Members of the Mahasangha, YB Dato Dr. Teng Hock Nam, Sisters and Brothers in the Dharma, Friends from the Press, good afternoon and happy New Year to all of you.
I am very happy to see many Buddhists gather here today for the Second Buddhist Chinese New Year Celebration. I would like to thank YB Dato Dr. Teng for coming here this afternoon to join us for this celebration in the midst of his very heavy Chinese New Year schedule.
We have just concluded a simple religious ceremony and wish that with the blessings of the Triple Gem, you and your family members will all be well and happy, our country will continue to enjoy harmony and prosperity, and there will be peace in the world.
Today is a special day for the Hokkiens. Although it is not directly a Buddhist celebration the Chinese celebrates the Jade Emperor Day on the ninth day of Chinese New Year. For many Chinese especially the Hokkiens, they consider the ninth day as their New Year Day.
At the end of the Ming dynasty, the Hokkien territory was occupied by their enemy during the first few days of Chinese New Year. Many people were slaughtered but those who took shelter in a sugar cane plantation were saved. They escaped being slaughtered by the enemy and also survived by eating sugar cane. Eventually on the ninth day of the lunar month, the enemy announced that war was over and no civilians would be killed anymore.
From that year onwards, the Hokkiens started to celebrate their New Year from the eighth night of the Chinese New Year. In gratitude, they also prayed to the Jade Emperor (Heavenly God) for protecting them. Many considered the ninth day as their New Year Day. Amongst the offerings made to the Jade Emperor, sugar cane is a must. There are two symbolisms for using sugar cane as offering. Firstly it saved their lives. Secondly, sugar cane in Hokkien is ‘Kam Chia’ which sounds like ‘Kam Sia’ meaning thankfulness or gratitude.
Although the Jade Emperor Day celebration is not strictly of Buddhist origin, it is of great significance to us today. We are not living in a peaceful period and many people in the world are very anxious about the possibility of an outbreak of a U.S. – Iraq war. On New Year’s Eve, I appealed to Buddhists to help spread the Buddha’s teaching of equality, mutual tolerance, respect and gratitude. I repeat this appeal today. If there is a war in Iraq today, where will innocent people find their ‘sugar cane plantation for shelter’? After the September 11 incident, many people in different parts of the world live in fear and hatred. These are two very strong negative emotions. I happened to be in New York up country on September 2001! I witnessed both the best and the worst of American reactions towards this tragedy while I was still there the following week. Until today, different sides take the view that violence and war is necessary to bring justice and peace to the world.
One of the most fundamental teachings in Buddhism is equality. The Buddha rejected the caste system of India. He established the nun order in Buddhism. He taught that animals should be respected and that all sentient beings including those in heavenly and hell realms have potentiality to be enlightened.
Many of the problems in the world today stem from the conviction in inequality – this includes both superiority and inferiority complexes. If we want to be a good follower of the Buddha, we have to understand equality, practice equality and actively promote equality. Neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore are quarrelling over petty issues lately. A few days ago, Cambodia and Thailand were in conflict. All these could have been avoided if we develop mutual respect and tolerance. We rely on each other for all our basic living needs. For this New Year let us resolve to spread the message of mutual gratefulness and let us also put into practice mutual tolerance and respect.
I wish that all of you will continue to develop merit and wisdom while treading the Buddha’s path. May all beings be well and happy!