Sangha of the Month for August 2014: Wake Up Singapore
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Interview with Wake Up Singapore core members Hoang and Le
How did Wake Up get started in Singapore?
Hoang: I think it would be helpful to use the metaphor of the seed and the plant when we talk about Wake Up Singapore, which is also closely connected to Joyful Garden Sangha (JGS) Singapore, the local all-ages group of practitioners. The seed of sangha building was planted in me during my very first retreat with Thay and Plum Village monastics in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2008.
I remember at the end of the retreat, I was asked by one of the lay friends, Sister Kate from the US, to make a commitment to build a Sangha around myself when I returned to Singapore. I kind of agreed to it, knowing that I wanted to continue the practice, yet not sure about how to build a sangha. When I returned to Singapore, I started practicing with a few friends who later formed JGS. In the summer of 2008, Thay and a few young monastics announced the movement of young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a healthy and compassionate society. I was very inspired by this announcement! The seed of Wake Up Singapore was planted then but it was still waiting for more favourable conditions to sprout!
Each time there was a retreat in Singapore, the seed for Wake Up was more and more watere. It was in March 2013, after a retreat with a few monastics including Brother Trung Hai and Sister Mai Nghiem, when the momentum really picked up again with their encouragement. Soon after the retreat, Wake Up Singapore started with five core members: Daniel, Louisa, Huiyi, Tran and myself. Sister Le joined our core group in May 2013.
Where and when do you all meet?
Hoang: We very much see ourselves as a part of the all-ages JGS. Therefore our regular meeting is during their Day of Mindfulness (DOM) once a month. During the DOM, we enjoy similar activities with the all-ages group, but Wake-Uppers will gather and practice together during Dharma discussion.
Besides the monthly DOM, we create opportunities to meet and practice together. We do not have fixed days, but will generally get together once or twice a month. We meet, practice and have fun together for a whole day, a weekend, or just an evening.
How are your gatherings?
Hoang: When we started in 2013, we organized a few events, but not a lot of people showed up, so the core group members just enjoyed our activities together. In October 2013, we collaborated with a Buddhist group who was inspired to share the Buddha’s teachings with young people through songs. We organized a mini-DOM in which we shared songs, how we can enjoy singing them and how the song and the act of singing can be beneficial to our well-being. It was very well received. This year, we see that the response and participation has been even better. We create opportunities to ‘hang out’ together in a fun and wholesome way. I really like a sharing that Daniel, a Wake Upper in our group shared and I think it really reflects the spirit of Wake Up Singapore:
I often think about Wake Up as the Hangout 2.0 movement – a new way for young people to be together. It’s a very different way to hang out which brings a lot of fun and at the same time very healthy and loving. Instead of barbecue and alcoholic drinks, we have organic vegetables and tea. Instead of loud music and smoky bars, we have green parks and songs that inspire love and understanding. We are not very interested in the upcoming smart phones, but many of us are eager to learn how to grow vegetables. We don’t talk much about the latest fashion trend or how much bonus you have this year. Instead we talk about how to be happier in life and how to bring more peace and joy to ourselves and the society. In this Hangout 2.0 we can be cool and be meditative at the same time. – (Daniel)
Le: I totally agree with what Hoang and Daniel have shared. Our gatherings are fun, refreshing and meditative at the same time. Various activities like farm tour, mindful shopping, moon meditation and doing taiji at sunrise by the beach, visiting library, as well as cooking together, we have been able to bring mindfulness into our daily life. For example, during the Earth Hour this year, we had walking meditation followed by sitting meditation in a central business area in Singapore. The walking path we chose on that day is always busy and noisy, but somehow when we walked bare-footed together as a group, it felt so calm and peaceful. Recently we also organized a trip to one of the first farmer’s market in Singapore.
Why do you think there’s now more interest in Wake Up Singapore activities?
Le: I think this year the core group has been more pro-active and more creative with planning our activities. By incorporating some traveling into our practice, with different locations and flexible timing, it has allowed young people of different interests to join us.
Hoang: I think this year the seed of Wake Up Singapore has grown stronger with a more committed core group. We also created and received more favourable conditions to grow Wake Up. We felt that by incorporating Wake Up in the all-ages DOM, as well as during retreats, we have managed to gather more interest and reach out to more young people.
Hoang: We have quite a number of people who enjoy farming and gardening. Cooking too. We enjoy spending time together, helping each other in living our lives in a more wholesome way. Together we support each other in eating healthier and being more aware of the environment. Farming is really an area of common interest. Actually a few of us, at least two, have quit our jobs to try and become farmers!
Le: (laughs) Sometimes we joke that in our past lives we were all farmers, continuing as like-minded friends in this life. We also share the same values, to do something for other young people and care for Mother Earth. In Singapore life is very stressful, and most young people can get stressed out in a competitive environment. When we get together we share and support each other. Going for farm tours, visiting parks… Practicing like that helps a lot when we go back to our work.
Hoang: Wake Up Singapore is special for me because it is quite fun, and I am the one who benefits from organizing and being part of these activities. I feel that I am the first person to receive the fruits of our collective practice. Every time I practice with the group I feel more fresh and re-energized. It helps me with my daily life and work with young people as a community worker. The group is of great support for me, and I think others feel the same way.
Le: Yes, I agree with Hoang. I am very grateful for being part of Wake Up Singapore. It’s always been my dream to be in an environment where young people can get connected, discover our own goodness and support each other in our aspirations and dreams. Organizing and participating in the Sangha’s activities have helped me realize this dream. Several of us in the core group work with young people. Apart from Sister Hoang, Sister Louisa also works with children in hospitals, while I work with students at a university. We have a lot of interaction with young people, which is why we have been inspired to do something else for young people as well.