By Joachim Ng
If you haven’t yet noticed, Malaysia is a land of abundant festivities — and missed opportunities. The country manages a diversity of celebrations that reflects our glittering cultural wealth year in and year out. In this amazing kaleidoscope, windows of opportunity present themselves for us to build multi-religious fellowships on a scale yet unknown in the world.
We had Nine Emperor Gods and Navarathri festivals in October, celebrated over a stretch of nine mostly overlapping days. November saw Deepavali and MaulidurRasul just two weeks apart. Christmas falls on December 25, and some weeks later Bodhi Day will be commemorated on January 13. Five religions are in the spotlight over a quick stretch of four months — Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism — and foreign tourists may imagine that there is deep fellowship amongst the adherents of all faiths.
But other than the sprightly WhatsApp video greetings, the official open houses for major festivities, and the shopping mall camaraderie, there isn’t much more to it. With Christmas and Bodhi Day just three weeks apart from each other, this is going to be another missed opportunity as you won’t find Buddhists paying courtesy calls on churches or Christians likewise paying their respects in temples. There are many roads where churches and temples are neighbours, and yet the worshippers would have spent their entire lives never visiting each other.
Christmas Day celebrates the birth of Jesus who came as a light to the world; Bodhi Day marks the Buddha’s enlightenment, also for the sake of the world. The two founders lived 500 years and 4,500 km apart. Although they didn’t know each other, their light is the same. If you believe they are different lights, well maybe one is laser for cataract treatment and the other is fluorescent for the toilet. But do you want your toilet to have no light? If you are truly interested in the study of light, you would want to know the entire spectrum.
Christianity and Buddhism are very different, but visit a limestone cave in Kinta Valley Geopark and do ponder over the fact that soft chalk used in farmlands and hard marble used in luxurious homes are both the same. Hold a diamond in one hand and a pencil in the other: they are both the same. This is what science teaches us. Let’s hope that some Christian families with ancestral roots in Mahayana Buddhism will hold a joint celebration to honour Jesus and Buddha together. We should never miss these golden opportunities to build higher-level integrative fellowships.