I was asked to do a workshop on Chinese Buddhist chanting, and towards the end, I shared a portion of one of the live video feeds to show the technique of how to ring the handbells according to 8-beat intervals. Afterward, I was asked what was the content being chanted–and I somehow came up with a one-minute summary of the text.
The Emperor Liang repentance text is a popular chanting text that most Chinese temples will chant and perform at least once a year. It’s quite a long text, about ten chapters long. Andrew from BuddhaPod wrote a piece Here if you’re interested in a more reflective piece with excerpts. A few years ago I submitted a reflective piece to a local temple’s magazine but eventually didn’t get published. I think the reason might be that it was a tad too long (five full pages)…who knows? Before I wrote the piece I finished their weeklong repentance retreat which focused on the same text. It was the end of the calendar year and the climate was quite cold, to the point where the instruments felt like they just came out of the freezer. So I thought I’d share some of the content below to sort of give a close to this year’s Ullumbana season–
Ten scrolls, forty chapters, it’s a rare occasion that I have been able to go through the entire text from beginning to end without missing a beat. Usually, this practice takes about a week to complete and I would get tied up by my schedule and end up missing a day or two. The name Emperor Liang Repentance is just the popular name, the actual name of the text, for lack of a better translation, is “Repentance of the Temple of Compassion and Kindness.” The content of the text describes the process from taking refuge in the Triple Gem up to the final vows and dedications. If you looked into the Canon to find the text, you won’t find anything related to the ten offerings or any praises that pertain to entering and exiting the repentance, that was something that came upon later when the text became more popular. Each chapter’s structure starts with an offering praise, praising the Buddha’s merit, revealing one’s karmic habits, repenting, requesting blessing, the summary praise and dedicating merits. Not only does the text guide you in reflecting upon your own actions, but it guides you in giving rise to compassion to bow to the Buddha on behalf all beings of all different levels and of all different fields such that all be benefits that come out from this practice are shared equally.
The best way to get the most benefit out of the text is to get an understanding of the text and visualize along. I know Hsi Lai Temple has internally created their own translation but it’s not easily accessible outside of when the ritual is held. The Buddhist Text Translation Society released their translation here, if you’d like to discover more.
It may look like temples hold these ceremonies to fundraise for their operating costs, but my point is to look beyond that and stick with the original intention of why this text was created and why this text has been able to stick around for so long. I know how some of you may feel, I used to get caught up in what I like to call the “ten offerings olympics” where everybody shows off their offerings–big, small, fancy, simple, and everything in between. The more I studied the text though, the more I was able to overcome all of that. I take it as a scenario for me to reflect on my original purpose of being there.