Idol Worshippers

I was at the Buddhist Tzu Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda (behind Shang Wu Primary School opposite the Penang State Mosque) a few weeks ago. It was a warm Saturday afternoon which made people lazy to go out.

Nic and I were there to see for ourselves what a successful recycling centre looked like.

The area we live in, Taman Sri Nibong, had received a proposal from the good people at Tzu Chi that they wanted to turn an abandoned food court in our residential area into a recycling centre. Tzu Chi would pay MPPP a rental to use the premises. They did a presentation a few days before that to let us know what their plans were plus answer any questions or doubts.

I like Tzu Chi, not least because they’re a Buddhist organization. They are an amazing example of what good things can be done if done right and with compassion. The way Tzu Chi is run can put many conglomerates and businesses to shame; they have such integrity, such intelligent systems and their inspiration is truly awe-inspiring. (Another Buddhist organization worth mentioning is The Kechara Group. Love, love, love their work.)

Another group had also wanted to turn this old food court into something else. I shall not name this group but they did nothing after proposing their idea for all of two years. When I was in the RA Committee (and that was 2 years ago), I had heard of the big idea but nothing came about. Naturally we all assumed this other group had lost interest or had no funds.

So now that Buddhist Tzu Chi had an idea and proposal, this other group gives an ultimatum – “take our idea and benefit this entire taman or go with Tzu Chi” assuming that only THEY could do something good for this area – when they had remained so quiet for the last 2 years. Humans are so bloody predictable. Give them a bone and they will fight like dogs.

And these are grown men and women!

Some say that a multi-purpose hall is better (so let’s tear down the old food court). Some say a recycling centre is dirty and will attract strays. Some say a library is even better (oh dear, in this day and age when even adults don’t read and we expect kids to go to a library?). Or a coffee corner. Someone even said, why don’t we ask someone rich like Vincent Tan to give some money and turn it into a hall.

Oh so many ideas.

Anyway, that has yet to be settled. While the arguments zoom back and forth, there’s an elephant in their midst. No one wants to say it but the taman residents are afraid Tzu Chi will turn Taman Sri Nibong into a temple or something. Or proselytize and turn us all into Buddhists.

The people who make bold accusations like this did not attend the Tzu Chi presentation nor did they make the effort to visit the recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda (which is clean and quiet and gives the entire community a place they can gather!). They sit behind their PCs and spew forth such illogical statements that it makes me wonder – why are certain Christians so afraid of Buddhists?

I am a Buddhist and I can tell you this – we do not go around proselytizing because we’re not about saving your souls. Your soul is yours. It is your karma to have your soul. It gives us no credit to save your souls.

So there. I’ve said it. No offence to Christians – I have plenty of Christian friends, OK.

Plus my sister is a Muslim. Yup. She is. My own blood sister. So yes, I do know what I am talking about.

In fact, I have been asked again and again to join Christian groups on pretext of going out for dinner/party/fun.

My neighbour Vern and I have a secret code for this -“porridge group”. I told her this story – when I was in USM as a freshie, all naive and young, my senior approached me and asked if I wanted to go out with her friends for porridge. I was not feeling too well then, having just recovered from chicken pox, so porridge sounded divine (and campus food was always spicy and curried).

I didn’t know it wasn’t just porridge.

After our dinner at a nearby hawker centre, she drove us all to her friend’s house. A big group had gathered.

“Oh, we’re going to watch a movie and sings some songs, that’s all,” said this senior to me. I was lucky my roommate was with me. She was just as confused as I was. Maybe we looked too heathen!

The movie was about Christ and how he died for our sins. The songs were songs of praise with live guitar music. It was practically a cell group meeting for all I know.

We couldn’t even walk out of the house as we had been driven there and out of politeness, had to wait until the 2 hours were over before we were taken back to our hostel.

I felt so cheated and so angry. I never spoke to that senior again. If only she had clued us in, at least we would have had a chance to decline or if truly interested, to say yes.

But to induce two girls and bring them to a cell group meeting on the pretext of going out for dinner was the cheapest of all cheap tricks.

I always tell people I meet that religion is deeply personal. What you do in your personal life is between you and God or whomever you believe in.

Whatever religion you belong to, be the best follower of that religious teaching.

I studied in a Methodist school. I know the Lord’s Prayer – I had it memorized when I was 10 when I was searching for some sort of religion to cling to. I grew up with a best friend who is deeply religious – a Catholic where I had joked “Nothing comes between you and Jesus.”  I tried attending Friday sessions at the chapel in my school. But nothing.

Religion is an affinity. I had none with Christianity. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect it as a religion. When I came to USM and learned the Dhamma, it felt like coming home. It fell into place for me.

Many friends became Christians after years of praying as Taoists and Buddhists. It’s OK because they finally found what they were looking for.

But to presume that Buddhists are all out to convert people is wrong.

Have you ever seen a Buddhist giving you a pamphlet and saying “If you’re free, why don’t you come to our service this Sunday at 1oam?” or “What are you doing this Sunday? Would you like to join us in worship?”

So for all our corny slogans of 1Malaysia (I hate it with all my heart), we still don’t understand each other, do we? We still don’t know what we all are or how our philosophies differ or when they merge.

Some Christians are afraid of some Buddhists/Taoists/Confucianists. We’re all that cymbal-clashing, idol-worshippers who burn joss paper, light incense and live by archaic superstitions.

Open up your eyes, will you? Come and understand first before you judge.

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