Dear Dharma Protectors and Friends,
Happy New Year to you all!
Ever since I announced the scaling down of my public appearances, I have not stopped my progress in propagating the Dharma. I have nevertheless continued to promote education, kept writing, restored my ancestral temple and propagated Humanistic Buddhism. I have single-mindedly devoted myself to the endeavor for a purer, better and more beautiful earth without ever slacking off. Time passes by quickly, and the end-of-the-year plum blossom fragrance has once again arrived. In time of a new year, I sincerely wish and pray: may all our Dharma protectors and devotees be blessed with “Prosperous Future Generations,” and “Harmonious Conditions in All.”
I have always found joy in being an uninvited helper. Throughout the past year, despite no longer attending meetings or delivering large-scale lectures, I have given talks to devotees at FGS branch temples’ Dharma services, traveled to FGS temples around the world and taught them how to cook the La-pa Congee, which serves as a token of appreciation for our devotees and Dharma protectors in place of tea. I have also planned the future developments of our art gallery, Water Drop Teahouse, and Open University, hoping that they would abide by the spirit of “being a happy giver,” as the more you give, the bigger your world would become. In terms of the roles of BLIA and FGS in contemporary society, I proposed diversity of activities and enthusiasm in spreading the Dharma. At the Reading Association Seminars, Academic Paper Presentation and Doctorate and Master’s Degree Graduates Forum, I also proposed the need to nurture talents and develop the habit of reading, because gaining knowledge is the trend of the modern era. I believe reading and knowledge are the two essential elements to dealing with the world without hindrances.
In time of BLIA’s 16th anniversary, I encouraged our global Buddha’s Light members to experience Buddhism in everyday life by “Pass your days happily, travel life’s path with an upright character, live with a carefree mind, and maintain spiritual and physical wellbeing.” I also gave Dharma talks on “The Secret Code of Life” and “Endurance as Power” at the Three Gorges Museum and Sichuan Buddhist College at Chongqing Huayan Temple; and held dialogues with Hong Kong Phoenix Television Executive President Liu Chang-le on “Phoenix Television and Fo Guang Shan,” “Managing the Mind,” “The Philosophy of Tolerance,” and “A Harmonious Society.” While social problems may be endless, it needs to be realized that their ultimate cause are human being’s greed, hatred and ignorance; and the way to find a peaceful life is through “ceasing all evil, and practicing all goods” as expounded in Buddhism, so that purification of the self and its desires can be accomplished. Whether delivering speeches when needed and joyfully giving talks, language and writing are all ways through which I express my humble thoughts and real life experiences of the Dharma. It is my sincere hope that these will at least be of some help to the spiritual growth and development of humanity.
Last June, I visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a health check-up under the ardent invitation of James Yuan-Hsiu Chao and his wife Lydia. The modest and amiable working atmosphere inspired me to write an article on “A Chronicle of My Physical Check-up at Mayo Clinic, Rochester,” which was published on Better Life Magazine.
The 21st Century is an era of the global village. It is very important that there is harmony and peaceful coexistence between Mahayana, Theravada, Esoteric and Exoteric Buddhism as well as other religions. As chairperson of the Religious Committee, I am responsible for promoting religious exchanges in Taiwan. Therefore, on last New Year’s Day, the 2007 Respect and Care Musical Prayer Service was co-organized by the Christian Church and twelve other religious organizations, while the Kaohsiung City Government organized an Inter-Religious Forum, and the John Tung Foundation invited seven major religious organizations to a dialogue on suicide prevention. All of these are the joint-pursuit for a better future, and peace and love among the human race, which is truly worthy of rejoicing and cheering for.
On the other hand, construction of Fo Guang Shan Nantai Temple, Tokyo branch, Auckland branch, Christchurch branch, and Chung Tian Temple Pagoda have been completed successively. Jian Zhen Library in Yangzhou was also inaugurated on New Year’s Day after more than two years of construction. In the future, we also plan to establish the World Research Center for Buddhist Studies in Gold Coast, Australia to promote Buddhist studies and inter-religious harmony.
News of the unfortunate incident about the Buddhist monks in Myanmar came while I was presiding over a Refuge Taking and Five Precepts Ceremony in Australia. They have bravely stepped out of the monastery to speak for the Burmese people’s yearning for peace. Although they expressed their hope for an improved nation by a peaceful sitting, the crimson robes that symbolize great compassion and courage were unfortunately stained with the blood of violence. Force can never bring peace to this world. Let us express our sincere prayers to the Buddha for continued support and blessings for these Myanmar monks.
Throughout its history, Buddhism has never tried to subdue anyone with force. Instead, people have happily accepted Buddhism for its spirit of compassion and loving-kindness. Every bell sound heard from the Buddhist temples carries with it the ardent wishes for “eternal cessation of wars and an end to the use of force.” It is said that the sound of the bell will spread to all the worlds, and that the waves of its sounds will bring forth fearlessness and peace to sentient beings in all three thousand realms.
The bell of Hanshan Temple in Suzhou, China was turned world-famous by a Tang dynasty poem – “Night Mooring at Maple Bridge;” and today, the people of Taiwan will all be able to hear its sounds. With much gratitude to Venerable Master Qiu Shuang of Hanshan Temple, who kindly agreed to present a duplicate of the bell to Fo Guang Shan as a gift. This Tang-style “Bell of Peace and Harmony” symbolize harmony and friendship between these two brother temples. A special ceremony was held at Linkou Stadium to welcome the sound of this peace bell, and to pray for peace between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and freedom from the terrors of war.
In order to express our thoughts on this extraordinarily wonderful occasion, Yeh Xiao-wen, China’s Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and I each composed a poem: “The same moon shines over the bend of shallow water, yet both shores remain sleepless over homesickness; Say not that Buddha’s Light is a thousand miles away, for brothers are now joined by the sounds of the bell.” And “The mundane connection between the two shores have been like a dream, flesh and bones are like paths that never cross; the ancient Hanshan Temple of Suzhou has now delivered the sound of peace to Taiwan.”
Other things worth mentioning include that BLIA Chunghwa and the Central Devotee’s Association of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism have become brother associations; Fo Guang University and Otani University of Japan have signed an Academic Exchange Agreement; and Pu-men Senior High School and Far East University have become partners in strategic education plans. Pu-men girl’s gymnastic team came first in the group division at the national competition; Fo Guang Shan Christchurch had won the National Architecture Award and Civic Trust Awards 2007 for outstanding green building; and Chung Tian Temple has been listed a popular pilgrimage site by Day Trip Secrets Brisbane.
This year has been a fruitful year for Humanistic Buddhism as it spreads from Taiwan to other parts of the world. Nan Hua Temple organized the first Group Buddhist Wedding in Africa; Fo Guang Shan Geneva Conference Center held its first Eight Precepts Ceremony; Calcutta Buddhist Centre organized the Buddha’s Birthday Celebration Bathing the Buddha Float, re-showing how Buddha challenged the Indian Caste System, emphasizing all are equal and have the right to experience and learn the Dharma; the 2008 Olympic torch relay passed through IBPS Holland; and BLIA Young Adults Division, under the leadership of Venerable Hui Chuan, held its international conference inside the United Nations Conference Hall in Switzerland. All of these historical events have come from years of dedication by Buddha’s Light members. It is they who had made these glorious achievements possible.
In response to global issues, BLIA chapters and FGS branches around the world have organized a series of events to take part in the World Environment Day such as beach clean-up, tree planting and forestation, environmental protection camps and energy conservation. In Europe, an International Children's Drawing Competition was organized in response to “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty” to bring higher awareness to children on humanity care and compassion. The newly established BLIA YAD university divisions organized charity trips to the Philippines and around Taiwan for young adults to experience the sufferings of the world, confront poverty, and learn to be grateful for what they have been given.
The FGS New Year Neighborhood Day has not stopped its annual run for more than two decades; the FGS Compassion Foundation has promoted the Kaohsiung City Health Screening Project for New Immigrants; IBPS London became the first Buddhist organization in Europe to hold a prayer for homeless people; BLIA has organized the Chanting Seminar and National Teacher’s Seminar tour around Taiwan addressing issues on “Family and School;” Nan Hua University held the “Seminar on the impact of low birth rate on higher education and strategies for student recruitment;” and Buddha’s Light Open University and Asia University Department of Psychology co-initiated the Religious Counseling Laboratory. All of these social education events are real-life examples of the spirit of “Practicing the Buddha’s Way.”
To keep up with the steps of time, FGS initiated an information digitization project to provide better service to our devotees. The FGS website has been visited by more than five million people each year, providing daily FGS news, online sutra transcription, prayer as well as morning and evening chanting services to make the internet a means of spiritual cultivation; Merit Times Newspaper has introduced the weekend edition to offer deeper readings about humanity; Humanistic Buddhist Reading Association has provided a medium for book lovers to share their reading experiences; while BLTV has become the only NPO television station in Asia, whose innovative programs enable worldwide viewers a better chance to get to know the Chinese community’s contribution to society.
The rapid development of technology and economy has also brought along with it much more complicated human issues. An attempt to resolve these issues cannot be done without deepening focus on education, because it will continue to have great influences on human minds for all generations to come. I have devoted many years of effort to monastic and social education, ensuring that this field for talents is being continually cultivated. Last year, classes at the Department of Buddhist Studies at Fo Guang University commenced; it is the first Ministry-of-Education-approved higher Buddhist educational institution in Taiwan. The first class holds fifty students, and lessons are conducted with English as a teaching language. At the same time, the University women’s basketball team, led by coach Lee Hyung-sook demonstrates an example of a fully integrated education program for outstanding athletic students. The Nan Hua University Ya Yue Court Orchestra has also received invitations to perform around the world, thus showing the youthful and energetic side of Buddhism.
Construction of the new Buddhist College in India has begun; the foundation laying ceremony of Nan Tien University in Australia also took place; and Pu-Men Senior High School will be relocated to its new 1.2 billion dollar campus early this year. Furthermore, the Master Hsing Yun and Humanistic Buddhism Academic Conference and Buddhist Studies Theses Forum for Members of the Fo Guang Shan Order represent my deepest expectations in my disciples to acquire in-depth understanding on Buddhist studies and greater skills in Dharma propagation. As for education, we are planning to establish the Buddhist Education League to broaden Buddhist education’s scope of influence on the world by merging resources of Fo Guang Shan’s education system with those of universities from Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China.
In order to promote reading in society, the FGS Foundation for Culture and Education established the Cloud and Water Mobile Bookshop. It will be a moving library that brings classics and present-day good books to remote places, thereby introducing a new aspect of social education. The Urban Buddhist School has started classes at several FGS branch temples; Fo Guang Shan Malaysia organized the Buddhist Examination which attracted thousands of candidates; and Humanistic Buddhist Reading Seminar and the National Reading Expo have introduced the themes “Care for Society,” “Reading,” and “Spiritual Cultivation” to present the deeper and profound perspective of Buddhism as a part of human life. Other than the above, events such as Life and Death Studies, Comparative Philosophy, Buddhist Music in East Asia, Buddhist Youth Academic Conference, Chan and Humanistic Buddhism Academic Forum, National Teacher’s Life Education Camp, Fo Guang Reading Seminar on English Buddhist Texts, BLIA YAD European Subdivisions Seminar, 2007 International Buddha’s Light Young Adult Executive Conference, Children’s Summer Camp, Children’s Happy Chanting Camp, and Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery Training Seminars around Taiwan have all added to the splendor of Humanistic Buddhism.
In terms of culture and art, Universal Gate Magazine and Sin Chiew Daily in Malaysia co-organized the Master Hsing Yun Literature Award and Dharma talk series, where more than seven hundred entries were received. The Sounds of the Human World Buddhist Orchestra, established in 2006, went on a concert tour around Taiwan. In the Philippines, “Siddhartha: A Musical Journey to Enlightenment,” adapted from A Biography of Sakyamuni Buddha and Cloud and Water received tremendous responses. The future for Buddhism will be one that blooms with artistic and literary endeavors.
In mid April, I was invited to give a talk at Yuelu Academy in Changsha city, Hunan Province, China, which was established by Venerable Zhi Xuan. In hearing about the construction project of the Chinese Academy Museum, I happily offered to contribute to it as a way to express my care and support in culture and education.
At the end of 2007, I spent almost two months traveling around China. I was very delighted to see Buddhism on the rise over this land; not only are the people honest and kind, they are also people who find joy in chanting the Buddha’s name. Suzhou is known as “the place just below heaven alongside with Hangzou,” the beautiful landscape resembles that of a Buddha’s pureland. It is my hope that my disciples will bring into full play the function of Jiaying Lodge (Jiaying huiguan) as a “Spiritual Service Station,” a place where people can find spiritual solace and comfort from something as simple as a painting, a cup of tea, or a bowl of congee. The Lodge’s opening exhibition is on “Rocks,” which corresponds very well to the Buddhist idea that even icchantikas[i] can become buddhas. This also happens to be my belief that all should have the courage to say to themselves, “I am a Buddha.”
During my trip, I had also been invited to give a speech on “Sharing Wealth and Social Harmony” at the 5th Global Chinese Business Leaders Summit held at Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai. For as much wealth as there can be, there will still be a limit, and money will not necessarily bring real content and happiness to our lives and minds. Whilst pursuing tangible wealth, we must also accumulate intangibles ones such as wisdom, morality, compassion and a sense of remorse. Those who have wealth also need to learn how to share, develop good affinities, give and serve, because what is gained from society should be used in the interests of society. On top of having wealth, there must also be harmony, because harmony makes wealth possible, and wealth should be used to make a harmonious society happen.
Other than the above, I also visited Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a modern education institute with a century-old history and a student population of forty thousand and more. I toured this grand campus in awe, and realized there is still so much more for me to learn.
Having been invited several times by my elder sister who has lived in Guangxi for a very long time, I finally made time to meet her in Liuzhou. Despite both being old and ill, I still feel very happy to see her with a house full of grandchildren. In the mundane eye, one would say that my sister is the one enjoying happiness and longevity, yet, I am one who is still single. Nevertheless, I have spent half a century traveling abroad and abiding in a life of not having anything, and becoming family with the multitude. I have absolutely no regret in choosing the path I have traveled. In a matter of different minds, a woman and her brother had chosen very different lives.
Other than visiting the bustling and flourishing cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, I also flew to Yunan to visit the Yunan Buddhist College and experience Buddhism in the Dali Kingdom as well as the simple yet heartwarming Xi-Shuang-Ban-Na minority group. As I gazed upon the beautiful Kunming Lake and its autumn scenery, and Jingsha River's majestic Tiger Leaping Gorge, I could not help but realize that its reputation of a “Shangri-La” has really lived up to its name. What is more, the harmony displayed between Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism in this region is a paradigm of inter-religious exchanges.
I had spent every day of this two-month trip visiting places, meeting guests, teaching my disciples and giving talks, living like a top that spins endlessly. I may have been physically exhausted, but I was always high-spirited. As I expect my disciples to gain hands-on experiences, I should also practice my own teachings by opening up my sensory organs and travel the world with a humble mind to learn from every person I meet.
As I look back to my days in Taiwan, they can be divided it into five decades: self-growth, establishment of Ilan Buddhist Chanting Association, founding of Fo Guang Shan, establishing BLIA, and enabling the internationalization of Buddhism. There is also the restoration of Dajue Temple – the ancestral temple of FGS. Dajue Temple is the place where I was tonsured seventy years ago; and it is where I became an elementary school principal sixty years ago. Upon returning to this place, the glories from the past were no longer present. I have the unshirkable duty to restore the cradle of my Dharma lineage, and also have deep expectations in the disciples of Buddha’s Light to remember where they all come from, and shoulder the responsibility of restoring their ancestral temple.
As I pause my pen at this point in the letter, it is already another spring. Having traveled my life this far, I cannot help but wonder how much more of myself I could give to the world. How much more of my heart can I contribute to Buddhism? Master Zhao Zhou continued to travel despite his age of eighty for the pursuit of ultimate truth and virtue. For me, also an eighty-year-old monk, I traveled the world with the hope of realizing a three-hundred-year-old life, and uphold my lifetime principle: “Never have the heart to watch sentient beings suffer or allow the degeneration of Buddhism to happen.”
On the first day of 2008, I sincerely pray that all will uncover their true nature and have “Prosperous Future Generations[ii],” and that all nations will overcome the barriers of region, race, and skin color to coexist as one in a Humanistic Pureland that is blessed with “Harmonious Conditions in All.