One Big Family One Joyful Outing

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Than Hsiang Sunday Dharma School family day outing at Bodhi Heart Sanctuary
Wong Weng Wah / photos by Lim Bee Hong

Sunday, 13/03/2011 will be reminisced as a memorable family day for our Sunday Dharma School (SDS) family. It was originally scheduled to be held at Sungai Batu beach in Teluk Kumbar but unfortunately 3 days prior to that, i.e. on 11/03/2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, forcing the organizers to consider either a cancellation of the activity or a change in venue. Desperate for time and mulling over safety issues and most importantly not to disappoint the big family, we were fortunate to be able to change the venue to Bodhi Heart Sanctuary (BHS). (When faced with a problem, always have faith in The Triple Gems and practice mindfulness. When our mind is free from fear, worries and anxiety, we will somehow find solutions to the problem.)

At 8.45am, the big SDS family comprising of students, parents, Aixin volunteers and Than Hsiang Youth members gathered in The Great Compassion Hall. They were divided into 3 groups before Ven Zhen Ti advised the students to be obedient and encouraged all to participate and enjoy the family day. After 3 prostrations to The Buddha, the contingent boarded 3 buses and headed off to BHS. (The students were taught to cultivate the habit of prostrating to The Buddha Image or to their parents who are The Bodhisattvas at home before they embark on any trip away from home.)

Due to the narrow road leading to BHS, the buses stopped at the Cheah Kongsi Cemetery car park and everyone alighted and walked a distance of almost 1km to the destination. The old and young were excited and wasted no time to explore the place upon reaching BHS, a non-sectarian Buddhist Society nested in Mount Erskine amidst lush greenery and hilly gentle slopes. Many were busy snapping shots with their cameras as they toured The Pujabodhi Center/Prayer Center; Prajnabodhi Center/Open-air Meditation Center; Samanabodhi Center/Monks Abode; Shan Children Home; the Pond; Middle Garden and Tea Garden. As the bigger Bodhi-Heart Center/Activity Center is still under construction, our activities were conducted in the smaller but cosy Silabodhi Center.

When everyone assembled inside the activity center, it was already 11.00am and we had missed the sitting and walking meditation sessions. Nevertheless, everyone enjoyed the 10 mindful movements, a series of exercises put together by Ven Thich Nhat Hanh and widely practised in Plum Village. (While the activity provided an opportunity for the parents and children to exercise together, it also enabled the participants to practise awareness and interconnectedness of the body, breath and mind.)

The next activity, a half hour free and easy session, was liked by the students and parents as they are free to do what they want….relax, lie down, talk, sing, walk, run, play, climb trees and so on. (It was a rare gift for all to enjoy in our own time and space where we are truly free and not bounded by any scheduled activities or stress.)

At noon sharp, everyone began to feel hungry and quickly assembled to chant the food offering gatha. They then took out their own food cutleries, queued up for a simple yet sumptuous lunch of fried rice with curry and agar-agar for dessert. As we ate mindfully, we were grateful to our Aixin Mamas who had gone to Than Hsiang Temple (THT) as early as 5.00am to cook the rice. (All of us practice to appreciate the food and acknowledge gratitude of the nourishment with respect to the 5 Contemplations: (1) This food is the gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, and much hard work. (2) May we eat in mindfulness so as to be worthy to receive it. (3) May we transform our unskilful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation. (4) May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness. (5) We accept this food so that we may realise the path of understanding and love.)

After lunch, the parents gathered at The Tea Garden to discuss their up-coming activities for next month and review the family day activities while the children remained in the hall to learn to sing “The Happy Song” in 3 main languages, namely Chinese, English and Malay. The song was fun and refreshing indeed because after singing each verse, we were required to take a deep breath and with an out-breath of three loud ha, ha, ha….we let go all our troubles and worries just like bubbles flying away! The children also learned the hand language of the song, “One Family” (一家人) which was taught by fellow students who had performed at Than Hsiang 25th Anniversary Concert.

When the parents returned to the hall, they were welcomed by some rhythmic clapping of hands by the children and were showered with flying kisses. The children sang “The Happy Song” and performed “The One Family” hand language to the delight of the parents.

The last activity of the family day was “Crossing over to The Other Shore” - a family interactive activity where parents and children need to observe with mindfulness the method other families travelled from one end to another. They then need to communicate and devise a different way for the family to cross over. On reaching the other shore, the family was presented with a packet of tidbits each. Everyone participated and enjoyed and had a good laugh at the innovative methods deployed. (As taught by the Buddha, there are 84,000 Dharma paths for all to practise leading to Buddhahood. We choose the path which we have strong affinity with and we are interdependent on our fellow practitioners to progress together.)

The finale of the day was the emotional hugging of the children by the parents and presentation of gifts to the children. On the way to the car park to board the bus home, everyone adjourned to The Prajnabodhi Center to gather for the one-big-family photograph. (The reciprocal act of giving and expression of gratitude by the parents and the children respectively was absolutely wonderful. It reminded us to keep our promises and bring joy to others while we can before impermanence strike.)

Before we leave BHS, everyone dug into their pockets and we managed to pool together an amount of RM600-00, out of which RM300-00 was donated to Shan Children Home and the rest to BHS. (We are grateful that the parents and children were given the opportunity to practise generosity – one of the 10 Wholesome Dharmas taught in SDS. May the dana – act of giving, benefits the children at Shan Children Home and the people at BHS.)

During the trip back to THT, most of the children and parents dozed off in the bus because of fatigue but deep inside, we believe that they are filled with Dharmic Bliss. (With the smiles on their faces, we trust that the objectives of our family day had been achieved, namely to relax our body and mind; to foster the bond between parents and children through games and interaction; and to enable the parents and children practise The Dharma, awareness and mindfulness together as a big family.)

Back at THT, as we gathered at The Great Compassion Hall to transfer the merits accumulated during the day, our prayers were dedicated to the people of New Zealand (earthquake) and Japan (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation) whose countries were recently hit by calamities. (May the dead be reborn in a higher realm and attain nirvana. May the injured and anguished overcome their physical and mental sufferings and be blessed with speedy recovery, good health and happiness. May both countries also be blessed with a quick rebuilding process and emerge stronger and more prosperous than before.)