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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Sunday, 05 July 2015 16:16

The End Is the Beginning

Written by  Tzu Chi Documenting Team / KL & Selangor / Translated by Nai Sheah Qin

All performers held hands and sang to the heart-warming “We Are Family” song during the sharing session. [Photograph by Lee Eng Foo]

The accomplishment of the three-day Dharma as Water stage adaptation was all thanks to the participants’ year-long dedication in attending sutra study sessions, observing vegetarianism, and practising sign language and body movements. During the breaks between presentations, performers took time to ponder on the experience, with some openly repenting themselves in front of their counterparts.


 
At the end of each Dharma as Water sutra adaptation performance, the 2,016 performers would march out of the performing arena with the background music conveying the message of the adaptation that “in times of crisis, we must recognize clearly right from wrong”. As soon as the stadium seats were cleared of audience, groups of performers were seen heading back to the performing area to take pictures for keepsake. Though many seemed tired, every one of them was clearly brimming with Dharma joy.
 
Keeping the affinity alive
 
Low Kiat Hua, was one of the few senior performers who participated in all six sessions (three of which were stand-ins for members who could not make it to the performance). “If it isn’t for this sutra adaptation, we wouldn’t even stand a chance to be on stage,” said the 64-year-old, who was always overwhelmed with feelings every time the Sutra Opening Verse came on. “I have fears about talking on stage. I would be at a total lost if you were to ask me to share any Dharma teachings under the limelight. Besides, I’d feel disheartened if no one cared to listen,” she continued, without forgetting to express her awe over the scale of participation in the adaptation.
 
Kiat Hua was actually one of the coaches of the Dharma Expressionist team. Her group members from different communities took months of practising together before they developed a deep bonding with her. After the event, Kiat Hua decided to retain their chatroom on Whatsapp Messenger so that everyone in the group could still be in contact and support each other mentally along Tzu Chi’s volunteering journey.
 
Another participant, Yoong Kien Khong, thought that he would miss the performance after hurting his shoulder at work a week before the performance. But when his wife brought up the idea of lending his performing shirt and accessories to other performers, he could not bear to let go and insisted on keeping them. After days of recuperation, he was eventually able to join the grand rehearsal-cum-public presentation at Putra Indoor Stadium on July 3. The shoulder injury continued to hurt him whenever he performed any big movements but it did not seem to interfere with his happiness in reuniting with the procession.
 
Reflecting on his journey right up to the actual performance day, Kien Khong shared that the study sessions did not affect him as deeply as the times he stood on stage gazing at the lyrics and the powerful portrayals that depicted man’s greed for fame, wealth and power. It was only then that he realized he too had committed various wrongs in the past. For example, he had unintentionally taken home office accessories and disobeyed traffic light. “I know those were not huge crimes but they’re still wrong, and it all became clear to me (during the performances),” said a now enlightened Kien Khong.
 
Comprehending the true meaning of the Dharma presentation
 
During the two-day formal performance on July 4 and 5, Chief Director, Joy Lu, and Chief Planner of the performance in Malaysia, Lin Chia Hua, had seized the break time in between performances to hold sharing sessions for performers to share their thoughts. Joy did not forget to emphasize that one of the significance of the Dharma presentation was to inspire people to take up vegetarianism. Hence, when she asked if anyone is keen to uphold the cause life after life, almost all the performers raised their hands to show their commitment!
 
Among the performers who opened up on stage was 25-year-old Mak Poh Yei, a former vegetarian who had succumbed to her urge for meat when she started working. The registered nurse admitted to being racked with guilt for breaking the Buddhist precept of “No Killing”. As her body later gave way to repeated illnesses, she ended up going under the knife twice, resulting in the removal of half of her gastrointestinal tract. Luckily, after recuperation, she managed to return and participate in all six of the Dharma presentations (some as stand-ins). Having personally experienced the physical torment like a slaughtered animal, it is no wonder that the adaptation scene advising people not to kill had struck a deep chord with Poh Yei, who is now determined to stay on the vegetarian path.
 
Another performer, Ong Chin Ho, withdrew from the Dharma Accompaniment team to join the less taxing “Light of Great Love” team after injuring his leg at work as he did not want to affect the overall performance. He took on a coaching role in the latter team and had always ensured that he finished his work earlier to join the practice sessions.
 
Although he was once a long-time vegetarian, Chin Ho had continued consuming meat at one point when he felt his body was not strong enough. With the affinity to join the sutra adaptation, which required members to observe a 108-day vegetarian fast for self-purification sake, he took up vegetarianism again. He confessed that the footage on animals being slaughtered as shown during the performance, had reminded him much of his childhood experience of helping his mother to slaughter poultries for family feasts. The reminiscence apparently stirred him deeply as he said he felt like the officer’s wife in the “Experiencing the Six Realms in a Dream” scene who, in her dream, traumatically experienced the anguish of the animals that were killed ahead of her birthday banquet.   
 
“Animals are also living things and they inhabit the Earth like us humans,” reflected Chin Ho, “so we shouldn’t kill them simply to satisfy our desire for tastes.” Having pondered on the horridness of animal killing, Chin Ho is resolute to continue the vegetarian cause and to advise people to stop eating meat. He also looks forward to passing on the idea to his children and future descendants so that his entire family would embrace an animal-friendly diet. 
 
A newfound direction in life
 
Local actor, Johnson Low, a convener for the participating celebrities, shared with the performers, “We thought we’re here to move the audience with our acting, but it turns out that we are the ones who’re inspired by the whole experience.” 
 
His sentiment was echoed by many other celebrities, including Eric Chen, who confessed that he did not understand anything about Buddhist teaching in the past but after participating in the stage adaptation, he has learnt about the cruelty of animal killing and is now determined to quit his long-time fishing habit. Johnson also called out to his fellow celebrities to go all out to help spread Tzu Chi’s humanitarian ideals so as to inspire more people to join its rank.  
 
Besides the celebrities, two volunteers from the drum team also braved themselves to repent themselves on stage.
 
The sin that Hu Zhi Jian most related to was the karma of speech, and his failed marriage seven years ago was a testament to that. That explained why he was greatly moved when he knew that his girlfriend had brought his parents, his future in-laws, his ex-wife and children to attend the stage adaptation. “I just couldn’t stop crying when the entire stadium crowd sings the line ‘Let us end hate with love’ in the Tzu Chi Prayer,” said an emotional Zhi Jian, who apparently felt the words deeply in his soul.   
 
Zhi Jian’s team mate, Su Fu Ming, broke down on bended knees to confess deeply for making his wife put up with his mistakes over the past few years. He said, “Each scene in the adaptation feels like a gun pointing at me, telling me that I’m guilty for all of the sins mentioned. I must take this opportunity to repent my deeds. I have truly done you wrong, dear!”
 
Both Zhi Jian’s and Fu Ming’s earnest confessions were met with warm applause from their fellow performers.  
 
A rare affinity ought to be cherished
 
After two shocking diagnosis, Zhou Zhen Hua had to withdraw from the Dharma Accompaniment team to join the less taxing “Light of Great Love” team. He was first diagnosed with bacteria-induced meningitis, and later, corneal rupture, which could cause permanent visual impairment if not treated immediately. Being a firm believer in the Law of Karma, Zhen Hua took the plight in his stride and attributed the meningitis to the past karma created by his mind, and his eye disease to his previous greed for beauty. The Water Repentance Text lyric that reads “I repent for often being captivated by appearances, and giving rise to greed when I see beautiful sights” thus resonates deeply with him.   
 
He regretted not being able to perform in his former position, but he was equally grateful for the fact that he still has a spot in the audience seat with the “Light of Great Love” team. “After all, this mass Dharma presentation might be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion I’ll ever encounter,” he mused.  
 
Due to the rarity of such a performance, Chief Director, Joy Lu, gave participants this assurance: “Think about it, how is it that it’s just you, out of the entire Malaysian population, who’re bestowed with the opportunity to participate in this Dharma presentation? That’s because it is the culmination of eons of affinity with Buddha which you’ve cultivated through your lifetimes!”
 
For the performers and audience members, the end of the performance signifies a starting point for all to kick-start a new lifestyle - one that embraces Dharma immersion and vegetarianism.
 
 

 
Performers were engrossed in the heartfelt sharing session during break time. [Photograph by Wong Poh Fatt]   Sister Joy Lu, Chief Director and Choreographer of the Dharma as Water stage adaptation, cheering the performers on. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]

Performers were engrossed in the heartfelt sharing session during break time. [Photograph by Wong Poh Fatt]
 
Sister Joy Lu, Chief Director and Choreographer of the Dharma as Water stage adaptation, cheering the performers on. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]
 
Body language team member Wong Choong Peei thanked Taiwanese instructor, Chiang Chin Hsien, for turning them from amateurs to near-professionals and inculcating in them the values and sense of responsibility of the Dharma presentation. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]   All participating celebrities agreed that Chong Li Lei (2nd from left), coordinator of the acting group, was extremely patient and caring towards them. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]

Body language team member Wong Choong Peei thanked Taiwanese instructor, Chiang Chin Hsien, for turning them from amateurs to near-professionals and inculcating in them the values and sense of responsibility of the Dharma presentation. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]
 
 
All participating celebrities agreed that Chong Li Lei (2nd from left), coordinator of the acting group, was extremely patient and caring towards them. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]
 
Su Fu Ming’s daughter and fellow drum team members lovingly consoled him when he made an emotional apology to his wife on stage. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]   Low Kiat Hua, 64, is truly appreciative of the opportunity to be part of the Dharma presentation and praises it as the most expedient way of expounding great teachings. [Photograph by Lee Wei Chiang]

Su Fu Ming’s daughter and fellow drum team members lovingly consoled him when he made an emotional apology to his wife on stage. [Photograph by Lee Wei Kean]
 
 
Low Kiat Hua, 64, is truly appreciative of the opportunity to be part of the Dharma presentation and praises it as the most expedient way of expounding great teachings. [Photograph by Lee Wei Chiang]
 
Hu Zhi Jian went through a painful divorce seven years ago and was greatly touched that his girlfriend, ex-wife and family attended the stage adaptation. [Photograph by Gan Cheah Teck]    

Hu Zhi Jian went through a painful divorce seven years ago and was greatly touched that his girlfriend, ex-wife and family attended the stage adaptation. [Photograph by Gan Cheah Teck]