Sunday, March 07, 2010

Illuminating the World in Peace

We first read about the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace in the March 5 edition of the St. Pete Times. It reported that the Jade Buddha, a 10 ft high Buddha statue weighing 10 tons is coming to the Town N' Country area of Tampa. Reading on, we note that the Statue was sculptured by expert craftsmen in Thailand over a two-year period from a monolithic gem-quality jade found in Canada. The global tour of harmony is under the aegis of an Australian-based Buddhist organization, the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion.

Then last night, Wify learned that her sister in Australia actually knows Mr. Ian Green, the chairman of the above named organization. Mr. Ian Green was also instrumental in arranging for the visits of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to Australia. It is against this backdrop of condition arising that we visited the Minh Dang Quang Monastery this morning to partake of this unique opportunity.

The road side ringing the Monastery compound was already filled up with cars when we arrived this morning about 9.30am. Fortunately, the Monastery is abutted by the Town N' Country Commons, a block of building with children playground and a sizable parking lot located behind the Monastery but separated from it by a shallow lake circumscribed by a concrete walkway.

The Jade Buddha is housed in a staged area located next to the temple. A constant throng of visitors was already lining up to ascend a shallow flight of steps to a platform upon which the Jade Buddha is seated, amidst Buddhist music with a melody that we are familiar with, the Mantra of the Great Compassion. Wify realized immediately that the lyrics is a repetition of Om mani padme hum, the six syllabled mantra of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan, and Guanyin in Chinese, or the Goddess of Mercy in popular parlance).

Apart from the temple proper, the compound has several discrete areas devoted to depicting the various stages of the life of Siddhārtha Gautama/the Buddha in the form of life-sized statues. Venerable bhikkhus and bhikkhunis (male and female Buddhist monastics) mingled freely with the crowd who was engaged in different manners of praying, prostration, posing and photo-shooting, and browsing the various items of Buddhist interest displayed on individual stalls scattered over the compound. The main attraction was undoubtedly the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace seated tall on the raised platform, looking benevolently on the stream of visitors paying their homage and praying collectively for global harmony. Wify went through the same ritual while I dutifully recorded the proceeding as a keen observer.

Before we left, we stopped by the Temple as well where the Buddha's relics housed in elegantly shaped crystal mini stupas are on display. The setting is simple but solemn, eliciting a sense of serenity in the visitors. Having fulfilled our intent, we departed with the firm belief that indeed the Jade Buddha will illuminate the world with peace. We still have to do our fair share, but importantly, we too have to believe.

The Jade Buddha will be on display at the Minh Dang Quang Monastery through March 14.

The gathering crowd waiting for their term to pay homage and pray for world harmony.

The first of the 3D depictions of the life of Siddhartha Gautama/the Buddha: In Lumbini Park, on the seventh step after emerging from the right side of Queen Maya, Prince Siddhartha and the Buddha-to-be, declared, "I'm supreme," with his right forefinger pointing skyward. Here the pronoun is in reference to the Buddha Nature.

Here the young Prince Siddhartha is preparing to enter into monastic life by cutting off his hair (symbolically severing all worldly ties) after leaving the confines of the palace on the white horse.

The Buddha at the ascetic phase of his truth-seeking journey before he gave up his austere penances to become enlightened.

Upon enlightenment attained under a Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, the Buddha first taught the Dharma to five former companions, who became the Buddha's first five disciples, at the deerpark of Isipatana (Sarnath). This was the incipient formation of the Sangha, the monastic order. The Buddha's first sermon became the Four Noble Truths that were completely expounded through the three rotations (exposition, exhortation, and verification) of the Dharma Wheel. This beaming beacon of the light of wisdom embodied in the four universal truths of suffering (dukka), the origin of suffering (samudaya), the cessation of suffering (nirodha), and the path to the cessation of suffering (marga) thus became the essence of Buddhism that is intertwined with condition origination (causality).

The Buddha seated in the lotus position.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara appearing in one of the thirty two forms, in this case the most recognizable as the Goddess of Mercy, holding a bottle containing the water of compassion to sprinkle on all sentient beings.

A boy praying in full concentration next to the Buddha and the fronting Bodhisattva Maitreya, the successor of Śākyamuni Buddha.

Now it's Wify's term.

Wify and other devotees venerating the Jade Buddha and praying for world harmony.

The setting in the Temple with a table-ful of mini stupas housing the relics (Shari) of the Buddha in the foreground.

A silent reminder of the impermanence of life stands starkly in the compound.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Appreciating Buddhist Arts and Cultivating Buddhist Practices

Since the start of this year, we have already visited the Fo Guang Shan Guang Ming Temple of Orlando twice. The first was on January 31, for the Lamp Offering Completion Dharma Service, the very first full Dharma service that I have ever attended. Until then, I had only accompanied Wify to these Dharma services but usually stayed in the library to catch up on my reading. However, since I have registered, I felt duty-bound to attend these Dharma services in person. And that I did on January 31 this year, participating in chanting (silently) and the prostration and circum-ambulation, which I thought would aggravate my knee problem (hence my preferred seating meditation, on a chair that is instead of cross-legged). But apparently my apprehension, and hence reluctance to exert any form of pressure on my knees, was ill-founded. And my knees actually felt pretty good. Perhaps it's because of the short-term periodic flexing of the knees, rather than the long period of sitting cross-legged, that did the trick on the mind, I rationalized.

Anyway, the Lamp Offering Completion, as the name suggests, is the completion of the Lamp Offering initiated early last year during the Lunar New Year of 2009 so as to bring light to every corner of the world by praying for world peace, blessings, and good fortune in the coming year.

The on Feb 28, we participated in the Lamp Offering Dharma Service for the Lunar Year of 2010, which constituted our second trip. By now this Orlando trip has become a yearly pilgrimage for us. This year, though, we stayed on in the afternoon and visited the Chinese Cultural Arts Exhibition held at the temple in the afternoon.

Of the many events that were hosted, we particularly enjoyed the Tea Ceremony and Chinese Calligraphy demonstration. The Tea Ceremony was conducted by Mr. Bao, who hailed from Hong Kong. The surprising thing is that he learned the trade purely out of personal interest, and perhaps as a way to cope with the stresses brought about by the hustle and bustle that we euphemistically call life, and he often indulges in discoursing on life's issues with his wife in the unhurried comfort of home over a pot of freshly-brewed tea.

The calligrapher is Roy, who hails from China, and is presently a visiting lecturer in a college in Orlando. He especially revers the late Venerable Hong-I, as reflected in the pseudonym, literally translated as Respect for Venerable Hong-I, that he uses. In our conversation, he has expressed his wish to propagate Chinese Buddhist Calligraphy, a unique style of Chinese Calligraphy as evidenced from the various great calligraphy pieces by the great Buddhist monks on display in the Temple, the late Venerable Hong-I included.

Here then is a pictorial account of the above activities, some appearing as a collage of images, and a sample of Buddhist Arts and Calligraphy that even a casual visitor to the Fo Guang Shan temple in Orlando will not miss and likely be held in awe, not only by the easy flow of Chinese Calligraphy, the simple and yet delightful statuettes, but more importantly, the various Buddhist themes on the simple joy of life, on living at the moment, and on mindfulness embodied in these great Buddhist Arts.

The facade of Buddhist architecture welcomes visitor to its compound (top) and main shrine (bottom), with enhanced gaiety afforded by the hanging red lanterns in celebration of the Lunar New Year.

The Lamp Offering Completion Dharma service held on Jan 31 ended with a Dharma delivery by venerable Chueh Fan (top) and the Lamp Offering Dharma service for the current Lunar Year (2010) in progress on Feb 28 (bottom).

The tea lounge setting for the tea ceremony (top) and Mr. Bao, the tea master for the day, demonstrating and explaining the intricate details of brewing tea of various hues with English translation provided by a Fo Guang Shan volunteer.

Mr. Bao demonstrating the art of tea tasting by keeping the sip of tea in the mouth, breath contained, letting the tea fragrance linger, and then gradually releasing the tea fragrance through the nostrils.

Roy engrossed in writing the Chinese character for Tiger, in commemoration of the Year of the Tiger that is 2010, creatively curving the last stroke to mimic the tiger's tail (top) and demonstrating the easy strokes to write the Chinese character for the Buddha, primarily for the benefit of westerners who may be alien to the Chinese calligraphy strokes. The completed calligraphy pieces on colored papers spread in front of him illustrate several scripting styles that amplify the richness of Chinese calligraphy (bottom).

Roy penning his fervent wish, Chinese calligraphy style, to propagate the Art of Chinese Buddhist calligraphy with his pseudonym assumed in deference to the late Venerable Master Hong-I appearing on the bottom left.

Four-character verses of prosperity, cultivation of compassion and wisdom, and doing virtuous deeds, usually written top down on red paper, make for a favorite display item during the Lunar New Year. The left is by Venerable Grand Master Wei Chueh of the Chung Tai Chan Monastery and the two to the right are by the late Venerable Grand Master Sheng Yen of Dharma Drum Mountain.

These are by Venerable Master Tsing Yun of Fo Guang Shan, written by him over the years. This collection and the one above now adorn the walls of our living room.

This is the Heart Sutra in Chinese, 260 characters in all, written on bamboo sheet by the late Venerable Master Hong-I.

These couplets of seven characters each, adorn the four walls of the dining hall in Fo Guang Shan Temple, all related to the theme of vegetarianism, plain cooking that is easy on our body but Dharma bliss for our mind.

Painting of Sramanera (Sanskrit meaning young Buddhist novice) holding various objects of learning (top) and a pair of Sramanera holding an alms bowl as piggybank sitting on top a shelf at our home. After the sojourn at our home, they will return to their rightful home at Fo Guang Shan Temple, in a brim-ful state, of loose change that is (bottom), twice a year, one on the Buddha's Birthday in May, and the other, the lunar year end. They are cute to look at, compassion-inspiring to fill up, and fulfilling to be parted with.

Chinese Buddhist calligraphy mixed with pictogram that exhorts giving, simple living, mindfulness, and ease of mind. The left two are the Chinese calligraphy works of Venerable Master Tsing Yun, the bottom epitomizing his wish to shine the Buddha Light (literal translation of Fo Guang) across the five continents to benefit all sentient beings. The bottom right, themed the fragrance of the tea, embodies the serene state of letting things flow and just enjoying the fragrant scent of tea lingering on the tongue.

Be joyous in all occasions (top), and free willing (bottom) as expressed through Buddhist cartoon drawings of the famous fabric bag (literal translation from Chinese) monk and a Sramanera riding the baby whale. The legendary monk got its nickname from the big fabric bag that was slung over his shoulder and was purported to contain all he ever needed. Armed with his trademarked open-mouthed hearty laughs and his rotund pot belly, he sleeps wherever he is, often dispensing enlightened exhortations to listeners who, out of ignorance, often treat them as wise cracks. He is said to be the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Maitreya, the future Buddha (translated loosely from the Chinese Baidu encyclopedia website).

These are the statuettes of Sramanera in various depictions of practicing simple life, leading life in the moment by focusing on the task at hand, and cultivating mindfulness that dot the compound of the Fo Guang Shan temple in Orlando, a constant and vivid reminder to visitors and lay Buddhist practitioners to follow such observance.

Many more of the above, indicating that life can indeed be that simple if only we rid ourselves of cravings and delusions.