This weekend I was visiting the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, the largest Buddhist temple in Singapore. The city-estate is an amazing mix of cultures, ethnic groups and religions. In 2009, the government census reports that 74.2% of residents were of Chinese, 13.4% of Malay, and 9.2% of Indian descent, while Eurasians and other groups form 3.2%. Singapore generally allows religious freedom, although some religious sects are restricted or banned, such as Jehovah’s Witness, due to its opposition of National Service. The most followed religion is Buddhism, with 33% of the resident population declaring themselves as adherents at the most recent census. Following the Buddhism are Christianity (18.3%), No religion (17.0%), Islam (14.7%), Taoism (10.9%), Hinduism (5.1%) and Others (0.7%). There is a clear link between religious beliefs and ethnic group, e.g. the majority of Malays are adherents of Islam with a substantial community of Indian Muslims.
Perhaps more than all other Asian religions, Buddhism has aroused worldwide interest. Among its most sustained strengths is its ability to adjust to changing circumstances and a multitude of cultures. Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. Buddhism teaches that all life is interconnected, so compassion is natural and important.
-Buddhism is 2,500 years old
-There are currently 376 million followers worldwide
-Buddhism arose as a result of Siddhartha Gautama’s quest for Enlightenment in around the 6th Century BCE.
–Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later.
–There is no belief in a personal God. It is not centred on the relationship between humanity and God
Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent – change is always possible
–The two main Buddhist sects are Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, but there are many more
-The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.
– At the core of its teachings are the “Four Noble Truths“:
The truth that life means suffering (e.g. birth, death)
The truth of the origin of suffering as attachment (desire, delusion)
The truth of the cessation of suffering (through dispassionate detachment)
The truth of the “Eightfold Path” leading to the cessation of desire and suffering
Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs and worldview. Taoism is about the Tao. This is usually translated as the Way. But it’s hard to say exactly what this means. The Tao is the ultimate creative principle of the universe. All things are unified and connected in the Tao. Before the Communist revolution fifty years ago, Taoism was one of the strongest religions in China. After a campaign to destroy non-Communist religion, however, the numbers significantly reduced.
-Taoism originated in China 2000 years ago
–It is a religion of unity and opposites; Yin and Yang. The principle of Yin Yang sees the world as filled with complementary forces – action and non-action, light and dark, hot and cold, and so on
-The Tao is not God and is not worshipped.
-Taoism includes many deities, that are worshipped in Taoist temples, they are part of the universe and depend, like everything, on the Tao
Taoism promotes: achieving harmony or union with nature, the pursuit of spiritual immortality, being ‘virtuous’ (but not ostentatiously so), self-development
Taoist practices include:meditation, feng shui, fortune telling, reading and chanting of scriptures
Hinduism, Christianity and Islam were adressed here, nevertheless I share a couple of maps about how Christianity and Islam were spread in Asia. Also the history of Melaka explains the close bind between trade and religion in the past centuries.