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Keynote speech given at the 1st BLIA General Conference, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 1992

Presidents and Representatives of the various Buddha's Light International Associations and Distinguished Guests, welcome to the inauguration of Buddha's Light International Association and the first General Conference. Thousands of people from all over the world, including representatives from forty-five countries, are gathered here at Hsi Lai Temple. We are fulfilling the ideal of having the Buddha's light illuminate the three thousand realms and of letting the Dharma water flow throughout the five [counted as seven in the West] continents.

In this modern era, mass communication is very accessible; the citizens of our planet can travel around the world as if visiting their neighbors. Buddhism must change its traditional ways of doing things by coming out of the forest and entering society. It must expand the functions of temples to serve the community through involvement with families, nations, and the world. The Buddha's Light International Association was established in order to effect this change by promoting harmony, compassion, and friendship among the entire human race.

In my opinion, the Buddha's Light International Association is characterized by the following:
1. faith - Having a strong faith in Buddhism is the foundation of this association.

2. outreach - Serving the general public is one of the objectives of this association.

3. modernization - Adapting to the needs of modern society is a feature of this association.

4. international exchange - Increasing international exchange is the spirit of this association. Buddha's Light International Association members should observe the following:
  1. Realize that all beings on earth are interdependent.
  2. Be compassionate and treat all beings as ourselves.
  3. Have the wisdom to distinguish right from wrong.
  4. Have the strength to be magnanimous towards everyone.
  5. Be generous and befriend others.
  6. Be practitioners of pure mind.

At this moment, we are stepping on the international stage. We must demonstrate to the people of the world that we are a community of happiness, harmony, and friendship. With this in mind, we have decided that the main theme of this General Conference should be "joy and harmony."

In the past, Buddhism seems to have conveyed about itself the misguiding images of passivity, pessimism, and aversion to the world, strongly emphasizing ascetic practices. This misunderstanding has led to the gradual decline of Buddhism. It is true that the Buddha taught the concepts of suffering, emptiness, and impermanence, but he also taught us to seek happiness in the Dharma. The Buddhist teachings do not instruct that suffering and unhappiness are all there is to experience in this world; on the contrary, Buddhism attempts to guide us along the path of liberation and happiness. Kindness, compassion, sympathy, joy, and equanimity are the teachings of Buddhism. A true Buddhist practitioner tries to do everything possible to benefit society. The Buddha also taught about the Pureland of Ultimate Bliss. Those who are enlightened often joyfully express the happiness of their liberation. These examples illustrate that Buddhism is a religion of happiness.

The establishment of the Buddha's Light International Association is an expression of the joy and happiness that we have experienced through the practice of Buddhism. We have to take part in this society. We have to change from being passive to being active. We have to replace pessimism with optimism. We have to transform an aversion of the world to genuine love. We have to express right views of international Buddhism through joyous, altruistic giving.

Being subject to the endless cycle of birth and death already causes great suffering. Why would we want to make our situation any worse? The "medicine of happiness" can cure the disease of suffering. We have to foster forward-looking views by sharing our joy with others. The Buddha once said, "All phenomena are impermanent." We have to understand that impermanence implies change. Good changes to bad, and bad changes to good. If good causes and conditions are present, we can be sure that the final result will be good, even if we might encounter certain difficulties.

Not only will we as members of the Buddha's Light International Association strive to realize the joy of the Dharma for ourselves alone, but we will also share this happiness with others. To create an atmosphere of joy, we must keep the motto of the Buddha's Light International Association in mind. This motto is "May kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity pervade all Dharma realms; May all beings benefit from our friendship and kindness; May our ethical practices of Ch'an and Pureland help us to realize patience and equality; May we undertake the Great Vows with humility and gratitude." May the joy of Humanistic Buddhism last forever. May those who are happy maintain their optimism, even when they are confronted with the Eight Sufferings. We must learn to liberate ourselves both mentally and physically. Wherever Buddha's light shines, there should be neither sadness nor suffering.

At the entrance to Fo Guang Shan Monastery stands the Gate of Non-duality. The following verses are inscribed on the gate: "Non-duality originally has no gate. Duality is not really duality; it is our true nature. The mountain is called a holy place. The mountain is not really a mountain; it is actually a manifestation of our pure body." The pure Dharma body of the Buddha is each individual's true nature. Equality, harmony, and perfection are already present in our Buddha nature. There is no need for us to seek outside of ourselves for these things. We are hopeful that, by chartering the Buddha's Light International Association today, happiness will permeate all beings. Harmony means acceptance, equality, and respect. The future of the Buddha's Light International Association will only be assured if those in the Association maintain an open mind and accept everyone unconditionally. According to the Buddhist scriptures, "When all the rivers flow into the ocean, they will only have one taste? the taste of saltiness." The Buddha treated all his disciples with equality, regardless of whether they were originally from a royal family or from the untouchable caste. The Buddha's harmonious accommodation of all people is a major contributing factor to the strength and propagation of Buddhism.

Followers of the Theravada and Mahayana schools will have to harmonize, as well as will traditional and modern practices, Ch'an and Pureland, esoteric and exoteric, monastics and the laity, and the mundane and the supramundane. Harmonization is actually the Buddha's teaching of the Middle Path. Harmony is a necessary part of our modern world. It is essential between countries, people of differing ethnic origins, all sectors of society, and political parties. People on earth can only survive if they can live in harmony with each other. Members of the Buddha's Light International Association are followers of the Bodhisattva Path, which is as follows: Though one is practicing the supramundane practice, one should have a concern for society. As citizens of the earth, we should keep the universe in mind and benefit the multitude. Though heaven might be very appealing, we should beautify our human world." This kind of harmonious practice encompasses the factors of both equality and respect.

Since its early development, Buddhism has placed much emphasis on the assimilation and absorption of even controversial and so-called heretical ideas, as well as continuously adopting the useful methods employed by other religious traditions. In order for Buddhism to flourish, Buddhism has had to adapt to the various geographical, historical, cultural, and social environments. Having such an open attitude towards their external environment, it is easy to see that, internally, Buddhists embrace the religion with harmony and acceptance. For more than 2,500 years, Buddhism has continuously emitted a rich luminance, like a continent of floral blossoms and a flock of singing birds. Within the body of the Buddhist teachings, differences in theoretical arguments are not uncommon: instantaneous versus progressive enlightenment, delusion versus realization, reality versus phenomena, emptiness versus existence, and so forth. In Indian Buddhism, a split developed between the Mahasanghika and Theravada schools. In China, there are eight major schools. Though the variations have been many throughout Buddhism's development, the teachings have never deviated from the fundamental concepts of the Three Dharma Seals and the Eightfold Noble Path. This is why the Dharma can be viewed as extremely profound and broad. It is exactly this harmonious quality of the Dharma that we members of Buddha's Light International Association hold dear to our hearts. We advocate the following: Honor every religious tradition, both its teachings and its followers, by keeping an impartial, respectful, and open-minded attitude, provided the tradition is righteous and not harmful.

Adopt the characteristics and methods of others in a positive, willing, and prudent manner, provided these is beneficial to the human race.

Nourish the world and the human race to be an interdependent universal one and to be coexistent with the Dharma, and a rich broad inner culture, provided we possess an exalted aspiration.

Be receptive to modern societies, their messages, and information to be self-awakening and to enlighten others through harmonious exchange and interlocutory actions, provided we have a righteous heart and a sincere mind.

Therefore, the vow that all the members of the Buddha's Light International Association have in common is "We will live together in harmony with all the beings of the world!"

The importance of harmony was also made apparent in the recent racial riots that occurred here in the Los Angeles area. We were shown how a lack of harmony, patience, mutual forgiveness, cultural understanding, and respect constructs barriers among races, and how discrimination and outbursts of violence follow. When we take a look at the ongoing racial disputes around the world and the endless entanglement of violence between nations, we can see how modern civilization has adversely affected peace and tranquility, has created chaos around the world, and has greatly harmed our natural environment. This is why joy and harmony are advocated by the Buddha's Light International Association? not only as a hope, but most certainly as a need. This is why, at this time and in this place in Los Angeles, the inauguration of the Buddha's Light International Association, symbolizing joy and harmony, holds special significance for this epoch. We can play a role in putting an end to discrimination among races. We can promote harmony for the human race by developing progressive ideas. We can bring hope to the world by advocating the propagation of the Dharma for the benefit of all living things. We can shine the Buddha's light universally and arouse everyone's sense of responsibility for the revival of Buddhism and the spreading of the Dharma. This is our wonderful opportunity as Buddha's Light International Association members, as well as our obligation. The Buddha's Light International Association has many tasks ahead. The spirit of the Association will be handed on from generation to generation. We hope that through the blessings of the Triple Gem and the kindness of the Buddha, we can offer our faith, patience and perseverance in our efforts to spread the Dharma. We hope that together we can arouse within ourselves compassionate thoughts that will rid us of our own ignorance, as well as that of others. We celebrate the freedom of harmony, and offer our joy so that we may realize the objectives of the Association. These wonderful goals are to advocate Humanistic Buddhism, to develop a pureland of the Buddha's Light on earth, to promote morality, and to realize world peace.