Dear Dharma protectors and friends,
With the coming of the new spring, the Year of the Snake (Little Dragon) has also arrived. I would like to first wish you well with the couplet,
Unwavering Advancement Despite Life's Twists and Turns
Lead to the Attainment of Wisdom and Fortune.
May you have the spirit of the little dragon which continues to advance in spite of all the setbacks in life, keep your hopes strong for the future, preserve your faith in life, and progress further in your endeavors.
As of the end of last year, the Buddha Memorial Center was the most popular tourist attraction in Taiwan. During the Chinese New Year, the Minister of Transportation and Communications, Mao Zhi-guo, visited the Center and gave an estimate of over one million visitors during the five-day New Year holiday after personally observing the traffic flow. According to later estimates of the Kaohsiung Tourism Bureau, the first half of 2012 alone had seen 6.7 million visitors and the occupancy rate of the various hotels in Kaohsiung City had also risen considerably. Not only is this a tremendous achievement for the Center, it is also a wonderful contribution to both Kaohsiung City and Taiwan. From as early as its conception, my vision for the Buddha Memorial Center was that it will become an icon of Taiwan, so that when people see the Center, they will also see Taiwan. With much gratitude for the Buddha's blessings, this wish has been fulfilled. My sincere thanks and appreciation also go to the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, Tourism Bureau, Water Resources Agency, and Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu as well as the City Government for their support and assistance. In the future, extra pedestrian paths and parking lots will be constructed alongside the Kaoping River banks. This should greatly improve traffic and parking issues, and provide easier access to the Center for our visitors.
Throughout the year, Curator Venerable Tzu Jung has led the center in holding up to one hundred art and cultural activities. From cartoonist Tsai Chih-chung's "Golden and Bronze Buddha Statues Exhibition," to the "I Love the Buddha Memorial Center" Children's Drawing Competition which collected works from over seven hundred children, and the "Return of a Thousand Years – Buddhist Sculptures of Longxing Temple in Qingzhou, Shandong Exhibition," visitors have been awed by such feasts of Buddhist culture and art at the Center. Another event worth mentioning is the "Paintings of One Hundred Artists Exhibition" that collected works from artists such as Li Chi-mao, and Chou Chen, whose paintbrushes have left colorful streaks of purity and beauty inside the Center. In particular, Liang Dan-feng's 7-meter wide painting – "Guided by Compassion" presents a lively panoramic view of the Center in a truly astonishing manner. In addition, I have always been very fond of the ethnic minorities, for this reason, "A Meeting of Color – Exhibition of China's Intangible Cultural Heritage – Ethnic Minority Costumes" was held at the Center, exhibiting costumes from 56 ethnic minority groups. The exuberant colors, diverse culture, and exquisite handcrafts have indeed enriched our knowledge and made our world much more interesting.
Inside the Main Hall is the Great Enlightenment Auditorium which has a 360-degree center stage for both performance and conference purposes. Last June, the Venerable Master Hsing Yun Public Education Trust Fund, BLIA, and Global Views Educational Foundation co-organized the 1st Hsing Yun World Humanities Forum. With the theme "Seeing the Power of Change," Harvard University Professor Ezra Vogel was invited to speak on "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China," while I spoke on "Humanistic Buddhism and the Transformation of Human Minds." In October, the BLIA celebrated her 20th Anniversary and held the 2012 BLIA General Conference inside the Auditorium, where I also gave a keynote speech on "Happiness and Peace."
As a way to commend those who have contributed to the works of better media, culture, and education, the Public Education Trust Fund has subsequently organized award presentations for the "2nd Three Acts of Goodness Schools Award," the "4th Truthful, Virtuous and Beautiful Media Award," and the "2nd Global Chinese Literature Award" inside the Great Enlightenment Auditorium. These awards were presented in hopes of encouraging and supporting individuals or organizations working towards a better society.
In May, about one hundred members from the Philippines Academy for Performing Arts performed "Siddhartha: A Musical Journey to Enlightenment," followed by the Tang Mei-yun Taiwanese Opera Company which did a show on "The Great Vow Across a Thousand Years," a story about Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, and then the Beijing Opera Troupe lead by Opera Diva Chi Xiaoqiu performed One-Act Plays. All of these have brought exquisite Buddhist culture and art into the Buddha Memorial Center.
Throughout the year, many Daoist Temples escorted their gods and deities such as Matsu, Nezha the Third Prince, Emperor God Wang-ye, Marshal Deity Yuan-shuai, and God King Wen to the Buddha Memorial Center, so that they too could pay respect to their "Big Brother" – the Buddha. I felt extremely joyful about this, and made sure that there was a warm welcome and seats were arranged next to the Buddha for these deities. The Center is like an ocean that unconditionally embraces the gods and deities, as well as devotees from various religions. Harmony, respect, and tolerance were surely actualized inside the Center. In addition, we greatly appreciate the National Gold Award for Architecture committee for recognizing our effort in promoting culture and education, and contributing to society by awarding to the Buddha Memorial Center the 2012 Golden Lion Award for Culture and Education.
In order to promote reading in Taiwan, the Fo Guang Shan Foundation for Culture and Education established the Cloud and Water Mobile Libraries in 2007. Last year, fifty Mobile Library trucks along with the Cloud and Water Support Trucks were inaugurated by the Minister of Education, and are now officially touring Taiwan. It is hoped that these fifty library trucks can soar like seagulls with wings stretched far and wide, bringing the fragrance of books to remote villages and towns, and let soft power – knowledge be more generally accessible. The libraries are now open for book donations and recruiting volunteers for library maintenance, "Uncle Magicians" to entertain the children, or "Story-telling Moms" to be a part of the project.
Speaking of reading, last year Fo Guang Shan published the six-volume One Hundred Lessons on Monastery Affairs, From Wasteland to Sacred Land: How it All Began, A Houseful of Gold and Jade, and books in Simplified Chinese as well as over ten other languages. In particular, Academia Historica invited me to narrate Buddhist Affinities Across 100 Years. Details of the past manifested in front of my eyes. It was if I had traveled back to the eras of chaos again. Although it was sad and melancholic for me to recall these memories, I also realized what is needed to survive the test of time are endurance and courage. Those days of poverty, wars and adversity had become the nutrition for my life. For all the positive responses, I have narrated fifty more chapters, which are scheduled for publication this year.
Other than the above, I would also like to thank Commonwealth Publishing Group for listing my writings on Humanistic Buddhism in the Forward Thinking book set, titling the book Where Is Humanistic Buddhism? Furthermore, having realized that Humanistic Buddhism is indeed what the world today needs, the Fo Guang Shan Institute of Humanistic Buddhism was established last year. My disciples have elected me as President, Venerable Tzu Hui as Vice President, and Professor Chen Gongrang as Director of the Institute. May Humanistic Buddhism contribute to today's world and make history in a hopeful future for humanity.
For many years, Fo Guang Shan has been committed to the propagation of Humanistic Buddhism, a part of which is community welfare. For example, situated in the Dashu District, every year Fo Guang Shan would purchase the local produce – the yuhebao lychees in bulk for two purposes: 1) as gift for others, 2) to prevent the lychee farmers from having to sell them at very low prices due to poor sales. Last year, this activity expanded into the International Fruit Festival, and the farmers were invited to use the stalls for free to promote their products. As a result, more than half a million kilograms of lychees were sold within a short period of three weeks. After that, the Farmer's Union was established. Fo Guang Shan is happy to offer long-term support to the farmers, and to ensure that their products sell at a good price. For there to be merits and joy, nothing else surpasses this win-win situation.
Speaking of joy, the year 2012 left me with both joy and sorrow. For four consecutive years, we have held the National Buddha's Birthday and Mother's Day Celebration on the Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office. The celebration has attracted international attention and recognition, allowing Buddha's compassion and joy to spread to the world. Regretfully, in less than two weeks after last year's celebration, the Ministry of the Interior issued a notice to revoke the bill which was passed by 207 legislators to recognize Buddha's Birthday as a national event. In order to defend Buddhism, I wrote an article on "Why Taiwan has no room for a National Buddha's Birthday Celebration" to express our determination and position about this day. Our join-effort called the government's attention to the weight of Buddhists in society, and the Ministry of the Interior finally retracted this notice.
In August, my old friend Cardinal Paul Shan S.J. passed away due to illness. For forty years, we have remained good friends who never saw each other differently for religious reasons, and we even made a pact to come back in our next lives as cardinal and Buddhist monk again, so as to work together for world peace. Amidst the sadness, I organized an interfaith memorial service for Cardinal Paul Shan. More than three thousand people attended to show their condolences. May interfaith harmony be achieved through continued exchanges and a common pursuit for peace.
In terms of exchanges, it is indeed the most beautiful thing in the world. Last November, I met with Somdet Phra Maha Weerawong, Wat Samphanthawongsaram, and elder monks of Thailand, where we had a discussion regarding exchanges between the Southern and Northern Schools, during which I suggested cooperation, unity, and mobilization. During my visit to Singapore and Malaysia, I also met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore – Teo Chee Hean, and the Prime Minister of Malaysia Mohd Najib Abdul Razak. Having also met with the previous two Malaysian Prime Ministers Mahathir bin Mohamad and Abdullah bin Ahmad Badawi, I am very honored to have been a part of this history of Buddhist and Muslim exchanges.
On another note, food and sports are the best media of friendship. Last April, under the guidance of the Yixing Municipal Government, Dajue Temple – the Fo Guang Ancestral Temple co-organized the 2012 Cross-Strait Vegetarian Food and Green Life Expo for the first time. Vegetarianism advocates environmental preservation, contributes to reduced carbon emission, and promotes the compassionate act of life protection. Within five days, a total of two hundred thousand people visited the expo in good order at zero accident rates, winning the government's recognition and media acclaim. Plans to organize the expo again this year have already been finalized.
In July, the Three Acts of Goodness Sports Association organized the 2012 Buddha's Light Women's University Basketball Tournament, having a total of eight universities in the competition: Peking University, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Nanchang University, Dalian University of Technology, National Taiwan University, Taipei Municipal University of Education, National Taiwan Sport University, and Fo Guang University. The tournament was won by Peking University, with Fo Guang University as runner-up. Winning is not the most important thing; what matters is that the university students from both sides of the Strait had a chance for friendly exchange.
As has been said, "Falling leaves return to their roots, and people trace back to their origins," Buddhists in Taiwan and China too share an inseparable bond. Last April, after I was invited to give a talk on "Self Discovery" inside the Wuxi Great Hall of the People, I also went to Xuzhou to speak on "The Way to Happiness and Peace." In my opinion, happiness and peace as advocated in Humanistic Buddhism starts from self-discovery, and lead into a future. In September, the World Economic Forum 2012 Summer Davos was held in Tianjin, and I was invited to speak on "The Value of Faith." For the first time in the Forum's 42-year history, there was a religious representative to speak about faith. This shows that rapid development of the economy has awakened greater emphasis on mental wellness and spiritual solace in people's lives. For this reason, I was of course more than happy to participate.
Throughout last year, my disciples across the globe have been actively propagating the Dharma, many of whom received honors and recognitions for their dedication. For example, Ven. Chueh Pei received an invitation to speak at the 2012 Boao Forum for Asia, making her the first bhiksuni to ever do so in the Forum history. Ven. Man Pu sent news from Chicago that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn declared May 16th as Buddha's Light Day in the state. Ven. Yung Gu in Toronto was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, signifying the government's recognition of the Buddhist effort in providing care and support for immigrants. In October, Ven. Chueh Ru represented Buddhism at the Buckingham Palace in paying tribute to Great Britain for Her commitment to promoting cultural diversity as well as interracial harmony and respect. I also gifted my one-stroke calligraphy which says, "Benevolent Ruler, Benevolent Heart." Ven. Man Shin was invited to inspect the 38 graduate constables at their graduation parade at the Royal New Zealand Police College in Wellington. She is the first bhiksuni to ever be appointed Patron of Royal New Zealand Police. Ven. Yi Lai represented Fo Guang Shan at the Presidential Office to receive the Award of Contribution for Welfare Services, while Ven. Ru Chang received the Award of Contribution to Social Education from the Ministry of Education. Not only are all these honors recognition of my disciples' dedication and hard work, they also signify that the works in Buddhism have been seen by society.
In September, election for the 9th Fo Guang Shan Board of Directors took place. A new lineup of young and promising disciples was chosen: Ven. Hui Chuan, Ven. Chueh Pei, Ven. Hui Chi, Ven. Ru Chang, Ven. Hui Rang, Ven. Chueh Ju, Ven. Miao Fan, Ven. Miao Shi, and Ven. Hui Zhi. Alternate members included: Ven. Miao Le, Ven. Chueh Yuan, Ven. Miao Lian, Ven. Chueh Yu, and Ven. Hui Ping. At the same time, Ven. Hui Chi was elected Chairperson of the Board, that is, the Head Abbot of Fo Guang Shan Order. The election signifies the alternation of generations, the handing down of the baton, and appointment of new responsibility bearers for Dharma propagation. I am gratified to see the light being handed down, and hope that they will follow the examples of their predecessors and dedicate their lives to Dharma propagation.
While my disciples have been so active and hardworking during the year, I myself never yielded to the degrading mobility of this aging body either. I traveled from across Taiwan to Japan, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia, and held several Triple Gem Refuge Taking and Five Precepts Ceremonies that were attended by a few hundred thousand people. I have visited Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand on many occasions since 1963, and last year marked the 50th anniversary of my connection with these countries. I can never forget the passion and devotion these people have shown towards Buddhism, especially the effort of my disciple Ven. Chueh Cheng in uniting Buddhists in these countries to hold the grand Dharma gatherings inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and Malaysia's Shah Alam Stadium, each holding a crowd of ten thousand and eighty thousand respectively, to pray for social harmony and world peace. It would not do justice to say that I presided over these ceremonies, because they were the accomplishment by the collective effort and commitment of all supporters and devotees who came to take part in these Dharma services.
As Buddha's Light members continued to show their devotion across the world, some results have been achieved last year. Ven. Man Jun showed me the site of Housui Temple in Gunma, Japan, while Ven. Chueh Ji and Ven. Miao Shen took me to the site of Thai Hua Temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Construction for both temples will begin this year, where the former will become the FGS Japan headquarters, while the latter, under the direction of Most Venerable Hsin Ting, will become the center of exchange between Northern and Southern Buddhism. In the future, monastics will have these temples as their hub for Dharma propagation, and lay devotees will have a spiritual home, and both can participate in a diverse range of Dharma events. In addition, Fahua Temple in Paris was completed under the leadership of Ven. Man Chien and inaugurated by Most Venerable Hsin Ting last year, while Er You Temple in Melbourne, Australia, overseen by Ven. Man Ke, was inaugurated by Most Venerable Hsin Pei. Not able to travel this far, I sent videos of my words of congratulations for both ceremonies.
At the 2012 Sangha Day Festival, Vice-President Wu Den-yi, BLIA Chunghwa Honorary President Wu Po-hsiung, along with more than six thousand monastic and lay Buddhists from over ten countries and regions gathered at Fo Guang Shan to celebrate. On the day, the President of Commonwealth buddha Publishing Group – Professor Charles H.C. Kao presented the Award for Contribution by World's Outstanding Chinese to me. Furthermore, Macau University also awarded an Honorary Doctorate to me, which, according to my disciples, is my 13th Honorary Doctorate. The truth is, I never went to school, and have never received a certificate of graduation in my life. The only education came from my days in the monastery, where reasons had to be seen out of the unreasonable, and sentience was the only response towards insentient treatments. As a Buddhist monk, I have dedicated everything to the propagation of Buddhism, yet any recognition given to me, should more appropriately be considered to be the collective effort of all Buddha's Light members across the globe in the spreading of Humanistic Buddhism.
It is time to say goodbye to the past, and welcome the future; every individual needs to create a page of history for his own life. During the inaugural celebrations of the Buddha Memorial Center, I suffered from atherosclerosis and right frontal ischemic stroke. Luckily, I recovered well under the good care of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung Branch Superintendent Dr. Chen Chao-Long and his medical team. Although my body no longer allows me to move about freely, my head is still quite clear, and my arms still allow me to keep writing the one-stroke calligraphy. I can still talk and connect with people. Having lived until now, I feel that my life has neither been affected by rain nor shine, that there are neither worries nor fears, neither delight nor anger, neither loss nor gain. All that is there are peace and joy.
Having said the above, I believe that while life may be full of twists and turns, or rain and shine, we must not fear these ups and downs or hardships. Just follow the bodhisattva spirit and keep advancing. As has been said, keep advancing and new paths will show up, a life that moves forward will surely be full of hope.
May Buddha's blessings, peace, and auspiciousness be with you!