An appeal to all Buddhists in the Tertiary Institutions

Tian Chang, the writer of the piece, is the Treasurer of the Charitable Assistance Society, a Singapore-based welfare organization infested with young and vibrant creatures. He is also one of the prime organisers of HH the 100th Ganden Tri Rinpoche’s first trip to Singapore in 2000.

Just recently, I attended an activity organised by one of the tertiary institution's Buddhist society. To my astonishment, I realised that there were only 10 participants and out of these 10 participants, 8 were from the management committee. In other words, there were only 2 ordinary members participating in this activity! I am worried and troubled.

I have been a part of this society for quite some time. I have witnessed for myself the tremendous effort the management committee has invested in amidst their busy and tight schedule in school.

They work hard during the recruitment drive to attract new members. In order to attract new members, they cracked their brains in organising the activities. In order to achieve greater publicity, they printed a large quantity of full-coloured posters to be put up all over the campus despite their monetary constraints. Their effort and enthusiasm even surpassed that of some other religious groups in the school – a rare occurrence in the local Buddhist scene. Disappointingly, the fruits reaped is far indeed from the great amount of effort put in. A small number of students signed up as members. Of the signed up members, an even smaller number of members participate actively in the society's activities. With regard to contribution, an even smaller number of members are involved. There is hardly any care or enthusiasm about the welfare of the society.

Imagine the shocking setbacks of the organisers, originally brimming with innocent glee and hope.

When the management committee realised that it is almost impossible to recruit non-Buddhists as members, they switched their focus. They tried to recruit students who are already Buddhists into the society. This is to make efforts in introducing the proper Buddhist teachings into the school a joint effort with the Buddhist society acting as the core.

The result is again disappointing. A large proportion of Buddhist students, although aware of a Buddhist society in the school, chose not to offer support or even encouragement.

Some Buddhist students do join the Buddhist society and offered their utmost support. Some even went on to join the management committee.

Others joined the Buddhist society but only take part in their activities occasionally and some even turned into a "sleeping member". Then, there is a group who does not bother at all about the society and shows no sign of interest at all.

As Buddhists, we should know that all of us have the duty to pass on the Dharma. Why is it then that we are not concerned about the Buddhist society which, after all, is arguably the official and most efficient means of introducing Buddhism to the students in the school?

The tertiary institutions’ Buddhist societies is in the best position to introduce Buddhism to the younger generation

Religious Knowledge was abolished from the local educational system in the early 90s. This used to be a very effective means of introducing Buddhism to the youths of Singapore. However, with the abolishment of the subject, young people lost the efficient access to the Dharma.

It is unrealistic to expect the youth of today to scramble to learn the Dharma, to prowl for Buddhist centres or to devour Buddhist publications all through their own pious efforts. Some people need to introduce the Dharma to them! The best venue is the schools where all the young people are.

All the tertiary institutions’ Buddhist societies shoulder this noble and sacred responsibility. The Buddhist societies are responsible for bringing the Dharma to them.

A strong and influential Buddhist society strengthens access of youths to the Dharma. A weak Buddhist society decays the wing to our young people.

If Buddhists in the institutions, especially those eloquent and well-versed in the Dharma, do not support the Buddhist societies, the societies will be forced to cease operation. It has in fact nearly happened.

This is an unfortunate signifier of near-zero opportunity of our young people’s contact with the Buddha’s teachings.

Why should all Buddhists in the tertiary institutions support the Buddhist societies

There are the precious few amongst the Buddhist alumni of the various tertiary institutions who achingly aspire to continue to contribute to the Buddhist societies from the bottom of their hearts. Even then, there is a limit to the amount of help they can offer as they are no longer students of the institutions anymore.

The only people who can directly work for the Buddhist Societies are the students themselves. They are the ones who directly handle the functioning of the Buddhist societies. They understand the schools’ policies best. They grasp the schedule of the students and know the best way to accommodate it. They understand the student's mentality most and knows what best can attract the students. They are also the ones who make direct contact with the school. What’s more, the societies’ constitution do not allow non-students – including those in the alumni - to join the management committee. As such, if the students do not grab this opportunity to do something for the society, by the time they wish to help when they graduate, it is already too late.

Most students only have the 3 or 4 years in their entire life to study in a tertiary institution. It is exactly these precious 3 or 4 years that they can contribute to the Buddhist societies. If they do not seize this opportunity in working in this best channel of reaching and touching our youths, they can forget about having a second chance!

It makes a difference in the lives of students to work for the Buddhist societies. Looking back, the sweet reminiscence of toiling in the Buddhist societies will be one of the most cherished.

For the typical student, haunting fatigue of lectures, tutorials, chow feeding, assignment plowing, exam regurgitation shall form the soreness and stab of the dreaded past.

Devoting part of your tertiary life to the Buddhist society and being one of the messengers of the Buddha's teachings in the school shall ornament your student years so much more fruitful and meaningful.

Talking of practical benefits, not one of the management committee in the Buddhist societies has ever owned up to retrogression in leadership skills, organization prowess, interpersonal connection and what have you. No doubt, these skills are treasured apparatus in the working world out there. One has to prowl hard to partake of a smitten of these skills in all the handbooks and manuals in the world!

Cited reasons for not working for the Buddhist societies and why and how they can be resolved

The arch progenitor of resultant reasons is time. The following are the 3 main reasons commonly cited for the so-called "lack of time".

First, clashes between school time with the societies' activity time. This is a resolvable problem. The reason why Buddhist societies are holding activities at a particular point of time is because that is the time when they find the empty slot in most students’ time-table. If you still "clash", instead of not participating at all, tell your society!

There will be the rare occasion when, despite all the strife to accommodate all the myriad time-tables, the society simply cannot smoothen out all the "clashes". If really so, why not give a helping hand in the brain-storming, organising and planning of the activity. Also, "clashes" may not prevent your luckier buddies from enjoying themselves and reap the fruits of your labour. So, tell them! Who can argue this is not a more savoury alternative than total disppearance?!

If the societies have the resources, it will die to hold the activities at different timing for different people of different schedules. This, however, will still depend on the amount and quality of time and effort of each and every one of you.

Second, heavy workload. So no time for "CCA" or outside academic module activities.

Undeniably, the primary objective of all students is to strive for academic excellence: getting the diploma or the degree is a student's most important mission. No one can or should blame the students for not supporting the Buddhist society due to heavy workload. But then, one is always tempted to ask if those students who are toiling in the Buddhist societies have no academic pressure? Aren’t they too enrolled in the same nasty study programmes? Probably, the difference lies in managing your time well.

There are the students with financial difficulties who need to work part-time to support their family or themselves. Besides these long-suffering people who can really squeeze no time at all, what about the majority of the others? I personally know of a Buddhist friend who was very active in his school’s Buddhist society and Buddhist centres outside school. Not only is he an "A" student, he was also offered numerous awards! When questioned on how he managed, he provided 3 pointers: manage your time, self-discipline, correct attitude.

If we truly appreciate the almost holy reasons of why we should help the Buddhist society and also learn how to align school work with the "holy" work with a calm and positive mind, there is no problem.

Third, already committed to Buddhist societies outside school. So where do I find time for the Buddhist society in school? This is a common issue.

View the matter from a certain perspective and measure the relative significance and needs of these 2 parties, it is not hard to realise that the Buddhist societies need your help more than the other.

As recounted above, students are the only ones who can directly contribute to the Buddhist societies and all the students only have the 3 or 4 years in their life to be able to contribute to the Buddhist societies in their respective institutions.

On the other hand, with regard to all the other Buddhist centres outside school, anybody, as long as you meet the criteria, is able to work for and contribute to them.

Therefore, if even the Buddhist students who are in a unique position, do not offer the Buddhist societies their support, who else can? There will always be a chance to contribute to Buddhist societies outside schools. In fact, you will need to continue your Dharma practice in these centres after your graduation from school. On the other hand, should you miss this opportunity to contribute to the Buddhist societies in your schools, the opportunity will never come again.

It seems over-whelming for the Buddhist societies to aim to nudge its members towards a high level of spiritual attainment during the students' 3 or 4 year stay in the school. The primary mission of the Buddhist societies then is to humbly aim to bring the proper form of Buddhism to the institutions, to introduce Buddhism to fellow students in the school. All Buddhists in the school have the moral responsibility to work jointly towards this goal. These goals can hardly be considered unrealistically lofty by reasonable standards.

To my knowledge, most Buddhist societies in almost all tertiary institutions are facing the problem of dwindling or highly volatile and erratic memberships. This shows a sign of lack of permanent and strong support base. If this problem is not addressed, it is easy guess that in the near future, the Buddhist societies will simply vanish from all tertiary institutions. At that tragic point in time, it will be an even easier guess to know of the mammoth difficulty and the near impossibility of tossing the Dharma into the palms of our youths.

I salute all the Buddhist students who are working hard for the Buddhist societies in spite their unimaginably tight schedules. They truly deserve all our support and compliments. I would also like to encourage all Buddhist students who are not already in the Buddhist societies to start giving them your utmost support. The Buddhist societies need you to make this noble mission of bringing Buddhism into our campus a success.

Note: All tertiary institutions in Singapore have a Buddhist society with the exception of Temasek Polytechnic where no religious societies are allowed to be establised due to the school's policy.