Dear Dharma Protectors and Friends,
Happy New Year to you all! May fruitful harvests be yielded through earnest cultivation.
In time of the arrival of a new year, I cannot help but go over the past and look into the future, which is also my chance to share with everyone last year’s propagation works we have done. On New Year’s Day of 2008, Jian Zhen Library was completed after two and half years of construction, thereby allowing the opening ceremony of Jian Zhen Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery and Yangzhou Forum to take place. Yangzhou is my homeland, and it is also an ancient cultural heritage. For the past thousand years, writers and poets left behind countless fine poems and pieces of works. During the great Qing dynasty, the Huizhou merchants and salt tradesmen gathered here and allowed the city to prosper. The rich history and civilization of this city has allowed it to become one of world’s ten most bustling ancient capitals. With the completion of Jian Zhen Library and commencement of the Yangzhou Forum, the glory of Buddhist studies and culture in Yangzhou are bound to be revitalized.
Under the leadership of curator Weng Zhenjin, the Yangzhou Forum was graced by the presence of world renowned speakers such as novelist Er Yue He, Qian Wenzhong, Ma Rui-fang, Yu Dan, Wang Bang-wei, Yan Chongnian, Kang Zhen, Cheng Shiyan, Charles HC Kao, Yu Kuangchung, Henry Lee, and Cui Yongyuan who delivered talks on Strange Tales of Liaozhai, Records of the Historian (Shi-ji), the Analects, Tang poems, Xuanzang’s Journey to the West and so on.
As history gets mentioned, there are many monastic and lay Buddhists who had dedicated their lives to the study, propagation and protection of Buddhism through out the past one hundred years of Buddhist history. In time of the seventh anniversary of Universal Gate Buddhist Journal, I proposed a new layout design from issue 46 by starting with “A Selection of 20th Century Buddhist Literature.” This series consists of works written by bhiksus, bhiksunis, lay Buddhists and scholars on topics such as “Buddhism and literature,” and “Buddhism and architecture” as an attempt to encourage reading.
The influence of art and aesthetics is essential to the enhancement of life’s quality. Peking Opera is regarded a very profound and deep art, thus very few have shown interest in it. However, many of its performances are stories that portray the ideas of loyalty, filial piety, integrity, righteousness, cause and effect, and karmic retribution, which is rather similar to how Buddhism voices the Dharma and urges people to cultivate their body, mind and speech. For this reason, Fo Guang Shan has invited the director-general of Contemporary Legend Theatre - Wu Hsingkuo and wife Lin Hsiuwei to present one hundred performances on BLTV. Furthermore, we also invited the Peking Opera House of Beijing, led by former Beijing mayor Zhang Baifa to do a “Magnificent Peking Reappears” tour around Taiwan, hoping that the spirit of sentiment, righteousness and mutual gratitude can be reclaimed by people.
I was very pleased to hear about Paperwindmill Cultural Foundation’s effort in promoting children’s art in the countryside of Taiwan, I made a small contribution to the expenses required. On the other hand, “The Biography of the Buddha – Prince Siddhartha the Musical,” composed, produced, and performed in English by the Catholics from Philippine received tremendous responses in Taiwan. I feel deeply gratified to see Buddhism shift from ancient secluded mountain forests to the national performance theatres today, planting the seeds of Dharma in the hearts of the general public. This is indeed an era where Dharma is propagated through art form.
Literature and art are two wings of a bird. Other than Peking Opera, BLIA also organized “The Beauty of Buddha’s Light Photography Competition,” spreading the beauty of the sacred Buddha shrines to the whole world. Universal Gate magazine and Sin Chew Daily in Malaysia co-organized the “2008 Hsing Yun’s Literary Awards,” offering open and fair opportunity for young adults who love Buddhist literature to present the beauty of their minds.
The internet is a wonderful tool for the propagation of Dharma in the new era. Everyday, Fo Guang Shan’s website provides up-to-date news and information on Buddhist events and knowledge, attracting more than one million visitors on a yearly basis. Moreover, IBPS Hong Kong opened the Buddha Digital Radio Station which introduces Buddhist chanting, Buddhist hymns and songs from the “Sounds of the Human World” musical competition, bringing hope and serenity to this chaotic world.
This year, I published fourteen articles on Better Life Monthly Magazine, some of which include: “A Chronicle of My Physical Check Up at Mayo Clinic Rochester,” “Crucial Moment,” “Life’s Path,” “Dharma Propagation,” “Ascetic Practice,” and “My Maternal Grandmother.” These are my sixty years of humble experiences in propagating Buddhism, through out which I had learned to bear with the ups and downs, fames and defamations in life. I am very grateful to Better Life Publishing House for collecting these articles and publishing them in a book – A Life with Palms Joined. The joining of palms symbolizes my whole life’s dedication to Buddhism, and also my more sincere gratitude to the benefactors from the ten directions.
In June, I went on a two-week Dharma tour around Medan in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. While speaking to BLIA committees about the requirements of life, I also talked about ways of a married couple at the Buddha’s Light Bodhi Couple Blessing Ceremony, discussed management and harmony with Malaysia’s Transport Minister Ong Tee Keat, and encouraged those who were taking refuge in the Triple Gem to bravely admit that they too are buddhas. The attention paid by the local media and articles published by them allowed me to realize the essentiality of Buddhism to the human mind. The image of devotees’ earnestly yearning for the Dharma makes me perfectly willing to keep busy and forget the long and exhausting trips that I have to take.
There is an urgent need for the Dharma to comfort and bring peace to people’s minds amidst all these social chaos. Based on my eighty years of experience and understanding of Buddhism, I responded to time’s needs and gave a talk on “Buddha’s Way of Education” at the National Teacher’s Life Education and Meditation Seminar, on “What can I do for Buddha’s Light?” to BLIA committees, on “The Origin and Meaning of Emperor Leung’s Repentance Service” to the devotees, on “Harmony” at the Buddhist Academy of China, on “Buddhism and Modernity,” “Buddhism and Social Issues,” and “The People and Affairs of Fo Guang Shan” to students of Open University.
On November 7, I attended a celebration of a centennial of Venerable Ju Zan’s birth and the completion ceremony of his memorial park. Back in his time, this Master guarded Buddhism with much passion. In 1949, he became the only monastic to attend a ceremony at a Tiananmen Square building. He was willing to sacrifice himself for the construction of new China, and dedicated his whole life to the reform of Buddhism. He placed the propagation of Dharma before his personal welfares. Although he has left us now, his spirit, aspiration, vow and bravery will remain a paradigm to the later generations of Buddha’s disciples forever.
If culture is a fountain of sweet dew, then education is a fertile land with seeds. In September, the foundation laying ceremony of Junyi Elementary and Junior High School took place in Taitung. This was my attempt to contribute to education in Eastern Taiwan. Moreover, Better Life Publishing House intended to hand their “Power Teacher’s Award” to Fo Guang Shan. I plan to raise the prize money to encourage teachers nurture future talents through creative means. The influence of media cannot be overlooked either. For this reason, I plan to initiate the “Truth, Virtue and Beauty Media Award” to promote higher awareness on the truthful, virtuous and beautiful side of this world in the media.
In order to assist financially challenged students acquire a professional skill, Nan Hua Temple in South Africa organized a two-month computer training camp. Feng Shan Vihara also organized Fo Guang Shan Social Welfare Seminar for Elite Ladies to provide well-learned young adults a chance to travel and work. Fo Guang Shan branches in Sabah and Singapore organized a quiz on Buddhist knowledge. BLIA YAD sent their members on a Dharma tour around Malaysia, and organized several training seminars and lessons to broaden these young adults’ horizon and aspirations.
Every year, Fo Guang Shan would organize events such as “Humanistic Buddhism Academic Conference,” “Humanistic Buddhism Reading Seminars,” “Academics and Scholars’ Gathering,” “Open University Teacher and Student Gathering,” “National Teacher’s Life Seminar Camp,” and “International Academic Conference on Buddhist Literature and General Literature.” These events aim to practice what the Buddha practice, and as practitioners of Humanistic Buddhism, we carry with us the responsibility of striving to build a Humanistic Pureland that is filled with purity, virtue and beauty.
The propagation of Buddhism in the English language is now an unstoppable trend. In June, April and August this year, Fo Guang University’s Department of Buddhist Studies organized the “Fo Guang World English Buddhist Dharma Talks” and made exchanges with university and college students in Philippines (Manila, Cebu, Iloilo and Bacolod), Singapore, and Malaysia. These talks received acclaims from local universities and enhanced interfaith exchanges between Catholicism and Buddhism. The passionate energy of young adults are essential to Buddhism, students such as Miao Guang, Miao Zhe and Miao Jing who led the Dharma tours are all Master program students in the Department of Buddhist Studies of FGU. All classes in this program are conducted in English. It is hoped that Buddhism will deepen its root in different parts of the world, and step into the new era of internationalization.
In order to encourage global views in university and college students, Fo Guang Shan’s International Buddhist Progress Society also plans to organize a five-day “International English Buddhist Studies Life Camp.”
A temple is a gas station in life, and a school for opening the source of spirituality. A temple offers a wide range of activities for people to learn. For instance, the “Everyday is a Good Day – Tea Festival in Europe” organized by the branch temples in Europe, allows Europeans to experience and taste Ch’an through a meal and tea. Chung Tian Temple organized a Taking Refuge Ceremony in English, spreading the Dharma to the local Australians. In Congo of Africa, around 200 devotees took refuge in the Triple Gems. Also Fo Guang Shan and Shen Wei Tian Tai Mountain Universism Temple co-organized the 2008 International Vegetarian Culinary Competition, allowing people to experience the ultimate taste of Dharma through the crispy and delicious tastes of food. Discovery Channel’s Fantastic Foods of the World and Food Network HD program also visited Fo Guang Shan to film the Buddhist etiquette of taking in meals. It is apparent there are many expedient means to spread the Dharma, due to the different times and mindsets, we should reach out with open minds to become closer to the needs of people’s minds.
Although Fo Guang Shan’s main missions are to purify human minds through cultural and educational works, we still do our best in charity and relief aid. In the beginning of May, a hurricane struck Myanmar, killing tens of thousands of people. Having heard the news, I immediately had IBPS Bangkok and BLIA members in Thailand to bring immediate relief aid with all efforts. Not long after, an earthquake shook Wenchuan county of Sichuan, China. Fo Guang Shan and BLIA Chunghua Headquarters contributed ten million RMB to the local Buddhist organizations to bring relief aid and even established the Emergency Rescue Command Center. Coordinated by Venerable Tzu Jung and Venerable Jue Pei, the center organized materials for the disaster relief received from around the world. Branch temples around the world set up memorial plaques for the deceased and victims, and organized “A Blessing Ceremony for Victims of the Sichuan Earthquake,” praying for the survivors to start afresh, and the dead be blessed.
Also, the Chief Executive Operator of FGS Compassion Foundation Venerable Jue Hong led Taiwan’s BLIA North Chapter President, Chen Jia-long, Tao-Chu-Miao Chapter President Chu Tang-mei and others in establishing the Malaysia National and Buddha’s Light Rescue Team. They entered areas that were greatly affected by the earthquake to donate wheelchairs and ambulances, and contributed to the establishment of Samadhi Water Charity Hospital, Zhong Xing Health Center, Zhang Ming Middle School, and Mu Yu Middle School. Abiding by the 4-in-1 Rescue and Relief Plan (rescue, medical treatment, daily supplies, and humanity care), temporary homes were built, spiritual and psychological counseling centers were established, and schools were reconstructed as the three main directions to be undertaken as long-term tasks in the reconstruction of the affected areas. Giving them warm support, consoling their spirits and family building is the main objective in disaster relief and rescue.
With humble and grateful hearts, members of Fo Guang Shan brought to the best of their efforts relief aid to Myanmar and Sichuan areas. As the sutra says, “There are four ways of repaying kindness out of gratitude.” All sentient beings have once been my parents and friends. Repaying out of gratitude is a duty that everyone should complete. In the light of the economy downturn and issues regarding children’s education, Fo Guang Shan branch temples around the globe organized “Caring for Children in Need Fair” where all proceeds will go to the education scholarships for children in need, “Fo Guang Scholarship and Wheelchair Donation Charity Dinner”, and “40-Hour Famine.” In response to urges for energy-saving and low carbon society from the whole world, a Fo Guang Forest project, “Energy-saving and Vegetarian Food Campaign” and bicycle tour were implemented within communities to urge the people to actively participate in these movements. As we only have one earth, we need to use a grateful heart to influence and promote environmentalism activities.
Last September, Beautiful Life Television invited me to film The Founding of Fo Guang Shan Monastery, introducing the history of 65 scenery spots and architecture of Fo Guang Shan. Within four days, we walked from the Great Compassion Shrine, Bamboo Garden Lodge, Bodhi Road, Cloud Dwelling Building to the Gateway of Practice. Walking through Fo Guang Shan once again, it reminds me of the past decades before and after establishing Fo Guang Shan. My heart is filled with endless gratitude towards the devotees. I hope that with “I am Fo Guang Shan” as principle, my disciples will cherish every blade of grass and tree, which never come easy, recognize that every bowl of porridge and rice comes from a gathering of causes and conditions, emulate the sage as a model, and progress forward to continue the mission and wisdom of the Buddha.
Without the long-term support of the benefactors, there will not be Fo Guang Shan and Buddhist enterprises across the five continents today. In order to thank the devotees for their meritorious deeds, the Devotee Gathering was revived last year. Around 50,000 Dharma protectors from around the world gathered at Fo Guang Shan. Tens of thousands came for pilgrimage, listened to the Dharma, and took Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Precepts. As I have said to everyone at the gathering, thank you for your support. Fo Guang Shan will also continue in benefiting others with the hope that every visitor of Fo Guang Shan brings home with them the Dharma, peace and auspiciousness.
Dharma and peace are both riches. At the 2008 BLIA General Conference, I shared four points on the theme, “Bodhisattva and Volunteer” to encourage BLIA members to emulate the spirit of the bodhisattvas who are compassionate to all beings and benefit them impartially: A bodhisattva is a volunteer for sentient beings, while a volunteer is a bodhisattva for the world; a bodhisattva reverses route to deliver sentient beings, while a volunteer cultivates oneself to achieve bodhi wisdom; a bodhisattva is always a ferry in the ocean of suffering, while a volunteer is always an unrequested helper; and a bodhisattva encounters different stages of spiritual cultivation, while a volunteer faces different levels of dedication.
In early winter, the warm sun was still shining on the southern tip of Taiwan where Fo Guang Shan locates. On November 23, the 2nd World Buddhist Forum Press Conference and Hitting the Bell Blessing Ceremony” was organized on Fo Guang Shan’s Path to Buddhahood. At 10am, Dharma Drum Mountain, Tzu Chi Foundation, Huafan University, Ling Yen Shan Temple, Lay Buddhist’s Society Republic of China, and with around one hundred leading Buddhist organization representatives of Taiwan presided at the great event. On that day, not a single cloud could be seen. At the exact time, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Wuxi in Jiangsu sounded the bell simultaneous to pray for the world that there will be no more weapons of war, and the people will be happy and at peace. Next year, the 2nd World Buddhist Forum will be co-organized by the Buddhist Association of China, China Religious Culture Communication Association, Buddha’s Light International Association, and Buddhist Association of Hong Kong. The forum will open in China and close in Taiwan, becoming a milestone for the Buddhist history on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The forum symbolizes a great harmony of the cross-strait relations in the Buddhist history. Through discussions and meetings, this will open the Buddhist world to a new moment of exchange.
In December, I flew to Hsi Lai Temple in the United States to preside over the “International Full Ordination Ceremony” in commencement of the 20th anniversary inauguration of Hsi Lai Temple, and to bless and inspire the newly ordained monastics that they may make great vows to forever protect the Dharma for the future of Buddhism, to never regress, and to settle their minds in the Dharma and maintain the duties of a monastic. The great Dharma has came to the West where every tile and part of Hsi Lai Temple came from the hardwork, and blood and sweat of the early pioneers who built this majestic temple we have today.
Water flows but never returns. As Samanthabhadra Bodhisattva reminds us, “As the days pass by, life grows shorter like fish running out of water, how can there be happiness?” Recalling the past, but seeing hope in the future; as an octogenarian, walking with increasing stumble and weakening strength, I am learning after Linji Ch’an Master who personally planted and grew rows of trees to shelter new generations to come. And I, like a hundred-year-old tree, just hope that in the future of Buddhism, there is someone to receive the transmission, allowing the right Dharma to continue and the Dharma water to flow forever. Doing what is done in walking the path to Buddhahood, has been my conviction. For Buddhism, I am willing to commit in serving even when no one else is willing; this resolve will not change for lifetimes to come.
In the new year, the disciples of Fo Guang Shan took on the responsibility of editing the Fo Guang Buddhist Canons, hoping Buddha’s Light members will extend their spirit of concerted efforts, and within three years complete the compilation of sixteen canons of the entire Tripitaka. In order for Dharma lecturers to have teaching resources, I initiated the compilation of “Jing Yu Man Tang” (A Rich of Gold and Jade) as teaching material. Three years of “Ten Thousand Affairs in the World” column in the Merit Times Newspaper, will be published as books; hoping that the offering of these words will allow everyone to benefit from the Dharma, which is also a small way of repaying my gratitude to the Buddha. I vow by “offering an incense from my heart” like mandala flowers, the Dharma will sprinkle across the three thousand dharma realms. Those who hear or are joyful from reading it are able to receive the benefits of the Dharma.
It is hoped that the main complex of the much anticipated Buddha Memorial hall will be completed by next year. The memorial hall covers over 16,530 sq meters and enshrines the Buddha’s tooth relic and memorial artifacts of the Buddha. The surroundings include elegantly designed pagodas of the Four Noble Truths, stone pagodas of the Eightfold Noble Path, and sutra pillars. In the back, there is the beautiful scenery of Vulture Peak and Ganges River. When completed, it will be the world’s center for paying reverence to the Buddha, and also for propagating the teachings of the great Buddha, in repayment for the great kindness of the Buddha. At the same time, the memorial hall allows everyone to admire with respect the noble character of the Buddha and learn from the compassionate vow of the Buddha, who propagated Buddhism across India.
This year, I wrote “Earnest Cultivation Yields Fruitful Harvest” for the new year’s couplet. The buddhas of the three periods attained enlightenment in this world. The great bodhisattvas accumulate merits and wealth (harvests) through servicing. A piece of land needs vitality in order to reap fruits. We need to protect our bodhi mind and make great affinity in order for others and ourselves to succeed on the path to Buddhahood.
In a year of four seasons, Fo Guang Shan is always like the spring, a Vulture Peak filled with rows of trees swaying in the gentle wind, while the sound of Buddhist music continues. Every time I return to Fo Guang Shan from Dharma propagation tours, I would look up to the brilliant stars and moon above and gaze at the sea of bright red and purple flowers below. The Dharma as such, one’s innate treasure flows from one’s heart, a task that no one can achieve on our behalf. May you one day travel to spiritual mountain and experience the Buddha’s heart when he held a flower and smiled. This is where you can see everyone innate and boundless wealth of merit and Dharma.