TIMA Enters the Dharma

A total of 55 Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) volunteers from Singapore participated in the 2013 “Dharma as Water”stage adaptation as chorus and sign language presenters. Never did they imagine that as professional doctors and nurses, apart from taking care of the operations of the Tzu Chi Free Clinic and organizing community activities, they would get a chance to stand on stage and spread the Dharma teachings.


The large scale 2013 “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation included 38 sign language presenters and 17 chorus presenters from TIMA. Dr. Xu Zhen Xing, a dentist, even gamely took up the role of the artist in one of the segments of the adaptation, apart from his original undertaking as a sign language presenter.

Never did they imagine that as professional doctors and nurses, apart from taking care of the operations of the Tzu Chi Free Clinic and organizing community activities, they would get a chance to stand on stage and spread the Dharma teachings.

Medical Professionals Step into the World of Tzu Chi

Since TIMA’s inception on 4 September 1999, its ranks have swelled. Today its members are of various races and religions, yet everyone holds the same mission dear — to extend care to others wherever it is needed, to alleviate the suffering of the sick, and to bring humanistic medical care to another level.

In 2013, for the stage adaptation, TCM doctor, Zhou Xiao Ping, and medical attendants Zeng Xiu Ling (Anne), Lin Jin Yan and Derek Tan made aspirations to undertake the role of chorus and sign language facilitators and lead the TIMA members into the Dharma. Dentist Peng Peng Yuan and his wife also became sign language facilitators. Among the TIMA members, there were also specialists in plastic surgery and urology as well as dentists, who seized the opportunity to sign up as sign language participants.

During the practice sessions, TIMA members put their medical expertise to good use and dispensed health tips to the rest. Upon seeing volunteers suffer pains in their legs after having to kneel and sit repeatedly, it was decided after discussion that Tan would lead volunteers in performing some simple stretching exercises to limber up their bodies prior to practice, thus preventing the occurrence of injuries.

Entering the Dharma Together

About half of the TIMA members had signed up to participate in the adaptation this time. Though tired out by the frequent rehearsals and busy work schedules, their spirit was admirable and no one raised a single complaint. Their practice grounds included the premises of the Free Clinic, the hospital, homes of volunteers, and during the later phase, even a venue in faraway Woodlands.

Dr. Fong Poh Him, pioneering member and convener of TIMA, had injured his knees in the past, and though he found it painful to perform the kneeling actions, he was determined to carry on. Dr. Fong is not familiar with the Chinese language, but had invested much effort in practicing sign language in order that he could participate in the adaptation. His wish was simple — to create positive affinities with others and bring the Dharma teachings to them. Believing that the influence of a large organization is superior to that of an individual’s sole efforts, for many years, Dr. Fong had been actively engaged in Tzu Chi’s charitable activities.

Dr. Edwin Lim and Dr. Wang Zeng Jun, who are both from the Tzu Chi Faith Corps, are known as the “Englishmen”; Dr. Lim has not studied Chinese since he was in secondary school, while Dr. Wang has never studied Chinese before. In order to participate in the adaptation, they had to start from recognizing the words. In order to sing the lyrics, they could rely on the hanyu pinyin, but it was a much harder task to try and understand the meanings behind the words.

With some effort, the technologically savvy Dr. Lim superimposed the English translation of the lyrics onto the top part of the training video clips, and the hanyu pinyin at the bottom. The final product was made available on the smartphone platform used by all TIMA members and shared with everyone.

Dr. Wang on the other hand, has an extremely packed schedule. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, he will be hard at work at his dental clinic. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he will be at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic, while on Sundays he will attend the study sessions or recycling activities. Not being able to understand Chinese, Dr. Wang initially relied on the tune to cue him on to the appropriate sign language action, and had scribbled down many explanatory notes in his manual. After a few months of intensive practice, Dr. Wang was proud to announce that on the day of the presentation, he had already memorized all three songs, and had even sung them very loudly while on stage.

Dr. Wang had wavered in his resolve once before, and during that period, he had not participated in Tzu Chi’s activities. However, a trip to the Jing Si Abode in Hualien had changed all that, and he returned to the fold of Tzu Chi. He recalls the words of Master De Rang: “Every day, when I strike the drum, my wish is that the sound will reverberate in all corners of the worlds and bring peace to all.” Touched by what he heard, Dr. Wang signed up for Tzu Chi’s volunteer training and this year, he officially became a commissioner of the organization.

Accepting the Unexpected with Joy

Dr. Xu had initially thought he would not be able to spare the time for the intensive rehearsals. His children were still young and he felt it would not be right if he left everything to his wife. However upon finding out that the stage adaptation needed more participants, he agreed to be part of the Dharma undertaking, and his wife later followed suit. Their 14 year old son also signed up after his exams, his interest piqued by watching his parents practice at home, and Dr. Xu made the necessary arrangements to have his other two and five year old children under the care of relatives.

Sign language facilitator Zeng Xiu Ling (Anne), has even specially made arrangements to teach the Xu family at their home, knowing that they have very little time to come for practice as they have to run a dental clinic and look after their children. The Xu family only signed up some three weeks before the debut of the stage adaptation, and Dr. Xu himself was entrusted with the role of the artist in the adaptation a week before. The family put in their best efforts and Dr. Xu accepted his new undertaking joyfully. Reflecting on the role, Dr. Xu shared that he saw in it, the image of himself in his younger days. Having attained some of his goals, he was not content and continued to pursue more of what life had to offer, causing himself much unhappiness.

Zeng also shares her own story: at the beginning of November 2013, as the practices became more frequent, she received a heartbreaking piece of news — her father, whom she had loved deeply, had passed away suddenly in an accident. As the eldest child, she shared the deepest bond with her father, and blamed herself for not making more frequent trips back to Malacca for visits. Her mother too, was not understanding of her. Under the care and encouragement of her fellow Tzu Chi volunteers, Zeng chose to put aside her grief and continue with her tasks at hand. At the conclusion of the adaptation, she did not forget to dedicate all the merits accrued to her late father.

Looking back to 2013, with four presentations of the stage adaptation over three days, TIMA members who had participated were filled with joy of Dharma. Sign language facilitator Lin Jin Yan describes the opportunity as “once in a lifetime”and hence worth every effort put in. The curtain has fallen over the stage, but TIMA members experience only a strong sense of mission and a heart full of gratitude as they continue to recruit more like-minded medical volunteers to tread the same path.

Derek Chan (right) and Dr. Zhou Xiao Ping (left) lead the volunteers in performing some warm up exercises before the practice session proper, in order to prevent the occurrence of injuries. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)Derek Chan (right) and Dr. Zhou Xiao Ping (left) lead the volunteers in performing some warm up exercises before the practice session proper, in order to prevent the occurrence of injuries. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa) Doctors normally fight to save lives, but after practice sessions, TIMA medical volunteers fight over who gets to put away the stage props in a lighthearted moment of fun. Pictured are plastic surgeon Dr. Fong Poh Him, dentist Dr. Eugene Tang, and Dr. Wang Zeng Jun (from left to right). (Photo by Lim Chee Wah)Doctors normally fight to save lives, but after practice sessions, TIMA medical volunteers fight over who gets to put away the stage props in a lighthearted moment of fun. Pictured are plastic surgeon Dr. Fong Poh Him, dentist Dr. Eugene Tang, and Dr. Wang Zeng Jun (from left to right). (Photo by Lim Chee Wah) Memorizing the “Water Repentence” text which was worded in Chinese was difficult for the TIMA members who were used to conversing in English, but they all rose to the occasion and took on the challenge bravely. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)Memorizing the “Water Repentence” text which was worded in Chinese was difficult for the TIMA members who were used to conversing in English, but they all rose to the occasion and took on the challenge bravely. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa) Dr. Xu Zhen Xing (second from right), who undertook the role of the artist in the stage adaptation, traces the Chinese character for the word “unity.”He is grateful to his wife and son (in the left background) who joined him in participating in the adaptation. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng)Dr. Xu Zhen Xing (second from right), who undertook the role of the artist in the stage adaptation, traces the Chinese character for the word “unity.”He is grateful to his wife and son (in the left background) who joined him in participating in the adaptation. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng) Zeng Xiu Ling (front) was not able to visit her elderly parents frequently due to the intensity of the practice sessions. Though struck by grief when her father passed away, she eventually decided to focus her energies on the Dharma undertaking and dedicate the merits to her late father. (Photo by Ng Shey Ying)Zeng Xiu Ling (front) was not able to visit her elderly parents frequently due to the intensity of the practice sessions. Though struck by grief when her father passed away, she eventually decided to focus her energies on the Dharma undertaking and dedicate the merits to her late father. (Photo by Ng Shey Ying)  

(By Li Ming Hui; Translated by Shu Yin,03/01/2014)

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