The Sixth Congress of Buddhist Associations in China was held at Friendship Hotel in Beijing from October 14 to October 21, 1993. It was a meeting that promoted unity and reform in Buddhism. The opening ceremony at Guangji Temple began with the recitation of Sutras in Tibetan, Pali, and Chinese--the three main languages in which the world's Buddhist scriptures are recorded. This showed that the Tibetan branch of Buddhism, the southern tradition of Theravadan Buddhism in Pali, and the northern tradition of Chinese Buddhism, which later spread to Korea and Japan, have re-united and are flourishing in this "second hometown" of Buddhism! At the conference, two working committees were set up for Tibetan Buddhism and Theravadan Buddhism, symbolizing the integration and harmony of various nationalities and religions in our country, and the spirit of compassion and equality in Buddhism.
The conference emphasized that Buddhism should work to develop and expand itself. Buddhists should take the precepts as their guide, work hard in their practice, and establish a good tradition of practice. The integration of study and practice, and the development of large Sangha communities, will be achieved following two articles: "Management Methodology for Buddhist Temples in China," and "Regulations for Sangha Dwellings." Sangha members are expected to attend daily ceremonies (morning and evening recitations), take meals with the assembly (simple vegetarian fare), recite the precepts every half month, hold summer retreats, reform the monastic rules, and in general make the monasteries and Sangha communities genuine, not in name only. The monasteries and temples should be managed by Sangha members (monks and nuns), who should strive to raise the standards of the fourfold assembly of disciples (monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen). They should also focus on Sangha education! (Buddhist academies) and make sure Sangha members are well-qualified. Only then can Buddhism prosper.
What's more, we hope that after the conference, Buddhists will work earnestly at implementing the resolutions of the conference, doing a good job of educating the members of the Sangha, managing the temples, and expanding the system of Sangha governance. Then not only will Buddhism flourish, but we will save ourselves and others, and serve our country and religion.
Attending the daily ceremonies, taking meals formally with the assembly, reciting the precepts, and holding the summer retreat are four things the Sangha should do. Of these, daily ceremonies and formal meals are familiar to most Buddhists. The latter two are just as important. Those who have received the complete precepts should assemble to recite them every half month. If one has violated the precepts, one should confess and repent before the assembly. If a person has violated a fundamental precept, the Sangha should confiscate his precept certificate, ask him to take off the Dharma robes, and expel him from the Sangha in order to preserve the purity and harmony of the assembly. If one does not recite the precepts after receiving them, one commits the offense of stealing simply by eating and drinking in the temple (the same holds true for laypeople).
When the Buddha was in the world, he and the Bhikshus (monks) made almsrounds and received the four kinds of offerings (food, clothing, bedding, and medicine). Thus, Bhikshus were expected to hold the precept of not touching money. (In China, due to the different culture, begging for food is not practiced. Instead, monks cook for themselves and live in monastic communities. The monasteries have communal assets and distribute small allowances to the monks, since they no longer follow the practice of making almsrounds.)
In India, since it was inconvenient to go out to beg during the three months of rain in the summer, the Buddha established the summer retreat lasting from the fifteenth of the fourth month to the fifteenth of the seventh month. During this time, donors would bring food to the Buddha's disciples, who would cultivate with increased diligence, studying the precepts and practicing meditation. Many disciples attained to the four stages of Arhatship during this period. Therefore, the end of the retreat was known as the Buddha's Happy Day. How wonderful the communal life of the Sangha must have been!
After the Buddha established the complete precepts, his disciples counted their age in the precepts by the number of retreats they had participated in. Those with five years in the precepts are acharyas, those with over ten years are junior-seated teachers, and those with over twenty years are middle-seated teachers, and those with over thirty years are senior-seated teachers. In the Sangha, rank is based not on age, but on the number of years one has been ordained in the complete precepts.
Laypeople who have taken the Bodhisattva precepts should study the distinctions of holding, violating, exceptions, and restraints, so that they can uphold the precepts purely. They should also recite the precepts every half month.
The five precepts are simple and easy to remember, and so one is not required to recite them. However, it would be nice if lay groups could hold frequent discussions and lectures on the five precepts. In the past, the Young Buddhists Association of Shanghai had a Committee for Promoting the Five Precepts, which held discussions on the five precepts and gave examples of their maintenance and violation, helping people to understand the importance of the precepts and of upholding them purely. Their work is worth continuing and expanding.