On 26 and 27 October 2013, Tzu Chi volunteers took up their places on each side of the stage tagged A and B. With 504 actors on each side of the stage, it was an opportunity for all to finally meet up during the first combined practice held at the North Zone. Sharing the limited space with each other, where twice as many people were congregating as compared to a routine practice session held in their own respective communities, was an opportunity for all to practice temperance and put others before self, even as they encouraged and learnt from each other. Everyone was in perfect agreement that their goal was to present the Dharma to a wide audience with purified hearts some seven weeks later.
Entering into the last seven weeks in the run-up to the year 2013 “Dharma as Water”stage adaptation and Year-End Blessing Ceremony, the 1008 actors came together for the first time for a combined practice. Over the last half year, the East, South and North Zone Tzu Chi volunteers had held their own practice sessions in their respective communities, but it was only on the 26 and 27 October 2013 that they finally had the opportunity to rehearse the presentation of a complete Dharma assembly on stage, with 504 actors each on separate sides of the stage.
Practicing Temperance and Giving of One’s Best
All at once, everyone had to ensure that their singing and sign language would be on cue with the kneeling or standing positions they assumed, and they also had to be aware of their stage positions. Everyone took the combined practice seriously, but as they were lacking in experience, anxious faces could be spotted during the practice which lasted from 9am to 4pm.
“In a world plagued by natural and man-made disasters, let us now respectfully invite the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as the Dharma protectors to join us in our Dharma assembly!”As sign language facilitator Wu Su Hui finished her words, the combined practice officially began. Unexpectedly, after completing two songs, the third could not pass muster and everyone had to start all over from the beginning again.
Luo Xu Hui, a sign language facilitator from the East Zone, explained that in their normal community practice sessions, chairs were placed on both sides of the stage and they had to imagine that these were people. Before the combined practice, she was not confident of the result. Today, with everyone present and with the evident space constraints, everyone realized that they had to practice putting others before themselves and make way for them.
Everyone patiently tried their best to be coordinated; parts that were not up to standard had to be rehearsed again and again and no one complained. Actions and gestures previously lacking in vigor, and straggly looking group formations started to improve as the day wore on. Yu Dun Ying, one of the main “I/C (in-charge)” solemnly reminded everyone that since it was difficult to get everyone together, each and every one of them should give of their best in order not to waste everybody’s precious time.
The leaders and coordinators kept their eyes and ears open, attentively taking notes and recording down the details for improvement.
Xu reveals that she was very keyed up over the practice and had difficulty sleeping the night before. Knowing that everyone would be rushing down to the venue from all over the island early in the morning, she rose early that day to pray for the health and safety of all.
Every Single Person is Important
When the music starts, the action has to keep up. The entire success of the practice depended on the harmonized coordination of one’s eyes, ears and heart.
The sign language facilitators who used to assume the role of “nannies” in the usual community practice sessions had been absorbed back into the group formation during the combined practice. One of them, Wang Rong Liang, made the observation that without the guidance of the facilitators, the other actors were initially flustered. However, they later learnt to rely on themselves to identify the markers and assume the right stage positions. Wang confessed to feeling inexplicably touched by this, and even had the impulse to cry.
“I am your guiding light and you are my refuge; I function as his GPS navigation system too.” Volunteer Wu Nan Kai shares the interesting “threesome alliance”he has formed with two other volunteers. Ke Shui Yuan, a volunteer who is positioned behind Wu, says that Wu is his guiding light because if Wu turns up for practice, he need not fear ending up in the wrong place. On the other hand, Lin Dao Zheng, the volunteer whose placement is beside Wu, uses Wu as a GPS navigator to position himself correctly.
As both volunteers rely on Wu, he has come to realize the importance of everyone making an effort to turn up together. For this, he feels very grateful to them, and feels motivated to turn up for practice.
The beauty of a group formation relies on the beauty of every single individual. Wang says it for everyone when he remarks that “everyone should align themselves and follow the instructions of the coordinators; it’s not solely about the action of one person.”
Challenging Conditions as Fertile Ground for One’s Practice
The makeshift stage for the practice was put up at an empty factory located in the North Zone. Since August, it had been used for the community practices. Because of space constraints, the makeshift stage which was meant to have fifteen steps and two levels, could only have eleven steps. The actors who were supposed to be positioned on the steps above eleven had to rehearse on the flat ground instead. In the less than ideal conditions, the blooming lotus formation was missing a petal, and the “Dharma boat” formation was missing half a sail……
In addition, with five to six days of continuous usage as actors from the three zones took turns to rehearse on the makeshift stage, the steps showed signs of caving in and volunteers rushed to reinforce the makeshift stage before the combined practice started. Qiu Li Lian, one of the main I/Cs, also did not forget to remind everyone to take care and tread softly on the steps.
At her words, actor Xu Zhen Xing, a dentist, tip-toes across the steps carefully. Having joined the practice sessions four months late, Xu puts in double the effort and sometimes even has to adjust the operational times of the dental clinic he works in in order to attend the sessions.
In a space no bigger than two football fields, everyone was on the alert for instructions and the conditions did not permit free movement. The volunteers also had to bear with the heat of midday during lunch. After lunch, as the music for the section entitled “Serenity and Lucidity” filled the air, everyone quietened down as a peaceful feeling pervaded the atmosphere.
During the practice session, there was also an instance whereby the sound system malfunctioned and the required music could not be played, yet this did not prevent everyone from loudly singing the song in its entirety, complete with accompanying instrumentals tunefully hummed out.
Upholding Vegetarianism and Delving into the Dharma with One Heart
Two sessions of the “Dharma as Water”stage adaptation will be presented at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on 14 December 2013. Everyone was repeatedly reminded that it was imperative to adhere to a vegetarian diet in the 48 days that was left to the opening of the stage adaptation, and that they should not give rise to bad thoughts. Everyone should do their best and strive to bring harmony to society.
Guo Pei Fen and six of her colleagues from different departments are taking part in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation together and they make good use of their lunch time break to practice. Inspired by the lyrics in the adaptation that encourages one to uphold the vegetarian precept, that one may “never hear the mournful cries of the slaughtered,”Guo no longer desires meat when she sees it.
Vice CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Sister Susi, conveyed to all the expectations of Master Cheng Yen that everyone can spread the message of goodness with pure and sincere bodies and minds.
This being the first combined practice, volunteers from the three zones shared their experiences and offered mutual encouragement to each other. Luo Yu Hui observed that after the combined practice, everyone got along more harmoniously with each other.
South Zone volunteer, Fu Fang Jun felt that his East and North Zone volunteers have greatly motivated him. It is his wish that all fellow volunteers will be even more diligent after this, and that their singing and sign language abilities will become even better than before.
（By Bernard Ng Jia Han, Kwek Jing Yi, Chua Poh Ling, Huang Fu Shun and Yip Wei Jiunn; Translated by Shu Yin 26-27/10/2013）