Friday, 18 July 2008

One Faith Holds The Ultimate Verity Of Religion ?

Amazingly, mom was the first person that introduced me to the catholic church when I was probably 3-year-old. It was on a Sunday morning when mom walked me up Kim Chuan Road to a white-painted catholic church, and sat with me in the sanctuary. I could not remember what actually went on around me, but I remember a nun dressed in white attire moved over to engage me. Probably on her suggestion, mom encouraged me to move forward to join the other children. I backed off. Mom chuckled at my shyness. The nun probably sat with us for a while before moving on to others. More importantly, I was impressed with the rich colours of the card depicting Mother Mary that the nun gave to me, and that deeply-felt experience had, somehow, stayed with me ever since. I was too young to readily identify the portrait as that of Mother Mary until many years later. First and last visit !

Within walking distance from my house was a very popular temple at Lorong Koo Chye, and I used to accompany my mother and first aunt to pray to the deities and watch the marathon chinese operas (Hokkien and Teochew).

They used to stretch for weeks on end. I was barely 10-year-old then. Businessmen and hawkers from all over Singapore offered giant joss-sticks and candles that burned for days and nights during the temple's anniversaries and deities' feast days.

The temple is more popularly known as Koo Chye Pa Sheng Hong Temple. The name bears reference to its original location in the village (Pa) of Lorong Koo Chye. Sheng Hong refers to the deity (popularly known as the City God by the Hokkien devotees) that the temple is dedicated to.  The temple had since moved to Arumugam Road, off Paya Lebar Road; and the site given up for private development.

I was probably 10 years old when mom dreamt of the Buddha, and shared the details with her supervisor at Hiap Hong Pottery, Upper Paya Lebar Road. Through her suggestion, mom paid regular homage to the Buddha at The Thousand Lights Temple on the first day of every lunar new year. It is located at Race Course Road.

My brother and I would tag along with her. We never failed to try our hands on the Wheel of Fortune, and were anxious to learn what the divine predictions had to advise for the ensuing year.
Two brothers, Aw Boon Har and Aw Boon Par who founded the popular Tiger Balm ointment were the patrons who saw to its completion. The temple has a huge concrete tiger (the name, Boon Har was supposed to be the epitome of the animal's characteristics) on one side, and a leopard (Boon Par) on the other.
During my secondary school days, I was involved in the Youths for Christ activities. My classmate, S J Han had approached me to join the group for morning prayers at the basket-ball court once, and I followed up with their regular Friday fellowship at Upper Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church. About twenty of us would start off the session with Praise and Worship, followed by Testimonies and sharing of other experiences before breaking up for fellowship over simple snacks and drinks.

There was once when a more senior member, Aaron Ang invited me over to his house at Lorong Koo Chye, and asked me whether or not I was ready to receive Christ after some evangelization efforts. Reluctantly, I recited some simple prayers of repentance of my sins and receiving of Jesus Christ into my life, after him. He offered me the christian name, Timothy; but I preferred on adopting the name, David.

That was all about it. No further development after I left the school. I love hymns and christian songs, but I was fearful of giving up all my traditional practices of worshipping my ancestors, and abstaining from other non-christian values and customs. Besides, I was respectful of all other religions, customs and beliefs then; and I had no wish to discontinue my disposition and orientation.

I did not attend any church, instead I continued to go to temples occasionally and kept up with my other pursuits.

In my mid-twenties, I decided to learn more about Buddhism; and approached my contemporary in the government service for some materials on Buddhism.

She offered me a book which I found great interest in reading, and appreciating the precepts and other fundamentals of Buddhism.

My interest in Buddhism intensified, and soon I found myself attending Buddhist temples and libraries for talks, dialogue sessions, etc. Over time, I realised that my values and convictions about life and the divine were perfectly in line with Buddha's teachings.

It was about the same time when I took an interest in finding out more about God's will on my future. I took a great interest in divination, and it was this pursuit that led me to many other temples and faiths.

Around 1985, my career was in jeopardy when my employer was beset with financial difficulties.

The ebb and flow dragged on for more than a year until 1987 when a white knight came to rescue the company from receivership.

The economy was not doing well, and finding an alternative job did not come easy then.

It was divination that set my mind at ease each time the fate of the company went before the court for a decision on possible receivership.

Depending on one deity was not sufficient to appease my apprehension, and I consulted one deity after another for verification of what was likely to be the outcome of the court's decision.

There was one deity that I was particularly grateful of - the 'Nenek Kong'. She was a legendary princess of muslim origin, and her brother, better known as 'Natoh Kong' is more widely worshipped at local taoist temples.

Although a muslim, she was able to converse in any language or dialect through a chinese medium - a teochew aunty residing at Hougang Avenue 5.

Her divination was comforting and reliable. Her divination of what would happen to my career on the arrival of the white knight was spot on - I was transferred from the internal audit department to retail operations.

On one occasion, she had left instructions for me to 'process' a talisman that she had prepared for me to be 'consumed' on a certain date in the ensuing month. I was puzzled by her pick of date, but I realised on the appointed date that it was the first day of assuming my managerial position in the retail operations.

As if that was not enough, I continued to seek out other deities; and chanced upon the Chee Tong Temple, then located at Bukit Timah Road - within walking distance from Newton circle.

I was thumbing through the Yellow Pages in my office when I chanced upon the temple's listing. It was raining then, but my colleagues (two of them) and I decided to trace the temple from its listed address during lunch-time. The caretaker came out to receive us when my colleague's car pulled into the premises. We made some enquiries, and took some cursory look at the relatively small (about 1-foot tall) dark-wood sculptured deities.

I followed up subsequently on my own visits to the temple on nights (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) when there was consultation before the presiding deity. I enquired on the background of the deities and temple, practices, beliefs, philosophy, mysteries and mystic symbols, ceremonies, and the likes during my mingling around with the devotees and disciples. I learned fast, and was able to help them in selected chores.

Soon, I was approached by a committee member to register for a 'baptism of sort'. It was a rare opportunity, but one was forthcoming then.

I remembered asking for more time to consider the offer of brotherhood under the three deities or grandmasters as all devotees were called upon to recognise upon acceptance.

Many years had lapsed since the last recruitment, but the presiding grandmaster had decided on another intake to coincide with the happy occasion of moving into new premises at Hougang Avenue 3. I am proud to witness the moving over. It was meticulously planned and implemented with precision as instructed by the presiding grandmaster with regard to timing and procedures.

There was a strong feeling of kinship between the disciples, devotees and volunteers. I did not hesitate any further when the reminder on registration came once again at the new temple.

Prior to the above, I used to queue up at the popular Kwan Yin Temple (see above photo) at Balestier Road before 5.30 am to seek the 'Goddess of Mercy' divination when the medium was alive.

The 'Goddess' had once advised me to pray to the popular Earth deity (more popular known as Tua Peh Kong in Hokkien) at Balestier Road (see photo on the left) to help me avoid the many obstacles that my life would be fraught with.

The Ubin Island Buddhist Monastery now located at Sengkang West Avenue.The Pulau Ubin Buddhist Monastery derived its name from its original location on the island.

I used to take the ferry at Changi Village to seek divination from the popular monk, 'Boonsu' when he was staying at the monastery. He walks with a limp, and has since left the monastery.

The Chee Hwan Kog Temple, formerly from Flower Road, now located at Anchorvale Walk.)

Consultation used to be held on Monday evening( Sunday's afternoon nowadays), and had to be preseded by some 5-minute chanting in Teochew.

Next, the appointed disciples would gather in groups of 5's around a 2 feet x 2 feet square shallow wooden-box to attend to the residing deity and visiting deities.

The leader would partner another disciple to hold a 1 - 2 feet long catapult-like wooden branch to write onto the sand in the wooden-box whatever chinese characters that the presiding deity might dictate to the leader.

His partner merely held onto the wooden branch to facilitate the writing. Another disciple would read aloud the character for the recording disciple to jot down on a piece of paper which would eventually be pasted on the notice board for the information of the disciples and guests.

Together, the characters would form a poetic message of whatever that the deity might want to convey to the organising committee, Honorary Secretary, the public about some current trends, etc.

A short interval would ensue before consultation was to be opened to the public. For every consultation, the reading disciple would have to read aloud the name, age, address and subject-matter before the deity could proceed to give his divination, character by character.

Amazingly, the deity would use the name of the enquiring person or devotee to form his divination. It might be vertically, horizontally or diagonally! I heard that there was once when a professor from a local university challenged the deity to some poetic exchanges, and left in great admiration of the unbelievable.
It was a progression of sort when I started making efforts to engage in sutra-chanting around 1987. Through a fellow disciple from Chee Tong Temple, I tried a group who gathered at Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery at Kim Keat Link, Toa Payoh on Sunday morning to chant the sutra in Hokkien.

With the confidence gained through participating with this Hokkien-speaking group, we went on to join up with the Mandarin group; and eventually to other Buddhist temples. In the main, these would include the Bright Hill's Monastery at Bright Hill Drive, off Upper Thomson Road; the Buddhist Lodge at Kim Yam Road, off River Valley Road; and the Ponggol Buddhist Monastery then at Jalan Woodbridge, off Yio Chu Kang Road (now at Anchorvale Walk, off Sengkang East Road).

I was never far away from the Lord even when I decided to seriously embrace Buddhism as my faith way back in 1979. The inner stir to celebrate each Christmas Eve at Novena Church was unmistakenly strong. Came 1998, I decided to give it a try for a hopefully better life as a christian.

Half of my liveable life has gone past without much of an improvement !

Obstacles !   Frustrations !   Desperation !

As a buddhist/taoist, I used to consult and receive divinations that my life would be strewn with obstacles. On reflection, I have had a good share of them.  Self-prophecy ?   Why bother to disconcern the truth when time could be running out !

Submit to the Lord might be the better way to go for the remaining half of my life on earth, I thought. I started attending regular Sunday evening mass at Novena Church, and felt invigorated through the process.

I decided to sign up for the Rite for Christian Initialization for Adults (RCIA) classes at Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea when I was posted by my company to the neighbourhood. I did not quite enjoy the first few sessions, and when I was posted away to another workplace; I abandoned the course as well.

But, I did not abandon the church. The calling had, probably, begun; and there was no turning back.

When I chanced upon an invitation like the banner on the left, I went ahead to sign up with Novena Church for the RCIA for a second chance to know the Lord better.

The once-a-week deliberation was just as boring, but the fellowship was great. I soldiered on, but skipped several sessions and the retreat at Mount Vernon, Singapore when my moonlighting schedule stood in the way.

I probably did not qualify for the baptism because of my absenteeism. Father Simon Tan called me once toward the end of the course, and probably to ascertain whether or not I was ready to be considered for the baptism.

He probably felt more assured of my readiness to accept Christ after the telephone-conversation because I was duly baptized together with my cohort at St Joseph Church on 31 March 2002.

Why have I given so much more space and efforts to 'Before Christ' ?  Simple.  I spent most of my past years indulging in non-christian faiths.  I still hold fond memories of the rich experiences of indulging in the other faiths.

As to whether or not one faith has all the answers to what we seek to know or for in this secular world, I believe that I never will know the outcome as far as my conscious could fathom ...... 

P.S.   ST April 9, 2011

Journalist Terence Tan shared in Faith in tolerance ......

"On the first day of the Chinese New Year 2011, I lit a joss stick for my late grandfather, more than two decades after he passed away.

Like my mum, I no longer have any reservations about visiting Taoist shrines or offering joss sticks to dead relatives.

I still attend church regularly but in my household, we will serve a 'more inclusive' interpretation of Christianity."

Read Changing Mindset on Religion

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