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Inner guidance: of Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese Buddhist pilgrims

posted on 26.02.2017 by Ng, Sandra Siow San
The thesis explores the meanings and experiences of doing pilgrimages with a focus on Buddhists living in Malaysia and Singapore. It aims firstly, to study the meanings of pilgrimage and the ways in which it is being practised, and secondly, to examine the transformations and experiences in becoming religious and/or spiritual through the process of doing pilgrimage. I conducted a total of twenty-seven in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face, audio-recorded interviews with three cohorts of interviewees: nine Malaysian-Chinese laypersons, nine Singaporean-Chinese laypersons and nine Buddhist mentors (comprising four monks and five laypersons). Transcribed interviews as data were analysed using ATLAS.ti (a Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software) which thematically structured six findings chapters (organised into two parts). Part 1 offers conventional understandings of pilgrimage that denote the going away from one’s everyday life to particular sacred places. Part 2 deconstructs and reconstructs the interpretations and practices of the pilgrimages as processual. This demonstrates the inseparability and interconnectedness of the notions of Time and Space in doing pilgrimage as a form of Buddhist cultivation. The degree of sense of time and sense of space in the processes of doing pilgrimage range from somewhat distinct, separable and ‘stoppable’ from our everyday life (hence, doing pilgrimage externally), to a more inseparable, overlapping, integrated concept of TimeSpace which enables one to become more aware and more present in one’s lived experiences (which in turn demonstrates ‘doing pilgrimage’ internally). I argue that pilgrims’ motivations—be they prescriptive, ambivalent or a matter of fidelity—are integral to fostering a better understanding of the pilgrimage phenomenon. By engaging a spatial and temporal framework in relation to pilgrimage as Buddhist praxis, this thesis contributes insights into what the pilgrimage means and how doing pilgrimages can potentially be transformative to the Buddhist’s religious and spiritual training and growth in the context of Malaysia and Singapore.


Principal supervisor

Sharon Adeline Bong

Additional supervisor 1

Padmasiri De Silva

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Arts and Social Sciences (Monash University Malaysia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts