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Dear Dharma Protectors and Friends,

Happy New Year. May you be free from the cares of body and mind.

After enjoying the spring blossoms, the autumn moon and winter snow, the year 2004 seems to approach faster than we realize. Yet, the world’s misfortunes do not look as if they are fading away despite the fact that lives have begun to thrive. Nor does there appear any sign of development in the whole world’s longing for peace and prosperity though the four seasons continue to come and go.

I look back to all that has happened over the past year. There was March, a time when lives begin to grow, but also the time I was admitted to Taipei Veterans General Hospital due to Chronic Cholecystitis. I am much indebted to Dr. Lui Wing-yiu, Vice Superintendent of the Hospital, for removing my gall bladder. From now on, I will be a “gutless” man! Although I do not have many days left in my life, I cannot be too careful with the way I proceed in this complicated world.

While I was in the hospital, news about the war between the USA and Iraq was continually shown on television. It was heartbreaking to see the satellite images of Baghdad drowning in the sound of explosions and fierce flames, and its citizens forced to leave home, escaping in desperation to survive. The outbreak of SARS in May caused many young doctors and nurses at Taipei Hoping Hospital to die in the course of performing their duty. What was worse, the media did nothing but keep people in a constant state of anxiety. All I could do was seal the mountain gate of Fo Guang Shan for a month. While I remained inside the monastery doing walking meditation and instructing my disciples on various affairs, I prayed every night and day for this calamity to go away and return peace and stability to the world.

It was encouraging to see more than fifty thousand guests at the Buddha Memorial Hall Foundation Laying Ceremony last January. Some were curious about why the ceremony was called “foundation laying” instead of the usual “groundbreaking.” This was because I believe mother earth does not need us to break her, especially at a time when chaos and turbulence pervades the world. As the whole world wishes for peace and stability, this is the reason why I named it “foundation laying ceremony.”

The question of how much the construction of the Buddha Memorial Hall costs was raised quite often. Fo Guang Shan does not have any consolidated or surplus funds, all we have to offer is our sincere hearts to the Buddha, hoping that he will bless us with strength, wisdom, compassion, and faith.

After the foundation laying ceremony was completed, Cardinal Paul S.J. Shan invited me to the foundation laying ceremony of the Catholic Zhenfushan Social Welfare and Community Monastery. I offered a donation of five million new Taiwanese dollars in five annual installments as a token of my appreciation for his friendship over the past years.

Fo Guang Shan’s various projects are also well underway. As I thank Mr. Wu Poh-hsiung for offering his old home in Chungli to establish Chungli Fo Guang Yuan, Jing Guang Ming Temple in northern Taiwan has also been completed and Fu Shan Temple in Changhua reconstructed. These two locations will become Fo Guang Shan’s regional headquarters in northern and mid-Taiwan. Also, Nan Ping Temple in the south and Northern Taiwan Culture and Education Center in Tainan are under construction. Outside of Taiwan, construction work for IBT North Island(New Zealand), Chung Mei Temple (IBPS Houston), and Chung Tian Temple (Queensland, Australia) is in progress. Zu Lai Temple in Brazil has also been completed. Other projects include the office space layout of Chuan-deng-lou Building up at Fo Guang Shan, the preparatory work for Nan Yuan Care Center, as well as the construction of Fengshan (near Kaohsiung), Miaoli(in northern Taiwan), and Kinmen Centers. Construction is also continuing on Tashi Paota Temple (near Taipei). While most of the resources are provided by the Fo Guang Shan Order, I also try my best to personally contribute to these temples just like our devotees. It is hoped that these temples with built-in school functions will offer their guidance to all beings on the path of spiritual cultivation.

Although physical construction projects are costly and time-consuming, we will eventually see the results, but the software development of spiriutal works is a much more arduous task. For example, A Collection of Contemporary Buddhist Works published by Venerables Yung Ming and Yung Jing, the Fo Guang Buddhist Dictionary and Fo Guang Tripitaka – Agama Canon projects on CD-ROM led by Ven. Tzu Hui, and the Computer Information Center directed by Venerables Hui Kuan and Yung Jung to allow worldwide Fo Guang Shan temples to share the same information resource. All of these are intangible treasures which we have now.

The Humanistic Buddhist Reading Clubs have grown quite successfully with outstanding results under the leadership of Venerable Chueh Pei, a graduate of the University of Argentina. After serving at the City Campus Temple of Nan Hua University in Chiayi and Guang Ming Learning Center in Mid-Taiwan , she went on to establish more than two thousand Humanistic Buddhist Reading Clubs worldwide by forming an alliance with Hong's Foundation for Education & Culture PHP, Global Views Monthly, and Commonwealth Magazine.

The Love Is Around Us Charity Book Sale organized by BLTV’s Venerable Tzu Jung and General Manager Chang Zhong-yue, and also Merit Times Daily News directed by Chief Editor Venerable Yung Yun are both energy and cost consuming tasks. I am fortunate to see these young hearts offering their bit of work enthusiastically. They are like the winter sun which gives warmth to us, and they are also like gentle breezes which bring coolness to this world.

Among the many difficult tasks I have come across, human resource issues are the most complicated ones with which to deal. Fo Guang University’s President Gong Peng-cheng left office in July because he has completed his term as president, not because of the “roast goat incident” or the unsuitable essays he has presented! I was happy to see Zhao Li-yin, the vice president of BLIA, Chungwa, take on this position. Her extensive administrative experiences and passion for education have proven her quality as Director of the National Institute for Compilation and Translation.

Chen Miao-sheng, the president of Nan Hua University, has been doing a wonderful job. During the Ministry of Education’s assessment on the overall development of private universities last year, Nan Hua University was the only candidate in Taiwan to receive first-grade in all seven categories. Hsi Lai University is also getting very close to becoming a member of WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) under the leadership of Dr. Nai-chen Chen and Dr. Guruge. Pumern Junior High School principal Yeh Ming-tsann not only established a ladies’ basketball team, but the ladies’ gymnastic team has also won many prizes at the national competition. The school is currently preparing to move to a new location. One other thing, Fo Guang Shan Tsung-lin University now has a new dean, Venerable Man Chien, former abbess of Nan Tien Temple in Australia. All of the above are working extremely hard for our educational undertakings.

I am grateful to Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University for granting me an Honorary Doctorate on Education Administration, this honor belongs to all Buddhists. As an individual, I will continue to give my best toward the goal of achieving unity for Buddhism. Also, the University of Santo Tomas in Chile conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Peace and Philanthropy for which I personally went to Chile to accept. During my October visit to that country, I gave a few talks on Buddhism and discovered that not only is that South American land blessed with beautiful scenery, it is also full of friendly people and kind hearts.

I traveled to Brazil for the BLIA Board of Directors Meeting, where I received a welcome letter from Brazilian President Lula da Silva. I was also very touched by what Dr. Francisco Baltazar, Director Superintendent of the Sao Paulao Federal Police said to me, “There are no Brazilians in Brazil, because most of Brazil’s residents are immigrants. Therefore, anyone who comes to live in Brazil is considered a Brazilian.” Isn’t it just the same for Taiwan? Originally there were no Taiwanese in Taiwan, because most of them came from the other side of the ocean, and this trend was at its peak during the Ming Dynasty, an era of war. Up until today, twenty three million people have poured into Taiwan, they are all Taiwanese people, but they are also Chinese people. Everybody comes from the same origin, and we are all fellow countrymen, so why create gaps between one another just because we come from different geographical backgrounds? This is never a good thing for a country or its people.

It has never been easy for Taiwan to go far on the international stage due to its lack of diplomatic relationships. However, Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos Geyer and Guatemalan President Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera both visited Fo Guang Shan in August. Even the First Lady of the Republic of Malawi, Madame Dr. Patricia Shanil Muluzi, paid a personal visit to Fo Guang Shan in August to express her appreciation to Nan Hua Temple’s frequent organization of wheelchair donations and other charitable events.

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, at its Substantive Session of July 2003, decided to grant Special consultative status to the Buddha's Light International Association (BLIA), a Non-Governmental Organization of the United States. All of these achievements have strengthened our confidence in the possibility of Buddhism playing a very important role to diplomatic relationships.

Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of my propagating the Dharma in Taiwan. My disciples Chueh Nien and Ju Chang spent the entire May and June selecting two thousand photos from the past decades and published five thousand copies of Cloud and Water – A 50th Anniversary Photobiography, each copy weighing five kilograms. These were presented as gifts for guests of the Ullambana Festival as well as for academics and friends from the academic, educational and cultural circles. This was my way of sharing the joy and experiences from the past half a century with everyone.

In time for my fiftieth anniversary in Taiwan, a member of the Buddhist Youth Choir, which I founded fifty years ago, Venerable Tzu Hui, organized “Sounds of the Human World” Buddhist Hymn Competition to commemorate the old days. Within just three short months, more than three thousand pieces of work flew in from all over the world, and eighty finalists were invited to Taiwan to perform their songs in French, Portuguese, English, Japanese, Cantonese, Hakka, Taiwanese, Mandarin, and many other languages. The performances took place inside the Taipei National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, the Kaohsiung Cultural Center, and the Tainan Municipal Cultural Center. This event received a tremendous response, thus fulfilling my wish to propagate Buddhism through music, and made me extremely gratified and content.

Other than the above, I have given Dharma lectures combined with the singing of Buddhist hymns in Taiwan and Hong Kong for two consecutive years. By combining traditional Dharma lectures with Buddhist hymns and chanting, audiences were able to join in the singing and create a positive interaction, which I was also very happy to see. It was very wonderful to have Mr. and Mrs. Wu Poh-hsiung, Dr. Zhao Ning, Ting Shou-chung, Zhao Li-yun, and Dr. Steven Huang sing on stage with me.

Many BLIA Lay Dharma Lectureres have continued to give talks. Take Sophia Zhao, for example. On her own, she gave talks all over the world. It can be said that the sound of Dharma has spread across the world, and the Buddha’s light is shining universally.

Speaking of propagating the Dharma through music, I am very grateful to Kenny Weng, a Master of Erhu in Taiwan, for spending three months instructing my young students and disciples on how to play the erhu so that they can propagate Buddhism with this musical skill in the future. Venerable Yung Fu also led the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Hymn Choir to Beijing and Shanghai, thereby breaking down the barriers of religious exchange between the two shores of the Taiwan Straits. This event followed the Peace Prayer Dharma Function against SARS which took place at Nan-pu-tuo Temple in Xiamen last July, involving Buddhist leaders from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, and also the 1,250th Anniversary of Master Zhien Zheng’s Arrival in the East Commoration Ceremony, all of which were extremely important events to Buddhists in China and Taiwan.

Venerable Man Yi spent last year taking notes on the talks I have given and the symposiums I have conducted. Some of the topics I discussed included "The Buddhist Perspective on the Body and Mind, " "The Buddhist Perspective on Religions, " "The Buddhist Perspective on Women’s Issues," and so on. All of these articles were published in the Universal Gate Buddhist Journal. In the future, there will be more articles on issues such as suicide, euthanasia, political human rights, and so on. Hopefully they will be a contemporary guide on life, and that they will help enrich today’s minds and elevate people’s spiritual values.

In terms of academic exchange, I also interacted with academic leaders such as Dr. Lewis Lancaster and Dr. Guruge from the USA; Professors Fang Li-tian, Lou Yu-lie, Lai Yung-hai, Chen Bin, Ma Tien-hsiang, Wang Lei-quan, Yang Zeng-wen, Chang Xin-ying, and Xuan Fang from China; Ms. Leneen Forde AC (Griffith University Chancellor), Prof. John Fien (Director, Griffith University Ecocentre), Prof. Swee-Hin Ton (Director, Griffith University Multi Faith Center), Phra Thepsophon (Rector, Chulalongkorn University), Dr. Phra Rajaratanamoli (Vice President of Chulalongkorn University Council), Dr. Navirro-Rosita (President, Central Philippine University), Santos-Rosita (Vice President, Central Philippine University), Kang Woobang (Professor, Ewha Womans University), Venerable Kyung Il (Vice President, Dongguk University) from Korea, Cho Myung-je (Komazawa University), Kanenawa Hatsumi (Lecturer, Seinan Gakuin University), Dra. Marcia (Board of Trustee Member, University of Sao Paulo), Noral Romcu Roccu (Director, University of Brasilia Research Institute), Sr. Gerardo Rocha (Founder, University of Santo Tomas), Sr. Anibal Vial Echeverria (President, University of Santo Tomas), and many others. The times we spent exchanging ideas and interacting with each other have always been very pleasant. I was also invited to the Asian Chinese Writer’s Association Ninth General Meeting at Motosu Temple in Japan to share my experiences on writing.

Most of the talks that I have given over the past year were based on the topic "Practicing Buddhism," because I feel that most works done in the long history of Dharma propagation have focused on encouraging people to believe in the Buddha or to pray to the Buddha, and the mere strength gained from practicing Buddhism has been lost. For this reason, Buddhism has not been able to fully interact with society. Therefore, I hope Buddhists will always be able to keep up with the pace of our time, and direct their attention to practicing Buddhism with compassion. If so, a bright future for Buddhism will eventually arise.

The 2003 Peace Lantern and International Flower Expo organized by Fo Guang Shan attracted more than one million visitors worldwide during the month and received a tremendous response. Following this success, two counties in Taiwan also introduced flower expos in an attempt to boost their tourist industry. The 2004 Fo Guang Shan Flower Expo has also been well-planned by Venerables Hsin Ting and Hui Chuan, who adopted an original approach to this year’s expo. While there will be the beauty of stillness, the natural landscape accompanied by modern technology will add movement into the beauty of stillness. I hope many of you will be able to come and see the expo, which aims to start from beautifying human minds and taking a step further to creating a humanistic pureland, thereby accomplishing the ultimate goal of practicing Humanistic Buddhism.

Last but not least, may all be free from the cares of body and mind, with abundant joyful Dharma, and peaceful happiness!

Sincerely,