Dear Dharma Protectors and Friends,
Happy New Year. May you be blessed with a wondrous heart and an auspicious new year.
Time flies, the morning after I bid year 2001 farewell, I spent the first day of year 2002 making calls to Buddhist leaders in Taiwan, both to wish them a happy new year, and to invite them to go to China’s Xian together, in order to escort and welcome the Buddha’s Finger Relic to Taiwan. Earlier, I had received a letter from the State Administration for Religious Affairs under the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, informing me of the basic principles: “Hsing Yun to make the initiation, Cooperative Escort, United Consecration, Safety as Top Priority.” For this purpose, I made hundreds of calls within two days to invite Buddhist elders, young Bhiksus and Bhiksunis as well as lay Buddhists to join in this auspicious event.
When the Buddha’s Finger Relic arrived in Taiwan from Xian Famensi, more then fifty thousand Buddhist followers filed the streets to welcome this sacred ancient relic. In order to make it convenient for them to pay respect to the Finger Relic, altars were set up in the Taipei Sports Stadium, Sanxia Jing Guang Ming Temple, Taichung Sports Stadium, and Nantou Chungtai Temple. When the relic arrived in the Fo Guang Shan monastery, over one million visitors poured in within just a few days just to be close to it. On the last day, the farewell Dharma service at Kaohsiung Sports Stadium attracted one hundred thousand participants chanting the Buddha’s name from day till next dawn. The atmosphere was extremely touching and memorable, I could even feel the unity of men and heaven, and of each person, the Buddha and all sentient beings.
The arrival of the Buddha’s Finger Relic in Taiwan not only united Buddhist organizations in Taiwan, it has also set a perfect example for friendly exchange between the people of Taiwan and mainland China. As I look back to those days, even though it took ten years to fulfill this wish, and one year of hard effort and preparation, this historical event still had been very successful and every effort was worth it.
After escorting the Buddha’s Finger Relic back to China, I went on to Malaysia and Singapore in April. Over there, I gave Dharma talks and conducted Refuge Taking Ceremonies for thousands of Buddhists, with many thanks to the hard work of BLIA Malaysia President Dr. Lin Yet Li and BLIA-YAD Malaysia President Mr. Song in making these grand events possible. After that I flew to Japan for the 9th BLIA General Conference held in Tokyo, where I gave a keynote speech on “To Resolve and To Develop.” While in Japan, I stayed at Motosu Temple, situated near the foot of Mt. Fuji and next to Motosu Lake. It was spring time, and all kinds of flowers blossomed and the view was magnificent, thus inspiring me to compose the following verse: “Spring plum blossoms and autumn maple leaves, Snow reflected by Mt. Fuji and the Five Fuji Lakes; Shall one be fortunate enough to visit Motosu, freedom, liberation at wisdom will be at hand.”
During these few months, I organized a series of seminars for the Fo Guang Shan Bhiksus and Bhiksunis, as well as those studying their Ph.D and Master’s Degrees in universities around the world. There were also International Buddha's Light Men's Fellowship Conference, International Buddha's Light Women's Fellowship Conference and the Asian Literature Conference. I truly hope Motosu Temple will share its beautiful and serene environment with even more friends from the whole world.
During summer, Ven. Yi Fa lead 43 Ph.D and Master’s students from Yale, Harvard and many other world’s top universities to Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan for the International Buddhist Monastic Life Program, where they experienced traditional monastic life. This was truly another big step toward global Buddhism.
All Fo Guang Shan branch temples in the world celebrate Buddha’s Birthday around the same time each year, therefore in a way, millions of people would celebrate this auspicious event together. In particular, Ven. Yi Lai and Ven. Man Chien’s effort in making this an annual event at Brisbane’s South Bank Piazza and Sydney Darling Harbour have each attracted more than one hundred thousand participants with special guests such as Lord Mayor Cr Jim Soorley of Logan City. Even the Vatican has sent their congratulations for this Buddhist event, and their wish to work with Buddhism in fulfilling a world of moral ethics. Furthermore, when delegates gathered in Hungary for the annual conference of the International Association for Religious Freedom, Ven. Chueh Men was elected member of the International Committee. The world’s first Hospital Los Angeles Paraguay-China, established by us is now handed over to the management of local Catholic associations. All of the above are clear evidence of the globalization, localization of Buddhism, and also inter-religious harmony.
Fo Guang Shan Tsung-ling University is celebrating her 40th anniversary this year, and students of nationalities other than Taiwan now make up 40 percent of the total number of students studying at the University. Ben Wen and few other students from Ladakh have completed their studies last year and are now assigned back to their homeland to serve at the Buddhist College of India. With regards to the promotion of Buddhism, I strongly believe that it should be done on an international basis, therefore Fo Guang Shan has allocated Ven. Hui Zhen, Ven. Hui Zai, Ven. Hui Mu, Ven. Chueh Wei, Ven. Miao Shi and Yi-ping Hou to Hsi Lai University, USA to study Master’s and Ph.D degrees. Furthermore, four national American men are now at Hsi Lai Temple to experience monastic life. The Online Buddhist College (www.ubou.org) has also entered its final stages of planning and preparation, it carries the hope of achieving the globalization and localization of Buddhism in the near future.
Last July, the Hsi Lai University was granted Candidacy for Accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges (WASC), marking a stage of fruition for the first-ever University in the USA that has been established by a Chinese Buddhist organization. This is also a glorious achievement done by the Chinese. On the other hand, Fo Guang University and Nan Hua University in Taiwan were able to fill all positions in each course with one hundred percent enrolment last year. All of these are due to the generous contribution of millions of benefactors through out the past years, and once again, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all of you.
I have deep faith in the fact that the Buddha’s Light will shine wide, and the Dharma stream will travel afar. While education is a key factor, cultural endeavors must not be overlooked. My books have now been translated into various languages for readers through out the world, for example, “Humble Table, Wise Fare – Gifts for Life,” “Lotus in a Stream,” “Buddhism: Core Ideas,” “Handing Down the Light,” “Cloud and Water,” just to name a few. The books presented in different languages have now become a part of the life of many people worldwide. Frankfurt Book Fair 2003 displayed my books in German, English, French, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, and Sinhalese, which have attracted interest from the German publisher Schirner Verlag and Kreuz Corporation, as well as Chinese publishing companies such as White Horse Corporation to publish my books in their countries. It is of my great wish in making every possible contribution the enrichment of the people’s spiritual life through out the world.
Year 2002 marks the half Century mark for my endeavors in the promotion of Buddhism. During this period, I have never stopped my annual Dharma Talks at Taipei’s National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and Hong Kong’s Hung Hum Stadium. Since it is not always easy to keep ten thousand people’s attention for two hours if the talk is always presented the same way each year. This year, I decided to combine Dunhuang literature, singing and Buddhist chanting together, offering a music and literature feast, combining the traditional and the modern. Not only was this appraised by the audience, it is also said to be an innovative idea in the history of Buddhist talks. Furthermore, the number of Humanistic Buddhism Study Group has now grown to more than two thousand chapters, showing us that the power of Buddhist cultural promotion is extremely great.
I have come to great awareness of the importance that media plays in the field of cultural promotion. In response to the pleading sounds for better Media in society, I instructed Ven. Yung Yun – chief editor of Merit Times Newspaper to initiate “An Ecological Day for the Media,” making an appeal for the Media to “Do Good Things, Say Good Words, and Have a Good Heart,” and also “Say No to Sex, Violence and Distortion.” The purpose of this activity is to re-awaken the Media’s ability for self-control, and give back to society the purity that the audience once enjoyed.
“Buddha’s Light TV” was formally renamed “Beautiful Life TV” by Ven. Tzu Jung(chairperson of BLTV) last October. In the future, BLTV will focus on its four major objectives “youth, education, international and public welfare,” and together with Merit Times Newspaper, work toward a true, good and beautiful world for media communication.
Fo Guang Shan Monastery, its branch temples and related departments have won awards for outstanding Buddhist Monasteries for their contribution in social education and welfare. Some of the winners include Lan Yang Temple in Ilan, Taiwan, Yue Guang Temple in Eastern Taiwan and Yuan Fu Temple in Mid-Taiwan. BLIA, ROC also won awards such as the National Outstanding Social and Professional Organization, where BLIA, ROC’s President Mr. Wu Po-hsiung accepted this award on the association’s behalf.
Jing Guang Ming Temple in San Xia (Northern Taiwan) is now formally inaugurated, and will act as a Buddhist University for Buddhist lay people. Nan Hua Temple in South Africa is also close to its completion, and it shall take up the key position for the development of Buddhism in South Africa. The Buddha’s Memorial Hall project will be carried out after its groundbreaking ceremony this January. It has been designed by world famous sculptor Xuanchang Guo from China, and Sinotech Engineering Consultants, to make this both a religious and artistic masterpiece. Other than the above, Fo Guang Shan has set up cultural and educational centers through out Taiwan, for example, Fu San Temple will be the Cultural and Educational Center for Mid-Taiwan, Nan Tai Temple for Southern Taiwan, Nan Ping Temple for Kaohsiung and Ping Dong areas, Dong Hua Temple for Eastern Taiwan, while Jing Guang Ming Temple will be the center for Northern Taiwan. This cultural and educational network will offer a vast ocean of Dharma for all Buddhists.
In August, Fo Guang Shan’s Jade Buddha Building was partly damaged in an accident of fire, I am extremely grateful to everyone who had offered to help. However, I would like to urge our devotees not to worry about making any donations as your care and concern already provide great strength for the recovery works, which will be completed in no time.
In November, I visited Medan, Indonesia where, Ven. Zong Ju organized my Dharma Talk and Refuge Taking Ceremony, attracting thousands of listeners and participants. Furthermore, the Governor of Sumentra – Mr.Tengku Rizal Nurdin invited me to a banquet along with six other religious group leaders in Indonesia, his effort in establishing fellowship between different religions was indeed very heartwarming. The next stop after Indonesia was Malaysia, and with the help of Datuk Hiew Ming-yong, we went on a nine day trip around South East Asia. The purpose of this trip was to donate wheelchairs to charity or religious groups in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore. The wheelchairs were co-sponsored by the BLIA and Tsao Chung Gih Foundation. I also met with some government officials and Buddhist leaders in these countries. Most importantly, I was finally able to fulfill my forty-year long wish to visit South East Asian countries.
Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam are all countries governed by Communist Parties, and they are also countries where Buddhism is their major religion. While most are proud owners of world heritage sites, their people’s living quality are still waiting for better times to come. For example, the Shwedagon Paya in Myanmar, is the heart of Yangon, yet, it is surrounded by pilgrims dressed in simple clothes whose eyes reflect the purest of human nature. Seeing them praying to the Buddha sincerely, what is joined in their palms seems to be their wish for none other than family happiness and peaceful life. Another of Myanmar’s city – Bagan, a vast city of spiritual monuments is said to once have almost 7000 monuments in the city. After years of war, there are only two thousand left today.
Known as one of the Seven Forgotten Medieval Wonders of the World – Angkor Wat in Cambodia, had taken more than thirty years to construct. It is one of the most beautiful and mysterious historical sites in the world, yet, years of war and the Pol Pot Clique almost left the country in ruins. Even up until today, the country is still in a period of restoration, some of its people even have to survive by begging on the streets. The atrocious history and sad scenes on the streets somewhat form a large contrast with the majestic Angkor Wat.
While visiting leaders of Buddhist organizations in these cities, I discovered that most of them require financial assitance. Except for Thailand, most other Theravada countries require assistance to maintain operation of their order. To support their everyday life already requires much effort, let alone the cost for a complete education and proper monastic training. The lack of talents to promote Buddhism worries my deeply.
One place in particular was the Nagalaigu Monastery in Yangon, situated within the monastery was also a Buddhist College, housing up to two thousand novice monks and nuns. Their average age is only twelve, and half had been orphaned by the war. The head Master of the Buddhist College was very compassionate to take them in and raise them. He tries his best to offer them a comfortable life and proper education. Looking at the innocent eyes of these adorable children made me feel so moved, therefore I immediately donated ten thousand US dollars to the Buddhist College, hoping that it will contribute to a better future for these children.
This nine day visit in South East Asia means a big step toward the possible unity between the Southern and Northern Schools of Buddhism. In the future, I will continue to encourage student exchange, the establishment of language centers and so on, to help with monastic training and the task of bringing Southern School Buddhism further onto the international stage.
Last year, I spoke of the Four Trends, “Equality between monastic and lay Buddhists, Humanization of Buddhist Teachings, Reading for Life, and Localization of Buddhist Monasteries.” This year, I would like to suggest four new trends, “Systemization of the Association’s Affairs, Unification of Beliefs, Art and Literature for Activities, and Modernization of Application.” With these four new trends, I hope that the BLIA will be complete in its system, Buddha’s Light members will follow the spirit of one teacher and one path in turns of their spiritual belief, Fo Guang Shan’s activities will involve deeper value of culture, and the promotion of Buddhism will adopt modern methods to suit contemporary society. May this be the mutual encourage between all of us this year.
Life is full of impermanence and the years are short. The clock of life will never pause for any length of time. With deep and unshaken belief in Buddhism, anything hardship in life can surely be overcame. Even though everything the world experiences formation, existence, destruction and emptiness, our intrinsic Buddha nature will always offer a sense of purity and joy. In the coming new year, may everyone continue to strengthen their faith in Buddhism, nurture a compassionate mind like that of the Buddha, and continue their journey through the wide path of wisdom and enlightenment.
Best wishes to all. May you be blessed with a wondrous mind and joyful heart.