The Singapore Buddhist Lodge celebrated its 85th anniversary on 2 January as one of the island nation’s oldest registered charities. Included in the commemorative events were the opening of a new hall for worship and the consecration of a Buddha statue made of gold. Among the ceremony guests was Reverend Heng Sure, a prominent Chinese Buddhist leader based in the US, as well as the Singaporean deputy Prime Minister, Heng Swee Keat, who is also finance minister.
At the ceremony, the deputy PM, Mr. Heng, gave an extended address in which he lauded the services of the Lodge, which has undergone several difficulties in recent years. He also laid out broader issues that were of concern to the religious community. He said: “The Singapore Buddhist Lodge had come a long way from your early days as a small building on Blair Road founded by about 100 philanthropists. . . . Today, the Singapore Buddhist Lodge is a key religious and charitable organization in Singapore.” (Prime Minister’s Office Singapore)
The deputy PM praised the Lodge’s philanthropic activities, among them working with Jamiyah Singapore, the Hindu Endowments Board, and Singapore’s Taoist Federation to provide students from low-income families with bursaries since 1979. The Straits Times noted: “In 2018, the Lodge gave out $800,000 in bursaries to more than 1,100 students. More than half the recipients (52 per cent) were non-Chinese students. During Ramadan, it also gives bags of rice to mosques—it donated 35 tonnes of rice last year.” (The Straits Times)
“As we launch the new building of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge today, it is timely to reflect on how a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society like Singapore has remained united as one people. Looking at how divisions are pulling societies apart around the world, religious harmony is not something we can take for granted.” (Prime Minister’s Office Singapore) In the Mandarin transcript of his speech, he pointed out the destructive effects of fake news, referring specifically to manufactured news in Sinhalese that has been spread on Facebook to incite conflict in Sri Lanka. He noted that, “the law by itself is not enough to maintain interfaith harmony. More importantly, different religions in Singapore treasure the uniqueness of our multicultural society, practise mutual tolerance and hold the highest respect for each other’s faiths.” (The Straits Times) This point is absent in his English speech.
The government’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, ostensibly aimed at combatting fake news, was passed last year. The Singapore Buddhist Lodge is one of the 400 religious groups that signed the Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony, a pledge by senior religious leaders in Singapore first presented to President Halimah Yacob at the opening of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies last June. (The Straits Times) The Commitment asks signatories to uphold religious freedom while also keeping to commitments like “Building Stronger Bonds,” “Fostering a Culture of Consideration and Mutual Understanding,” “Sharing and Propagating Beliefs Respectfully and Sensitively,” and “Maintaining Solidarity in Crisis.” (Inter-racial and Religious Confidence Circle)
Singapore Buddhist Lodge
Singapore Buddhist Lodge marks 85th year (The Straits Times)
Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Opening of Singapore Buddhist Lodge New Building on 2 January 2020. (Prime Minister’s Office Singapore)
Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony (Inter-racial and Religious Confidence Circle)