by Woody, Julia and Sophia
As we have continued our travels through South East Asia we have encountered many different religions. One of the most prominent religions we have seen in this region is Buddhism. This religion was founded in ancient India over 2,500 years ago and shares many similarities with the Hinduism. Buddhism first appeared in Singapore in the second century and is now one of the four main religions.
Buddhism began with a newborn Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama. Growing up his father ordered that he experience only the best luxuries in life, but as he got older he felt something was missing. He saw so much pain and suffering in the world that he did not understand how one could find happiness. One day he came across a monk that showed him how to find joy in a world of sadness. He was so inspired by the monk that he decided to renounce the crown and leave his family, even his wife and child, to become a monk. He spent six years traveling India practicing extreme asceticism, which is the religious practice of avoiding all forms of indulgence. He wore only rough robes, stood on his feet for extremely long hours, only stood on rough grounds, and fasted for long periods of time. As a result he was reduced to a skinny bag of bones and was close to death. He eventually realized that asceticism was not the path to freedom of suffering and he decided to give up this practice. He became very discouraged and decided to meditate under a sacred fig tree called the Bodhi tree. As he meditated he told himself he would not get up until he found the freedom he had been searching for. He spent one week under the fig tree until he suddenly understood the way to release all sufferings of life. He found that one’s life can be defined by 4 “Noble Truths”: the truth of suffering (dukkha), the truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya), the truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha), and the truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga). After the other monks heard of this new idea, they began to call him “Buddha” meaning “awakened one.” He quickly gained followers and began spreading his beliefs (referred to as Dharma). And thus the religion of Buddhism was born.
In Singapore there are many Buddhist temples and shrines. Yesterday we visited the “Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum” which is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Singapore. The temple gets its name because it has two of Buddha’s actual teeth encased within a 248 kilogram gold Stupa! This is referred to as a relic. A relic is a part of a dead holy person’s body that is preserved and believed to be sacred. Teeth are not the only relics in the temple. There are also muscle, fat, blood, flesh, brain, nose, hair, crown, eye, intestine, liver, bone, and heart relics! They look like fish eggs, small beads, or grains of sand in a magnified glass case. It was very interesting to see people praying to these relics as we walked through its various levels.
We also learned that there are 8 Buddhist guardians that correspond with the Chinese Zodiac calendar. We all found our guardian based on our birth years. Sophia was born in 2006 and her guardian is Amitabha or infinite life. This guardian helps avoiding obstacles, increases your wisdom, and defeats evil. He also gives blessings to those who earn good karma. Woodward was born in 1996 and his guardian is Avalokitesvara or 1000-Armed Kannon. It is believed that Buddha gave Avalokitesvara 1000 arms, each
with equipped with an eye. The guardian uses its eyes to see all of the suffering in the world and used its 1000 arms to relieve it. Julia was born in 2005 and her guardian is Acala or the Kings of mystical knowledge. These guardians had furious faces to scare non-believers and evil spirits. The kings are blue statues that sit in front of flames of anger with crooked teeth and a mad face. Each guardian has a specific role in protecting and guiding people. Just because you have one guardian doesn’t mean that you cant pray to another guardian. Lots of People from all over the world come to the Buddha temple just to pray to their guardian or the Buddha.
Buddhism is the largest religion practiced in Singapore, with about 33 percent of the population being Buddhist. Singapore is accepting of all religions and there are temples from many different religions, not just Buddhism. Religion seems to play a very large part in Singaporean society and there is no shortage of incredible temples, statues, ancient relics, and religious traditions. If you ever plan to visit Singapore make sure to visit all four levels of the Buddha Tooth Temple! It gives a great perspective of Buddhism as it evolved into the religion it is today