Chinese Buddhism’s Greatest Liberation Ritual is Coming!

If you’re in the SGV Buddhist circle(s) you will have heard at least once about a ritual called shui-lu or water-land.  What is this ritual exactly?  Simply put it is one of the most elaborate rituals in the history of Buddhism’s development in China.  I don’t want to recreate the wheel by blabbing about the history of the mysterious monk appearing in Emperor Liang’s dream and the convention of monks led by Chan Master Baozhi to put the whole ritual text, formatting, and layout together and the revisions that came later to what the ritual is now.  A lot of that information is readily available for those that wish to look deeper.  For those that still don’t understand or are looking for an equivalent, the Kagyu Monlam, the Nyingma Monlam, or the Resoundings by 84,000 can give you a more visual idea of what kind of scale we’re looking at in terms of how big this event can really be.

Hsi Lai Temple will be hosting this service in the coming week for a duration of two weeks.  If you have the chance, I highly encourage you all to at least go visit for a day or more and experience it.  What would be some things to look for?

  • Recitations of sutra texts that are not always seen in a typical Buddhist setting.
  • Chanting tunes and notes that are explicit to this ritual (such as the video above, though not by Hsi Lai Temple)
  • Ritual implements that are not commonly used in other rituals.
  • The dynamic of multiple shrines reciting different texts at the same time.

Of course, there is much more.  For those that had the chance to see my Chinese Buddhist Funeral presentation, I mentioned about the element of burning paper substances:

Also for those that are into design, the designs of each shrine are also quite elaborate.  Nowadays these designs have been upgraded to be unique to certain temples and lineages:


I personally had the opportunity to volunteer the last time Hsi Lai Temple held this service back in 2008.  Back then there was an overlap with the monastic full ordination ceremonies so there was a little bit of chaos (what event wouldn’t be complete without chaos like a stir-fry dish without that dash of sesame oil in the end?).  Though I managed to achieve the goal of sitting there and cranking myself through the Surangama Sutra from end to end by participating in this service.

To host a big gig like this does take a lot of work, manpower, and resources.  I can safely say that Hsi Lai Temple is still one of the few temples outside of Asia that can still host this event in its entirety, meaning no corners were cut by reciting sutras before the opening ceremonies.  It’s not easy to accomplish that and accomplish it in a more organized fashion.

This time I hope to challenge myself and see how much of the Avatamsaka I can read through.  If I have time I can maybe post an update about the progress of the festival.

In the meantime, here’s another glimpse of the Heart Shrine or what most translate as the Inner Shrine: