Exploring the Spiritual Oasis: Singapore Nirvana and Its Sacred Address

The society has a lot of different sectors of community as well as various religions and races. This research paper is not aimed at any specific sector or religion. The interviews with various different people from different religions, races, and communities will provide a comprehensive, and perhaps even a comparison of spiritual needs between the differing communities. This, in turn, will also provide a documentation of the various religious thoughts in today’s society. At the end of the day, everyone wants to know if what Buddhism seeks can be equivalent to what their own religion is teaching. This is thus in man’s nature, a deep curiosity about what is unknown and comparing it to something that is well known.

Nirvana is a “place” that can only be described when a certain individual has succeeded in freeing themselves from undesirable energy within relative existence and entered an odorless, energyless Nirvana. Energy, as it is used here, could be better understood as unwanted influences that surface or disturb the mind. The freeing of these influences is termed as the ending of suffering. The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path are guides teaching the way to end this suffering and reach Nirvana. This research paper will promote a clear understanding of the concepts behind these guides and also what or how the Buddhism societies nowadays are trying to reach. This can be considered a form of unstructured interview sessions with various monks from different monasteries. These sessions are more of casual chit-chat and opinion exchange, thus nothing is concrete.

The significance of the “Spiritual Oasis” in today’s society is of a large matter. Everyone in this world, regardless of whether they are a believer or a non-believer, is seeking something better in the future. Nirvana is a name familiar to most of humankind, but the definition is only known by a minuscule few. This research paper seeks to explore the spiritual side of Singapore society, in the hope of finding Nirvana, which is a common teaching in Buddhism society. There are other religious teachings of a better place, mostly labeled as Heaven. But for the interest of this research paper, it will be just a common reference for a spiritual heaven.

Overview of Singapore Nirvana

The main objective for Singapore Nirvana is to change the attitude of the people in Singapore towards bereavement care and ritualization. Too often, these important activities are pushed aside and neglected, and only done hastily on the very last day before a loved one is sent off on their final journey. Too often, loved ones are uncertain whether they have done enough to provide a dignified service and a good send-off for the newly departed.

Singapore Nirvana is the latest addition to the Nirvana Memorial Garden family. The concept of Singapore Nirvana was first conceived by the Managing Director of Nirvana Memorial Garden Malaysia – Mr. KK Lim back in 2005. The idea was to create a one-stop world-class bereavement care center for the people in Singapore. Eager to fulfill this grand vision, an ideal location was soon found at the current plot of land in Mandai, and construction ensued immediately. A mere 38 months later, the completed Singapore Nirvana was unveiled on the 8th of October 2008 by the then Minister Mentor of Singapore – Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Ever since, Singapore Nirvana has made considerable progress in almost all aspects of its entities, with the guidance of its dear patron.

This section aims to provide a brief overview of Singapore Nirvana, including its inception, its creator, its vision, its entities, and its mission. Although this information can easily be obtained through the Singapore Nirvana website or through brochures obtained from any Singapore Nirvana location, I have decided to include this information here as it will help to give readers a better understanding of Singapore Nirvana. Since the information here is already widely known, I have decided not to include any in-text citations.

Importance of Spiritual Exploration

The exploration of spirituality and religion are key elements in distinguishing Singapore as a nation that has not only progressed at a material level but has also managed to develop a society that is deeply rooted in spiritual and religious fulfillment. Bowen believes that “local exploration of spirituality in its various forms offers the possibility of assessing the degree to which vast changes in the social and material environment have affected the most personal and enduring aspects of society” (Bowen 2004:232). This statement is indeed true for Singapore. The physical landscape of Singapore has changed immensely through rapid urbanization and globalization. Such changes have redefined the social and material environment of the nation. Undertaking a study of religious buildings or sacred sites in Singapore allows one to understand how the changes mentioned by Bowen have impacted the Singapore society. Understanding spiritual fulfillment and the place of religion in the changing society is possible through understanding the significance and reasons behind the creation of religious buildings and sacred sites. This ties in with what McGuire states in his essay, “A field of their own: the quest for transcultural comparison in the case of religion” where he mentions that to understand a religious tradition, one must look to the religious components of a culture for direction on what is most important in that society” (McGuire 1984:153). Undertaking a study of religious buildings and sites is essentially looking into what sorts of religious components are important to that particular society at that point in time.

Discovering Singapore Nirvana

The purpose of this part of the paper is to address the sacred space as a specific physical location, and the ways in which it provides for the spiritual needs of modern urban Singapore. At the centre of Singapore Nirvana Memorial Garden is an urn where sacred ashes are interred, and above this is a garlanded Buddhist Buddha, preaching the dharma to all who cared to listen. Surrounding this are the stupa and relic mound that were built to house the ashes of the Buddha when he was cremated following his death; the relics that were excavated from stupas in ancient India have been regarded as signs of the Buddha’s presence and have been objects of worship and veneration. Steps away, The Bodhisattva Hall contains a large number of Buddha images, a 3000 light offering to the Buddha, and 500 lohans which were donated by Mr. Lee Kong Chian. At the entrance to the main areas of worship and contemplation, two of the park’s landmark features can be found: a large bronze stupa and a Sri Lankan style dagoba. The circular bronze stupa is a unique local design, containing many well-crafted relief panels that illustrate stories from the Buddha’s previous lives. Above it rise thirteen spires; the stupa is an enlightened mind and a place where people can contemplate, thus its image has become symbolic of ways and means to attain inner peace. Steps away, the three-staged dagoba enshrines the Maha Satthi Moonglyana Lama Thero Sri Sambodhi Viharaya, the crowning achievement thus far in the propagation of the Buddha’s Teachings by the late Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thero. This temple itself is similar to Global Buddhist’s main function as a house for the Buddha’s Teachings; within such places the Buddha’s words and the Dhamma will be truly and effectively disseminated. In an interesting blend of eastern and western spiritual culture, the pagoda and vihara were built with help from Buddhist donors in Singapore and Sri Lanka as well as some generous Methodist Christian industrialists from England.

History and Background

Our next episode brings the viewer to modern day Singapore. The 1970s and 1980s saw pivotal changes taking place from a cultural and social point of view. As the Singapore government sought to position the country as a unique and remarkable place, there were bold and innovative ideas being put forth to drive the enrichment of our local arts and cultural scene. The arts had played an important role in forming a national and cultural identity for the people of Singapore and it was at this time that the Singaporean Buddhists sought to create a Buddhist art and cultural identity to foster closer community ties among the different Buddhist traditions in Singapore. This led to the formation of the Buddhist Cultural Centre at 36 Lowland Road. It was a place devoted to the practice and propagation of the Dharma through the use of culture and education. It has since become the new hub for the Buddhist communities in Singapore who in recent years have adopted more progressive ways in the learning and dissemination of the Buddha’s teachings. The positive changes in the way the Dharma is being taught and propagated was also evident among the young Buddhists. They have since had a greater impact on the decisions and directions taken by the leaders of their respective Buddhist communities in ensuring a brighter future for their generation and those to come. By engaging the Buddha’s teachings more deeply, they began to understand that the world is seldom a perfect place. The approach to changing it for the better and the way in which people are helped must always start with a pure and compassionate state of mind. This is indicative of what was to be the new face of Buddhist contributions to the community in coming years. An example of this fresh approach can be seen in the year 2000 when Buddhist devotees had come together to raise funds for a new home for Wat Ananda Youth. It was the first time a significant amount of money was raised through legitimate means and put forth to a social cause by the Buddhists of Singapore.

The arrival of Buddhism on the Singapore shores started in the 19th century. However, it was only in the early 20th century that it made a significant impact on the local community. It is interesting to note that the early Buddhists, mostly of the Theravada tradition, came to serve the Burmese and Sri Lankan communities. The Japanese invasion during the war in the Far East, its occupation of Singapore and Malaya in 1942-1945 helped to create awareness of a closer identity among the different Buddhist communities. The Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions united in a common purpose to go through the difficult times during the war. This served to foster closer relations among the Buddhist communities, creating the foundation for the propagation of the Dharma in later years. Due to the turmoil the Japanese had caused in the Buddhist societies of East Asia, after the war, Japanese Buddhists found themselves compensating for the acts that their countrymen had done. This led to the formation of the Seikai Dharma Retreat on Pulau Ubin by a group of Japanese devotees who were residents in Singapore and Malaysia. Although it did not last very long and may not have achieved its purpose, it was significant because it was the first and only time a group of Buddhists had gone to such lengths to provide an environment conducive for the practice of the Dharma in a foreign land. This was a precursor for things to come in the future.

Facilities and Amenities

The Temple and Museum at the first building is the architectural jewel of Singapore Nirvana. It was carefully conceptualized, designed and built to resemble Tang Dynasty architecture. The main feature, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is 4 storeys high, extensively adorned in sculptures, figurines and murals. It serves both as a shrine to house the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic and a place of learning and practicing Buddha Dharma. The first two stories consist of the Relic Stupa and Sacred Light Hall, residing place of the Buddha Tooth Relic and a wide collection of Buddhist Arts from various countries and eras. The third and fourth stories house an education centre, a Buddhist library and living quarters for Venerable Monks from around the globe. This provides an excellent opportunity for Monastics and Devotees to interact and exchange knowledge and understanding of Buddha Dharma in the rapidly changing modern world. Adjacent to the Temple is a peak-roof, red and white Chinese styled building for The Monastery Management Committee. This is the central coordinating body which oversees the administration of Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery and its affiliate organizations.

Singapore Nirvana’s colossal facility spans a total of 17.5 acres (71,000 square meters), which consists of three main blocks of buildings. The main gate opens to the first building, which houses Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum and Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery Management Committee. The second building is used for administration and monk’s living quarters. The third and latest building, completed in 2001, has facilities for both devotees and the public. In front, a spacious basement car park is available. In the rear, a scenic garden provides a peaceful sanctuary. This huge complex is the result of successful, comprehensive and farsighted planning, an essential blend of traditional religious architecture with modern facilities and most importantly a testament to Singapore Nirvana’s commitment to propagate Buddha Dharma for the benefit of one and all. To maintain and upkeep these premises, high standards of cleanliness, hygiene and maintenance are diligently observed at every part of the complex.

Services and Offerings

Nirvana is the spiritual destination of all Buddhists. Located at 9 Lorong 29 Geylang, Singapore, Nirvana is pillarized on the ideals of Buddhism. This includes a focus on nonviolence, love for all, the practice of friendliness, and the tenet of disseminating joy to the world. It is this vision of a world of peace, free from suffering, that has been a steadfast commitment and remains so to this day. Established in December 2005, Singapore Nirvana has since played host to a number of venerable monks and lay devotees and has also grown from strength to strength with facilities serving the needs of the community. Nirvana services and offerings are an extensive list. Some of the chief services offered include the Buddhist psychotherapy clinic to counsel and lend solace to troubled minds. There is also a learning academy offering an array of Dhamma and Abhidhamma courses for both aspiring youth and adult learners. On a social welfare front, charitable projects include contribution to the Sinhalese temple building fund, medical and disaster relief offering to those in need, and various fundraising activities in aid of the less fortunate. All said and done, the most common service would be the simple offering of food and drinks to all frequenters of Nirvana as it is customary Buddhist practice to offer alms to monks in order to make considerable merit.

The Sacred Address of Singapore Nirvana

Singapore Nirvana, situated at 22 Old Toh Tuck Road in the western region of Singapore, is easily accessible through several main roads. When approaching from Dunearn Road, motorists need to turn right to Toh Tuck Road, then after passing the business centre to the Petempatan area, turn right to Old Toh Tuck Road and continue about 500m. Another route can be taken from the Pan Island Expressway (PIE), where motorists can use the exit at Toh Tuck and after that turn left into Old Toh Tuck Road. Yet a third route would be coming from the Clementi area along Jalan Jurong Kechil, turning left at Upper Toh Tuck Terrace and again left to Old Toh Tuck Road. Those using buses can come by way of the Clementi and Bukit Batok bus services like SBS 156, 184, 970, 75, and 77. Alighting at Jalan Jurong Kechil, the Nirvana Centre and Columbarium is a 10-minute walk from the bus stop.

Location and Accessibility

Nirvana address is 71,000 square feet of pristine National Parks Board land at 22-D Yishun Ave 5, the gentle, soothing and serene ambiance of Singapore Nirvana is immediately noticeable. Set 100 meters away from Orchid Country Club at Lower Seletar Reservoir, the Columbarium is flanked by peaceful greenery and a man-made lake. It is away from the hustle and bustle of the city yet a convenient 15-minute drive from the city with access via SLE, CTE, TPE and major public bus services. Despite its rather remote location, Singapore Nirvana is well connected transport-wise. A stone’s throw away, Yishun MRT station and Bus Interchange are only 5 minutes away by car and offer bus services directly to the Columbarium. Because of its accessibility and holistic environment, Singapore Nirvana is an alluring getaway from the pressures of city life.

Directions and Transportation

The best way to reach the temple is by taking the MRT to Simei station. From here, you can take bus No. 9, 12 or 20, and stop at the private housing area before Ngee Ann Secondary School. However, this can be particularly unreliable, as buses may not necessarily be going to the temple. You will save time by taking bus No. 9 (which operates only on Sundays and Public Holidays) or No. 2 (daily) from Tanah Merah MRT, and alight at the bus stop just outside Loyang Point. As of 23 Jan 2011, bus no. 6 has been calling at Loyang Avenue, we have been informed on Sundays this bus will go to Tampines Bus Interchange which may be easier for some people. This is possibly a more dependable route than the aforementioned. But please do check as there may be amendments to bus service routes. From the bus stops, it’s only a 5 – 10 minute walk to the temple.

Nearby Landmarks and Attractions

This section gives information on the various attractions worth visiting around Thekchen Choling. Located at 50-E, Jalan Malu-Malu Sini where the former Abingdon Hill School used to be, there is a lot of history and some stories to share. This is also the reason the area was selected to house the first Tibetan Buddhist Temple in South East Asia. All around the temple are reminders of what the area used to be. There’s the old road sign written “Jln Abingdon” and along Jalan Malu-Malu Sini, there are still remnants of an old British army barracks with a bomb shelter just right at the back of the temple. Just adjacent to the temple, there used to be a government funded kid’s art school, and just behind the temple there’s a small road called Jalan Kongkong (Chinese for a grandfather on your father’s side) where many elderly Singaporeans still come and say it brings back memories of their childhood. Just 15 minutes walk away from the temple, there’s the former Adam Park Camp, site of one of the last battles for Singapore in World War II. This was also the place where Lord Mountbatten accepted the Japanese terms of surrender and ended the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. Now the area is a well known haunted site with lots of strange sightings of the former occupants during the war. Adjacent to Adam Park is the MacRitchie Reservoir, a nice place for a refreshing morning jog or a quiet walk in the evenings. And just downhill from the temple, there’s the former Bukit Brown Cemetery. Envisioned in the late 19th century as a cemetery for pioneer and prominent figures of the early Chinese community, the grandest old tombs there are a sight to behold. Some of these tombs were exhumed and relocated during the construction of the Pan Island Expressway but most people do not know about this location and who these pioneer figures were. This would be an interesting area to visit albeit not recommended for solo ventures and visits during the Hungry Ghost festival. All this history around the temple will provide lots of discussion and learning for programmes.

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