Venerable Dhammasukha (1900 – 1966)
Founder, The Buddhist Union, Singapore

Venerable Dhammasukha

Early Life

The late Venerable Dhammasukha was born on 6th October 1900 as Tan Keng Lock, of a respectable and devout Buddhist family in Malacca, one of the States of Malaysia and later acquired Singapore Citizenship. Like sons of other such parents, he received the best care, education and training that could then be given him. He was educated in an English School run by a Christian Mission in Singapore known as ‘The Anglo-Chinese School.’ In his youth, he frequented many Buddhist Temples with his parents. He showed keen interest in the observation of Buddhist Precepts on festival days.



Young Man

As an ambitious young man, he had a very successful commercial career. He married at the age of 24 and had seven sons and one daughter. He had been for several years detached from his wife and family.


But educational success, family success, commercial success, and social success – all these had not given him the kind of happiness he was seeking for. There was something missing – he knew and yet did not know what that was; – ever since in school, he had been in quest of that something.


Being extra-ordinarily keen in Buddhism and in spite of his busy career in his commercial life, he spent many of his leisure hours in a public library in search of the Noble Teachings of the Buddha. In those days Buddhist books were very few in circulation and not so easily obtainable in public bookshops.


At that time, the only source of information obtainable for his research work was at the Raffles Library. Buddhist organisations were very few in existence. Perhaps only two were well known and they were ‘The International Buddhist Union’ and ‘The Singapore Buddhist Association ‘. He was then very closely associated with The Singapore Buddhist Association and it could be said that much of his knowledge and experience derived from his association with that Organisation. He had always been seen in the company of learned Monks and Buddhist laymen. Much of his time, money and energy had been spent just for one purpose and that was to spread the Dharma far and wide to as many people as possible. His close ties with the Buddhist Monks inspired him further in his dedication of his life towards the course of serving humanity. He worked very hard, until one day in the year 1938, he met Venerable Narada Thera who was in Singapore.



The Founding

With the encouragement and valuable advice of this Bhikkhu, he redoubled his efforts and energy and got down to the formation of an English-speaking Buddhist Organisation. This bore fruit and on the 19th day of November 1938, with a small group of ardent Buddhists, he founded ‘The Buddhist Union’. He was then the President of the Union and had been holding the post for many years until his ordination as a monk.


As a leader of this newly formed Organisation, he was faced with many obstacles and with the support of some of the loyal dedicated members, he was able to overcome all the trials and tribulations and made some headway and progress until the interruption of the Japanese occupation in Singapore in 1942.


During the occupation – 1942/1945, much of the activities of the Union were curtailed. In spite of the restricted movements, he was never discouraged. He managed to gather a small group of members and congregated in private homes.



Post War

Soon after the war, he got down to re-organise The Buddhist Union and this time with much vigour. His untiring efforts and energy were finally rewarded and for the first time since the inception of the Union, a Sacred Shrine was built at Jalan Senyum in 1954.


Another building was soon purchased by the Union, just opposite the Shrine. This building is now being used as a Repository Hall. Memberships had begun to increase in numbers with many dedicated members to rally round giving as much help as possible towards the progress of the Union.


He was then a Bramachariya, a Spiritual life he had undertaken since the Japanese occupation. He took serious studies in meditation and spiritual work. In 1958, he was initiated as Rishi Tan by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was in Singapore on his world tour.


As Rishi Tan, he was getting nearer to his goal. It was a stepping-stone to the accomplishment of his long search for the missing link. An opportunity arose soon after, and he was invited to attend the Fifth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Bangkok. He went there specially to attend the Conference on an invitation from the Thai Buddhist Association, but came back fully ordained as a Bhikkhu – the Venerable Dhammasukha of the Theravada Order. Though ordained as a Theravada Monk, he held no discriminatory views between the two Schools of thoughts – the ‘Theravada’ and the ‘Mahayana’. To him ‘Buddhayana’ was the Order he belonged.



His Ordination

His ordination took place in Chumpon, Thailand. His Preceptor was the Chief Monk of Chumpon, assisted by the Venerable Pakasit of the Thai Buddhist Temple and eight other High Monks from the various Wats in Thailand. The Supporter of the ordination was the Governor of Chumpon, His Excellency Nai Song Meenuda, assisted by the Education Officer of Chumpon and the Police Major Vichien Sangkarevet. Also present at the ordination ceremony were other Government Officials, prominent citizens and many people of the district.


Upon his return from Bangkok, the local press gave much prominence to his ordination in Thailand, because he was the first Straits-Born Chinese to be ordained a Monk in a Noble Yellow Robe.


An owner of a Chinese Temple read the news with great interest and came forward to offer her Temple to the Venerable. Though the generous gift was meant to be a personal one, he only accepted it in the name of ‘The Buddhist Union’. The temple is situated at Lowland Road and is now a Branch of The Buddhist Union. Many more such gifts were offered personally to him but he had kindly turned them down because he would only accept such gifts in the name of The Buddhist Union. That was indeed a very noble gesture on his part.



His Contributions

In 1959 he attended the ‘Buddha’s Jayanti Celebration’ in Japan as a Resident Monk of The Buddhist Union.


Under the able guidance and advice of the late Venerable, many activities had been organised, from the Youth Section, to the study of the Dharma, the chanting of Sutras in Pali and Chinese, meditation and Yoga asanas. His close association with the Public and Government Bodies led The Buddhist Union to the participation of many civic and public functions.


The late Venerable, until his ordination, took a very active part in the Cheshire Home, an organisation dedicated to the helping of the incurables. He was also a member of the Health Education Council in Singapore. He was a Council Member of the Singapore Inter-Religious Organisation, the only Organisation of its kind in Singapore. The Organisation consists of all leaders of various denominations of Religions. The late Venerable was representing the Buddhist denomination in the Organisation.


For many years, the late Venerable delivered his Vesak Message in a Broadcast over Radio Singapore.


In April, 1965, the late Venerable accompanied by the Hon. Gen. Secretary, the late Bro. Willie Tay, went on a Religious Tour to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan for a period of one month. During his tour, he visited many Buddhist Temples and Colleges and met many learned Monks and prominent leaders.


To the late Venerable, the search for a greater knowledge of the Dharma was never ending. The propagation of this Noble Teaching must be spread far and wide. His sole aim and purpose in life was to dedicate himself unto the Lord and to be of service to mankind.


Early in 1966, the late Venerable Dhammasukha and a group of other learned Bhikkhus from the two major Buddhist sects of the Noble Orders of Mahayana and Theravada got together with the noble idea of unifying the Singapore Buddhist Sangha into one supreme body.


In February, 1966, the late Venerable became the pro-tem Secretary of the Singapore Buddhist Sangha Organisation. It aims at propagating the sublime doctrine of the Buddha by promoting unity, solidarity and brother-hood among members of the Sangha and laity as a whole. Its membership is open only to Buddhist Monks of recognised Buddhist Temples and Buddhist Organisations in the Republic.



His Demise

On Sunday, 3rd July 1966 (Fifteenth Day of the Fifth Moon), the Council of The Buddhist Union announced with profound sorrow the demise of its Founder and Religious Leader, the late Venerable Dhammasukha and the cremation took place on Saturday, 9th July, 1966.


May he attain the Bliss of Nirvana!


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