The Way to Cold Mountain Part 4 (end)

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

The practice of patience is acknowledging that feelings take time to process; limiting time may not be the best option for every client.  Lama Yeshe mentions three types of patience:  patience when harmed by others when we are suffering, and keeping concentration.[1]  Lama Yeshe’s definition of patience when we are harmed by others includes being harmed physically and mentally but not reacting by getting angry or harming them in return.  That immediately sparked in my mind when I had the situation with my tea group.  At the time I did not know how to react so I chose not to react or respond at all.  I did not necessarily realize that would have been a practice of my patience.

Practicing diligence is letting our relationships build on follow-up interactions, not just leaving them to grow like plants.  One session does not always solve the issue, or else clients may think that we do not care about them.  This is the same for our own individual practice.  No matter how much we can care for others, we still need time to care for ourselves.  I honestly felt different about self-care and did not realize its importance until I began to go deeper into chaplaincy work.  I was at Tzu Chi working at a mega health fair where there were about 8,000 patients and over 3,000 volunteers in attendance.  I was the volunteer coordinator so there was a lot of work before, during, and after the event in order to keep all the volunteers in order.  My hours during the weeklong fair were literally to go in before the sun came up and to leave when the moon was up.  I was already drowning in the pool of burn-out and I lost all motivation for life altogether.  There were times that I would want to hide in a corner and let the tears roll off my eyes because I was that tired.  I took a few days off after the fair and did absolutely nothing.  I did not communicate with anyone at all.  That did not feel good either, so I later picked up a sutra text and started reading it, after reading the text I got up and started to do things I liked like cooking, brewing tea, walking in the park.  My mind was off work but it was doing more than letting me sit at home with a dead mind.  When I came back to work I felt more energized and fully charged for the next task at hand.  That was when I realized the importance of caring for myself.

Through the practice of meditation, I can build upon the self and care for others whether physically or remotely via contemplative practice.  Venerable Master Hsing Yun in his book For All Living Beings talks about the Song dynasty poet Su Tung Po and his description on the stages of enlightenment in his poetry.  The main theme of the poems is the mountains and rivers have not changed much; it is the mind’s view of the mountains and rivers that change.[2]  Just like we already have the ability to meet the same Buddha at the same frequency, our minds just cannot get ourselves to break through the ice and fog which is our ignorance.  Even for myself, I have to reflect and think about how I interact with people, that is probably one of the most common subjects I meditate on, I also practice meditation through chanting, brewing tea, burning incense molds, and calligraphy.  Through these methods of meditative concentration, I constantly reflect on what would be the best way to present my best self for the benefit of the client and for all beings.

When the practices of the entire aforementioned are in motion, then the practice of wisdom can be activated.  Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this perfection as the perfection of understanding.  The perfection of understanding is not only the understanding that we are normally accustomed to, but a very deep understanding, the highest kind of understanding that is free from ordinary knowledge, concepts, ideas, and views.  In Sanskrit, this is the Prajnaparamita.  Thich Nhat Hanh used the example of loving someone and that if we can offer understanding to someone we care about, then that is true love.  My take on that is when the client and I reach common ground, then we can grow together.  This is when the ice has melted and the fog has disbursed, Cold Mountain appears after all.  Like going through the tearful experience of peeling through the layers and layers of an onion, Buddha Nature is found.

In the end, whose ice am I trying to melt?  Whose fog am I trying to disperse?  Am I awakening the Buddha Nature in the client or in myself?  Chaplaincy may look like a one-way street, but it is actually a development of both parties.  With that, I would like to dedicate any merit generated from this practice to all suffering beings, may they find the Cold Mountain in themselves.

May palms be joined together in every world expressing kindness, compassion, joy, and giving.

May all beings find security in friendship, peace, and loving care.

May calm and mindful practice seed patience and deep equanimity.

May we give rise to spacious hearts and humble thoughts of gratitude.

 

 

[1] Lama Yeshe. “The Six Perfections.” Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. March 03, 2017. Accessed December 05, 2017. https://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/six-perfections.

[2] Xingyun. For all living beings: a guide to Buddhist practice. Translated by Robert Smitheram. New Delhi: Buddha Light Art and Living, 2011.

The Way to Cold Mountain Part 3

In the role of the chaplain, we have to be able to find ways to meet the client at their own level so that the client will be in a comfortable enough state to continue to express their feelings.  This reminds me of Vimalakirti—the way he helps people is by meeting them in their own environment.  He would even meet his clients at the bars or at the brothels.  I also remember watching The Gloria Tapes for one of my previous classes where the therapist would begin to smoke cigarettes with Gloria in order to be welcomed into Gloria’s comfort zone so she could express her feelings and thoughts.  Just like in the poem, if my mind cannot match with the client’s mind, then the cold mountain is nowhere to be found.  I think this concept is probably core to the role of the chaplain itself.

In Zen or Chan practice, the aim is to match our mind to the Buddha’s mind; or ignite our Buddha-Nature to have the same frequency as the Buddha.  To reach that level of frequency requires melting ice and disbursing fog, which can be compared to our constant application of the six perfections.  Thich Nhat Hanh in his text The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching calls these perfections the six steps to happiness because with this practice one can cross over, which is what the meaning of the Sanskrit word paramita means, to the state of liberation[1].  These practices can most definitely be applied when interacting with others in chaplaincy work.

The practice of Dana includes the practice of giving time and effort to be present for the client.  Throughout my time I have been reminded again and again to be present for others.  I have also discovered that now that almost everyone I know carries some form of a smart phone or a similar communication’s device, everybody likes to look down on their phones and not want to communicate as much with the physical world.  Everyone also likes to be productive and multi-task looking at their phone and doing other work at the same time, but if I am working with a client, I want to respect the client by giving him/her my full attention.  Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence.”[2]  My understanding is that not only do we have to be physically present for the client but mentally present as well.  I also learned that that kind of practice is a key element in practicing the ministry of presence in chaplaincy.

Precepts: We cannot advise and fix but we can guide them to their own answer; especially when looking at the Bodhisattva Precepts (which I also uphold), I have to benefit beings and help them give rise to Bodhicitta, but I cannot really put it all on a plate and expect them to take it, like what Venerable Master Sheng Yen of Dharma Drum Mountain mentioned before that it builds up later without having to be attached to the fact that you have to build on it.[3]  In close relation to Patience I understand it as not trying to rush everything to a result that everybody may not be happy with, just as I mentioned with the Cold Mountain piece, Buddha Nature does not have a speed limit.  With that mindset I think the remaining perfections can fall into place.

[1] Thich, Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 1998.

[2] Thich, 111.

[3] Shengyen. The Bodhisattva precepts: directions to Buddhahood. Taipei: Dharma Drum Mountain, 2005. Accessed December 5, 2017. http://chancenter.org/cmc/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/TheSixParamitas.pdf.

The Way to Cold Mountain Part 1

Han Shan, or Cold Mountain was a legendary figure around the Tang Dynasty that was associated with a collection of poetry used by Zen, or Chan, Buddhists and Daoists alike.  He didn’t really keep to conventional tactics of paper, brush, and ink.  He carved on bamboo, wrote on walls, rocks, mountains, etc.  He is often depicted with Shi-de, the pair is always known as Han Shan Shi De.  Some believed that they were manifestations of Manjusri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.  There were no clear dates, or even a given name about Cold Mountain, but the common understanding so far was that he was around sometime during the eighth and ninth centuries.  Most of his footprints were around the Tien Tai Mountains of the area south of Hangzhou.  Many of his works were written near the area.  He wrote about 600 piece of poetry, of which 313 pieces were collected till this day.  The content of his works mainly revolve around his experiences or encounters he has had with people he met or even his thoughts about society.  His works can be of simple observation, natural or social, but can definitely transcend what seem to be mundane facts into ultimate truths.  That was how Zen Cold Mountain was.  For this reason, and the attractiveness of overall biographical mystery, countless poets, scholars, misfits and Zen practitioners today count themselves amongst the devoted.  He never wrote by traditional brush and paper though.  He carved on the walls of the caved he lived in, the trunks of surrounding trees, bamboo husks, etc.  For this paper I will quote one of Cold Mountain’s poetry and share my reflections along with commentary from current Masters.

人問寒山道,寒山路不通。夏天冰未釋,日出霧朦朧.
似我何由屆,與君心不同。君心若似我,還得到其中。

There exist many translations of the above poem since the 1950s by writers such as Burton Watson, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, etc.  I have chosen two translations, one by Red Pine and another by the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for the purposes of this presentation:

Trans. By Red Pine

People ask the way to Cold Mountain,

But roads don’t reach Cold Mountain.

In summer the ice doesn’t melt,

And the morning fog is too dense.

How did someone like me arrive?

Our minds are not the same.

If they were the same,

You would be here.[1]

 

Trans. By Josey Shun and Bhikshuni Heng Yin of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

People ask the way to Cold Mountain:

There is no path.

How do I get there?

My mindset is different.

If your mind becomes like mine,

You will get there with ease.[2]

Cold Mountain himself lived in a cave and would sometimes travel down Tian Tai Mountain at times.  He would also stop at Guo Qing Temple as well.  When people wanted to visit him, they would not know how to find him or where to find him.  Navigation was not yet invented.  When Cold Mountain wrote this poem, was he thinking about the physical phenomena?  Could he have thought that since he could not install lighting to show where he can be located, that people could find him easily through his writings?  Masters such as Venerable Master Hsing Yun of Fo Guang Shan may think otherwise.  His take on the poem is referring to the Cold Mountain inside us.  Venerable Master Hsing Yun taught that because the common person’s mind still differentiates, he cannot connect with the Cold Mountain.  Someone can ask what Cold Mountain’s stage of cultivation was.  Such differentiation like that could not experience what Cold Mountain has experienced.  The mind is like free-flowing water, but because of a single thought of attachment the water solidifies into ice, and even under the summer heat the ice cannot melt.  The sun’s rays can shed light all over, but a single thought of ignorance can be like the thick fog, even the bright sun cannot penetrate through it.  Cold Mountain’s state of mind is like the vastness of space, the layperson’s mind has limits, the stages are quite different, but if our stages are similar, melting the ice mountain of differentiation, disbursing the fog of ignorant views, then our minds can meet each other.

[1] Shan, Han. The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain. Translated by Red Pine. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2000.

[2] Professor Yeh Chia-Ying. “Lectures on Tao Yuanming’s Poems (continued).” 萬佛城金剛菩提海 Vajra Bodhi Sea. January 1, 2000. Accessed December 08, 2017. http://www.drbachinese.org/vbs/publish/356/vbs356p035.htm.

Who Celebrates Three Birthdays?!

 

This week the lunar 19th of the second moon comes around.  Most communities will celebrate the birth of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, or Kannon, or Guanyin (I’ll use Guanyin for the remainder of the post).  You may also hear that this Bodhisattva celebrates three birthdays?  Well, not really.  The 19th of the second lunar moon is considered the birthday, and 19th of the sixth lunar moon is considered Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s Enlightenment day, and the 19th of the ninth lunar moon is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s Renunciation day.  Some communities will even devote every 19th of the month as Guanyin day and do related devotional practices then.  The most common explanation for the 19th is according to one of the stories of Guanyin when she was the third princess Miaoshan of one of the kingdoms when China was still divided into different empires.   The story goes that the Princess Miaoshan after experiencing Cinderella type treatment (minus the talking mice) and experiencing different levels of turmoil, she and her gang went through nine different obstacles to reach a certain heaven to be acknowledged by the Buddha and be given another assignment to continue to serve beings until that white-jade bottle gifted to her by the Buddha sprouted a willow branch and attain full enlightenment after fighting off the bad guy that’s been trying to steal the bottle.

The above may not exactly be true, but the TVB drama really drilled that message into its audience.  At least it stuck to me when I was kid watching this series with my mom multiple times.  I think the drama is still copyrighted, but I found the video of the theme song which shows some footage:

Guanyin is a pretty important figure in the Buddhist SGV.  If you pull up the phone book you can find at least five different temples or centers that have named their facility after Guanyin.  A lot of immigrant families, including my own, relied on devotion to Guanyin in order to safely escape from warfare and settle in the US or Canada or wherever.   Why so?  Guanyin made vows to respond to whoever wholeheartedy calls her name.  The famous Mani Mantra and Great Compassion Mantra also came from Guanyin’s compassion to be there when we need her most.

There’s a great video of all of Guanyin’s most common stories put together with sutra references, the English translation may not be the best, but I think the message can still get across.  It’s a long video but I reccommend you go through it.  For my mom’s birthday a while back I produced some DVDs with this video in it, leave me a comment if you’d like one:

The popularity of Guanyin has gotten so big that even Buddhist Wanna-be’s (or cults) are using Her as a tool to promote themselves.  I won’t name them here, but if you have a conversation with them and you have a background of what Guanyin’s great compassion is really about (beyond material gain and benefiting others just to name a few), then you can tell who’s who pretty easily.

There are many texts and practices that are directly related to Guanyin, like the Lotus Sutra, Surangama Sutra, Great Compssion Dharani Sutra, The Great Treasure King Sutra, etc.  There are also practices that relate to Guanyin as well.  Probably the most famous being the Great Compassion Repenance.  There’s a great description here for those that want to look into it more.  Here’s my favorite version of the recorded text:

That’s all for now.  What comes up for you when you think of Guanyin?  Let me know below, and I’ll see you next post.

Have You Had Your Porridge Yet?

So today is the eighth day of the last lunar month of the year, otherwise known as laba in Chinese or rohatsu in Japanese. You might notice your local temple inviting you to have porridge with them on this day or help them distribute porridge to community members.  Is there something significant about this porridge?  Well, yes and no.

I saw an advertisement that claimed that Laba is a Buddhist holiday and the custom of offering porridge is to remember the bowl of milk porridge that the Buddha received from the shepherd’s daughter right before he attained enlightenment. Of course, we can’t forget that it the Buddha was inspired by that bowl of porridge to seek the middle way and from there moving onto awakening, but that didn’t really spark a tradition of offering porridge world-wide (yet).  This then later became to be recognized as Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, or Bodhi Day, or FGS likes to call it Dharma Day.

The term la or 臘 in Chinese ceremonial texts refers to the celebration of year’s end or gratitude for the year’s harvest whether by farming or hunting.  That means a lot of ceremonial offerings to the heavens and the ancestors.  When Buddhism came in, then the celebrations became big business.  The imperial court ordered the lamas at Yonghe Palace to cook tons of porridge to be distributed to officials and to more remote areas.  Apparently there’s a big wok at Yonghe Palace that was made specifically for this porridge, like with a volume of 4 tons according to history, but when I visited it was raining and I was too busy admiring the tall Maitreya statue that I didn’t bother to look for the wok.  Have you seen it?

So being the eighth day of the month, symbolically there would be eight ingredients in the porridge, not including the rice.  Google even made a graphic a few years back here.  The recipe used at Yonghe Palace had ground lamb meat, of course, most of the temples that offer porridge are vegetarian if not vegan.  I tried cooking this porridge at work once and the prep work involved was so intense I didn’t want to do it again.  The porridge tradition only exists in China though, and as I mentioned earlier, it was an offset of the worship/offering rituals before Buddhism came into China.

So what else is done on this day besides binging on porridge?  Well, some traditions would host intensive meditation sessions, or chanting retreats, or workshop presentations on what they studied throughout the year.  Some temples even hold ordination ceremonies on this day as well, which makes it quite meaningful for the newly ordained.  The temple I grew up in when I was young, used to hold their annual Emperor Liang Repentance retreat that week, that was special.  I also heard one of the local temples used to hold their 10,000 Buddha Repentance retreat where each participant made 10,000 prostrations over the course of one month but because there aren’t enough resources anymore, these grand events ended up being history.

Medicine Buddha

This time of year is when we as Buddhists honor the Healing Buddha, or the Medicine Buddha, or Bhaisaijyaguru Buddha.  He established a pure land called the Eastern Lazuli pure land, and made 12 great vows to benefit all sentient beings:

12 Vows of Medicine Buddha

1. I vow that my body shall shine as beams of brilliant light on this infinite and boundless world, showering on all beings, getting rid of their ignorance and worries with my teachings. May all beings be like me, with a perfect status and character, upright mind and soul, and finally attaining enlightenment like the Buddha.

2. I vow that my body be like crystal, pure and flawless, radiating rays of splendid light to every corner, brightening up and enlightening all beings with wisdom. With the blessings of compassion, may all beings strengthen their spiritual power and physical energy, so that they could fulfil their dreams in the right track.

3. I vow that I shall grant by means of boundless wisdom, all beings with the inexhaustible things that they require, and relieving them from all pains and guilt resulting from materialistic desires. Although clothing, food, accommodation and transport are essentials, it should be utilised wisely as well. Besides self-consumption, the remaining should be generously shared with the community so that all could live harmoniously together.

4. I vow to lead those who have gone astray back to the path of righteousness. Let them be corrected and returned to the Buddha way for enlightenment.

5. I vow that I shall enable all sentient beings to observe precepts for spiritual purity and moral conduct. Should there be any relapse or violation, they shall be guided for repentance. Provided they truly regret their wrong-doings, and vow for a change with constant prayers and strong faith in the Buddha, they could receive the rays of forgiveness, recover their lost moral and purity.

6. I vow that all beings who are physically disabled or sick in all aspects be blessed with good health, both physically and mentally. All who pays homage to Buddha faithfully will be blessed.

7. I vow to relieve all pain and poverty of the very sick and poor. The sick be cured, the helpless be helped, the poor be assisted.

8. I vow to help women who are undergoing sufferings and tortures and seeking for transformation into men. By hearing my name, paying homage and praying, their wishes would be granted and ultimately attain Buddhahood.

9. I vow to free all beings from evil thoughts and its control. I shall lead them onto the path of light through inculcating them with righteousness and honour so that they will walk the Buddha way.

10. I vow to save prisoners who have genuinely repented and victims of natural disasters. Those who are sincere will be blessed by my supreme powers and be freed from sufferings.

11. I vow to save those who suffer from starvation and those who committed crime to obtain food. If they hear my name and faithfully cherish it, I shall lead them to the advantages of Dharma and favour them with best food and eventually lead a tranquil and happy life.

12. I vow to save those who suffer from poverty, tormented by mosquitoes and wasps day and night. If they come across my name, cherish it with sincerity and practise dharma to strengthen their merits, they will be able to achieve their wishes.

-Extracted from The Sutra of the Master of Healing.

Lamp offerings are one of the common things done around this time.  I even had someone come up to me and tell me this is the only time of year they make lamp offerings.  Actually there really is no set time frame to make lamp offerings.  I’ve heard from one of my meditation teachers that there was some relation to the Medicine Buddha’s birthday on the lunar calendar versus the Hindu calendar, maybe Divali?  If someone knows, I’d love to hear!

buddha carving circular face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here is an excerpt on the lamp offering from the Tibetan eight offerings:

 

OFFERING LIGHT – Patience

Fifth is light or a lamp, which signifies the stability and clarity of patience, the beauty which dispels all ignorance. Light offering is made to the eyes of all the enlightened beings, who see clearly without mistake. Some people feel patience is showing weakness or pessimism. But, actually, patience shows the strength and clarity of mind, which are based on wisdom and compassion. Without proper wisdom and compassion, one cannot practice patience. So light shows that the strength of the mind, the clear, stable nature of the mind, achieved through the practice of patience. Because the mind is not disturbed by other forces, it has such great qualities: clarity knows what is to be done, which is necessary, which is not necessary. That dispels ignorance.

Patience can be practiced in all different forms, different ways, not just when people are faced with anger. For example, there is patience in Dharma practice and study. First, this is based on wisdom, so we should have such wisdom to really know how Dharma is, what quality it has, the depth and vastness of Dharma, and how we can achieve these qualities. Seeing those great qualities, then we need patience to study and practice. When we have that, there is a mind of clarity, of stableness.

On the other hand we should not be patient with our afflictive emotions. When we have anger, desire, jealousy, pride, don’t practice patience with these! This is the wrong way to practice patience. Even if it is hard or painful, these are subjects to get rid of or purify; they don’t do any good thing. Without sacrificing something, there is no chance that we will have peace and happiness. So no matter what kind of pain we face, what difficult circumstances we face, we have to go thru it. Even if we have to sacrifice this life, it is worthwhile to sacrifice. A lot of people commit suicide to get rid of all these afflictive emotions. They are overpowered by the afflictive emotions and they kill themselves. That is the wrong way to sacrifice this life. We have to sacrifice this life the other way around. Buddha said that if we have to lose our life to keep the moral discipline, it just finishes this life, but next lives will be higher and higher, better and better. But if we do it the other way around and sacrifice this life for the afflictive emotions, then we will go worse and worse.

In Shantideva’s text it is said that we should not commit suicide or give this body without much purpose. Rather, we should cherish this precious human life. An explanation is given. When a medicinal tree is very small plant, it has to be protected in order to grow into a huge tree. If you pick it up when it is small, it will benefit only a few and then it is finished. But if you protect it well with many fences, it will grow into a huge tree that will bring fruits, flowers, roots, leaves, branches for the benefit of many, many sentient beings. Similarly we have a fragile mind at this time. We must protect this precious human life with all these antidotes, fences, and let it grow big. Then we can benefit many sentient beings. By the practice of patience, all the 112 major and minor marks of a Buddha will come. Of course, we should not expect it, but the result of patience is a healthy, good body, to which all people are attracted, which is respected and admired. All this comes from the practice of patience.

 

 

Insert Moon Theme Here

It’s the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month.  It’s full moon day.  What comes up to mind when you think of the moon?  Frank Sinatra?

Well how about the old Chinese Classic “The Moon Represents My Heart” by Theresa Teng? I think most people that have some sort of familiarity with the Chinese language will be familiar with this classic:

The Moon Festival is also known as the mid-autumn festival.  According to farmers that follow the lunar almanac, most of the year’s harvest should have already been done and this occassion would be to celebrate the harvest by gathering the family together for a feast.  The feast usually consists of the reserves from the harvest, but some farming communities sell the reserve for higher profits and feast with whatever isn’t suitable for market.  Either way, if you think of what families do for Thanksgiving, Mid-Autumn Festival would be considered the Chinese equivalent.

Now, the story of Moon Festival is nothing too different than the legend of Houyi shooting down nine suns while his girl Chang-e stole his longevity pills, ate them and flew to the moon with her pet rabbit, or something to that extent.  You can Google the rest of the story.

So in Chinese folk traditions, an altar is set up in the courtyard where the women, kids, and single ladies in the family make offering and prayers to Chang-e in hopes of safety, beauty, and swift marriage.  Why the men don’t participate I have no idea, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the traditional Chinese view of men and the household.  If I expanded on that any futher this post would end up becoming an academic article.  Other fun things include lantern making, pomelo skin hats, BBQ parties and things like that.

Tea and mooncake are absolute staples during this occassion, but to be honest, the Cantonese version of the baked, brown, mooncake can be so rich and fattening that it’s now seen as a turn-off for most on the occassion, almost like fruitcake for Christmas.  The history of that mooncake though is quite interesting–it was meant as a form of confidential messaging during warfare in Ancient China.  Messages were written on wax paper then stuffed into these cakes to be passed onto the allies.  These messages often had instructions to began shooting the enemy or something while they’re off guard on this occassion.

Some families, at least mine, have turned to alternative mooncakes like the Taiwanese green bean mooncake, it’s white in exterior and looks much more like the moon than the former.  The Vietnamese powdered mooncake is also a nice alternative, the taro and durian flavors of that version are quite nice.

img_6997So what does the Buddhist community in the SGV do around this time?  Well, some of the Cantonese temples would hold an offering ceremony for the Moonlight or Candra-prabha Bodhisattva.   Candra-Prabha Bodhisattva alongside the Sunlight Bodhisattva are the two sagely attendants of the Medicine Buddha.  His Bodhisattva path, at least one of the stories that are available, is he  and Sunlight Bodhisattva were sons of a Bhraman doctor, their names just happen to be translated as sunlight and moonlight (go figure).  They practiced medicine and served their communities for long periods of time and eventually made vows to follow the footsteps of the Medicine Buddha and benefit beings physically and spiritually.  Eventually, they became bodhisattvas alongside the Medicine Buddha.

Tung Lin in Hong Kong held such an offering ceremony, footage can be found here.  Some say that he (she?) and Chang-e and the Daoist constallation of the Great Yin are the same deity, though it is commonly agreed as such, that’s pending textual backup.  At least I’m cool with that.  The moon carries a wide range of meanings in Buddhism, like how the Bodhisattva is like the cool moon, or how the Buddha’s face is as round as the full moon, or something like that.  There’s a lot of Chinese poetry that is themed around the moon as well.  Like the lines of “the moon’s light in front of my bed, almost like frost on the floor, I raise my head to see the bright moon, I lower my head contemplating on my homeland.”

月光菩薩
Candra-prabha Bodhisattva Drawn by Terry Lin

Other temples will hold tea gatherings where people gather around in small groups, enjoy tea, and have dialogue with the monastic teachers.  One example would be the “An Evening Under the Moon” event held at Hsi Lai Temple the past weekend.  They also had musical performances, guided meditation, and a lamp offering ceremony.

Although we’re not really celebrating the harvest anymore, it’s the celebration of being together.  Most Chinese rely heavily on symbolism, so the full moon is in the shape of a circle, and the circle represents a united family.  Buddhist expand that to include the spiritual family as well.  For the next few nights, the moon will still be out and bright, go outside and take a look when you get the chance.

 

The King of Repentance Texts

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.

10888626_1022692027746837_2740317586903266488_nThe 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.

Ghosts! (gasp!)

When people think about the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, they think of hot summers, spoiled food, random bad joo-joo happening, like a one month extension of friday the 13th, or something like from the 2014 Malaysian Film The Transcends:

The folk story of it is that the doors to the afterworld and spirits that have been on their best behavior are allowed to take a one month vacation.  During this time devotees would display offerings and burn paper necessities in order to make the spirits feel welcome.  There was even a scene on Home Improvement where Wilson was burning fresh herbs on the BBQ grill for the hungry ghosts.  The humans, on the other hand, try to avoid doing things like moving, getting married, opening businesses, etc. so that they don’t risk themselves clashing into any negative energy from these vacationing spirits.

What’s the Buddhist version?  Well, if you saw my last post on Supporting the Sangha you would have seen the Ullumbana Sutra which talks about how the tradition of offering meals and other means of support to the monastic sangha was more heavily promoted after the incident of Maudgalyāyana trying to feed his mother but the food turned into burning coal because of karmic reasons.  That was one version of the story that puts a spotlight on the seventh lunar month–another is when Ananda was

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Ananda and the Hungry Ghost

meditating in the forest when in the middle of the night, he saw and heard a hungry ghost tell him that he too will become a hungry ghost in three days unless he can offer dana in the form of food to the numberless hungry ghost beings, bhramin beings, etc. and make offerings to the Triple Gem on their behalf.  Of course poor Ananda sort of freaked out and went to the Buddha for advice.  The Buddha took this opportunity to teach the practice of bestowing food to preta beings.  For those that like to look in the Buddhist canon the reference is T.21#1313.

 

What does this have to do with Ullumbana again?  Well, it is the linking of concepts of bestowing food to lower-leveled beings–Maudgalyayana offered food to his deceased mother whom was suffering in the hell realms and made offerings to the monastic sangha in dedication of his mother and the previous seven generations of parents, Ananda was advised to bestow food to preta beings and make offerings to the triple gem on the preta beings’ behalf.  Get it?  If not, you can look at the opera version of the story here:

So about the 7th lunar month–the version I’ve found myself leaning towards to is this specific lunar month is a month full of auspiciousness, remembrance, merit, and joy where the merit from one’s positive actions can be multipled at least a million-fold, not necessarily a month of bad luck and bad joo-joo where one should just hide under the sheets and tremble for thirty days.  Apparently, Emperor Chu Yuanzhang of the Ming wanted to keep the benefits of this occassion all to himself and spread rumors to the public that the month is a terrible month and to not do anything but hide under the sheets for thirty days.  The Daoist community at the time even played along and performed rituals to purge ghosts and purify anything that would attrack wandering ghosts and the like.  How much of this is historically true I don’t know, but if it were true, it’s very facepalm worthy.

So what goes on in the Buddhist SGV around this time?  Many liberation chanting and repentance rituals are held.  The Japanese community had their Obon Dori festivals where everyone danced in honor and joy of their ancestors, the Vietnamese community had the red and white rose ceremonies in rememberance of their mothers, and the Chinese community uses this opportunity to honor and remember their ancestors and loved onces by reciting and reflecting on texts that revolve around repentance, compassion, liberation, and practice.

Most temples concluce their ceremonies with large scaled offerings and a ritual to offer food to the preta beings.  Some more elegant than others but serve the exact same purpose.

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Photo Curtesy of Shinjo T.

Most temples hold their ceremonies any where from half a day to a week, but at Quan Yum Temple in Chinatown Los Angeles they held their event for a full 15 days–a tradition that has been maintained for more than thirty years.  Lunch would be offered to participants daily throughout the event, chanting and recitation content included the Lotus Sutra, Ksitigarbha Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, Samadhi Water Repentance, Emperor Liang Repentance, etc etc.  I was there for the event which was why it took me so long to make this post.  It was physically straining but the feeling you get at the close of the ceremony is that it’s all worth it, for the benefit of all seen and unseen beings.

Some other temples are holding their ceremonies later, or have spread out their cultivations for this occassion throughout the month and make a large dedication of merit at the end of the month, which happens to be the Birth of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.  I’ve written older posts about these birthdays so I won’t repeat myself again here.

This holiday is of great importance for me for a few reasons–besides the benefits I mentioned just now, it’s the anniversary of when I first took refuge in my first teacher.  Twenty plus years in the making now, I have nothing but deep gratitude for all the causes and conditions that made me possible, and because of that, Ullumbana means that much more to me, and I hope you get the chance to experience it for yourself as well.