It would be safe to say that joining the NUS Buddhist Society (NUSBS) has been a highlight of my life thus far. When my friends found out that I am the current NUS Buddhist Society president, they said, “What? You’re a Buddhist?” or “Oh, I had always thought you were a Christian!”, instead of “What? You’re a president?” (which was what I was expecting).
If someone were to tell me 2 years ago that I would become the president of NUSBS, I would have told them that they were crazy. Before I entered NUS, I did not even want to think about religion, much less find out about Buddhism. Even though my father was a strong Buddhist who listened to talks and went for meditation and chanting retreats, I was not interested in a religion that I thought was a stick in the mud with its traditions and superstitions, and an environmental threat with all its joss stick smoke which my body could not stand.
I am grateful that my parents gave my siblings and I the freedom to choose our religion even though they are Buddhists. When I was younger, they let me attend church camps with my friends, and sent me to my mother’s alma mater: a Christian school with weekly chapel and daily prayers. Before I entered NUS, my father told me gently that since I have found out more about Christianity, I should give Buddhism a chance. He told me about his friend’s children who went to Medical Dharma Circle sessions held by NUSBS which became beneficial to them when they became working adults, and urged me to join NUSBS activities.
I am thankful for Cassandra, my friend who accompanied me to Open House 2007 and stopped by the NUSBS booth when I had planned on keeping my head down and walking briskly through the religious societies’ section. She signed up for the NUSBS orientation camp but ended up in NTUBS’ instead, so I took her place.
I am extremely happy that I made that decision, as the camp became a turning point for me. I realised that I could enjoy eating vegetarian food for three meals a day, and decided to stick to this diet to see how long I could last. I realised that the Buddha was not an almighty god that grants wishes when asked, but a normal human being. I realised what the Dharma is, and how practical and useful it is in our modern society even though it was taught by the Buddha more than 2,000 years ago. I realised that the Sangha is not simply a group of Chinese-speaking monks and nuns who wanted to leave the outside world due to escapism or the lack of a better half; they were educated, (mostly) English-speaking people who joined the Sangha to practice the Dharma, and I grew a quiet respect towards their focused, disciplined minds. Most importantly, I realised that Buddhism fit me like a glove – I felt completely at ease when listening to Dharma talks, and I felt that the teachings were in line with my morals and beliefs. At the end of the camp, I decided to become a Buddhist, and a vegetarian too. My interest in design was spotted during the camp, and a couple of months later, I became the only Year 1 member in the 30th NUSBS Management Committee (MC) as its Publications Director.
The funny thing about the word ‘publications’ is that most people assume it to be equivalent to the word ‘publicity’ – on top of updating the website on a weekly basis and coming up with the annual publication, Lamp of Wisdom (LOW), I was doing the Marketing Director’s job of designing posters for society activities. By semester 2, I was asked by the Marketing Director, Yin Hwa, to be his successor in the next MC.
During the holiday after semester 2, one month before the next academic year started, I received a long email from the then-president, Jacinta, to consider doing “something bigger, like being the vice-president”. My jaw dropped upon reading the email – I had never thought that the day would come; all I wanted to do was to stay in the background or behind a computer! But upon strong encouragement from Jacinta and my parents’ blessings, I agreed.
Three weeks before the Annual General Meeting (AGM), due to various reasons, I was asked to run for the post of president. I was overwhelmed at first, and decided that before I could convince others to trust me, I had to convince and trust myself that I could do it. I pulled myself together and went ahead with it.
Those three weeks zoomed past in a blur. During that time, I was putting the final touches on the LOW and making sure that it could be printed and sent on the day of AGM. I was also busy with taking over the role of NUS King Edward VII (KEVII) Hall Overseas Community Involvement Programme team leader. In fact, the day before AGM, I had to set up a booth outside the KEVII dining hall to recruit new members and sell second-hand books to raise money for the project.
Before I knew it, I became the president of the 31st NUSBS MC. Taking up a huge leadership role such as this is a first for me. One month into the term, I was still unable to believe that I am a president of a university-level CCA. The best part was the disbelief and amazement of my dear father’s face when he heard the news. I was glad that I made the leap into the unknown, because I got to grow and learn, and make mistakes that would be understandable now but may not be taken lightly in the workplace in the future.
Thanks to this post, I was able to stretch my limits and leave my comfort zone. I stood up in front of strangers to make impromptu speeches, interacted with people of various backgrounds, settled many administrative issues, communicated with adults and people of high ranks, managed a team of 14 wonderful people, learnt to be more assertive, made important decisions, made big mistakes, learnt how to head a meeting and delegate work, taught a sort-of hip-hop dance for the Dharma Camp morning exercise to the beats of “I Gotta Feeling” which also incorporated the 5 Precepts, played Dharma songs on my guitar, designed the Dharma Camp shirt, learnt to be more organised but not a perfectionist, etc.
And now, as my term comes to an end, I sincerely thank everyone (also those whom I didn’t tag) whom I have interacted with and helped me in one way or another. May everyone be well and happy always!
Kee Yingxin Carmen
Currently a 3rd year Life Science student at NUS
Former President of NUS Buddhist Society