Culture

Tough, frank questions on Buddhism in Singapore to be fielded in an open-dialogue session

Ask Me Anything about Buddhism is the platform for you to ask, well, anything, about Buddhism.

What’s the proportion of Buddhists in Singapore? Take a shot, make a guess.

If it helps, Muslims make up about about 14 per cent – which is about the proportion of Singaporean Malays – and Hindus about 5 per cent. One more hint: Buddhists form the largest religious group in Singapore.

Here’s the answer: 33.9 per cent of Singaporeans are Buddhists, which is about a third of the population in the tiny Republic.

And no, Taoism and Buddhism are not one and the same. That’s a common misconception.

The fact is, much of the Buddhist lexicon, culture, thought, and practice has seeped into the mainstream: Karma, nirvana, zen, rebirth, Shoalin kung fu, koans, so on and so forth. Which is why one might end up thinking he or she has a sense of what Buddhism is.

But let’s be real. For many of us, our supposed understanding is really just a hodgepodge of pop culture, politics, personal observations, and hearsay.

We talk about “bad karma” but do we even know what it means? Do we know exactly what we are saying when we describe someone as “zen”? Just because a friend remains unfazed in the face of multiple deadlines and chaotic situations, is “zen” really the appropriate form to use?

And have you ever wondered how come Shaolin Monks are trained in the art of violence yet simultaneously subscribe to a faith that is well known for peace and non-violence?

Exoticised in Hollywood and the entertainment industry, politicised in China and Myanmar, it’s no surprise our ideas are in a tangle.

Ask Me Anything – an open-dialogue session

Ask Me Anything about Buddhism is the platform for you to ask, well, anything, about Buddhism.

Why do Monks shave their heads? And must the robes be saffron in colour? Reincarnation? Where’s the proof?

No questions are too offensive

There are two parts to the session this February 24, 2018. In one part, there will be a Buddhist monk who will address any questions. The other part will be small group discussions, facilitated by a professional.

Tough, frank questions will be fielded, surely.

“Ask Me Anything” seeks to have the public’s deepest queries answered, whether it’s on politics or philosophy or simply living the good life, or all three. Chatham house rules apply. That is, no one can quote you outside the room without your express permission.

It’s a safe space and it works

30-year-old banker Mr Yuvan Mohan had attended a previous session on Islam last month and left satisfied. He got to ask questions that he was “not comfortable” asking his closest friends and most importantly the discussions were “honest”, he said. See pictures of the last session here.

Like what does it mean to be a Buddhist and a Singaporean? Does being detached from the world mean being uninvolved in politics? How should we respond to pain and suffering at home and in the region, whether it’s hunger, inequality, or political violence?

It’s the tough, frank, questions openly discussed that allows Singaporeans to understand each other better and come to an understanding as a community.

Registrations for Ask Me Anything on Buddhism are now open. Sign up here.

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