Sunday, 22 May 2011

Volunteer Power on Vesākha!

"However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them.
However inexhaustible the defilements are, I vow to extinguish them.
However immeasurable the dharmas are, I vow to master them.
However incomparable enlightenment is, I vow to attain it"

~ The Four Great Vows in Buddhism

Although I profess the religions of Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism, I spend very little time on scriptures and worship. But what I do know intuitively is that religion should give us hope, strength, courage and a moral compass. Religion should never promote suffering and sacrifice. My primary role is to be a good human being and to put my values and beliefs into practice. What is good for others must necessarily be good for me. And due to the strength of my beliefs that I am living my life in the way that my religions would want me to, I feel no guilt about the fact that I go to the temples so infrequently.

This year I spent even less time on prayer than usual on Vesākha, as I had made prior arrangements to volunteer with Sampah Masyarakat in a joint cleanup and greening project with another environmental organisation, TrEES (Treat Every Environment Special), at the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields.

Despite the fact that Vesākha ("Wesak Day" is really just the Sinhalese name for it) is a national public holiday, it wasn't a UN holiday this year and so I was at work all day and could only volunteer for the 1900h - 2300h shift. Still, I managed to reach the Vihara at 1830h and complete my shift by 2330h, and I was pleased with all that we have accomplished in one day.

The Buddhist Maha Vihara cleanup and greening campaign was far more successful and orderly than the Thaipusam Mega Cleanup. The two organisations set up recycling bins throughout the Maha Vihara temple complex and stationed volunteers on shifts to ensure that the public and temple staff sorted their waste and disposed of them in the correct bins. I doubt we would have received the same level of cooperation and understanding at the Batu Caves temple complex!
(Photo credits: Shyam Priah)

Volunteers Melvin and Leela from TrEES collecting used cooking oil for reuse. Well, you know who to thank for not clogging up the drains of Brickfields with cooking grease!
(Photo credits: Shyam Priah)

Sampah Masyarakat volunteer Hariharan sorts food and plant waste for composting.
(Photo credits: Shyam Priah)

The beautifully illuminated Vihara, when I arrived for my shift in the late evening.

The main prayer hall all aglow.

Devotees lighting joss sticks and candles and offering prayers at the numerous shrines throughout the Maha Vihara temple complex.

A revolving, colour-changing lantern display in the Vihara grounds.

4 of the Sampah Masyarakat volunteers: From left, Hariharan, Shyam (the founder), me and Petri.

Leela of TrEES sorting the waste for recycling at the basement. I am awed and humbled by her dedication and unflagging energy.

Guess how long it took 3 of us to cut open, flatten, stack and transport this mountain of cardboard boxes?
No more than 10 mins.

Recyclables waiting for collection in the basement.
"Vow #1: "However innumerable the recyclables are, I vow to save them from the landfill."

Mat and Leela of TrEES sorting and bagging up the recyclables. They amaze me. They've been at it since 0600 hrs.

I finished my shift at 2330 hrs and was about to leave when I saw a troupe of Kandyan dancers making their way into the Vihara. What fun and excitement! It was an unexpected but fitting reward for the hours of hard work.

I trust that the good people at the Vihara will continue the legacy of good waste management practices started by TrEES and Sampah Masyarakat, as they demonstrated examplary cooperation, interest and enthusiasm. I wish all faith groups would place as much emphasis on creating a safe, healthy, clean and livable environment for all living beings and ecosystems.


Pak Zawi said...

Ee Lynn,
Well done and thanks for the lovely photos. How I wish more people of my faith have more of such attitude that you people have displayed.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for coming by and for your kind words of support, Abang Zawi! I believe it is easier to approach the younger generation in faith groups to get their support on environmental issues, as they realise it is interconnected with their religious obligations. The older generation seems to be more resistant to change. If you tell them not to throw rubbish into the river or the sea, they will tell you that there is flowing water, therefore the rivers and seas are self-cleaning devices! They don't know or care where the rubbish ends up, as long as it is not their doorstep.

Pat said...

Somewhere at the start, you mention that you '...spend very little time on scriptures and worship'. You know what? I think the good work you do is far more meaningful - in my book.

I'm not dissing the guy who's on bended knee day in and day out. I just feel that his time would be put to much better use if he got off his knees, and found something to actually do for someone.

Something like what you and your friends did.

Great work, my friend.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Pat,
Thank you so much for your kind words of support. I am glad you feel the same way I do. Going out in the community and doing hands-on work is
so much more important than prayer and chanting and cutting oneself off from the outside world. I can never figure out hermits.

Ellen Whyte said...

You know me, Ee Lynn, I'm a total atheist and don't get the religious thing at all. However, I do know this: you do more good things in one day than most of us can hope for in a month. You're one of the nicest, kindest and most generous people I know.

Anonymous said...

Gee, thanks, Ellen, Au and Target! How kind of you! Well, we all do the best we can -- not due to a fear of divine retribution, but because sharing and helping and volunteering gives us much joy and pleasure.

Unknown said...

I too believe that every religion teaches the same basic goodness to all. The sacredness of life, the sanctity of the environment and the duty to preserve.

U my friend, have proudly lived up to the teachings, I say.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Ahan,
Truer words have never been uttered! All religions have more in common than most people would acknowledge. There is no basic religious teaching that advocates death and destruction. What is good for the Planet is necessarily good for us. The funny thing is, almost everyone realises this, but they find it more convenient to do the easy thing than to do the right thing! Thank you for your support and your kind words.

Unknown said...

The power to do the right things starts with us. What you and your friends have demonstrated is just that:)Hopefully when Thaipusam comes next there will be a vast improvement in the cleanup.

Anonymous said...

Dear Keats,
Thanks for the encouragement! I hope more people would put in more effort into doing the right thing. It just doesn't make sense to me to do this on a religious holiday -- go to the House of God and defile it with your food packets and tissue paper. I would have thought people would try harder to please God on a religious holiday.