Evoking Humanistic Dharma

In December 2013, the Singapore Indoor Stadium became the grounds of Tzu Chi’s “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation, a Dharma assembly that hosted ten thousand people. Apart from the V-shaped stage that was built by industry professionals, the thematic design and decorations off stage were the result of the creativity and hard work of Tzu Chi’s publicity and design team.  From the moment the audience walked into the Dharma assembly, they could experience Tzu Chi’s uniquely humanistic culture; the atmosphere was evocative of a pervasive serenity that enabled one’s heart to feel the joy of Dharma.


During Tzu Chi events and activities, one can always see that careful planning and hard work has been taken with respect to the presentation of thematic decorations and backdrops. Whether it is the Buddha’s image, the lighting, bonsai plants, flower arrangements, posters, decorations, or other materials, the presentation never fails to underscore the simple and tasteful elegance that resonates with the spirit of Tzu Chi.

In December 2013, the Singapore Indoor Stadium became the grounds of Tzu Chi’s “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation, a Dharma assembly that hosted ten thousand people. Apart from the V-shaped stage that was built by industry professionals, the thematic design and decorations off stage were the result of the creativity and hard work of Tzu Chi’s publicity and design team. From the moment the audience walked into the Dharma assembly, they could experience Tzu Chi’s uniquely humanistic culture; the atmosphere was evocative of a pervasive serenity that enabled one’s heart to feel the joy of Dharma.

The stage adaptation was a huge undertaking that was a result of more than two years of preparations and community rehearsals. That year, in 2013, the publicity and design team lent their energies to the cultural exhibition hall in the premises of the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), and with a series of “Dharma as Water”posters and thematic exhibits, volunteers and members of the public who had stepped into Jing Si Hall could not but be reminded of the spirit of the “Water Repentance”teachings.

In addition, the virtuous efforts of both volunteers and their friends and relatives in upholding a vegetarian diet was given pride of place by the publicity and design team through a huge bodhi leaf motif formed by hundreds of completed vegetarian meal count cards.

Walking Joyfully Down the Bodhisattva Path

Knowing that Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) would be organizing its biggest Dharma assembly ever, the publicity and design team viewed the undertaking seriously and team leader Seow Beng Lan, together with staff Mok Peng San specially held a sharing session for the design volunteers. Through watching videos of the stage adaptation presented by the Taiwan headquarters, members came to have a better understanding of the concepts and teachings within it, and in addition, observed the stage set up, backdrops and decoration employed in its presentation.

The design team hung up huge banners that draped down from the ceiling at the north entrance of the indoor stadium, and written on each banner was the name of one of the ten grounds of attainment that a bodhisattva passes through on the path to becoming a Buddha. Thus, when members of the public walked under the banners as they made their way in, it was as though they were bodhisattvas progressing through the various grounds of attainment, finally reaching the tenth ground of “Great Joy.”

The team also applied the genius of imagery to maximum effect. The V-shaped stage with its 18 levels of steps was symbolic of Mount Sumeru (a mountain in Buddhist cosmology) and participants of the stage adaptation stood atop it as they presented the Dharma teachings to the audience. In front of the stage were placed more than 200 clear and translucent Buddha images; as they caught the bright stage lights and reflected them in turn, it seemed as though the glorious light of the Buddha was radiating down on all sentient beings.

Weeding Out Roots of Ignorance

On the 11 December 2013, more than 20 members of the publicity and design team were seen hard at work “weeding.”Just a week before the opening of the stage adaptation, the specially imported carpets of artificial grass had finally arrived after encountering a delay. In order to position the Buddha images properly on the carpet, the team members who had specially taken leave from work to help out, carefully plucked away the excess grass. Time was tight, but everyone worked with one heart and after repeated adjustments, the final result was a perfectly positioned row of Buddha images.

“Though plucking “grass”seems easy, your fingers will start to hurt after awhile. In addition, you must pluck lightly or the “grass”strands will break,”said volunteer Chai Li Hong. Chai came to the realization that if one desires to uproot the weeds of ignorance from one’s heart, it is inevitable that one will encounter many challenges along the way. She also likened the replanting of artificial grass onto the carpet as a process whereby seeds of goodness and the pure waters of the Buddha Dharma are allowed to enter one’s heart.

Upholding the Teachings for a Successful Dharma Assembly

The publicity and design team was formed in 2011 in response to the increase in the Singapore branch’s activities. Team leader Seow Beng Lan and staff member, Mok Peng San, have driven the team on via their active involvement in all stages from idea conception to planning and preparations over the last three years. Their commitment never wavered even when either fell sick; together with the team, they worked tirelessly to accomplish the goals of the organisation and were a sterling example to the other members.

“Watching the Dharma assembly commence, seeing the surrounding lights dim and the glow from the Buddha images, I realized that when it comes to meaningful endeavours, we should just diligently apply ourselves and persevere on as the result will be worth every effort.”Yu Jun Kang from the team expressed how much he appreciates being able to sit among the audience and watch the adaptation unfold before his eyes. He was greatly moved upon observing the sincerity of the presenters as they sang out the Dharma teachings with deep emotion.

Fellow member Zhang Hui Ming, who had been attending the community study sessions for two years, was tasked with the responsibility of group leader within the team. Grateful for the opportunity to do her bit, she hopes that the work of the publicity and design team will facilitate the transmission of Dharma teachings and contribute to the success of the Dharma assembly.

Mok Peng San himself is a Catholic, yet as a staff of Tzu Chi, he pays sincere homage to the Buddha daily and this does not decrease his devotion to his own faith. “I agree with the philosophy of Master Cheng Yen that one should persevere on in doing what is right.”Knowing that his own ideals are aligned with that of the organization’s, Mok has no difficulty accepting the teachings and upholding them.

Though the stage backdrops and the decorations will inevitably be taken down at the conclusion of the stage adaptation, what remains is the wisdom that was cultivated in the process. Every volunteer that contributed of themselves with selfless devotion, is truly a personification of the Dharma teachings.

Lastly, the publicity and design team shared the spirit by which they abide through these lines of advice:

When things get busy, we help each other out
Upon arriving, we do our part
We remind each other when things get confusing
When mistakes arise, we apply tolerance and mutual understanding
The day may be ending, yet our mission must be accomplished
We inspect and check when the curtains rise
During breaks, we share the joy of Dharma
At the closing, we come forth with helping hands

Volunteers from the publicity and design team organized a sharing session to share what they had learnt after returning from a training camp overseas, where they had participated in the the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation held in the Taipei Arena. (Photo by Mok Peng San)Volunteers from the publicity and design team organized a sharing session to share what they had learnt after returning from a training camp overseas, where they had participated in the the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation held in the Taipei Arena. (Photo by Mok Peng San) Mok Peng San (left) explains the stage design to CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore and other working committee members with a mock-up that was created after studying Taiwan’s presentation of the adaptation. (Photo by Law Sook Fong)Mok Peng San (left) explains the stage design to CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore and other working committee members with a mock-up that was created after studying Taiwan’s presentation of the adaptation. (Photo by Law Sook Fong) Members of the team checking on the movable parts of the stage props to ensure that they work properly during the actual presentation. (Photo by Ng Shey Ying)Members of the team checking on the movable parts of the stage props to ensure that they work properly during the actual presentation. (Photo by Ng Shey Ying) In the process of helping out in the preparations for the stage adaptation, Chai Li Hong (centre) came to the realization that when one weeds out the roots of ignorance from one’s heart, seeds of goodness and the Dharma teachings can naturally take firm hold within. (Photo by Ng Shey Ying)In the process of helping out in the preparations for the stage adaptation, Chai Li Hong (centre) came to the realization that when one weeds out the roots of ignorance from one’s heart, seeds of goodness and the Dharma teachings can naturally take firm hold within. (Photo by Ng Shey Ying) More than 20 publicity and design team volunteers took leave from work to lend a hand to the preparations for the stage adaptation. (Photo by Yong Keah Pei)More than 20 publicity and design team volunteers took leave from work to lend a hand to the preparations for the stage adaptation. (Photo by Yong Keah Pei) Since the inception of the publicity and design team in 2011, leader Seow Beng Lan and staff member, Mok Peng San, have driven the team on via their active involvement in all stages from idea conception to planning and preparations. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)Since the inception of the publicity and design team in 2011, leader Seow Beng Lan and staff member, Mok Peng San, have driven the team on via their active involvement in all stages from idea conception to planning and preparations. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong) The thematic decorations for the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation effectively showcased Tzu Chi’s unique humanistic culture. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng)The thematic decorations for the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation effectively showcased Tzu Chi’s unique humanistic culture. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng)

(By Zhang Hui Ming, Yu Jun Kang, Chai Li Hong and Lim Chwee Lian, Translated by Shu Yin,15/12/2013)

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