The Torchbearer of the Dhamma

– a brief history of BMSM

The Formation of BMSM

Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia (BMSM), (earlier known as Buddhist Missionary Society or BMS) was formed in the year 1962.   On  6th August 1961, a small group of devout and far-sighted devotees gathered at the Brickfields Buddhist Temple (now known as Buddhist Mahavihara) to explore ways and means to introduce the Buddha Dhamma in a more organized way than hitherto in Selangor in particular, and Malaysia in general.

The late Chief Reverend K. Sri Dhammananda presided over that meeting.  He had, at that time, envisioned that the future of Buddhism in this country was bleak if it was not introduced properly.  Subsequent to that meeting, an inaugural meeting of the society was convened on 25th November 1961 to discuss in detail the formation of the society.  As a result, the society was officially registered on 3rd April 1962 under the Society’s Ordinance 1949.  (see We are 21, by Quah Keat Aun, VOB June 1983). The membership fee was RM5 per year.

Records show that Mr. Law Joo Jin (passed away in 1964) was the first President of BMSM but his service was short as records also showed that Mr. Teh Thean Choo was President of BMSM from 1962 to 1988. Mr. Teh stepped down as President at the age of 80 and was succeeded by Mr. Tan Teik Beng, who served as President from 1988 till 1996.

In 1996, Chee Peck Kiat took over as President and he stepped down as President in 2001. He was succeeded by Ang Choo Hong who served for 8 years till 2009.  When Ang stepped down in 2009, Chee Peck Kiat was reelected as President.

Chee Peck Kiat is currently the President of BMSM. He fell ill in late 2011 and Sis Loh Pai Ling was elected to act on his behalf.

Ladies Section (BMSM LS)

An inaugural meeting to form a ladies section of the BMS was held on Sunday, 22nd October 1972 at the preaching hall (now Sri Dhamma Hall) of the Buddhist Temple. The office bearers for 1972-73 were as follows:

Chairperson                         : Mrs. Lim Chui Eng

Vice Chairpersons              : Mrs. Choy Choong Yeen, Mrs.  Michael Chua, Mrs. Leela James, Mrs. P.G.D.

Henry  Secretary                  : Mrs. Jenny Vong

Treasurer                              : Miss Sujatha Jayawardene

(see VOB December 1972 for details and photo)

The Ladies Section is currently headed by Sis. Karuna Teo Beng Lan, with Sis. Mary Yap as the Hon. Secretary and Sis. Sujatha Jayawardene as the Hon. Treasurer.

The Ladies Section carried out many charitable activities from its inception till now.  It also provided tremendous support to the various programmes carried out by the parent body and the Youth Section, such as providing food and drinks during Novitiate Programme, Youth Training Camps, Khatina days and the like.  The Ladies Section also sponsored the annual Chap Goh Mei celebration at Brickfields Buddhist Temple.

Youth Section (BMSM YS)

The BMS Youth Section was formed in 1964, with Sis Jina Amarasekera as chairperson and K. D. Buddhadasa as secretary.  Membership was opened to youths of both sexes between the ages of 12 and 35.  The membership at its inception was over 100 people.  The entrance fee was RM1.00 and monthly subscription was 20cts for school going children and 50cts for working members.  The Youth Section organized a Buddhist Youth Leadership Training Course on 17th-20th December 1964, and a debate on “women played a greater part than men in Buddhism” on 20th September 1964.  A religious quiz was held on 20th October 1964, and an Oratorical contest on 18th November 1964.

However, records showed that the Youth Section became inactive in later years.  Then on 13th May 1968 (BE2512), a group of Buddhist youths gathered together and formed a new group called the BMS Youth Chanting Group.  After a lapse of one year, they held their first Annual General meeting on Sunday, 20th July 1969.  Bro. Senadeera Goh Seng Chai was elected as its chairman.  The Youth Chanting group organized regular chanting of Sutras and hymns in English and Pali languages every evening at 7.30pm at the Brickfields Buddhist Temple.  It also organized games – badminton, table tennis and carom – for its members.

The Youth Chanting Group was one of the 17 Buddhist youth organizations that gathered in University Malaya in 1970 to form the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia.

Unfortunately, the Youth Chanting Group also became inactive in later years. Then in 1978 a group of Buddhist youths decided to give a ‘rebirth” to the BMS Youth Section.  On Sunday 4th June 1978, 11.30am, BMSYS was formed.  Bro Ang Choo Hong was elected as the Chairman, Sis Sujata Yew the Hon. General Secretary and  Bro. Hema Jayasinghe the Hon. Treasurer.  Seminars, holiday work camps, Dhamma missioners training camp, leadership training camps and quiz contests were organized.  Chanting was also revived on every Tuesday night.

The Youth Section was a good training ground for the development of Buddhist leadership.  Many current Buddhist leaders in Malaysia were associated to the Youth Section in one way or another.  Some examples of them are: Goh Seng Chai , Quah Chi Boon, Wong Yin Voon, Victor Wee, Charlie Chia, Dolly Teoh, Lim Yu Ban, Tan Siang Chye, Tan Huat Chai and so on.

BMSM YS has been conducting structured Buddhism Courses most Saturday afternoons since the 1980s till today.  The courses are known as “Buddhism for Beginners, Buddhism for Intermediate, and Buddhism for Higher Intermediate”.  Many have benefited from these classes and have progressed to becoming Dhamma inspired practitioners, leaders and volunteers.  It is also a platform for new Dhamma speakers to train in giving Dhamma talks.

Annual School Holiday Dhamma Camps have been organised since in the 1990s to impart the Dhamma in a fun way to teenagers between the ages of 13 to 18. In 1999, a group of older youths who had benefited from the Camps and was no longer eligible to participate in the Camps, volunteered to help with the Camp and later, they took over as the organizing committee for the Camp.  The Camp’s name was later changed to Dhamma Duta Youth Camp (D2YC).   As a result of friendships made and strong bonding, the past participants of the Camp would meet up after the Camp and the Dhamma Duta Youth (D2Y) group was formed. D2Y also helps to organize Chinese New Year Greetings service and Caroling to families at their homes, a yearly activity of BMSMYS since in the 1990s. Today, D2Y has formed a Lion Dance group to add to the cheer and festivity of the occasion.  In addition, D2Y also carries out other activities such as E-Wesak Programme; D2Y Camp X and a bi-annual “Appreciation to Parents” day.

BMSMYS was also responsible for assigning a Hymn leader and emcee for Sunday Morning Pujas at the temple till about 5 years ago.  A choir group was formed to sing Buddhist Hymns.  The singers were trained by Sis Chew Bee Lan, the then Secretary of BMSM YS.  The youths from D2Y joined this group which later evolved into the D2Y choir group.

Welfare Section (BMSM WS)

BMSM has been involved in welfare activities ever since its inception in 1962.  In particular, the Ladies Section was very much committed to helping the poor and needy.  Its annual visit to Leprosy Home in Sg Buloh has been going on till today.

By 1997, it was felt that there was a need to organize welfare activities in a much more organized manner, with some degree of autonomy, and to involve a wider segment of devotees, hence the Welfare Section was formed in April 1997.  Bro. Wong On was elected as its first Chairman.  The current Chairman is Ooi Soon Kok while Lim Choon Line served as secretary.

Annually, the welfare section spent about RM14,000 to RM18,000 to help the poor and sickly.

Meditation Section (BMSM MS)

In line with the basic principles of BMSM – Service; Purity; Wisdom – after years of service to dhammaduta work, there is a natural need to provide a platform for its members and devotees to advance to another level via cultivation of mind – Purity.   A meditation sub-committee was formed within the CMC (Central Management Committee) early 2000 headed by Bro Quah Chi Boon.  The sub-committee subsequently developed and constructed Dhammavijaya Meditation Centre (DMC) in Dengkil. A Meditation Section was then formally formed in 2010 to take charge of DMC and its activities.  Sister Loh Pai Ling was elected as its first Chairperson. The current Chairperson is Bro. Dr Chook Ka Joo.

BMS Endowment Fund (BMSEF)

The resolution to form a BMS Endowment Fund (BMSEF) was passed during a BMS AGM held on Sunday 29th May 1979 at the Brickfields Buddhist Temple.  Subsequently, according to a report in VOB 1983, the BMSEF was approved in 1983. However, the final approval came much later and the fund was officially launched only in 1986.  Ng Ban Onn was elected as its first Chairman.  The current Chairman is Dato’ Ang Choo Hong, who assumed the post after stepping down as President of BMSM in 2009.

Annually, the BMSEF gives out financial cash aids to needy students. It also provides bursary to students studying at tertiary institutions.  From 2009, BMSEF began to give research grant to students doing research on Malaysian Buddhism.  Thus far, 3 students benefitted from the grant.

Donations to the BMSEF are exempted from Income Tax.  (Refer: Tax exemption by Director of Inland Revenue. Certificate no is JHDN-01/35/42/51/179-6.2916.)

Voice of Buddhism (VOB) and Publications

BMSM’s greatest contribution to the cause of Buddhism must surely be in the field of publications. BMSM publications, especially those authored by its founder Rev. K. Sri Dhammananda, touched not only Buddhists, but also non-Buddhists, both within Malaysia and abroad. “What Buddhists Believe”, a classic by Rev. K. Sri Dhammananda, has been reprinted several times and translated into 16 languages.

Among the booklets published in 1964 were: Buddhism for beginners, Vandanagatha (Book of Devotion), Noble Living, Do you believe in rebirth?

In VOB (March-June) 1965 , Vol 2, no1/2,  Neoh Hoay Pow reported that   “We have published 6 books on Buddhism totaling over 20,000 copies and distributed them mostly free of charge throughout this country and overseas.  Our religious advisors have given well over 500 public lectures throughout the country.”

In  VOB June 1973, it was reported that “How to Overcome your Difficulties” has been translated and published in the Vietnamese language. The March 1974 VOB reported that “Day to Day Buddhist Practices” and “Buddhism and Duties of a Lay Buddhist” have been translated into Vietnamese, while “Do you Believe in Rebirth” is being translated.

Voice of Buddhism (VOB) is a well-known publication of BMSM. It  started as a news sheet of 4 pages in April 1964, and developed to what it is today. While this present issue of the VOB is labeled as issue 53, there are actually more than 53 issues published.  This is because in the early days 3 issues were published per year but they were all considered as one issue.

June 1968 issue of VOB reported that “Somehow or other, our Voice of Buddhism has even penetrated into Central Africa. An African lady from this region wrote to us saying that she has read one of our small booklets on “What is this Religion’ and that she was keen to learn more about Buddhism but that  she “has never seen another Buddhist in her life.”

In 1989, “Beliefs and Practices among Malaysian Chinese” by Tan Teik Beng was published.  Mr. Tan Teik  Beng was then President of BMSM. In 2003, Ang Choo Hong published “Religious Life in Contemporary Society”. Ang was then President of BMSM. In 2006, Ang published a booklet “Little Stories of a Great Monk” in memory of the late Chief Reverend.

Dhammavijaya Meditation Centre (DMC)

A significant event in the history of BMSM is the erection and completion of Dhammavijaya Meditation Centre. The Centre is located in Dengkil, about 30 minute drive from Brickfields Buddhist Temple. The land was acquired by BMSM. The ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the first building was performed by Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda and other members of the Sangha on Sunday, 21st  December 2003.  The Centre was officially opened on September 26, 2004.

On 26th December 26, 2005, Chief Reverend K. Sri Dhammananda and Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw jointly planted a Bodhi tree in the premises of Dhammavijaya. This was a historic event as it signified the close understanding of two world-renowned Buddhist masters and sealed the close cooperation between Dhammavijaya and the Pa Auk tradition of meditation.

Ven. Agganna, a principal disciple of Pa Auk Sayadaw, was appointed by Pa Auk Sayadaw to be the resident meditation master in Dhammavijaya since its opening.

In March 2012, construction of a Sima hall within Dhammavijaya started. The Sima hall was completed within 3 months! On 10th June 2012, the Sima hall was officially opened by Pa Auk Sayadaw.

Today, the Dhammavijaya serves as a premier meditation centre in Malaysia.

Samadhi Vihara

With the rapid spread of the Dhamma within the Klang valley, the BMSM felt that there was a need to have a Vihara to serve the community better. The search for a piece of land to build the temple went on for several years without any fruitful result, until an application was filed with PKNS, Shah Alam in early 1989. On 9th September 1989, the PKNS approved a piece of land of 1.24 acres at 4, Jalan 24/26 Shah Alam.  A building fund committee headed by Mr. Tan Keat Chye was set up to raise fund for the construction of the temple.

However, there were a lot of obstacles along the way. In 1995, the then Menteri Besar Mohamad bin Mohd Taib declared that the section 24 area was not suitable for construction of a Christian church. The Church challenged the decision of the government, including suing the government in court. The BMSM land was next to the Christian church and was also told not to proceed with the building of a temple there.  Negotiations then went on for several years, until eventually the land was changed to section U12, Shah Alam in 2000.

There were further obstacles such as limiting the height of the building. Finally, just before the 2008 election, the government approved the building development plan.

On Sunday, 7th December 2008, the ground breaking ceremony of the temple was performed, led by Ven. Mahinda.

On 18th March 2012, the consecration ceremony of the temple, known as Samadhi Vihara, was performed  by Ven. Mahinda in the presence of a large crowd of devotees.

Since 2010, when the multi-purpose block was completed, many events and activities were held at Samadhi Vihara, including 3 novitiate programmes over the last 3 years. A national Mahasanghikadana, jointly organized by Yayasan Belia Buddhist Malaysia, Samadhi Vihara  and other Buddhist organizations was held on7th and 8th July 2012. About 1000 people participated in this meritorious event.

International Buddhist Pagoda

BMSM contributed tremendously to the construction of the International Buddhist Pagoda at Brickfields Buddhist Temple.  VOB December 1970 contained an appeal letter that read “Under the sponsorship of the Buddhist Missionary Society and the Sasana Abhiwurdi Wardhana Society,  the Buddhist Temple in Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, is launching a project to construct an International Buddhist Pagoda in the compound of the Temple. The Pagoda is 58ft high and has a floor area of 40 feet diameter. The anticipated cost of pagoda would be in the region of 60,000.” The appeal letter was signed by Chief Reverend and BMSM President Mr. Teh Thean Choo.

On 6th December,1970, at a simple and solemn ceremony, the Chief Reverend laid the foundation stone of the Pagoda.

A vegetarian dinner in aid of the International Buddhist Pagoda Fund was held on Saturday, 27th February 1971. More than 150 members and well-wishers attended the dinner.

The opening ceremony was held on 28th August 1971 (BE2515), which  coincided with the diamond jubilee of the inauguration of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple on August 1894 (photo, VOB 1971 –joint pagoda committee)

Wisma Sri Dhamma

The Wisma Sri Dhamma, which comprised a multi-purpose hall on the ground floor, a conference hall on the 1st floor and a library on the 3r floor, was a project undertaken jointly by  Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society and BMSM (Ref: VOB December 1980). The overall cost of the building was about RM400,000.00. The Building fund committee was headed by Mr. Tan Keat Chye, a Vice President of BMSM.

It was opened on Saturday, November 7th, 1981 by Dato Richard Ho, Minister of Labour and Manpower, acting on behalf of the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir.

A Library Sub-committee headed by Mr Tan Teik Beng as  Chairman and assisted by Charlie Chia Lui Meng, managed to get the library ready in time for its official opening on Saturday 27th August 1983, which was officiated by YB Datuk Dr Tan Tiong Hong, the Deputy Minister of Education.

 

Wisma Dhammacakra

After the completion of Wisma Sri Dhamma,  the activities of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple expanded by leaps and bounds. Soon it was felt that there was a need to provide more usable space.  In 1985, the idea of a proposed 5-storey building, estimated to cost 1.5 million, was mooted.

To raise funds for the new building, a Buddhist Vihara Building Fund Lottery Board under the patronage of Datuk Dr Tan Tiong Hong and chairmanship of Mr. Tan Teik Beng was set up.  The Chairman of the Buddhist Vihara Building committee was  Mr. Yap Cheng Teik, PPN.

The ground- breaking for the building was held on 28th August 1988 (BE2532), officiated by Dato’ Dr. Ling Liong Sik. On 25th March 1990, a pile driving ceremony for the building was performed. By December 1995, the building was completed. This building was named  Wisma  Dhammacakra during its opening ceremony.

BMSM Kajang

The first meeting to form a branch of BMSM in Kajang was held on Saturday 22nd May 1999 at 3pm in Kajang.  A protem committee headed by Stanley Chen Yoke Leen was established.  On 12th December 1999, the first AGM was held at 149, Jalan Reko. The premise at 149, Jalan Reko was a simple shop house  owned by a devotee. Several Dhamma talks were held there until the BMSM decided to  purchase the former Sun Cinema at No 4, Jalan Reko to be its new premise.

A series of lunches, organized under the chairmanship of Bro. Quah Chi Boon, was held from February to April 2004. A programme called “ 100000 Brilliant Lights Illuminating 1 Million Aspirations” was launched to raise funds for Kajang centre and Dhammavijaya. About RM300,000 was raised.

The BMSM Kajang is today a major Buddhist centre in Kajang, catering to the needs of Buddhists in Kajang, as well as serving the Buddhist undergraduates and trainees of National Service.

 

BMSM Shah Alam

A new branch at Shah Alam was formed on June 12, 2000. Thirty people attended the first AGM held at 10A, Jalan Anggerik Aranda D31/D, Seksyen 31, Kota Kemuning on Sept 11, 2000.  Bro Lee Swee Keong was elected Chairman. The Sunday school started with an intake of 80 students on January 2001.

 

Temple cooperation

BMSM is based at the Brickfields Buddhist Temple since the day of its inception.  It continues to maintain a cordial and harmonious relationship with Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society (SAWS), the management committee of the Temple. BMSM continues to contribute its share in the development of the temple and its activities.  For example,  Mr. Teh Thean Choo, then President, headed a joint committee of BMSM and SAWS to organize a Food and Fun Fair on Sunday 28th February 965 to raise funds for the Temple.

BMSM, together with SAWS, also organized annual events such as All-night Chanting, Prize-giving Day of Buddhist Institute Sunday Dhamma School, Wesak day Celebration, Khatina and Novitiate programme.

Friday Night Talk

VOB March/June 1975 issue reported that “Friday night talk by Chief Reverend has been going on for a few months.  Initially a small group of members was involved in occasional discussion with the chief on various aspects of Buddhism. This has culminated in regular weekly discussions held every Friday from 7.30 to 9.30pm. The initial small group of Buddhists has since increased to about 100 people every Friday night.  These talks have been very popular and have even attracted visitors from other religious denominations.  Students from local universities were also present at the talks. The popularity of the talk was appreciably enhanced by the supply of refreshment and tit-bits by members of ladies section of BMS on a voluntary basis.”

The Friday night talk became even more popular with the completion of Wisma Sri Dhamma, when talks were held at the multi-purpose hall of the Wisma.

Novitiate Programme

Buddhist Novitiate Programme – the first of its kind to be conducted in English – was held at the Buddhist Temple, Brickfields, from 5th to 19th December 1976. This programme, organized by the Buddhist  Monks Training Centre and sponsored by SAWS and BMSM, was primarily aimed at introducing and familiarizing the more devout Buddhist devotees to a proper and monastic discipline as well as to promote Buddhist education  for their spiritual development. The programme was organized in conjunction with the commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of  Dhammaduta work by Chief Reverend in Malaysia.  This programme has been going on annually till today.  The late Chief Reverend and Ven. Mahinda were the principal teachers of this programme.

The Buddhist Monks Training Centre, formed by SAWS and BMSM, was officially opened on 14th March 1976.

Buddhist Leadership

BMSM continues to offer leadership to the Buddhist community in one way or another.  In 1969, after the unfortunate May 13 Incident, Mr Teh Thean Choo, then President of BMSM was appointed to serve as a member of the National Unity Advisory Council as a representative of the Buddhist community.  In recent times, Bro. Ang Choo Hong and Bro. Chee Peck Kiat were also appointed to serve in the Inter-Religious Understanding Panel of the National Unity Council when they were President of BMSM.

BMSM is one of the three Buddhist organizations to represent the Buddhists in the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism (MCCBCHST).  BMSM was in fact a founder member of this organization.

BMSM is also a member of the Malaysian Buddhist Consultative Council.  When the council was formed on March 17, 2000, Ven Seck Chik Huang of Malaysian Buddhist Association was elected Chairman, while Bro. Ang Choo Hong of BMSM was elected secretary. The first Wesak Open house was organized by MBCC on May 20th 2000 at the MINES, Serdang.

At the International scene, BMSM is a member of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) and its Youth, World Fellowship of Buddhists Youth (WFBY).  BMSM has participated actively in several international conferences and seminars.