On the evening of February 12, Fo Guang Shan temples in North America united to broadcast a virtual Chinese New Year celebration on YouTube. It was a unique event that consolidated Fo Guang devotees from all around the continent and globe to welcome the Lunar New Year together. It was the first time the new year’s event was held exclusively online, but the COVID-19 pandemic has not subsided, and the temples have continued to be compassionate and mindful in prioritizing the safety of the public. To compensate for the lack of physical gatherings, as per tradition during this time of year, Fo Guang Shan temples coordinated together in a joint effort to welcome the Year of the Ox in a special way. The event, held online, allowed Fo Guang monastics, devotees, and the wider public to transcend time and space with one another in order to share Dharma joy and cultural festivities.
A notable boon that arose in celebrating the new year virtually, rather than onsite, was that Venerable Master Hsing Yun participated in the online program to extend sincere blessings to his followers in the western hemisphere. It gave the people he inspires an opportunity to welcome him into their homes for the holiday, as if he were amongst them rather than halfway across the planet. Venerable Master Hsing Yun encouraged people to have a bright outlook on the upcoming days, as the new year signifies a new beginning: “The happy festival signals the start of a new year. It reminds us that the previous year is over, and we should look forward to the coming year with eager anticipation. Start the year afresh. Start everything afresh. Everything will be better.”
Compassionate greetings were extended throughout the program by Fo Guang Shan monastics, who offered their own words of wisdom while echoing Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s blessing for the new year: Cultivate A Heart That Blooms In All Seasons. Most Venerable Hsin Bau, the Head Abbot of Fo Guang Shan Monastery, reiterated that message in his own greeting, stating: “A physical field must be plowed and cultivated. In the same way, each of us has a field in our hearts that awaits development and cultivation.” It is a profound statement that encourages us to continue cultivating goodness on our paths to Buddhahood, and to make the resolve to strengthen our vows in the coming year.
The esteemed monastics were not the only ones to extend their salutations, however, as government officials and laypersons, adults and children alike, also offered greetings through kind words and impressive performances. Sharing their various talents to give joy to others, the performers built good affinities with the audience who enjoyed their music, dance, and wit. While most of the performers were devotees from Fo Guang Shan temples in North America, viewers also had the privilege to see presentations from the temples in South Africa and the Philippines, as well as Guang Ming College in the Philippines and Fo Guang Shan headquarters in Taiwan. Both the performers and performances were beautifully diverse in many ways, but the common denominator amongst them all was the underlying spirit of love for the Dharma.
This year’s online program for the Fo Guang Shan North America Chinese New Year event symbolizes how Humanistic Buddhism can bring people together in joyful celebration, despite restrictive circumstances. Chinese New Year has been celebrated for 3,500 years and has always brought wishes of wealth and happiness. Through a Buddhist lens, these wishes for wealth and happiness become even more purposeful. Venerable Master Hsing Yun talked about wealth during his greeting, where he defined it as more than material gain: “Good health is wealth. Bliss is wealth. Joy is wealth. Having affinities is also our wealth. Having wisdom, compassion, and Buddhadharma is also our wealth.” The Buddha taught us that we can attain spiritual wealth and happiness by letting go of worldly attachments. May this be the year we recharge our practice so we can make strides in reaching this goal.