"Few among men are they who cross to the further shore. The other folk
only run up and down the bank on this side."
(Dhammapada, Verse 85)
Malaysia -- During the World Fellowship of Buddhists General
Conference held in Shah Alam (Malaysia) in 2002, a fellow South Korean
delegate remarked that Malaysia has the potential to become a world
Buddhist centre. He based his observation on a few criteria, such as,
a renowned Sangha led by the world respected Venerable Dr K. Sri
Dhammananda, a population that communicates comfortably in English,
and a large pool of dynamic lay practitioners who apply innovative
approaches to propagate the Dhamma.
These three key areas
- recognizable Sangha member, English and a dynamic, self driven lay
movement - he says, are elements that is fueling the rise of Buddhism
in the west. In this respect, Malaysian Buddhists are well poised to
provide global leadership.
He astutely observed
that many of the local projects and initiatives are self generated -
both in terms of financial and human resources. As a Muslim led
country, Malaysian Buddhists do not get as many privileges enjoyed by
those from Sri Lanka or Thailand. Nevertheless, even with the rather
limited resources available, he commented that the international
community have always had good regards of Malaysian Buddhist efforts
to propagate the Dharma effectively.
We have to be honest
with ourselves: Are Malaysian Buddhists ready to assume regional or
global leadership? If the potential of Malaysian Buddhism as an
international centre-force is to be realized, it has to begin with our
own house keeping. It has to begin with the deep realization that
globalization forces requires one to be fully engaged with community
circles and administrative systems in which it operates. It has to be
proactive in its approaches to build relevant networks - with both
Buddhists and non-Buddhists - as means to strengthen the community as
well as to integrate itself into national and regional development,
whether socially, economically or spiritually.
While we admit that
Malaysian Buddhists have been largely fortunate to be able to practice
their faith without hindrance in this country, it does not help if
their key national based organizations are not immersed into
mainstream levels of national and regional development. These key
bodies must realign their focus and energies, and be more sensitive to
social and religious undercurrents sweeping the region.
To obtain strong
grass root support, they have to skillfully muster and consolidate
their resources not only to run mundane activities, but more
importantly to galvanize the spirit of shared ownership and fellowship
amongst its members. When we use the Dharma as the forefront and
principle guide, and inspiring our resources to innovate while
executing activities, the results obtained are certain to be far more
satisfying than planned. To achieve such organizational cohesiveness,
the main body has to be itself be focused on clear goals, and its
elected representatives possessing the will to engage and be embraced
by the society which they represent and serve.
period of disengagement over the last few years have disillusioned
many who looked towards these venerable bodies representing the
Buddhist lay movement. It has saddened many people to see our key
Buddhist organizations becoming a pale shadow of what they were, and
what they could have become. Instead of being a voice of the Buddhist
masses, their silence on so many issues has indeed been most
disappointing. Some have even gone as far to say that the last few
years has seen National level Buddhist Organizations in Malaysia at
it's most disengaged mode in recent memory.
Why do we say so?
When you do not voice out against injustice and intolerance, you
become disengaged. When you do not actively support movements that
dare to confront problems facing Buddhists and Buddhism, you are
disengaged. When you do not take initiatives or be innovative enough
to grab opportunities to further the cause of Dharma propagation, you
It is not wrong to
say that the future of Malaysian Buddhism is helmed not by major
organizations. The biggest movers and shakers that have attracted
local and international attention are spear headed by grass-root
movements such as Sau Seng Lam, who offers free or subsidized
haemodyalysis treatment. In terms of media innovation, Buddhism in
Malaysia is made well known throughout the world through small but
dynamically effective efforts such as UKMBA's Buddhist News Network (BNN).
Even initiatives to embed Dharma based courses into the country's
National Service scheme was conducted by an individual Buddhist
It is a shame to
National level Buddhist bodies when small grass-root movement like BNN
take the lead to galvanize support to confront issues and challenges
facing the Buddhist community such as the "Buddha bikini" affront by
Victoria's Secrets. And where were the presence of the "big boys" when
most Buddhists voiced their protests in the invasion and occupation of
Iraq? Why was there no "heavyweight" Buddhist representation at the
National level open houses to celebrate Aidilfitri (the Muslim New
Year festival)? Even the Sikh community, who are 15 times smaller in
comparison with the Buddhist population, have made their presence felt
What saddens many
Buddhists even more is the incessant squabbling for position among its
elected representatives in these key bodies. Organizational politics,
even in a Buddhist environment can be most unforgiving. You are a
"team-player" if you are savvy enough to hone your skill to satisfy
the needs of your supporters. On the other hand, you may be branded as
a "trouble-maker" if you don't know how. While this may be something
not palatable to many, in reality, it does play out in meeting rooms
and during intense lobbying for an elected position.
Instead of using the
privileges accorded to them to serve their members, many find
themselves bogged down by petty quarrels and political dodging.
Instead of promoting ideas and encouraging individual initiatives,
they spend their time bashing up other people's ideas and tearing down
While the list of
malady and other affliction effecting organization Malaysian Buddhism
is sad and discouraging, nevertheless there is still hope.
Unfortunately the hope lies not in the hands of these religious
behemoths. Instead influential players have emerged using nimble and
mobile platforms to push their inventiveness and creativeness.
There is a nascent
movement to utilize the fine and performing arts as a tool for Dharma
outreach. This new development augurs well because culture is a potent
tool for social engagement. Another key aspects coming up is the
promotion of Information Technology in organization management. Small
and newly formed establishments are astutely adopting high-end
web-based systems to reach out to their members.
Meanwhile, there are
groups forming a Buddhist business network, facilitating trade and
commercial exchanges among themselves. Another key network in place is
one that calls itself "Buddhist Life Circles", where organized effort
are made to personalize Dharma outreach via the development of cell
groups. Recently, a group of young Buddhists mooted a "Roving Wesak"
concept when they celebrated Wesak at a location where no Buddhist
temples existed, so that they could "light the lamp of the Dharma
where there was none."
There are groups that
have established counseling units, giving workshops educating the
public on social issues such as rape, AIDS etc. Some groups have
initiated social support programmes such as "kitchen soup", providing
free food to the homeless and the poor. Other efforts worth mentioning
include those who have set up recycling counters, collecting reusable
articles and redistributing them to orphanages and old folks home.
All these nascent,
grass root development have occurred not because they were made to
follow strategies drawn out by national level bodies. Their services
were mooted out of desire and compassion to serve targeted sectors of
society. Their actions and programmes are drawn to meet specific
needs, and not to attain any type of grandeur recognition.
If things are going
at this rate, I am confident that service oriented, societal centred
groups will become the beacon of Buddhist leadership in Malaysia. It
is here that the seed of local and regional change will emerge.
Hopefully, they will continue to provide lessons to the more
established organization behemoths that have gone into deep slumber.
It is apt to say that
organization based Buddhism is at a critical crossroad. To fulfill the
country's ambition as a leader of the Buddhist world, they need to
first wake up from their slumbering disengagement. They must rise up
to the multi-varied challenges facing Buddhism locally, regionally and
internationally. The rise of Asian Buddhism is not just about
preserving its traditional way of devotion, but more critically to
engage its devotees to open their eyes and see what the Dharma is
really all about.
Like the Buddha said,
don't be like those who only know how to run up and down along the
river's bank, but be daring enough to run across it (Dhammapada V.
85). And being engaged with society, essentially is all about having
the courage to run across rivers of obstacles, challenges and
the Dharma ever protect and guide us in the correct path. -
Goh Seng Chai is currently a member of the Executive Council of the
World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB).
also the President of the
World Fellowship of Buddhists – Selangor Regional Centre. Mr
Goh has over 40 years of experience in administrating Buddhist