Dear Dharma Protectors and Friends,
Greetings, Dharma protectors and friends!
How time flies, speeding across the millennia like an arrow. At the beginning of the year 2002, we pray for world peace, joy, and good luck for one and all.
The Buddha spent a lifetime teaching so that sentient beings that believe might increase their good roots, and those that of as yet do not believe might form the causes and conditions for their own liberation. Moved by the Buddha’s compassion and his vow to liberate all sentient beings, despite being seventy-six years old, I have never slackened my pace; instead I am still following the Buddha’s footsteps, tirelessly spreading the Dharma. In one year, I was hospitalized eight times in the United States, Australia, and Taiwan. In spite of the poor health, I spent the year traveling all over the world as I have always done.
In looking back over the last year, the looming economic crisis has been of greatest concern to us. In addition to religious belief, everyone needs more economic security, thus our lives can be free from anxiety and worries. May all your financial affairs prosperous. Also, manmade and natural disasters have been cause for concern. The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States shocked the world and led to the U.S. war on Afghanistan. Disasters such as the July 11th floods in southern Taiwan and the damage to Taipei on September 17th by Typhoon Nari have left everyone anxious and uneasy. In addition to praying for world peace and happiness for all people, we never cease our efforts in taking positive action. For this reason, Fo Guang Shan organized a Buddhist Monastic Choir to travel the world to comfort people and benefit society.
In October of last year, the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Monastic Choir toured Canada and the United States and gave one performance at New York’s Lincoln Center. Owing to the proximity to the World Trade Center, I offered prayers for the victims of the 911 Tragedy after the performance: “Great Buddha, Great Jesus, please have mercy on the dead and missing….” As I finished speaking, the applause thundered, moving many of those present to tears. After the event, I was deeply moved by all the praise. Harmony among different religions can be such a beautiful thing!
After the unfortunate events of September 11th, the United States attacked Afghanistan. Steve Young, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, asked me my opinion of the war. I replied that all religions endorse peace, but sometimes peace is attained through force. War is a means of last resort and can be transformed into a force for compassion. In fact there are other means that can be employed besides war. For example, compassionate persuasion, wise guidance, the censure of public opinion, and restrictions on travel, etcetera. Only by overcoming violence with compassion can permanent peace be achieved.
After I returned to Taiwan, I received a letter from Beijing. The letter proposed contacting Buddhist circles in Taiwan through my auspices about shipping Buddhist relics and precious objects from the Famen Temple in Xi’an to Taiwan where they might be seen and venerated. What wonderful news! I quickly contacted various venerable monastics including Venerable Wu Ming, Sheng Yen, Cheng Yen, Wei Chueh, as well as dozens of others for their signatures. The Beijing Buddhist Association of China immediately sent a letter of trust. Mr. Wu Pao-hsiung and Mr. Liao Cheng-hao were also involved as this matter was being actively pursued, and numerous government officials expressed their optimism about bringing the matter to a successful conclusion.
I steadfastly avoided politics and hoped to handle the issue of reverently bringing the relics to Taiwan as a purely religious matter. But President Chen Shuei-bien himself was also very concerned about the matter, believing that religion is greatly conducive to social stability. On many occasions, he tried to boost the morale of all people saying, “Where there is the Dharma, there is Way.” On December 25th last year, during the ceremony for Constitution Day and the remembrance of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the President invited me to speak at the Presidential office. The title of my speech was, The Direction of Our Future Efforts. I put forward four views: 1) economic revival and the coexistence of businesses, large and small, 2) all people working together for social order, 3) unity and mutual respect, 4) the future of the nation must be viewed from a global perspective. I hope that my own opinions, humble as they are, will be of some use to the development of the nation.
The President brought representatives of the media including those from the China Times, the United Daily News, and the Central News Agency to stay at Fo Guang Shan. Venerable Yung Yun, the Chief Editor of our own Merit Times was named the assistant leader of the group.
Last year saw a great number of pleasant events. Among them, a number of monastics from Fo Guang Shan were studying for their PhD’s in various universities in Mainland China. For example, Venerable Man Ken was studying at Beijing University, Venerable Man Sheng was at Nanjing University, Venerable Chueh Min was at Lanzhou University, Venerable Miao Chung at the National People’s University, Venerable Man Chi at Sichuan University, and Venerable Miao Shi at Fudan University. In addition, Chang Mei-hung, Lin Shao-chuan, among others were doing research at Beijing University. At various times, they returned to Taiwan to report to me on how their studies were coming.
In addition, the sixteen people who were studying for their MA’s at Fo Guang University, and another sixteen who were working on their MA’s at Nanhua University, all met with me. Of course, several hundred others who already had graduated or who were still studying at the Fo Guang Shan Tsung Lin University also took time to contact and meet with me. I asked myself, why fear for the future of Buddhism when there are the likes of such young people?
Regrettably, due to the distances involved I was rarely able to meet and talk with the five bhiksus and sramanas studying in India, and the students of Fo Guang Shan Buddhist College of India, Hong Kong, Africa, and Australia, unless I visited the country myself. I was often greatly concerned about Venerable Tzu Yi, who was then a PhD student at Ryukoko University in Japan but has since graduated, and Venerable Chueh She, who was studying at Dongguk University in Korea, as well as Venerable Yi I, who was a PhD candidate at Oxford University.
The establishment of educational institutions has been a life-long ideal of mine. I wish to thank everyone for the universal support for establishing Nan Hua University. At present there are more than three thousand faculty and students. Fo Guang University has also established fifteen research institutes. We also are expecting that Hsi Lai University in the United States will be fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges next year. Nan Tien University is under construction in Australia and we hope to see it completed soon.
In the realm of culture, the Dharma Treasure Library is clearly our greatest accomplishment. We are also publishing Collections of Theses on Chinese Buddhism, which collects MA and PhD theses from Mainland China. Thus far, we have published eight collections with a total of eighty volumes and twenty million words. The Universal Gate Buddhist Journal, which is published bimonthly, has won approval and been enthusiastically recommended. And the Merit Times has won widespread approval from readers and has been recognized by society as a newspaper of virtue. With the help of the World Reader’s Association, we hope to promote study in Taiwan and the rest of the world.
Foguang Cultural Enterprise Company also emphasizes reading materials for children and has thus far published a series fairy tales, illustrated fairy tales, the Illustrated Sutra of One Hundred Parables, a comic book version of the Heart Sutra, a complete collection of Buddhist tales, a collection of newly edited Buddhist fables, and illustrated books about the ten great Buddhist disciples. The one hundred volumes of Eminent Buddhist Monastics comic books won the golden medal in the comic book category in the books awards presented by the Government Information Office of the Executive Yuan, Taiwan, Republic of China.
I was honored with the Outstanding Contributions to Buddhism Award at the 21st General Conference of the World Friendship of Buddhists by Prime Minister Chuan of Thailand. Glenn Hughes, Assistant Director of the American Buddhist Association, also expressed his hope to present his association’s Bodhi Award for real contributions to Buddhism. However, because I was unable to attend the awards ceremony, I had to graciously decline.
I deeply believe that any successes I might have had are the result of the Fo Guang people and the members of the Buddha’s Light International Association. From these people all over the world, I frequently received good news of various awards. For example, Lai Yi Ming received one of the first Public Welfare Family Awards; Huang Yu-hui was recognized as an outstanding volunteer worker; in Brazil, Chang Sheng-kai won a Sao Paulo outstanding citizen’s award; Venerable Yi Lai received a hero’s award from the Federation of the Australian government; Lin Ching-chi and Su Yueh-kui were selected as national representatives of good people and good deeds for the year of 2001; the BLIA, Florida Chapter received the Asian descendants legacy award; the BLIA, Queensland won the silver medal for International Volunteer Groups; and Chung Tian Temple was honored with a multicultural award. These awards are an honor for all people from the BLIA worldwide. Wu Pao-hsiung, President of the BLIA, R.O.C. Chapter, received too many awards to enumerate here. Many members of the various Fo Guang Shan foundations such as Venerable Tzu Hui, Tzu Jung, Yung Fu received medals from the government for contributions to society and education. All of these awards glorify Buddhism. Recently, we established the Fo Guang women’s basketball team and hope that in the future they might win international competitions for the greater glory of Buddhism.
With everyone’s efforts we have established nearly one thousand Study Groups. At present, Venerable Chueh Pei of the Kuang Ming College in Taichung is the executive director. It is hoped that in 2002, there will be more than five thousand or more such groups. At the board of directors meeting of the Buddha’s Light International Association held in South Africa, I issued “four objectives”: 1) to promote Humanistic Buddhism, 2) to promote study into daily life, 3) to promote equality between monastics and laity, 4) to promote localization of temples. It is hoped that each year progress can steadily be made in implementing these objectives. It is also hoped that we can work together on this in conjunction with other Buddhist groups of great virtue.
In terms of relief efforts around the world, we appreciated the financial assistance of members of the Buddha’s Light International Association around the world. We have made efforts to provide financial aid, wheelchairs, and food relief in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Swaziland, and the United States. Since the September 21st, 1999 earthquake in Taiwan, we have undertaken to rebuild nine schools including Shuang Wen, Chung Ke, Ping Lin, and Fu Kung. We were also able to shelter hundreds left homeless by the disaster in Buddha’s Light Villages No. 1, 2, 3, and 4. Seeing school children with classrooms and the disaster victims with shelter made us happy and provided a source of comfort for all members of BLIA.
In the last year, tens of thousands of activities to spread the Dharma were held by various BLIA Chapters around the globe. It’s hard to say how many such activities were listed in the Merit Times by sub-chapters of the BLIA, R.O.C. Headquarters, not to mention many more activities in the other countries. In Australia, for example, the Nan Tien Lecture Hall was completed, the Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery in Melbourne was established, land was given by the Wollongong City government for the construction of Nan Tien Temple, and permission was granted to expand Chung Tien Temple. On April 8 last year, on the day of the Buddha’s birthday -- the Sydney government raised the Buddhist flag over the Darling harbor. It was the first time for any flag other than the national flag to be raised over the harbor. The Youth Headquarters of BLIA called for six thousand representatives from all over the world to convene a BLIA Youth Conference to stimulate exchanges among the world’s young people in Malaysia. Also, the European Headquarters of Fo Guang Shan in Berlin together with Hsi Lai University and the Fo Guang Shan Cultural and Educational Foundation held an academic conference on Humanistic Buddhism in Taipei. Many theses were presented. I hope that these seeds of wisdom can sprout, grow, and bear fruit all over the world.
In addition we gave lectures on Buddhism in universities throughout the world including the University of California at Los Angeles, University of Montreal in Canada, Hong Kong University of Science and Engineering, National University of Singapore, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. Not only was I involved in spreading the Dharma, but Abbot Hsin Ting of Fo Guang Shan as well as Drs Hui Kai, Yi Kung, Yi Fa, and Yi Yu also participated. Because of their training in graduate school, they could deliver welcomed lectures in English and Japanese. Venerable Chueh Cheng of Rulai Temple in Brazil was invited to lecture at Sao Paulo University, the largest university in Latin America. Her lecture, which was given in Portuguese was well received.
I would like now to say a little about the construction of the Buddha’s Memorial Hall, which everyone is concerned about. We have received forty hectares of land from our neighbor, the Ching Tien Shen, and hope to complete construction within three years. We envision it as a sacred site as well as a landmark for Taiwan.
We should not limit ourselves to reflecting upon the past but also look to the future. We hope that in the coming year the Buddhist University which is being directed by Venerable Tzu Jung can bear the fruit of spreading the Dharma; we hope that the use of books by Vererable Tzu Hui on protecting life can be popularized on school campuses; we also hope that the temples that Venerable Tzu Chuang of the Pureland Cultural and Educational Foundation is building, such as the He Hua Temple in Netherlands, the Chung Mei Temple in Houston, and the Hua Yen Temple in Montreal, Canada will all stand as beacons of the Buddha’s light. Finally, since this is the year of the horse, we will design and build a sky mobile track with a “flying horse” theme – “A Galloping Success in the Year of the Horse” and “Bringing in a Happy New Year” – during the Lunar New Year celebrations. At that time everyone will be welcome at Fo Guang Shan to worship and enjoy the lantern festival. There is still so much I would like to share with you, but I’ll never be able to finish. Bless you all.
Let us form good ties and together create good luck.