Lyndon Lim (明得) & Soh Hwa (智素)
Future generations bring hope. Past generations yield light. Current generations have the best of both worlds to tread the Bodhi path. Dawn
The genesis of the Sunday Youth Dharma Class (SYDC) was a culmination of factors. Known previously as Friends of the Sunday Children Dharma Class (FOS), the intent was to provide graduates of Sunday Children Dharma Class (SCDC) with a familiar pathway anchored in Right Faith and Right Understanding. A proposal was drafted and after intense discussions guided by the then resident monastics, FOS was founded in June 2003.
Deliberations prior to the birth of FOS were fraught with issues, in particular, those of sustainability. Nevertheless, our proposal was eventually refined. A study during that time found that there were some religious youth groups but time took its toll on their existence. Since there were limited opportunities to learn about factors that led to the demise of these groups, it paid to be more conservative in the planning for FOS.
It took some time before a team of volunteer Dharma teachers was formed. This was the first step in planning for FOS. Sourcing for Dharma teachers was no easy feat for these teachers preferably had to be graduates from TMBS’s 3-year adults’ Dharma class. There was no lack of volunteers at TMBS but the ability to communicate and interact with teenagers added complexities to the recruitment of Dharma teachers for FOS. Hence, over time, the team included Dharma teachers who were not from TMBS but were deemed Buddhists with Right Faith and Right Understanding through interactions with TMBS graduates and the resident monastics.
Following the formation of this team of Dharma teachers was curriculum planning. Looking back, it was an achievement that without a reference
guide other than the existing SCDC K1-P6 textbook, the curriculum for the secondary one pupils was planned in about a year. Dharma teachers committed themselves to regular discussions on administration and curriculum planning.
In 2004, the first batch of graduates from the P6 class joined the FOS. It was assuring that, with the support of parents, most of the P6 graduates opted to continue with learning the Dharma by signing up for the FOS class.
The number of pupils increased over time. The curriculum for other levels (Sec 2 to 4/5) were also developed. Few years after 2004, the founder of TMBS, Venerable Hou Zhong suggested that FOS use a guide specifically for youths written by his master, Venerable Yin Shun. Adopting this guide was indeed helpful to teachers of FOS as there were eight chapters and each secondary level could do two chapters per year. The chapters were not content-heavy and could be used to discuss everyday issues with the pupils. Other than the core chapters, outdoor activities such as bowling, kayaking and dragon boating were planned for FOS.
In 2009, the name FOS was changed to SYDC for Sunday Youth Dharma Class. The impetus of this change was to reflect a more structured
programme for the youths aged between 13 to 17, and more importantly, to give the youths attending SYDC a greater sense of belonging.
SYDC has seen at least eight years of graduates but much remains to be done. Some from the first batch of graduates still remain rooted to TMBS. Nevertheless, the eagerness to serve could be more evident. While help is often sought from them on an adhoc basis, a more structured system for volunteering youths would be ideal. For example, it would be good that TMBS youths serve in greater capacities such as being volunteer Dharma Teachers upon completing the 3-year adult Dharma course. In volunteering, youths must feel they are part of TMBS. There are many opportunities in helping our youths realise this; there could be more religious-outdoor activities for youths from SYDC and young adults from the adults’ Dharma class. Currently, pujas are not in sync with the youths today and most if not all of the religious activities in Buddhism are unable to cater to the needs of the youths. Indeed, there is much to explore at this opportune time.
SYDC hopes that more devotees step forward to serve as volunteer Dharma teachers. To excuse oneself due to a lack of knowledge and competence in teaching the Dharma is to underestimate oneself. Imparting Dharma knowledge to SYDC youths is most satisfying as Dharma teachers learn and grow with the youths; one gets the best of both worlds of serving TMBS and learning the Dharma concurrently. This certainly beats going to a faraway land to meditate for days.
Today’s Dharma teachers have the best of both worlds: (1) lessons learnt from the past generations and, (2) ample opportunities to mould the future of youths. However, in these opportunities, Dharma teachers tend to be more conservative. Being conservative does not mean being backward. While youths in SYDC might prefer more outdoor activities, the delicate balance of learning the Dharma in all aspects has to be achieved. Mainstream schools in Singapore today provide pupils with a holistic curriculum, from academic areas to values in action opportunities. Some even provide funds for pupils to travel on learning journeys.
SYDC can complement the efforts of mainstream schools by providing the pupils with knowledge and hopefully wisdom in a religious outlook of life. This is akin to providing a moral compass for them, consistent with what mainstream schools do. Complementing mainstream schools this way, SYDC can enrich a pupil’s life more, and there is more meaning in attending Dharma classes. In being conservative, it should be acknowledged that there is little distinction between a youth group that engages in outdoor activities and concerts, a normal group of friends from school or the community centre and a religious youth group that does the same. Hence, SYDC should comprise kalyana-mitras (spiritual friends) who support each other in treading the Bodhi path. Spiritual friends are naturally less easy to come by and hence, the number of pupils returning to serve TMBS, while increasing, could be more than the current number.
More religious organisations have emerged these days. While there may be more activities to attract followers and youths alike, SYDC should strive to maintain rooted in gratitude to its objective of providing a familiar pathway for spiritual friends to cultivate together. Swinging to extremes is undesirable; song, dance and barbeque parties may attract a youth but this may not last as we all age and, pure chanting and attending puja may not be too engaging for the youths. Fortunately, SYDC Dharma teachers (and TMBS) are concerned with quality over quantity. While some institutions mull over how to increase membership numbers, SYDC teachers spend time to carefully plan the SYDC curriculum to achieve this delicate balance so that pupils will remain rooted to Buddhism with Right Faith and Right Understanding. Coupled with engaged pupils, this careful planning will see many more good years to come for SYDC and Buddhism.