Wesak day, an important day in the Buddhist calendar, marking the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha. Buddhist devotees, throughout the country, young and old and from all walks of life, would throng the hundreds of Buddhist temples located in the country to honour and pay their respect in commemoration of this significant event.
My sudden loss of sight in January 2008 as a result of a severe bacterial infection had not deterred me from joining the thousands of Buddhist devotees all over the world, coming together on the day to celebrate wesak day. Both my wife, Hong and I, made it a point not to miss attending this annual historical event. However, for some strange reasons, we have been visiting a different temple over the past 4 years on wesak day and, coincidently, 4 years since losing my sight.
This year, we visited a temple located in Petaling Jaya and partly, as invited guests to an event to commemorate the day, representing the National Council for the Blind, Malaysia. We arrived at the temple at about 9.00am, the temple and its vicinity were already abuzz with people and vehicles. Patience reigned the day, despite the heavy traffic congestion, there were no horn blaring and many volunteers were around to direct the vehicles to the designated parking slots. It was quite a long walk for both my wife and I. we had to walk past the special approved makeshift stalls alongside the road to the temple building. Surprisingly, I did not experience people knocking or bumping into me as we squeezed our way through the large enthusiastic crowds and my white cane leading the way. This is a far cry away from the common bad experiences ,in shopping complexes and malls, people “love” to bumped into me despite my white cane in full view and worse still, no words of apology was offered nor attempts made to retrieve my fallen white cane at times following the “knocks.” There were many helpful volunteers strategically placed to assist the devotees and I truly felt like a real VIP (very important person) and not a VIP (visually impaired person) during my time at the temple. I wish more persons with disabilities would be able to experience and share the joy in attending such events. Everyone, irrespective of age, gender and creed, truly display care and compassion on the day and so much so that I wish everyday will be a wesak day for the persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities should be encouraged to join in the day’s celebrations, a good opportunity in getting the persons with disabilities to assimilate into mainstream society, an important proactive action, that is very much lacking in our society and is badly needed. I have attended earlier specially designed functions where persons with disabilities are gathered together and feted with delicious food and given goodies to bring home and this event would be held, not on the event day, but on a different day, an exclusive event, so to speak. The experience of the actual celebration would be clearly missing and missed. Moreover, there will be no shortage of volunteers to help out if the persons with disabilities are encouraged to be engaged on the day, a day of celebration for all.
On accessibility, there is still much room for improvement and as I walked up the steps into the temple, I asked my wife if she noticed any accessible facilities such as ramps and hand rails for the elderly, etc . “None that I could see” she said. Well, I know that there are no tactile pathways for the blind to access the temple independently. I hope the relevant temple authorities would look into the accessible needs and plight of the persons with disabilities, build and construct acccess facilities at strategic locations, thus, enabling the persons with disabilities to enter the temple premise proper to fulfill their religious rights just like all others. I do find the experience of peace, silence and self awareness simply exhilarating, Not forgetting the delicious vegetarian food served and myself sitting and eating lunch together with the devotees and guests. Perhaps, you might think I felt good to be the only blind guest at the vent, well, I really wished more persons with disabilities, blind, wheelchair bound, for example, should be invited and encouraged to attend and share the joyous experience on the historical day itself and not on other days which would not have the unique essence or magic of the day.
More challenging times ahead!