Ven. Master Hua's Talk at Long Beach Sagely Monastery on April 2, 1993
This is the first time Long Beach Sagely Monastery has been opened up for everyone to come and hear the Dharma. Before the Dharma is spoken, we have to know about the rules. What is a rule? It is a law, a system which everyone should honor.
Since this is a small place, when we are bowing to the Buddhas, we should not leave empty spaces. Whoever comes first should stand up front, and whoever comes later should stand behind them. No empty spaces should be left in any row of bowing mats. No matter how many people there are, we should stand one right after another. People should not stand in a disorganized, uneven way.
Since there are fewer left-home men, they should stand in front and the Bhikshunis can stand behind them. It does not necessarily have to be that Bhikshunis stand on the right and Bhikshus stand on the left. Of course the leading Bhikshu must stand on the left. However, the Bhikshunis should stand so as to make both sides balanced. One side should not have more people than the other; the two sides should be evenly balanced. We should stand in a very organized fashion. This is how we should stand regardless of whether there are many or few people. We cannot be too casual and sloppy, and just stand as we please, without any kind of order. If you haphazardly leave space in the front and go stand in the back, people who come later will stand behind you. Then there will be lots of unoccupied spaces in the front, but all the people will be crowded together in the back. This is totally irrational. Therefore, we Buddhists should all know about this system and follow it.
In circumambulating the Buddha, you must follow the person in front of you. If the person in front has not stopped circumambulating, you cannot return to your place. You have to wait until that person has returned to his place before you can go back to your place. If he has not returned to his place yet, you must keep walking and following him. While still circumambulating, you cannot stop mid-way and go stand in line. This is an ordered process. It is like in the army--when "Walk" is heard, everyone begins to walk. When "Attention" is heard, everyone stops. In general, everyone moves as a unit. In circumambulating the Buddha, if the person in front speeds up, you should speed up as well; if he slows down, then you should also slow down. You cannot sever the line in the middle, or drag the line too long; otherwise, no matter how much space there is, it will be not enough.
So we all have to know how to cherish the Bodhimandala and honor the regulations of Buddhism. We should not be so disorganized, as act as if there is no order at all.
Each participant has to sign his name and indicate his age. The elderly should be invited to take the seats nearest the Buddha. The young people can take seats in the side hall. When there is no more space indoors, the even younger people should take seats outside.
People can't take seats casually, because the seats at each table will be
labeled with names. Therefore, when you come here, please write down your name clearly, and you will be given a namecard. You should find the seat which has the same name as your namecard, and only take that seat. In all we do, we have to abide by the rules. We should be methodical and orderly. We cannot be totally chaotic. These are the regulations we will follow this time. In future, at all times, we should follow this procedure.
Why do we ask the elderly to sit in the Buddha Hall? It's because they cannot get around very easily, and their hands and feet are not very agile, so it's better for them not to walk so much. Why are the younger people asked to sit in the side hall? That room is the same, only it is easier for them to move around and run errands. When the side hall is full, people can go and sit outside. There are television monitors outside so people can see what people inside are doing and saying. These are the regulations to be followed on April 4th. People cannot come here and disrupt the order. There is an order for sitting, as well as for standing and bowing to the Buddhas.
Also, if there are elderly people over seventy, it is alright if they do not bow to the Buddhas. If they are not able to bow, they may sit to the side. When other people are bowing, you can just nod your head. When you reach old age, many things become inconvenient. For people under seventy, I believe they probably don't have any health problems and are able to bow. An exception is made for those who are sick.