Student Ven. Tenzin Tsultrim shares news from the the 20th Vesak Celebration hosted by Amitabha Buddhist Centre in Singapore:
The 2017 Vesak Celebration at Amitabha Buddhist Centre (ABC) carved out a special milestone for us this year. The four-day festival from May 7 to 10 marked our twentieth consecutive year of celebrating Vesak at the same location—an open space right by the Aljunied MRT Station in eastern Singapore, just across the main street from the center building.
Vesak Day is a public holiday in Singapore and every year since ABC was established in 1989, the center has held a celebration to commemorate the Buddha’s day of conception, enlightenment, and parinirvana. The first year the center ventured into the public with the Vesak celebrations was 1996, organizing it at a vacant lot behind the famous Kuan Yin (Chenrezig) temple on Waterloo Street. The following year, we took our event to the Aljunied site.
ABC director Tan Hup Cheng clearly recalls the intensive preparations that went into organizing that first event at Aljunied:
“The land beside the Aljunied MRT Station was at that time vacant, so we decided to apply and have the Dharma celebration held there. The first year we applied was 1997, and we got approval so we decided to have the tentage set up on the Aljunied MRT open ground. In 1998, I think during one visit, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave Fred Cheong (now Ven. Tenzin Drachom) the task of constructing a huge Enlightenment Stupa to be draped by one million small fairy lights. That project was realized with the help of Fred’s commando friends at Changi Camp, who constructed the nearly three-story high Enlightenment Stupa by welding a steel frame inside and cladding it with plywood. It was done in three months, a record.”
Hup Cheng added: “The stupa with the one million lights attracted a lot of attention. It was in the press throughout Singapore so it attracted huge crowds to the Vesak celebrations that year. Rinpoche came and he made offerings to all the buddhas with the one million lights.”
The Enlightenment Stupa set the tone for the years to come as it became a tradition for large eye-catching holy objects to form the centerpiece in our subsequent Vesak events. Giant replicas of Mount Kailash, the Mahabodhi Stupa, and a statue of Maitreya Buddha were filled with precious mantras and provided our visitors the chance to accumulate merit through the acts of circumambulating and making offerings. Since 2014, our 50-foot-tall thangka of Amitabha Buddha Pure Land has formed an inspiring focal point of our festival. All these displays of magnificent holy objects went according to advice obtained from Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Besides receiving the far-sighted guidance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, for many years our Vesak celebrations enjoyed the warm and reassuring presence of Khensur Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup. From 1996 up to his final visit in 2010, the late former abbot of Kopan Monastery came to Singapore every year accompanied by a team of Kopan monks to preside over a range of events, from leading pujas to giving refuge and precepts.
Our Vesak celebrations have always relied on the efforts of our students and volunteers. At this twentieth anniversary juncture, it was heartwarming to look around and recognize more than a few familiar faces from the early years as well as to spot a new generation of volunteers who have sprung into their pre-teens or transformed into young adults!
Over 400 volunteers helped to organize and host Vesak Celebration 2017, which drew interest and participation from thousands of visitors throughout a four-day program. The Vesak Celebration at ABC continues to be a precious opportunity that we offer to the public to create heaps of merit and to make a connection with the Dharma. Through the years, the event has served as an important resource for funding the operating costs of our center as well as a channel to welcome new faces into our circle.
In terms of the impact that our Vesak Celebration has had in supporting the center, Hup Cheng said: “The Vesak event brought many unexpected big sponsors, and brought forward many sponsors and helpers who allowed us to complete the payment of the land in the beginning, and the new center building, and even the Thousand-Arm Chenrezig statue. We should be very thankful that we paid for this land and have this building through the Vesak Day celebrations, where many donors and benefactors made contact with us and contributed.”
To commemorate our twentieth anniversary at Aljunied, we rolled out a two-part video, “20 Years @Aljunied” that recalls the origins and development of our annual celebration, and the people involved.
In 2016 the United Nations recognized Vesek with an International Day of Vesak celebration on Friday, May 20 in New York City. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a message that said in part, “the sacred commemoration of the Day of Vesak offers an invaluable opportunity to reflect on how the teachings of Buddhism can help the international community tackle pressing challenges.” Read more on Lion’s Roar.
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