TRUE HARMONY & PEACE
INTERVIEW WITH VENERABLE YOU GUANG
For You Information had the privilege to meet with Venerable You Guang in a face-to-face interview
and found out more about Venerable’s inspirational Dharma journey.
Selfless in his Buddha Dharma mission to propagate the Dharma and serve not just the Buddhist community but the society, Venerable You Guang is a multi-hyphenated monastic who dons several hats: Abbot/President, Samantabhadra Vihara; Secretary-General, Singapore Buddhist Federation; First Vice-President, Metta Welfare Association; Dharma Consultant, Puat Jit Buddhist Temple; School Management Committee Member (SMC), Maha Bodhi School and Metta School; and also Executive Committee Member, Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), Singapore amongst many other roles.
Persevering with Unwavering Commitment
While the impressive list of designations bears testament to Venerable You Guang’s service to the community, what strikes the Buddhist community most is the unwavering commitment to help others. His thoughtfulness, empathy and wisdom combined with knowledge and skills of pastoral counselling has helped many under his leadership and in his day-to-day interactions and activities.
Juggling multiple roles is no easy feat, especially for Venerable You Guang who has a respiratory condition that can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks. After a bronchial thermoplasty procedure and with medical care and support, he is now better able to lead longer sessions of chanting and Dharma assemblies. This commitment to serve is so deeply entrenched that it makes one wonder, how did his Dharma journey start.
Tribute to Late Great-Grandmother and Grandmother
When asked if he remembers his first encounter with Buddhism, he shared, “My first memory of encountering Buddhism was actually those times with my Lao Ma (老嘛) — great-grandmother, when I was five years old. Till today, I still have fragments of the fond memories of her chanting by the window or door, her simple yet delicious vegetarian meals of fresh tofu in dark soya sauce and okras…”
He added, “When my grandma found out about my interest in Buddhism, she told me I could follow my late great-grandma’s footsteps to learn Buddhism only when I am much older. My reply to her was, “How would you know that I will grow old?” My grandma passed away on the second day of my renunciation and I will always remember how she took care of me since my infancy where we lived in a kampong along Old Tampines Road
as both my parents were working.”
Turning the Pages of A Dharma Book
Following the initial encounters with Buddhism, the next would be in Montfort Junior School. This, where he first turned the pages of a Religious Knowledge book on Buddhism was at the school bookshop where he used to help the shop-keeper, whom he affectionately calls “Uncle”. It was during those times when manning the bookshop, that the curious young Venerable would be transported to a new world through the pages of books. Despite this exposure to Buddhism being a brief one, it sparked an interest that would be re-ignited in his teens.
Mind-Blowing Insights to Buddhist Philosophy
In Secondary Three, he read the book, What Buddhist Believe by Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada. Being exposed to monotheism since young, he was thrilled to learn more about Buddhism, “At that point, I was amazed by the logic and reason in the Buddha’s Teachings such as cause-and-effect, which I never knew about. And it answered questions which could not be answered before.” He highlighted, “I began to discover and learn — We are who we are, because of our actions”. This new discovery, coupled with his thirst for knowledge gave him new insights to the ritualistic Buddhist culture he grew up with.
Immersing in Buddhist Allegory
One of the catalysts to Venerable You Guang’s burgeoning interest in Buddhism is due to the then popular series, The Journey to the West 《四游记》during his growing years. This series, though a quasi-historical television series, is believed to have its basis in the epic pilgrimage of Venerable Xuan Zang (c.596–664) to India and has been a popular narrative since late Tang dynasty. It was also this rousing series that he first encountered the Heart
Sutra, “What a privilege it is to have been able to learn about Buddhsim from the series screened on television! This is really precious because not every generation can experience it.”
Milestones in Dharma Journey
As with any journey, there would be milestones and for Venerable You Guang, “The turning point for my Dharma journey would be in 1999, when I heard the chanting of the Avatamsaka Sutra 《华严经》 by late Venerable Master Dao Xuan. I was so inspired that I followed the chant unknowingly.” This would mark the unofficial initiation into sutras for him. Also, in this same year, on 19 September, he took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The following year, Venerable Master Dao Xuan passed on.
Applying the Teachings in Daily Life
Learning the Dharma and applying the teachings are two very different things. But it seems that even before Venerable You Guang was ordained, his aspiration to incorporate Dharma into his daily life was present. For a start, when studying in Singapore Polytechnic, he led the society he was in, Singapore Polytechnic Buddhist Society (SPBS) in the completion of reciting all 81 chapters of the Avatamsaka Sutra during the school holidays,
within two weeks in the Club Room. Transitioning from tertiary education into enlistment for National Service and having to suspend freshman year of university studies, it was challenging times and Dharma teachings became the bedrock for his well-being. In his candid sharing of the challenges he faced during this period, he shared the
essence of what the Buddha taught, “Others can punish our body. But they cannot punish our mind.” This truly depicts the maturity and wisdom of the young 21-year-old, in the acceptance of reality, while at the same time, choosing to respond to his extremely challenging circumstances.
Laying Groundwork for Dharma Service
After the completion of his National Service as well as Diploma studies, Venerable You Guang had a work stint at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (KMSPKS). Afterwhich, he job-hunted and when he was at a job interview with a Human Resource Manager, he was asked what he wished to be in future. He immediately replied, “One day, I will renounce — to be of service to the Buddhist community.” Clearly, it revealed the deeply-rooted Dharma affinity that was blossoming. In 2004, he also organised a Short Term Noviceship Programme as a Project
Executive at KMSPKS.
Going Forth with Ordination
In the same year, he was offered a place at the National Technological University (NTU) to study Computer Science. There, he stayed in the Halls of Residence — Hall 10 and served as the Hall’s Welfare Secretary. Later in the year, he received a phone call during the examination period from a friend, now Venerable You Hang, that would mark their decision to be ordained. Venerable You Hang said that he was requesting for ordination and asked if Venerable You Guang would like to join him in doing so. Without hesitation, Venerable You Guang expressed his decision to take up ordination as well. He subsequently left NTU after taking the examinations and supporting the year-end Inter-Hall Games (IHG). Taking ordination is a sacred undertaking and the duo arranged to receive ordination at Fa Hua Monastery. Subsequently, Venerable You Guang received Higher Ordination at TzuYun Temple, Taiwan and also Dharma transmissions of the Hua-Yen Lineage and CaoDong-Zen Lineage.
Embodying Peace and Harmony
In the interactions with Venerable You Guang and seeing how he discharges his monastic duties and serves selflessly to benefit all sentient beings, it is without a doubt he leads by example. He not only integrates Dharma teachings into his life but embodies peace and harmony in all aspects of his life. This is evident from the peace he has made within, demonstrated in the acceptance of hishealth condition to the harmony he brings to others through active participation and support for interfaith advocacy work with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), IRO and other faith organisations to establish deeper understanding, trust and respect in the community. In his words,
Therefore, “Achieving true peace is a complex and an ongoing iterative process. It requires the collective efforts of individuals, communities, governments, and international organisations working together towards a common goal. May all sentient beings understand the true meaning of peace from within, and never to achieve “peace” at the expense of anyone.”
“True harmony and peace can only be possible when one understands the interdependence of all things realising the non-self in all aspects.”
— Venerable You Guang
This article, 'True Harmony and Peace', was published in For You Information Issue 341.
Photo and information credits: Venerable You Guang
BUDDHIST CONFERENCE ON
THE UNITED NATIONS DAY OF VESAK
BUDDHIST WISDOM COPING WITH GLOBAL CRISES
Representatives from the Singapore Delegation -
Most Venerable Dr. Seck Kwang Phing and
Venerable You Guang with Annie Koh (left) and Tang Hui Yee, SBF Strategic Project Manager (right)