Those few short words conveyed the importance
of the project to me. They remain engraved in my mind
to this day and serve as my motto.
In April 1994 at the urging of Upasika Zhuqing Wang, I joined a Dharma delegation from Taiwan to participate in the Venerable Master’s birthday celebration at the City of the Dharma Realm, and to show the Master the plans for his trip to Taiwan in December to deliver lectures and to hold the Dharma Assembly for Protecting the Nation and Quelling Disasters. The first time I saw the Master, I was deeply touched by his gentleness and compassion. I felt like a lost orphan who had suddenly found his parent. He was as warm and caring as a father. I became choked with sobs and could hardly give my report. Several days later, when I again met with the Master in Los Angeles and asked for instructions regarding the overall preparation for the event, the Master touched the pile of materials with his hand and said with a smile,
It’s always better to be cautious.
Those few short words conveyed the importance of the project to me. They remain engraved in my mind to this day and serve as my motto.
The Master passed into stillness on June 7, 1995. Our compassionate father departed from us, and over a year’s worth of preparation instantly went down the drain. I could hardly bring myself to accept this fact, and lamented my own lack of blessings. The Master’s many disciples in Taiwan hoped to hold a memorial Dharma assembly, and their suggestion was supported by the Sangha in America. At the urging of the Dharma Masters and of Upasika Zhuqing Wang, I accepted responsibility for organizing the event. Under the guidance of the Sangha, I humbly sought advice, eagerly assumed responsibility, seriously carried out the work, and did not stray from the Master’s Three Great Principles. The following inconceivable responses occurred during the time I was planning the memorial ceremony.
(1) The Master came to instruct me in my dream. When I was taking up the task of organizing the event, I dreamed of the Master. He appeared beside me just the way he had been when alive, and he immediately promised to give me the help that I asked for. However, I was surprised because none of the other laypeople who passed by the Master saw him. This was testimony to the fact that the Master came from empty space, and he returned to empty space. If we seek his help, he is just like the Bodhisattva Observer of the World’s Sounds (Guanshiyin), who appears simultaneously in thousands of places in response to living beings’ pleas for aid.
(2) The fixing of the dates, place, and program of the Dharma assembly. The dates were set to be from November 11-13, with the memorial ceremony on all three days and the exhibition of the Master’s sharira on the 13th. The 11th (lunar date 9/9) was the Anniversary of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s Leaving the Home-life, and the next two days were holidays. It was very difficult to rent a large hall on such dates. The only place in Taipei suitable for a large Dharma gathering was the Banqiao Auditorium, but it required signing up a year in advance, and those who signed up first were given first choice of dates. Due to the suddenness of our event, I negotiated with Mr. Guoxiong, leader of the Public Affairs Committee, and we visited Dharma Master Wu Xiu of Daguan Monastery. The Dharma Master kindly told us, “Your most important concern right now is to organize the memorial ceremony well. Nothing else matters. The Master was a pre-eminent monk of his time, and I’m ashamed that I cannot be of any help.” In order to accommodate our event, he postponed his own Dharma assembly, which had been planned long in advance and for which he had distributed 10,000 announcements. I am still deeply grateful for his kindness.
(3) Restrictions on the use of the place. I had rented the Banqiao Auditorium several dozen times before and was extremely familiar with the place. It was strange because many new restrictions had been placed on its use in the last few months. All attempts to negotiate failed, and as a result there were many inconveniences. Yet I needed to obtain the Auditorium’s agreement on several points, such as (a) to use part of the facility as a kitchen, as that would be the only hygienic and convenient way to prepare several thousand meals daily; (b) to remove objects protruding from the background of the stage, in order to install Buddha images and for safety reasons. At the same time, I had to uphold the Three Great Principles. I nearly gave up. After several days of despair, I prayed to the Master to give me wisdom and to let the conditions be favorable. I could not give up on my duty. After several days of calm reflection, I suddenly thought of another way (the details of which will not be given here). Everything was able to go through as planned, and some aspects even surpassed my expectations.
(4) The response of the volunteers. The schedule of the Dharma assembly ran from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for three successive days. Considerable time was spent setting up, decorating, and cleaning up the auditorium before and after each day’s events. Drawn by the Venerable Master’s virtue, nearly six hundred volunteers signed up. For laypeople to be so willing to contribute their time and energy is truly remarkable in this busy society. One of the volunteers who had signed up early on was injured in a car accident. Nevertheless, she was determined to participate in the memorial ceremony. Although it had always taken a long time for even minor scrapes to heal in the past, this time she recovered with miraculous speed and was able to fulfill her wish. Also, the man who was to frame the Venerable Master’s calligraphy saw a sudden burst of fire in his incense burner at home. He told Upasaka Yan, the leader of the Publicity Committee, that a Bodhisattva had told him he had to accept the job, but could only accept NT $12,000 in payment, even though the work required at least a month’s time. He happily accepted these conditions.
(5) The supreme Ceremony for Passing Offerings. For the daily meal offering ceremony at noon, under the guidance of forty-some Dharma Masters, 108 items including incense, lamps, flowers, fruits, and vegetarian dishes were passed from person to person to the front to offer to the Buddha and the Venerable Master. This was done as the assembly solemnly chanted the True Words for Making Offerings. Everyone was filled with the joy of the Dharma. Such a sublime effect was unprecedented in large-scale Dharma assemblies in Taiwan.
(6) Beholding the sharira. On the afternoon of the final day, the Venerable Master’s several thousand sharira and sharira clusters of different colors, some as transparent as crystal, were taken out for the assembly to behold. The auditorium was packed, and the several hundred volunteers had to form several levels of “human walls,” allowing the thousands of devotees to line up and behold the sharira as everyone recited the name of Amitabha Buddha. When several people who missed the event began to cry, the Dharma Masters gave them a special chance to see the sharira.
Once when I was in the process of inviting elders of Taiwan Buddhism to participate in the memorial ceremony, I was in Taichung and it was already past six o’clock in the evening. I took my leave from the Dharma Masters, thinking to return to Taipei. My stomach was rumbling and I needed to satisfy my hunger. Being in an unfamiliar place, I asked a local shopkeeper where the vegetarian restaurant was. Unfortunately, the one I asked about was already closed. Just when I was about to give up, a woman behind me said, “Why don’t you come eat at my house. I’m vegetarian, and if you’re not too picky, I still have a lot of food left from supper.” Startled, I turned around and saw her standing on the other side of the street. Strange! How could she have heard my conversation? Smiling, she took me by the hand. I felt embarrassed and said, “I just wanted a bowl of soup, that’s all,” trying to decline her invitation. She said, “Come on! I’m not here very often, but my daughter has a dress shop around the corner, let’s ask her.” Then she went into her daughter’s shop. I watched as she quickly went to the back and came out carrying four dishes of food, followed by soup. She covered the entire counter with food. I thought that it would be too impolite not to eat, but I also felt embarrassed to eat. Her daughter said, “Our family is vegetarian, my mom for thirty years now. We’re all one family. That’s why we have such affinities.” Indeed, we truly had affinities. When another volunteer heard what happened, he said, “How blessed you are! The Master watches over you constantly, worrying that you might be hungry or thirsty.” My fellow cultivator said, “Even the Master didn’t want you to be troubled by cooking or washing dishes.” I was greatly encouraged by their observations.
Various conditions are needed to bring about the successful completion of a Dharma assembly. Each person is like a small screw that needs to be screwed on tight. If even one screw comes loose, it will affect the whole structure. By the end of the three-day event, I and many of the group leaders were moved to tears. One of them told me that although she had not had been able to meet the Venerable Master, being a volunteer had given her the chance to follow the Master’s Dharma. Another group leader said one night she dreamed of the Master wearing his yellow host sash, surrounded by many Dharma Masters who were reciting a Sutra. The scene was solemn. When she asked what was happening, she was told that the Master had perfected the stillness and she ought to hurry to the Banqiao Auditorium to recite Sutras. A few days later she received my phone call asking her to volunteer. Despite toiling for several days in a row to protect the Dharma, none of the volunteers looked tired. After the Dharma assembly was over, they cleaned up the entire auditorium, inside and out, thus completing their duties. Even the auditorium management admitted it was the first time the facility had received such an overall cleanup.
I have organized many Dharma assemblies for more than ten years, but this was the first time I faced so many challenges. Under the circumstances, dogged determination and careful diligence were required to overcome difficulties in decorating the place, coordinating personnel, and so on. I had no prior experience with certain items of the program, such as the passing of offerings and the display of the sharira. To allow several thousand people to move in line and view the sharira in the limited space required detailed advance planning, careful organization, and close teamwork. Keeping the crowd under control was quite a nerve-wracking experience. Having been told by the Master that “it’s always better to be cautious,” there was no way I could be careless. With the guidance of the Sangha, I put my full efforts into making the Dharma assembly as successful as possible.
The Venerable Master renounced his life to do the Buddha’s work. He vowed to work zealously for Buddhism in life after life, and was perfectly willing to sacrifice his own life to do this. My own resolve is only the tip of the iceberg. Taking the Master’s great vows as my model, I must be even more vigorous and never slack off.
The Buddhas understand that dharmas are like an illusion,
And have penetrated them without obstruction.
Their minds are pure, apart from the multitude of attachments,
And they are able to subdue all beings.
Flower Adornment Sutra, Chapter Nine, Light Enlightenment