Whenever I come back to Singapore from abroad, I feel like I’m back in the domes in Gardens by the Bay. The conditions are perfectly set: humidity, temperature, fertiliser, the eco-system. But if we are perfectly honest about ourselves, this is actually an unreal environment, because nowhere else in the world is like that.
That’s so true. Singaporeans are a seriously pampered lot. In my early days as a blogger, I’ve often referred to this place as the Land of Sheltered Walkways. Now, it’s The Dome – which gives me some ideas for a science fiction novel. Shall we start with a happy people living in an environment with perfectly set conditions and just talk about how wonderful life is from beginning till end? Would you read such a book and believe it?
Every good story comes with a conflict – a major shakeup that disrupts the status quo; and ends with some form of resolution. We writers are cynical, pessimistic and probably also clinically depressed people, but while we’re still capable of plotting happy endings, there is no real happy ending in life.
The Buddha said that as long as one is living, suffering is inevitable. Believe me, he would have said the same if he had seen the dome – our dome. Can we shield ourselves from the elements by living in the dome? Can we escape pain and suffering by regulating temperature, humidity and every other environmental factor? Why not? Because there is one condition that has been spoiled by all these “regulations” – the condition of the mind.
Ms Josephine Teo is right to say that we complain too much. There are people in this world with whom we would never want to trade places. Imagine yourself having to carry loads like this on a daily basis.
But have you ever talked to these people who appear to be suffering? Can you entertain the possibility that they might be happy where they are and won’t consider trading places with you if they knew about the kind of mental stress you are enduring?
The Buddha has also stressed on the Middle Path – an avoidance of extremes. It’s good to have some form of shelter when it rains. It’s good to be comfortable. But if you go to the extreme and build a dome, there is a price to pay. We’re not just talking about dollars and cents. We’re talking about nurturing a people with little tolerance for the slightest bodily discomfort.
And physical conditions are not the only things which are regulated in the dome. In order to keep the dome in its safe and pristine condition, strict standards and regulations must apply. This means “Excellence” for what you must do and “Zero Tolerance” for what you must not do. In this restrictive, unforgiving and sanitary microcosm, Darwinism applies and life is a constant struggle to stay on top for some and just to stay afloat for others. For the creative souls out there, their ideas will always be trapped within the confines of the dome. Anything groundbreaking must first be authorised. The integrity of the dome is paramount.
If we can see the dome along with all its pros and cons, will we still need to scratch our heads and wonder why people are so easily angered? The Buddha could have told us that building and living in this dome will never help us escape suffering. Primary school kids are learning genetics and using technique and formula to solves mind-boggling puzzles which are supposed to test logical thinking and analytic skills. The dome mentality has spiralled out of control. And like all things in the universe, it is impermanent. The final result is predictable.
When an escalator at Lucky Plaza kept breaking down and I complained about it, my friend was amused that a person who could walk for days in the mountains should complain about a broken escalator. That’s because I’d been paying more and more for the maintenance and the service/performance just got worse and worse. Would you not feel indignant about it too?
But then, to be fair, Singaporeans are the ones who asked for the dome.
Finally, the Buddha also espoused another concept called Karma. If you shake a champagne bottle just before opening it, would you be scratching your head and wondering why the contents gush out like a geyser? If you are angry because you’re soaked in champagne, shouldn’t you also reflect on whether you’ve asked for it, directly or indirectly?