Vesak Day at the Kwan Im Temple


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May 8th 2012
Published: May 8th 2012
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Local legend has it that if you run your hands over the Buddha good fortune will come your way. And it helps if you put a coin i the donation box.
About a third of Singaporeans identify themselves as Buddhist. Vesak Day is a big deal on the Buddhist calendar, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. (Kind of like Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter all rolled into one.) It happened to fall on May 5th this year, my second day in Singapore.

A caveat is in order here. I am not a Buddhist, and any mistakes I make in writing about Buddhist practices or thought come from my faulty research, not from any disregard for another’s beliefs. I try to be as clear as I can within my limits of understanding.

Buddhism in Singapore is mainly of the Mahayana school, rather than the Theraveda school practiced in Thailand. The Thai version is heavily influenced by Burmese monks, Singaporean Buddhism is strongly influenced by Chinese immigrants. There is a deep seasoning of Taoism and Confucianism in Singaporean Buddhism as well.

OK, enough of the scholarly stuff. Vesak Day at the Kwan Im Temple on Waterloo Street is a busy, crowded affair. The pedestrian street in front of the temple – which happens to be right next to a Hindu temple – is crowded with people selling
Outside the templeOutside the templeOutside the temple

This was about 8 in the morning - early for Singaporeans.
incense and lotus flowers for offerings. The courtyard just in front of the temple doors is thick with incense and people trying to get to somewhere other than where they were.

There were signs asking visitors not to take photographs; being respectful, I took no photos of the inside of this temple. The main colors were gold and red, just like in Thailand, with many bowls of fruit and flowers as offerings. One thing that struck me at this particular temple is the main statue is that of Kwan Im (also known as Kwan Yin or Guan Yin) rather than Buddha. Kwan Im is a boddhisatva, one who has attained enlightenment but has chosen to stay to help humans rather than enter Nirvana. She is known as the goddess of compassion and the patron of sailors, fishermen, and lifeguards. Kwan Yin is particularly popular in Chinese Buddhism.

Once past the temple, the street is still busy. Folks selling Buddhist statues and CDs, people selling ice cream, cooking pots, ladies’ fashions, umbrellas. About the only thing missing was the guy selling the Veg-O-Matic, but there was a guy selling the Miracle Mop. Pitchman Billy Mays had nothing
Buddha Hand pastriesBuddha Hand pastriesBuddha Hand pastries

Quite good, filled with lotus paste.
on these guys.

Traditionally a number of charity events are associated Vesak Day, either sponsored by the temple or local businesses. The merchants in the big shopping complex on Waterloo Street provided food for the poor, as did the temple in Chinatown, but that certainly didn’t get in the way of business.


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Lotus blossomsLotus blossoms
Lotus blossoms

Lotus blossomas are a common offering in Buddhist temples. They represent purity and beauty rising from the mud.


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