My First Time Volunteering in Kechara
Before I met H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche and Kechara, I was working and climbing my way up the career ladder to satisfy and fulfil my thirst for materialism. I always thought that was my main goal in life, just like many other people. However, as the years went by, I began feeling as though my life had come to a bottle neck and that I was stuck in this repetitive cycle. I began to question myself, “How much more of this do I want to chase in life? Is this the sole purpose of life or is there something bigger and more meaningful behind this?”
Despite having a stable career in a multinational company and a loving wife with two beautiful princesses, I always felt something was missing but I did not know what it was. Finally, I found the answers to all my questions when I met Rinpoche and began volunteering in Kechara.
My spiritual journey started back in 2008 when I first stumbled upon Kechara Paradise in 1Utama. The exotic statues and beautiful displays on the shelves caught my attention. Out of curiosity, I stepped inside and I am so glad that I did. There were many questions in my mind about Buddhism and from that fateful day, I began learning and understanding more about it from the Sunday classes held in Kechara House. This later led me to attend the Lamrim class which is essentially Buddhist bible study.
During that period, I did not participate in any volunteer work; neither did I join any of the weekly pujas (Tibetan for prayer) held in Kechara, as I was still searching for more answers as to what Buddhism was really about. I did not join the pujas as I did not know the meaning behind everything then, and did not want to follow the chanting blindly. There is nothing wrong in doing so as it is very good for anyone to join the prayers to receive blessings from the Three Jewels. However, I wanted to understand what the rituals were about and gain a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy before participating.
My first voluntary experience was giving out food to the homeless living on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. It all started when Justin Cheah (Kechara Soup Kitchen’s Project Director) approached me during one of the Lamrim classes that I was attending. Justin explained the origins of Kechara Soup Kitchen and how its work had helped many people and families. To be honest, at the time I was not very keen on volunteering for such activities as I did not support the idea of giving food to people who were capable of doing something for themselves but instead chose to sit around waiting for people to feed them. Of course, now I understand that there are many genuine cases where individuals really need such help.
So with that mindset, I declined Justin’s offer but the following week, Justin asked me again. This time he asked me to join him and another friend to recce a new area in Chow Kit to see if there were any homeless in the area on Sunday night (when KSK first started, it only distributed food on Sunday afternoons till evenings). I still felt reluctant but could not decline his request for the second time so I finally agreed to tag along. This was the beginning of my spiritual volunteerism.
Before the recce, Justin briefed me on the dos and don’ts and told me to stay near him at all times. We started by walking around the Chow Kit area with a few packs of vegetarian food and drinks to be given away to any homeless person we encountered. As most locals will know, Chow Kit is a messy place. We walked along the main road and back lanes and found some homeless sleeping on the sidewalks. It was definitely an eye opening experience for me to see so many people sleeping on the streets.
We got to know more about the background of the homeless and I was surprised by some of the stories they told. Some had jobs but were not financially able to rent a place to stay. I came across a father and son sleeping on the pavement next to KFC. The father had trouble looking for a steady job as he needed to look after his special needs son. He was left with little choice but to beg for money and look for food scraps every day. Another case I encountered was a mother and her baby sleeping on the sidewalk. She was looking for her husband who was working in Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find him anywhere and worse, she had no money to take the bus back to her hometown.
After this experience, I realised there were indeed many genuine unfortunate cases where people were left with little choice but to live on the streets. This in turn made me open up to the idea that we should give them food to at least help them through a hungry evening. Even though it is a short term solution, it is an effective way to befriend them and to understand more about their backgrounds so we can help them in the long term.
The following weeks, I continued to volunteer with Kechara Soup Kitchen and eventually, the number of volunteers grew so much that we changed the weekly food distribution rounds to Saturday night.
Some of the topics that I learned in Sunday Dharma class were compassion and selflessness. I could relate these values to my Kechara Soup Kitchen experience. Being compassionate is not just about giving food to the homeless/needy; it starts from the preparation of the food all the way to loading it into vehicles. We must pack the food in such a way that it is convenient for the homeless to unpack. Most importantly, we must arrange the food packs in a proper manner so that they are not damaged on the way. All this is actually a training in mindfulness, to think of others so that we can provide good quality food and service. On the way to the distribution route, volunteers inside the car would look out for any homeless people on the streets while the driver would solely focus on driving cautiously. When it comes to giving out the food, we have to be aware of the surroundings and be polite because ultimately, we want to gain their confidence and trust so that we can help them in other ways. After gaining their trust, we can get to know them better and then help them through job placement, sending them back home, reconnecting them with their families, etc.
I am truly glad that I did not turn down Justin for the second time as the streets of Kuala Lumpur were where I truly experienced the practice of Buddhism for the first time. This has led me to where I am today. I must also thank my guru, H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche for his teachings and for setting up Kechara Soup Kitchen so that many of us have the opportunity to contribute and help others and eventually ourselves.
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