In Conversation: Venerable Chuan Sheng
This is part of a series of conversations we are having with different religious leaders to explore how doing what we consider the “right thing” resonates within their own religious teachings.

There is a saying in Chinese, “救人一命胜造七级浮屠”, loosely translated as “better to save one life than to build a seven-storied pagoda”. It clearly reflects one of the core Buddhist virtues where saving lives is held in high regard and said to accumulate good Karma. Thus, for a donor who saves someone else’s life, they would obtain merits, which is an important goal of lay Buddhist practice.


While we are confident our work at the BMDP closely aligns to this Buddhist philosophy, you don’t need to take our word for it. To explore in more depth how we can allay the concerns of our Singapore Buddhist community, we caught up with Venerable Chuan Sheng from Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery. This is part of a series of conversations we are having with different religious leaders to explore how doing what we consider the “right thing” resonates within their own religious teachings.



Q: There is a growing trend in Singapore that young people are shunning religion. What are your views on this and how could we see Buddhism playing a more active role to engage the youths in Singapore and why is this important to our community?


In today’s world of Internet and mobile devices, youths are more educated and better informed than ever before. They will not “blindly” follow what their parents or friends say; they rely on scientific evidence and personal experience and want to see how religion can connect with them and enrich their lives.


The young of today will grow up to be the national and international pillars of tomorrow. Therefore, it is important to inculcate in them such universal values as morality, compassion and wisdom. Buddhism provides a common ground where youths can nurture such virtues. In many Buddhist organizations, we see youth groups catering to the different age groups, engaging youths in diverse activities, whether in the learning of the Buddha’s teachings, participating in voluntary work, or simply functioning as an interactive platform for like-minded youths. Through these activities, youths can keep abreast of the latest developments within their community and develop the qualities necessary to be the wise leaders of tomorrow.



Q: BMDP and Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery have collaborated for the past two years to recruit volunteer bone marrow donors within the congregation during Vesak Day. Please share your thoughts on the partnership and how the religious significance of that special day could be further communicated in support of our cause?


There is a constant need to expand the pool of bone marrow donors in order to increase the success of finding a suitable donor and to drive down the costs of transplant. We hope that we can play a small part in alleviating the suffering of the patients by putting a call out to those within the Buddhist community to sign up as volunteer bone marrow donors.


Vesak Day commemorates the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing Away of the Buddha. It is a good time to reflect on the suffering of birth, illness, old age and death, common to all humanity, and generate compassion for the alleviation of such suffering. Becoming a bone marrow donor is an act of compassion, a meaningful way to offer the gift of health on this special day.



Q: BMDP’s mission is to save lives through transplants, and we ask people to sign up as volunteer bone marrow donors. Is this acceptable within the practises of Buddhism? Are there any teachings within Buddhism that positively support the act of being a donor?


Compassion and Wisdom are core teachings in Buddhism. To do what we can for the unwell is an act of compassion. As the Buddha taught, “Whoever would care for me, let him care for those who are sick.”


To realise wisdom is to realise the three universal characteristics of impermanence, suffering and not-self. As the Buddha taught, “What is impermanent is suffering, and what is suffering is not-self.”


Understanding that all things are constantly changing will help us to understand that all things are not-self, have no substantial existence of their own apart from the ever-changing, interdependent physical and mental factors of personal experience.


When we have the mistaken notion of self, we often act selfishly, with attachment or aversion to the people and things around us. Becoming a bone marrow donor can teach us not to be attached to our physical body and can therefore be a good practice in selflessness.



Q: Some argue strongly that when a person dies, they need to pass into the next life “complete”. What are your thoughts on this and what is the relevance in today’s world where medical advancements can prolong life through having a transplant?


Buddhism does not teach that our whole body must be left undamaged when we leave this world.


Some Buddhists believe that the newly dead’s body should not be touched or disturbed for eight hours lest the deceased becomes attached and unable to have a peaceful departure. Other Buddhists do not subscribe to this view and would support organ donation upon death as a last act of generosity.


Buddhism teaches that only good and bad karma will follow us to the next birth. Upon death, our material body will become like a useless log of wood, with no more living force, body heat and consciousness. From this perspective, it is hence fine to donate any body part while living or upon death. 


That said, becoming a bone marrow donor is a personal decision. While Buddhism endorses this as a selfless act, it is up to the individual and his/her conditions to decide whether it can be done.



Q: What would you say to the Buddhists in Singapore as a call out to encourage them to sign up as volunteer bone marrow donors?


Buddhism teaches that suffering is inevitable as long as we are part of this world. Seeing other beings as similar to us, we should cultivate loving-kindness and compassion to alleviate the suffering of all beings. To be a bone marrow donor is to engage in a selfless act, of extending and enhancing the life of another human.


Becoming a bone marrow donor can help us in our practice of developing compassion and wisdom, by gradually dispelling our afflictions of attachment/greed, aversion/anger, and ignorance/delusion. It is a meritorious act. When done with a pure motivation to benefit others and when the merits of this act are dedicated to all beings, the fruits are boundless.


May all beings be well and happy.

PUBLISHED ON 28 March 2018
Registering to become a bone marrow donor means committing to be there when you get the call to give life. Each registrant provides hope for those waiting. A person could, however, be a match within a few months of registering, a year later or even seven years later.
How to register?