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Dear Dharma Protectors and Friends,

As the cold winds turn warm and spring shows its colors, it is a new beginning again. I pray for peace in the world and joy for all sentient beings. May we all live in harmony!

“Time waits for no one.” This is truly so! As my age increases, my physical body grows old. Unlike before, I can no longer see clearly as my eyesight has become poorer. Last August in America, I was diagnosed with cataracts, and Dr. Garlan G. Lo operated on me accordingly. In reality, no one is exempt from graying hair or loosening teeth. However, maintaining a youthful spirit for developing the breadth and depth of our life is something within our control. While I am approaching eighty years old, I can still travel everywhere to propagate the Dharma in order to help people. I hope that by serving others, people can open up the window of their hearts letting light into the inner darkness so that they can enjoy the ease and coolness of life.

In view of the still inadequate actualization of Humanistic Buddhism by Buddhists, I chose the theme of “Self-Awareness and Practicing the Buddha’s Way” in the keynote speech for the 2004 BLIA 10th General Conference. The four points I raised are as follows: use self-awareness to raise ourselves to a higher level, use localization to spread Buddhism, use new enterprises to increase income, and use great vows to practice what the Buddha taught. We can all rise to a higher standard in our faith providing guidelines for the development of Buddhism, personal cultivation to help others, and ways to conduct ourselves in dealing with situations.

Since the re-election in Taiwan on March 20, many members of the community called on me for my views. In order to preserve peace and harmony within Taiwan and eliminate racial conflicts, I put forth my suggestion for “Great compromise; save Taiwan.” I hope that all the different political parties, as well as members of the various trades, can bury their hatchets, let bygones be bygones, open up their hearts, and take a step back in order to work together for the future and welfare of the entire population.

Furthermore, I put forth my views on the “Changing of the Guards” as a guideline for organizations and political parties in their operation and personnel management. Fo Guang Shan has demonstrated a new model for the “changing of the guards.” In the 2004 BLIA Chunghwa Annual Meeting, the Most Venerable Hsin Ting was elected the president, taking over from Mr. Wu Po-hsiung, and in September, Fo Guang Shan Religious Affairs Committee called a general meeting during which members voted for nine new committee members and elected Venerable Hui Han, who just turned forty years old, as the Seventh Chief Abbot. It can be said that the true spirit of freedom and democracy has been actualized in the process. I deeply believe that it is only by allowing younger people to hold high positions that our future can be filled with endless energy and hope. It is only through the “changing of the guards” that we can progress and revitalize ourselves endlessly. As modern people, we should contemplate this deeply!

Last year in June, President Chen Shui-bian called for a “National Cultural Association” and appointed me as the chair of the religious committee. I later held discussions with representatives from various religions on legislation for religion. I also emphasized the principles for such legislation and the feasibility of its content. In the Seminar for Temple Management, I delivered a keynote address on religious legislation by advocating relevant education in religion as the prerequisite for religious workers in charge. Emphasis should also be placed on the inheritance of property of Buddhism by legitimate Buddhist personnel in order to ensure the stable development of a religion so that it can truly realize its function of purifying human hearts.

Buddhist devotees also need to get organized. Hence, I drew up plans for the “Dana Family System” with the aim of organizing our devotees. This will serve to strengthen the cohesive force of the temple so unity can be achieved.

The path for exchanges between Northern and Southern Buddhist traditions was further fortified in 2004. Last year, we had even closer exchanges and better understandings with Thailand’s Deputy Supreme Patriarch Somdej Phra Yanvarodom and Theravadan Elder K. Sri Dhammananda. Thailand’s Deputy Supreme Patriarch invited Fo Guang Shan’s Venerable Miao Sen to teach Mahayana Buddhism at Mahamakut Buddhist University. In January, the Supreme Patriarch presented Fo Guang Shan with a two-ton gold Buddha statue paving a new way for harmony between Northern and Southern Buddhist traditions. In addition, I have held discussions with visiting Korean Sanghas, such as the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Dongguk University, Tongdosa, Haeinsa, Songgwangsa, and Joong-Ang Sangha University Bhikuni Dr. Bo-Gak. Moreover, at Fo Guang Shan we also received delegations from China’s Shaolin Temple, Baima Temple, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. During our meetings, we reached consensus on academic, monastic, and language exchanges to improve mutual learning. It is only through reaching out that we can humanize, internationalize, and modernize Buddhism without differentiation between self and others. We need to join together with one heart and mind so that we can better exhibit the strength of Buddhism in purifying human hearts in the future world.

I would like to report to all of you that music, like Buddhism, has no boundaries. “Sounds of the Human World,” organized by Fo Guang Shan Foundation for Buddhist Culture and Education, is a realization of this concept. Last year in Taipei, Buddhist songs were translated and presented in Portuguese, Zulu, German, French, English, Korean, Thai, Filipino, Hindu, and Chinese languages. Music bridges various ethnicities around the world so that communication and harmony are actualized. Faced with confrontations between ethnic groups, today’s Taiwan can certainly learn a positive lesson through the people’s enjoyment and participation in music.

In coordination with the Buddhist Association of China, Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Monastic Choir brought Buddhist music to new heights in Asia and abroad. They jointly staged performances with China’s five major monasteries in three language systems in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, America, and Canada. During the period between October and November, the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Monastic Choir toured eight major cities for a series of performances in the American states of Nevada, Texas, and Missouri and Canada’s Ontario and Quebec. These performances enhanced the impact of Buddhism and wrote a new page in the exchange of Buddhist orders from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

In propagating the Dharma and cultural affairs, new records were also made. BLTV organized an “International Chinese Classics Recital Competition” in Hong Kong with more than a thousand children participating. Dong Zen Temple in Malaysia conducted a bi-lingual international “Refuge Taking, Five Precepts and Bodhisattva Precepts Retreat.” The Fo Guang Shan branch in Berlin held the first “Short-term Monastic Retreat” in European Buddhist history. South Bay in Los Angeles had its first “Sing and Speak Dharma Lecture Series” in America. The Most Venerable Hsin Ting demonstrated the liturgy of Yogacara Flaming Mouth Dharma Function at Harvard University and Smith College in Massachusetts. About a thousand people attended these two Dharma functions including many professors, students, and other academics. Nan Tien Temple in Australia conducted the first Chinese Buddhist Triple Platform Full Ordination for monastics from sixteen countries. Enhancing Buddhism’s position internationally, my disciples from branch temples in Paris, Sweden, Berlin, Argentina, Canada, and the U.S.A. took part in international book exhibitions held in each region representing our Fo Guang Shan Cultural Enterprise.

In the area of publications, the second publishing of Illustrated World Buddhist Arts and First Lessons of Fo Guang Chan, the Dictionary of Contemporary Buddhist Personnel, the classical collection of Between Ignorance and Enlightenment, and the third and fourth volumes of Humble Table, Wise Fare were completed. The one hundred and twenty volumes of Chinese Buddhist Academic Series edited by the Fo Guang Shan Tripitaka Board were also published. Fo Guang Shan International Translation Center translated and published Hsing Yun Chan Talk and Being Good in Swedish, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Korean. It is hoped that these translations can assist the locals in understanding the Dharma. Because the affect of culture on human hearts is broad and deep, we have persisted from the beginning to “propagate the Dharma with cultural activities.” Our goal is to create a garden profuse with the fragrance of books in order to enrich people’s spiritual lives.

There was also good news about the development of Fo Guang Shan’s education system. The fruits have been abundant. “Distance Education” at the University of the West was established to provide courses for students on campus as well as for those in Fremont and San Diego, California and as far away as Vancouver and Montreal in Canada. This initiative has broken geographical barriers making it more convenient to reach and teach a much broader region. Fo Guang Shan Tsung Lin Buddhist College has also started “mobile teaching” for students to cultivate an international outlook thereby increasing their knowledge. The Internet teaching of Buddhism through the Fo Guang Shan Universal Buddhist Open University only began operation last September and has already received over a thousand applicants. At the same time, Nan Hua University and Universidad Santo Tomas in Chile joined alliance as sister universities.

The Fo Guang Shan Pu Men Senior High School’s Women Basketball Team was established last July with Korean national champion Miss Lee Hung Suk, a former Olympian player, as its coach. Built in Taichung’s Puli, the Jiuntou Elementary and Junior High School was inaugurated in September. Community colleges operated by Changhua Fu Shan Temple, Taichung Guang Ming Xue Yuan, Lan Yang Temple, Chiayi Yuan Fu Temple, and Sanshia Jin Guang Ming Temple popularized the social education programs undertaken by Fo Guang Shan. Dr. Johnny Ning Chao was selected as the new president of Fo Guang University last year. On the invitation of Suzhou’s Xi Yuan Temple in China, Venerable Tzu Jung presented them with the Fo Guang Buddhist Canon. She also went to Yangzhou Vocational School for the Deaf to present a donation to their school foundation.

Nine Buddhist College graduates originally from Ladakh, India, such as Ru Hong, Ru Chuan, and Ru Tao, went back to India at the end of the year. After eight years of study, they finally completed their education and returned to their homeland to actualize the localization of Buddhism there. In addition, my disciple Man Chi received her doctorate degree in philosophy from Sichuan University. Others such as Man Ken, Miao Chung, Man Sheng, Chueh Min are finishing their doctorate programs at Beijing, National People’s, Nanjing, and Lanzhou Universities, while Man Ting, Jue Guan, Chueh Duo, Miao Huang, and Jue Fang are enrolled at Xiamen, Fudan, Tsinghua, Wuhan, and Beijing Universities for doctorate studies. Venerable Chueh Cheng has accomplished much in propagating the Dharma in Brazil, especially with the establishment of “Zu Lai Children” providing an opportunity for youth education and relief for the needy. She was honored by the Brazilian government as an “Honorary Citizen” of the city of Cotia – the first bhiksuni in Brazilian history to receive such distinction. Venerable Miao Sen will become the first bhiksuni officially recognized by Thailand. Because of her compassion, joy, and generosity in devoting herself to the villagers, Venerable Yung Sheng was honored as Hualien’s Chie An Village “Honorary Villager” in Taiwan. These have brought me much joy because the large tree of Fo Guang Shan has become lush with branches and leaves and laden with fruits and flowers.

Looking back at my own life, though, I had never received any formal education, I have had the good fortune of gaining recognition from Catholic universities as well as those of both Northern and Southern Buddhist traditions accepting honorary doctorate degrees from them. Last year, Korea’s Dongguk University and Thailand’s Mahamakut Buddhist University offered me honorary doctorate degrees in education and philosophy respectively. Oscar Goodman, Mayor of Las Vegas in Nevada, and Leonard L. Scarcella, Mayor of Stafford, Texas, went to Taiwan to confer their cities’ honorary citizenship upon me at the BLIA General Conference. Such honors are the result of the joint accomplishments of everyone involved in Fo Guang Shan and signify the recognition of the efforts of our Dharma propagation by those from different walks in life. These only further strengthen my mission for world peace and welfare for humanity. It is only through vowing to “offer this body and mind to the universe” that I will not let down people coming from all directions who support our joint efforts and endeavors.

Now I would like to relate to you an interesting incident from the past. When propagating the Dharma forty years ago, I was rejected by the National Taiwan University because they believed Buddhism had no place on a university campus. Last year, however, the university invited me to give a lecture on “Self-awareness Education in Chan Buddhism.” I feel deeply that the change in causes and conditions is truly wondrous. BLIA conducted an “International Youth Forum” at the National Taiwan University inviting more than sixty young scholars from America’s Yale, Harvard, and Columbia Universities to participate in a seminar entitled “Connection with the World.” I presided over the forum and Dr. Charles Kao and Dr. Johnny Ning Chao were also invited to speak encouraging young scholars to reach out internationally in their thinking and actions in order to connect with the world. Furthermore, through the invitation of the Korean Bhiksuni Association, Venerable Tzu Hui gave a keynote speech entitled, “Stride Forward, Bhiksunis” at the opening ceremony of the 8th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women. Truly, Buddhism must “stride forward” so that there will be more opportunities for development in the future. We must actualize self-awakening and practicing the Buddha’s Way in order for our spirit to soar high.

At the end of the year, I conducted a series of lectures at the Hong Kong Coliseum and Taipei’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on “Life, Dying, and Living” putting forth new views on Humanistic Buddhism. In honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals in protecting the environment, the Austrian government has presented them annually with the Energy Globe Award. The organizer especially sent representatives to Taiwan to invite me to Austria to present the award and speak on the issue. This allowed me the opportunity at year-end to travel around the world again from Taiwan to America, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, and Vienna in Austria to propagate the Dharma. I was especially honored to receive an invitation by the leaders of Hainan Province in China who flew me there in a chartered plane to view the construction plans of their “Buddhist Forum.” Amidst the windy and rainy weather at the time, I was thankful to come and go in safety.

Seeing the great earth is about to welcome spring again, I cannot help but feel deeply touched by the attachment for life of all phenomena. As the leaves yellowed after a year, they will turn green again eventually. Within the depth between withering and flourishing, they allow us to learn the spirit to strive on, as well as the respect and tolerance for life. My blessings to you all in creating a new life and a new future in the coming new year! Wishing you auspicious coexistence!

Sincerely,