Dear Dharma Protectors and Friends,
It is hard to believe that the 21st Century is really upon us. May I wish all a happy New Year and a wonderful beginning to a new century.
The last century has passed by us uninterrupted by time and the change of seasons. As I pause at the threshold of the new millennium, reflecting on the past and looking toward the future, my mind is often filled with concern for the sufferings of all living beings and personal worries.
On September 21, 1999, a killer earthquake violently shook Taiwan. Many lives were lost. However, tragedy did not show any mercy toward the island's people in the year 2000. On October 31, as Typhoon Xiangshen approached Taiwan with winds of 90 mph and heavy rains, Singapore Airlines Flight 006 bound for Los Angeles crashed during takeoff, killing 81 people. When the storm finally whirled away, 58 more lives had perished. In a span of three days, natural disaster and human error had broken homes and shattered dreams. In a span of 72 hours, the true nature of impermanence had manifested itself to teach the lesson of here and now. However, many of us have chosen to ignore the truth and turn our eyes away from reality. I am truly worried for those who have failed to realize how vulnerable life can be and insisted on taking the wrong path down the road of life. Why can't people stop for a moment and take a closer look at their surroundings? Do they not see the damage to our ecosystem caused by human selfishness? Do they not see how frivolous it is to indulge in political games and personal satisfactions? I am truly concerned about all the world's intolerance and cruelty. Why can't people treat each other with respect and equality? I am worried!
Drifting through time like a speck of dust amidst all living beings, a tiny bubble amongst all the world's ocean, my physical body has deteriorated. Although I have never been to a doctor before the age of sixty, now I am a frequent visitor to the hospital. Especially in the past five years, monthly appointments have become a part of my routine. Nevertheless, I have established great friendship with my physicians and would like to express my utmost gratitude for their care and efforts. Without their skillful practice, my body would refuse to function like a broken cart. Without their professional specialties, I would not be here today, at this stage of my life, to contribute whatever I can for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Although my health has been in a constant decline due to old age, my mind is with my Dharma friends and the supporters of the Buddha's teaching. I am not only concerned with matters of national affairs and social well-being, but also with the prospect of global peace and world stability. Therefore, I have written "Beads of Pearl─Prayers for Engaged Living" to beseech the Buddha to give his blessings to all the world's people. I sincerely wish everyone can partake in the Buddha's compassionate light and have a harmonious and joyful life.
In the past year, Fo Guang Shan and I have actively engaged in several undertakings that are worthy of mentioning. I would like to take this opportunity to make a report and share with you happy moments.
For fifty years, I have wholeheartedly devoted my time and effort in spreading the teachings of the Buddha, and one of my biggest goals is to establish a newspaper to further disseminate the seed of Buddhism. That goal was finally realized on April 1, 2000 with the inaugural edition of "Merit Times". It is a daily newspaper to uplift the human spirit through positive reporting. It is a daily newspaper devoid of war and violence, power struggle and personal deceit. I hope everyone will subscribe to this worthy newspaper and partake in the Buddha's wisdom while sharing the merits of human goodness.
In addition to promoting the Buddha's teaching on a worldwide scale, I have dedicated myself to the advancement of the Buddhist culture. Whenever time is available to me, I will put my thoughts and experiences on paper; I will transform the profound truth of Buddhism into everyday language. "Between Ignorance and Enlightenment", a column on the ordinary, has become my daily homework to the "Merit Times". In recent years, I have also placed great emphasis on translation, so the Buddha's message can touch the minds of all the world's people for the sake of bringing them wisdom and compassion. To this end, my writings have been translated into English, German, Russian, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Spanish and Portuguese by experts who are both friends and devotees.
"Hsing Yun's Ch'an Talk" was translated last year by followers of the Brazil branch temple. The book reached number one on the nation's best seller list with favorable reviews from the Brazilian media organization. Similar success was also achieved in the United States. "Being Good" made its way onto Wisdom Publishing's "Best Seller's List". Teachers at Arizona State University and Western Michigan State University used "The Carefree Life" and "Humble Table, Wise Fare─Hospitality for the Heart" in their classrooms. The Cambridge City Council on Education also recommended the books for Boston area students. As a result, Buddhism became a popular subject both on and off campus.
However, I am not surprised by the oversea success of my books, for it has been a long standing tradition of Fo Guang Shan to promote the teachings of Humanistic Buddhism through various means. Not only do we place emphasis on the realization of Buddhism in everyday living, but we also try to reach practitioners of all levels. Over the years, Fo Guang Shan has published academic journals and organized symposiums for teachers and advance students of Buddhism in addition to compiling the "Fo Guang Buddhist Canon" and the "Fo Guang Encyclopedia". I have also written two sets of books—"The Buddhism Volumes" and "The Buddhism Textbooks"—to help those who have just set foot in the vast ocean of the Dharma. In order to advance the Buddhist culture to reach a larger audience, I have sought the aid of multimedia. Several of my writings and lectures have been released on audio CDs and videotapes; lessons have been broadcasted daily on Television and other network stations. Whatever the method might be, the final goal is for everyone to find his or her own path to enlightenment.
With the publication of "Merit Times" last April, I am sorry to report the end of two very popular magazines—"Universal Gate" and "Awakening the World". However, it does not signify the end of Fo Guang Shan's effort to spread the teachings of the Buddha through print media. It is simply a transfer of resources to continue and uphold the missions of Fo Guang Shan. In January 2001, a bimonthly journal on Buddhist studies will be published along with the establishment of the "Dharma Treasure Library". The purpose of the journal is to encourage the intellectual activities of all practicing Buddhists and to propel the Buddhist academic culture to a higher plane. In order to achieve this goal, we must have a complete collection of Buddhist writings for research and reference. "Dharma Treasure Library", with the support and assistance of both Nanking and Beijing University professors, will regularly publish academic papers by Buddhist scholars of past and present to provide much needed materials for those who are interested in understanding the profundity of the Dharma.
Although research and publication are essential in disseminating the seeds of Buddhism, the gift of books is equally important. It is a way for the Dharma water to penetrate the minds of the readers. Therefore, Fo Guang Shan has donated the "Ch'an Canon" to several well-known universities around the world. I would also like the express my gratitude to fifteen colleges in Mainland China for accepting our gifts of the Dharma.
Besides cultural endeavors, Fo Guang Shan has remained focused on the development of education enterprises—from kindergartens to elementary schools, from junior highs to colleges. Over the years, we have tried very hard to provide quality education at both the secondary and higher levels of learning. With the establishments of Hsi Lai University, Nan Hua College and Fo Guang University, we now have over thirty graduate programs, offering a wide variety of studies, which include religion and philosophy, thanatology and futurology, business management and nonprofit organization. Our effort was finally rewarded when Nan Hua College was granted university status by the government after only two years of existence and Fo Guang University was given subsidy and approval for the establishment of six graduate schools in its first year. It now has the ability to confer master's degree, an accomplishment not achieved by any other schools in Taiwan.
Fo Guang Shan's effort in providing education for all who are willing sees no boundaries. The Australian government recently donated 80 acres of land to Nan Tien Temple for the building of Nan Tien University and Buddha's Light Museum. In the United States, Hsi Lai University, after years of excellent work, finally received accreditation in the prestigious Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In addition to formal education, Fo Guang Shan is also concerned with the continue education process of every monastic and lay follower. This year, "Fo Guang College for Devotees" will open its door to accommodate more than 2,000 students at the Golden Brightness Temple in northern Taiwan. There are twelve Buddhist colleges in India, South Africa, Hong Kong and Malaysia. At Fo Guang Shan's Buddhist University in Kaohsiung, we have students from sixteen countries who are eager to master every aspect of Buddhism. I hope with a worldwide system of Buddhist education, everyone can become a bodhi seed and disseminate the teachings of the Buddha to all corners of the world. For when the seeds finally bloom into flowers, the wish to internationalize Buddhism will be fulfilled.
At the present time, Fo Guang Shan has over 200 branch temples worldwide with more than 100 temples in Taiwan and another 100 or so over the five Continents. Due to diligent practice and cultivation, followers of each branch temple can now shoulder the responsibility of bringing benefit to all living beings through the teachings of the Buddha. Because of their accomplishments, local governments have recognized Fo Guang Shan as a legitimate religious organization. Leaders of many African countries have paid visits to Nan Hua Temple in South Africa; Queen Beatrix Koningin of Holland had attended an assembly at Ho Hua Temple in Amsterdam. Our branch temple in Paris presently is working closely with the city council to be a vital part of the city's future development. As for those who wish to visit our branch temples, they will find plenty of lodging at our European headquarters in Berlin, Germany or the Pilgrim's Lodge at Nan Tien Temple in Sydney, Australia.
Last year, the Republic of China government officially recognized the Buddha's Birthday as a national holiday. The event was celebrated by Buddhists around the world. It was a day to remember and treasure forever. This year will mark the tenth anniversary of Buddha's Light International Association, which has over 150 chapters worldwide, governing one thousand or more subchapters and millions of members. With the addition of lay Dharma teachers and lecturers to share the duty of spreading the Buddha's teaching, BLIA has truly achieved the goal of "letting the Buddha's light shine universally and the Dharma water flow uninterrupted." How could we not be elated by such wonderful achievements?
Speaking of joyful accomplishments, I would like to announce that out of one thousand or more monastics at Fo Guang Shan, nine have received their doctoral degree in Philosophy—venerables Tzu Hui, Tzu Jung, Hsin Ting, Hui Kai, Yi Fa, Yi Kung, Yi Yu, Yung You and Chueh You—and more than one hundred have received their master's degree. The rest have graduated from Fo Guang Shan Buddhist University. With this many talents in the studies of Buddhism, one should not have to worry about the future of Buddhism, for there are many to carry on the teachings of the Buddha.
As for the youth of Fo Guang Shan, since its inception ten years ago, BLIA has established over 100 Young Adult Divisions and more than 70 Scout Troops worldwide. The mission of the YADs is to promote religious and cultural harmony by helping the children of overseas Chinese and local residents in understanding both the Chinese and Buddhist culture. Their purpose is to create an atmosphere of mutual respect amidst diversities and different backgrounds.
Last year in Taipei, Hong Kong and Sydney, I decided to take a different approach in spreading the teachings of the Buddha. Instead of using simple expositions, I integrated standard discourses with musical performances. I hope this unprecedented effort to make use of the traditional as well as the contemporary will be further emulated and developed.
Since The 921 Earthquake devastated Taiwan in 1999, Fo Guang Shan has set up 14 psychological counseling centers in the disaster area to heal the victim's emotional scars. Fo Guang Buddhists have donated money and resources to the rebuilding of nine elementary schools. I hope they will be completed at the earliest date possible, so that the children can have a permanent place of learning. I also pray for the construction of the long awaited Buddha's Reliquary Pagoda to begin as soon as possible, so that the people of Taiwan and around the world can have a glimpse of the Buddha's tooth relic.
Lastly, in writing this letter to you, my friends and supporters, I am concerned that I have not expressed all that I am feeling. I hope that you will accept my deepest apology for my inability to express all that is in my heart. I can only offer you my blessings—may you and your family have joy and prosperity in the New Year.
Thank you for your endless support and boundless kindness. May wisdom and compassion be with you always.