Finding the Unity


Chinese Tamales

Have I told you all yet that Temples make good food?  No? Really?  Okay, I’ll save that for another post.


So recently, I received my order for Chinese tamales, or rice dumplings filled with vegan meat, shitake mushrooms, chestnuts, and peanuts, wrapped in bamboo leaves.  If you want to know more about the Chinese Tamale (there’s a real story behind them) you can look here.  These were made by the resident monastics at a temple in Downey.  They’re very tasty and became very popular when they were sold during the annual Vesak celebration in Rosemead.

This celebration started nearly twenty years when some of the larger local Chinese Buddhist temples gathered to brainstorm a method to bring greater awareness of celebrating the Buddha’s Birth to the community.  I won’t mention specific names but in general, most of the elders that resided in LA at the time were part of the committee.  The project came out to a carnival with food, prizes, performances, and bathing the Buddha.  This was the standard format for almost every year.  Monastics from other traditions were also invited to perform chants in their respective languages.  In fact, this event was the inspiration I had when I first began to brainstorm something similar on a much smaller scale at UC Irvine over ten years ago.  This year though, the Rosemead event didn’t happen.

I’m not here to point fingers or anything like that.  I want to look deeper into the issue–not too deep though, the weather is too hot for me to sit here and type a history textbook (switching on AC now).

I’ve been to my share of Vesak day celebrations hosted by different Buddhist organizations, for example, I was very much impressed when the Vietnamese Buddhist community hosted the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace and combined that with their Vesak celebrations.  I visited multiple times with different groups, and somehow the staff invited my entire group to the stage to chant in Chinese.  None of this was planned.  After the chanting, we made our prostrations and I took a peek behind me and there was his huge crowd of devotees bowing right behind us!  I was moved beyond belief.

The Vietnamese Temples in Orange County have been able to get together and do something, the Japanese temples in Los Angeles get together and rotate hosting Hana Matsuri, have there been opportunities that the Chinese Buddhist communities can communicate with other traditions and work on a group effort to make the event more beneficial?  I can see that there are language barriers, but is that going to be the problem that will keep communication blocked forever?  I know there have been issues with the Health Department as well, maybe if the venue was outside of LA County jurisdiction more work can be done?

I’ve heard stories and have experienced first hand the planning, executing, strike-down process and the horror stories about them.  It may be a good idea to take a break so that the volunteers don’t experience burnout.  But, before going back to the drawing board maybe the process can be improved with the involvement of more groups and traditions?

In the meantime, I’m glad I can still order my annual fix of Chinese Tamales 🙂

Bathing the Buddha

wgh20120428-1I might have written something somewhere else about this topic (maybe here?), but I’ll refresh myself again and put something here.  I’ve been quite busy the last month with the completion of my Master of Divinity degree and one round of traveling through Southeast Asia, but that does not turn my attention away from the most important time of year for Buddhists worldwide–Vesak Day.

The most common occasion of Vesak day is to honor the Buddha’s birth, but depending on your faith tradition, one may have different views on the different days.  For example,  some traditions honor the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of the Buddha on the same day where some traditions honor the occasion on separate days.  At least a common understanding is that one of these occasions occurs during the fourth lunar month.

The most popular ritual done on this holiday is bathing the Buddha statue, especially the baby Buddha.  Of course it’s not like the Buddha needs our bathing, but the symbolizm behind the ritual is that we visualize ourselves and cleanse our own body, speech and mind and we also wish that all sentient beings are cleansed as such.

This ritual was derived from the Bathing Buddha Sutra which can be found here or if you can read Chinese, can be found here.  There’s a Bathing Buddha Verse extracted from the sutra that most temples will chant at some point during the ritual if not during the bathing, which can be found online easily if you do the search, but the version I like the most comes from Venerable Yaoyi:

I remember back when I was at UC Irvine, I tried really hard to get the students there to become more involved and at least put a stronger emphasis on the ritual, but I admit those attempts did not come out well.  It’s all a learning process, hopefully as the Dharma grows deeper in the community views can change.

Till today, most of the festivities in the SGV have already been completed, but next April look out for announcements and pay a visit.