On February 8th, New Year’s day on the Chinese lunar calendar, over fifty thousand visitors and devotees visited Hsi Lai Temple, many wearing traditional outfits Congressman Ed Royce, Mr. Don Knabe of the LA County 4th District, Senior Deputy Steve Napolitano, Mayor of the City of Monterey Park Peter Chan, and the City of Walnut Councilmember Mary Su also visited the temple to celebrate the new year and greet all participants.
The day began very early, at 5:00 AM, with the Spring Pilgrimage. Under the graceful reflection of thousands of lanterns, and with the guidance of the Venerables, more than 300 devotees slowly pilgrimaged from the temple’s entrance gate all the way to the main shrine. During the entire path of the pilgrimage, three steps are taken and then a full bow is done, all the way to the ground. All the while, the phrase "Namo Original Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha" is chanted. Many devotees assembled well before 5:00 AM to be ready for this extremely special event. Afterward, the devotees attended the morning chanting and enjoyed a vegetarian breakfast.
The Homage to the Thousand Buddhas Dharma Function was led by Venerable Abbot Hui Dong in the morning, and several wonderful New Year’s cultural performances followed in the afternoon. It began with Congressman Ed Royce, along with other officials and accompanied by Venerable Abbot Hui Dong, congratulating the Asian community on the arrival of the New Year and extending the warmest greetings and wishes. Then, the North Shaolin Martial Arts Group performed the dragon dance as the colorful and exciting opening performance. Ed Royce and other officials also presented "red envelopes" to the dragon dancers. Other performances included the Drum dancing from the Korean Traditional Music and Dance Club, Thai dancing from Wat Thai of Los Angeles, the “Kite Skiing Dance” from the Hsi Lai dancing training class, Taiko drums and Gujarat dancing from the LA Taiko Drum Center, as well as a performance symbolizing Fu (Prosperity), Lu (Status), Shou (Longevity) from a Hsi Lai Temple volunteer group.
The lantern landscape of this year started right in front of the temple gate with a large lion and elephant. Stone statues of little monks lining the road welcome visitors with their lovable faces and gestures. Three monkeys with different expressional actions set up on the Harvest Field represent the theme of the lantern show at the beginning of Year of the Monkey. The one with eyes shielded represents "don’t look at things which do not conform to the rites", the one with mouth covered represents "don’t say things which do not conform to the rites" and one with ears pressed represents "don’t listen to things which do not conform to the rites". This interprets our motto for this Year of the Monkey, from Venerable Master Hsing Yun, which is "Be smart and agile". One should develop one's inner power and intelligence by means of Fo Fuang tenets: Saying Kind Words, Doing Kind Deeds, Being a Kind Person.
To ease the pressure of visiting traffic, the transportation volunteer group worked closely with LA County Police Department, and directional signs were set up on all blocks around the temple area to guide traffic to the rented temporary parking lot, where 40 shuttle buses ran between the lots and the temple all day long.
The Temple observed extended hours on the first day, from 8AM to 8:30PM. To allow visitors to grab light meals during the day, snack booths were set up to provide some well-known Asian dishes, such as fried spring rolls, turnip cakes, cold noodles, thick rice soup and Japanese Udon. Chinese cultural souvenirs were also available for purchase.
To most of the temple visitors on the very first day of lunar year, burning incense, offering lights, ringing bells, and prostrating and worshipping in front the Buddhas are must-do customs, to pray and wish for greater happiness, health and wisdom in the beautiful coming year.