Actualizing Dharma With Vegetarianism and Compassion

Chen Xing Rong, is a typical 44 year old Singaporean. He not only studies the Buddhist Dharma but also assumes the responsibility to support and spread the Dharma. In 2010, he got in touch with Tzu Chi and took part in the “Water as Dharma” sutra adaptation. From the experience, he became determined to curb his appetite for meat, adopt vegetarianism to protect lives, and develop compassion; his spiritual path has now become clear to him.


“With compassion, our hearts are closer to the Bodhisattvas’ hearts.” In just a few words, volunteer Chen Xing Rong summarized his reflections after participating in the “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation. His understanding went deeper each time he sang the lyrics “I take the vow of the Earth Treasury Bodhisattva, to free all sentient beings from suffering; I give rise to the aspirations of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, that universal love spreads without boundaries” from the segment “Walking the Path of Enlightenment Life After Life.”

Chen Xing Rong, aged 44, is a typical Singaporean who finished his studies, served National Service and started his own family. Since learning the Dharma, he has been active in many Buddhist groups and was exposed to various ways of cultivation. In 2010, under the guidance of Tzu Chi Commissioner, Ni Shan Qin, he went from being an enthusiastic Tzu Chi volunteer to participating in the “Dharma as Water” community study sessions.

Supporting Others in Spreading the Dharma

Chen Xing Rong has great passion; even though he is already familiar with the “Water Repentance” text written by Master Wu Da, he attended every study session to lend support to the speakers, and did not mind when the young volunteer speakers only brought focus to the main point at the very end of each session. He expressed, “we need to cultivate a new generation of talent and give them confidence; many masters were not as eloquent in their younger days but built up their confidence over time.”

With the attitude to help others improve, Chen Xing Rong took part in the “Water Repentance" sutra adaptation during the year end blessing ceremony in 2012 and 2013. Whenever the singing begins, his knee that has undergone an operation six years ago, will start aching. Chen understands that this is the result of his karma. With the mentality of “if not me, then who?” Chen thought, “Tzu Chi needs support now, if I were to use my busy schedule as an excuse, who will be here to complete the stage adaptation with 1,008 participants?”

In April 2013, Tzu Chi gathered a group of sincere people to participate in the large scale “Dharma as Water” adaptation at the end of the year. Lin Zheng Chuan, leader of the South Zone sign language team approached Chen to assume the role of sign language facilitator but was not successful due to his family commitments.

A few months later, Lin once again invited Chen to assume the role of a cue giver and to help with attendance taking. This time Chen agreed immediately. “I try my best to assist, by making up each other’s deficiency, we can complete this Dharma undertaking.”

Chen strives to do everything that is within his means. He warmly encouraged fellow sign language participants, “remember more, see more, practice more; we can only master the gestures when we have confidence with the lyrics.” When he noticed one of his member participants missing four practices in a row during attendance taking, Chen followed up to understand if he had been more busy lately. Doing so, Chen found out that his member’s father-in-law had passed away recently and he had been spending time at the hospital. Chen understands that participants are all busy but have chosen to be part of the adaptation. Follow up with participants needs apathy and respect based on principles of “loving education and strict discipline”. If there is room to improve, he will still remind them, “to properly do their ‘homework’ at home so that their hand gestures can be uniform during practice.”

“This is a large Dharma gathering, a major Buddhist event in Singapore!” Chen have always believed that even with difference in cultivation methods between various Dharma groups, members should support each other. When he learnt that the sign language team has a vacancy to be filled, Chen took the initiative to contact the Singapore Compassion Buddhist Centre through his Dharma friends, hoping to invite fellow Dharma practitioners to take part in this large scale event. With Chen’s coordination, Tzu Chi volunteers gave a briefing at Singapore Compassion Buddhist Centre on 22 September 2013, and a total of 11 teachers and students agreed to participate.

Encouraging Vegetarianism, Developing Compassion

Other than inviting his Dharma friends to participate in the sutra adaptation, he also encouraged them to go vegetarian, by giving them a “vegetarian meal count card,” hoping that they can participate by adhering to vegetarianism.

With a smile, Chen said, “Dharma friends are very easy ‘targets’!” As it turns out, Chen used to be a Buddhist with “insufficent compassion,” adhering only to vegetarianism when he is out, but at home he only goes vegetarian on the 1st and 15th of each lunar month. The lyrics from the adaptation: “Living beings are many and varied, in similar ways they live, breathe and rest” frequently appear in his mind and he remembers his childhood days where together with his family members, they would trap birds for cooking soup. In addition, Chen also remembers removing the feelers and legs of grasshoppers before feeding them to the birds. Hence, he became determined to observe vegetarianism starting from the 1st of the seventh lunar month this year. In order not to trouble his family, he began by eating vegetables cooked alongside the meat dishes.

While flipping through the “Tzu Chi World Journal,” Chen came across a sentence shared by volunteer Hong De Qian “there is no strength in our compassion, if we cannot stop eating meat.” The remark shot right into his heart. Indeed, he had regarded filial piety to parents as a "small act of fillial piety,” while showing compassion towards all beings is a "great act of filial piety," as then, the body that our parents gave us would be able to benefit others. Our hearts are very far from the Bodhisattvas if we do not have compassion.

"Filial piety, compassion, wisdom and great vows are represented by the four Bodhisattvas: Earth Treasury Boddhisattva, Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy; Manjushri and Samantabhadra. If I cannot even be filial, what else can I do?” Now he believes that he can be vegetarian for the rest of his life.

Blessed with a daughter and son, Chen repents his past folly. Before learning the Dharma, he had persuaded his wife to go for an abortion. “Amitabha, I sincerely repent today, and now I actively advocate against abortion so that others will not make the same mistake as I did.” At the end of each sign language practice, Chen will put his hands in prayer and reciting the familiar verses, dedicate the merits “to repay the four kindnesses received (from the country, one’s parents, teachers, and the Triple Gems) and rescue those suffering in the three realms below.”

Chen muses, “The head of telecommunications in this universe is Shakyamuni Buddha!” He believes that compassion can be passed on to all beings with which we have affinities through the will of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

As negative karma accumulates, people will not find peace due to the occurrence of many natural disasters. Talking about the recent Typhoon Haiyan in Phillippines, Chen said, “The Phillippines was affected by Typhoon Haiyan, because sentient beings have accumulated the heavy karma of killing, hence we as Tzu Chi volunteers must sincerely adopt vegetarianism.” Chen hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the Dharma and appreciates the chance to participate in the “Dharma as Water” sutra adaptation, as this will bring benefit to all sentient beings in the world.

Chen was a Buddhist with “insufficent compassion,” adhering only to vegetarianism when he is out but at home, only going vegetarian on the 1st and 15th of each lunar month. The lyrics in the “Dharma as Water” adaptation awakened him and he was determined to abide by the vegetarian percept starting from the 1st of the seventh lunar month this year.(Photo by Lee Kwong Seng)Chen was a Buddhist with “insufficent compassion,” adhering only to vegetarianism when he is out but at home, only going vegetarian on the 1st and 15th of each lunar month. The lyrics in the “Dharma as Water” adaptation awakened him and he was determined to abide by the vegetarian percept starting from the 1st of the seventh lunar month this year.(Photo by Lee Kwong Seng) With the mentality of “if not me, then who?” Chen studiously learnt the sign language in order to participate in the stage adaptation. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng)With the mentality of “if not me, then who?” Chen studiously learnt the sign language in order to participate in the stage adaptation. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng) Chen grasped the opportunity to contribute by taking part in the street donation drive for Philippine Haiyan victims on 22 December 2013 after the stage adaptation ended. (Photo by Khoo Yan Yu)Chen grasped the opportunity to contribute by taking part in the street donation drive for Philippine Haiyan victims on 22 December 2013 after the stage adaptation ended. (Photo by Khoo Yan Yu)

(By Bernard Ng; Translated by Wen Xiu Juan,08/12/2013)

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