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Dear Dr. Chee and SDP,
I read with great concern the recent spate of publications sympathetic to the cause of Falungong that you published on your website (the latest on 20 Jun 2005 titled “Singapore bars Taiwanese Falungong practitioner”).
You may wish to know that the Singapore Buddhist Federation and its chairman Venerable Shi Ming Yi (that’s the monk who walked down from the tower at Suntec City, remember?), has already declared clearly and unequivocally that, as far as the highest authority on Buddhism in Singapore is concerned, Falungong is a cult. This statement was issued by Venerable Ming Yi last year and was reported in both ST and LianHe ZaoBao.
In addition, LianHe ZaoBao carried a Singapore Buddhist Federation’s letter in its forum page stating its stand on the issue, and a subsequent rebuttal by the federation, in response to a Falungong letter to that same forum page. This sentiment is not unique to the Venerable or the Singapore Buddhist Federation. Numerous authorities on Buddhism in Thailand, Malaysia etc have also declared that too. And it is not difficult to understand why:
Falungong declares that (a) it is not a religious organisation and that (b) it is not Buddhism. But do you know what is the full name of the Falungong association in Singapore? It is called: “Falungong Buddhist Studies Association” or in Chinese: “falungong FUO2 xue2 hui4”. Furthermore, the word “falun” originated from Buddhism — namely, the first sermon preached by the Buddha was called “zhuan fa lun” (“turning the wheel (lun) of the Law of Buddhism (fa))! So here is an organisation which blatantly uses Buddhistic terms and the word “Buddhist” in its name and yet claim that it is not a religious organisation and that it teaches nothing about Buddhism! Is this not the definition of a cult?
The Singapore Buddhist Federation raised both this issue in its letter to the Chinese press, accusing Falungong of masquerading itself under the name of Buddhism and the Buddhist terminology “FaLun”, in order to gain popularity. It challenged Falungong to no longer use the word “Buddhism” in its name since Falungong said it has nothing to do with Buddhism. It also complained that an orthodox Buddhist organisation in Singapore called “Fa Lun Se4” (the Fa Lun Society) which teaches real Buddhism, has suffered from dwindling enrolment and phone calls from confused believers ever since the appearance of this Falungong cult. The Falungong in Singapore wrote back that it insist and will continue to use the word “Buddhist” in its official society name.
All these were published in LianHe ZaoBao’s forum page and also reported by ST. Did you or your party not read it?
And please, don’t tell me this is about freedom of speech, human rights, immigration law etc? Would SDP dare to publish sympathetic articles about an organisation which declares that it is not a Christian organisation, but which calls itself “Crusade for Christ study group”? Is not an organisation which declare that it is not an Islamic society but which calls itself “the Koran society” a cult? Why don’t the SDP publish sympathetic articles on such cults and alienate its Christians and Muslims supporters?
I am a 30+ male, native-born Singaporean who has voted against the PAP in all previous election. I have been to your rallies and listened to you talk. I am concern because I have always been an anti-PAP and a fan of you, Dr. Chee. Your action is now antagonising the majority of Singaporeans who are Buddhist and does not augur well for you, your party or SDP-supporters such as me. You may also wish to know that I, as well as the majority of Singaporeans who are Buddhist, do not appreciate your political party making fun of my/our religion by publishing sympathetic articles on a cult.
I do not wish to go into any debate with you or your party people regarding whether Falungong is a cult or not. You need only ask yourself whether as a Christian, you find it offensive or not for a non-Christian organisation to call itself “the disciple of Christ study group”, and you will know the answer.
So, there is no need for you to publish my letter because such debates does not interest me — I know my own religion well enough, thank you. My purpose of writing to you (and believe me, it has taken a good half hour of my time), is because I support the SDP and it makes me unhappy to see that you are making this politically wrong move of antagonising and alienating the Buddhist majority in Singapore.
So that’s the purpose of this letter — to suggest and advice you to please, for the sake of SDP, and for the sake of supporters like me, to stop making this politically stupid move of supporting a cult that the highest authority on Buddhism in Singapore has already condemned. All PAP need to do is for them to say that you/SDP are anti-Buddhist, are cult-supporter, and show the articles that you published on this webpage as evidence. I don’t know how other Buddhists (read: majority of Singaporeans’ religion, as of 2005) will react. But you know what? In such a situation, if you continue with such nonsense, I would vote for that PAP candidate (for the first time in my life) against you! Not so much because of your sympathetic stand regarding a cult, but because I find this political stupidity unbearable.
I repeat: Why would any politically clever party/person want to antagonise the Buddhist community in Singapore, which as of 2005, is still a country whose majority are Buddhists! Would you antagonise the Pope, if you are running for election in a catholic country?
So please have some political sense.
SDP: Dear JS,
You indicated that there was no need for us to publish your letter because the debate that you expect from us does not interest you. The SDP has decided to go ahead and publish your letter because we take your views very seriously and the matter carries much gravitas, enough for our readers to take note of.
We note that you have in the past been supportive of the Singapore Democrats. While we want very much your support, we want even more that you and other Singaporeans support us for the right reasons.
The reason why we publish reports about the persecution of Falungong practitioners is not because we are sympathetic to their religious beliefs and practices. It is because we are fiercely protective of political freedoms in Singapore.
We have made democratic principles the cornerstone of our party and our vision for the country. And because we have done so, it would be hypocritical for us if we didn’t speak up for everyone whose political rights have been violated. Democracy is not a jacket which we wear when we want to champion a certain religion and which we remove whenever we want to go against another. Democracy is a principle and principles are not applied or discarded depending when whose support we want to court.
Mainstream Buddhism may consider Falungong a cult, but that is not a matter for the SDP, a secular political party, to accept or reject. Mainstream Christianity may consider the Church of the Latter-Day Saints or the Seventh Day Adventist Church cults, but they are registered and recognized as bona fide religious faiths in Singapore. Some of our members are Christians and as much as they disapprove of these other practices, they do not advocate that the Government bans them. The same with our Buddhist members when it comes to matters regarding Falungong.
We believe that as long as a group of people want to come together to practice a certain faith that they be free to do so – with one caveat: That their practice does not cause bodily harm to others or to themselves, that it doesn’t advocate hatred or violence against other faiths, and that it does not damage property.
We ask that Singaporeans be they Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, or Muslims respect the rights of other Singaporeans who may subscribe to a different form of their faiths. It is important that we be more tolerant of differences because it is the intolerance of religious beliefs that have led to so much human suffering, the intolerance that has led Catholics to kill and maim Protestants and vice versa, that caused Hindus to persecute Muslims and Muslims to do the same to their Hindu friends, that made countries go to war and kill thousands of innocent people.
All too often dictatorships, especially those of the communist type, ban all forms of religion. In these instances, democrats fight, together with their religious counterparts, for the freedom to practice their faiths as they see fit. But once the freedom is won, religions should not support the banning of other faiths – and cults – no matter how much they may object to them.
If we allow a group of people to say that another group of individuals’ behaviours are wrong and therefore should be restricted or prohibited, then any group holding the reins of power can exercise that power in a subjective manner. This is exactly what the PAP has done to the opposition and this is exactly what the SDP is fighting against. By the way, the reason why the PAP takes action Falungong is not based on religious considerations but because of political ones vis-à-vis China.
You say that we should have some “political sense.” If all a party is interested in is to figure out where the majority is and then not antagonise it even if by doing so we run counter to our principles, then politics in Singapore is going to be a very dangerous area. Without principles and platforms, voters will never be able to hold anyone accountable. Politicians will try to be everything to everyone. Needless to say such a system will eventually run everything into the ground.
We hope you will understand that our belief in democracy does not allow us to discriminate against any one faith. We repeat, as long as the religion does not cause harm to persons or property, they must be allowed to exist unharassed. The only way for different religions to co-exist peaceably is for Singaporeans of all faiths, creeds, ethnicity, and political persuasions to be tolerant and accepting of each other. This is the only way humanity will progress instead of destroying ourselves into extinction.