kindly offered a tour of the premise so we can have an idea of the place.

The tour brought us to the main hall where prayers would be offered, the various niche rooms where the ash remains and tablets will be placed, and one of the building houses different types of niches.  In all, the whole tour was rather pleasant, though one of the building reminded me more of a hotel interior than anything.  Perhaps that is their whole point and such a layout and interior design may appeal to some people,  but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Since the article appear in the papers, Buddhists have pointed out to me that they saw Bhante and me in the article while some even joke about how we have gone to Nirvana and back!  After the excitement, they would then comment about the exorbitant prices that the columbarium offered its services for storing ash niches.  It is indeed expensive to spend $30k for a niche, and it is really a personal choice whether you should use their services or somewhere more affordable.

People will complain about how this is too commercialised, but Nirvana Memorial is a commercial entity, so we should keep our expectations in check.  When Elizabeth asked me for comments, I
mentioned that while Nirvana Memorial is a profit-making business entity, and should be treated as such.  However, by offering columbarium services, they can be helpful in promoting gratitude and filial piety in the family of the departed.  If they can further help promote other Buddhist values and teachings such as Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha, it would be even more ideal!

Today, a student even emailed me, commenting

There is a price to be in Nirvana – exorbitant. And much more to be near the Buddha. Hmmm … another one of those commercial enterprises that makes use of Buddhism for profitable gain.

To which I replied:

There is indeed a price to pay! If you pay in worldly currency, you get to go to the worldly Nirvana. If you ‘pay’ in spiritual currency (cultivation), you attain the Supramundane Nirvana! 😉

Thing is, while people complain about expensive columbarium or funeral services, when I ask people to pay in spiritual currency (cultivation), they run away even faster than you can read this article!  Between the two forms of ‘payment’, most would take the easy way out and make worldly payment.

Most venerables I know of, provide funeral prayers as a service to the Buddhist community and not as a business transaction.  But in Singapore, monastics face the need to pay for electricity bills, food, medical etc etc.  I’ve been rather fortunate to receive guidance, care and support from my late master, Ven. Miu King, when I was in US and later from Venerable Kwang Sheng, Bhante Dhammaratna and many various other elder monks in Singapore.  As such, I’ve not had to be concerned about the four requisites and have the privilege of focusing on my own study and practices while serving the community through Dharma and meditation classes.  Other venerables that I know of, unfortunately, did not have such good conditions and either have to bear the responsibility of running a Buddhist centre by themselves or have to stay without support after returning back to Singapore.  They do not as a result get waiver for their bills just because they are earnestly learning and practising the Dharma.
Do you know that many religious centres, including Buddhist temples, are given 30 year leases on the land?   It means that the Buddhist temple or society has to be on a perpetual fund-raising mode just to keep the temple ground.  Think again when we complain about making offerings to the temple or monastery.  This is 21st century Singapore.  There is no Anathapindika who will simply offer a whole Jetavana to the MahaSangha for all future generations to use.
So remember, when you give, give as an offering, then it is dana.  When you give thinking of it as a transaction, it becomes a payment.  Let the giver purify their end of the giving.  Let the monastics purify their receiving.  Let them use the offering in a meaningful way to support their learning and practice of the Dharma and strive toward Nirvana!

One Day Meditation Retreat – Metta & Vipassana Bhavana

Held on Singapore National Day, 9 August 2010 (Monday), 8 am to 6.30 pm at the Buddhist Library.

Session will be conducted by Bhante B Dhammaratana.

@The Buddhist Library – 2, Lorong 24A Geylang

  • Observe the Eight Precepts
  • Metta & Vipassana Meditation
  • Walking Meditation
  • Dhamma talk & discussion with Bhante, Ven Chuan Guan and Professor W Chandima

FREE! But registration required. Please call Buddhist Library counter staff at 6746 8435 to register. Library opening hours:

Tues to Sat: 12:00 noon – 9:00pm
Sun: 10:00am – 9:00pm
Closed on Mondays.
Open on Public Holidays

Parenthood Is Not a Popularity Contest

Kids these days are really “lucky”. I see a lot of parents buzzing around their precious little ones, so too eager to please them, some even apologise to their child when their child fall and hurt themselves through their own misbehaviour. I’m not suggesting that parents should not want to bring happiness to their children. But if that is the only concern, then they are in trouble. Both the parents and the child that is.

There are two aspects I want to consider: 1) the consequence of being so preoccupied with pleasing the children and 2) the rationale behind it.  I’ll start with the rationale part.

Wanting them to be Happy

I think it is a good thing that most parents want happiness for their children.  Adult life in modern Singapore (or most places) is stressful enough, we don’t need parents to make our childhood worse off.  Anthropologist would perhaps say that this is the nurturing and social quality of humans that forms the basis for growth and development of the human species and communities.  Evolutionist would say that such qualities proved to be suitable for the survival of the human species.  I’m just glad it is so and that my parents were very loving even if my mom had to introduce me to the finer points of caning (of the palms) in my younger years as a schoolboy.

I say “most parents” grudgingly as a part of me is still reconciling with those cases where parents abuse, harm and even prove to be fatal to their children.  Unfortunately, there are such parents.  Fortunately, they belong to the fringe, the anomalies if you will.  This article is not really about them, though if they would try to behave more like they are in the parenting popularity contest, they would be better off.

Giving happiness to our children is not wrong.  Wanting happiness for them is not a crime.  Being happy when they smile and not cry is in no way something to be apologetic over.  The problem (like “buts”, there is always a problem!) is when that is all we are concerned about.  If our logic is that parents should satisfy every whims and fancy of the child in order for them to be happy, then we are so wrong.  It is one thing to be able to give our child what they want, it is another thing to simply give them everything they want.  If we do so just to achieve immediate happiness, we may end up building in them this instant-gratification mindset.  The whole society and media is already doing it, we don’t need to deepen it.

Being parents, we should have our child’s welfare and happiness in mind.  But comparing short term and long term happiness, we as adults should know better.  Behave in a myopic manner and we may regret 10 to 20 years from now, while our child have to face those consequences in his character and person for his whole life.

Parenthood is not a Popularity contest

So why do parents behave in such a way?  I observe that in the past family structure, parents in their old age may be more financially dependent on their children.  It is traditional that the parents would stay with one of the children, normally the eldest son or child.  It may vary but parents would typically stay with one of the children and be looked after in their old age.  Parents today are supposed to be more independent socially and financially but they appear to be emotionally dependent compared to parents of the earlier generation.  While I have not done any studies, I observe that many young parents these days are very concerned whether their children love or like them or not.  This to me, is one of the factor that fuels the popularity parenting mindset.  There may be other factors involved, and I hope to hear from you all
your thoughts about it.

The combination of ‘myopia’ and popularity parenting mindset creates a dangerous situation where the parents’ sole aim is to please the child, somewhats at all cost, financially and emotionally.  Without regard for the long term impact, this put the parents squarely at the mercy of the child’s emotional roller-coaster.  While the parent seem to win the love of the child, they are unwittingly teaching the child emotional-ransom.  The by-product is that some children may over the years, grow up believing that the world should and would revolve around them, just as their parents did.  By the time they reach their late teens or early twenties and step into society, they may not be emotionally resilient enough to face life’s setback.  While nobody wants such an outcome, it can become the eventual scenario if the earlier factors are not nipped off sooner.

Don’t worry if you are their favorite parent or not, just be the best parent they have!

Fortunately, I also see parents who are playing the adult role in the parent-child relationship.  Instead of being overly preoccupied with short-term happiness, they provide for their children suitably without succumbing to the temptation of “Favorite Parent Award”.  Not always giving your child what they want may mean that they will cry a little here and there, but they will also learn that they cannot cry their way to their next toy.  Oh and while you are at it, please hush your child and not let your child wail, scream and flail around in the bus or train.  Have some decency and respect for other’s peace and space.  Besides, tt is also safer for the child if you restrain him while in a moving vehicle.

On top of giving and providing for their material needs, please also give them some good values.  Grades only appear in their certificates while money is only useful when gone (spent!).  Values stay in their heart for the rest of their life.  And the best way to give them good values, is to live by those values.

I’m not anyone’s parent, but I learnt from the best parents, the best and only parents I ever had.