Ten years ago, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua came to Calgary and propagated the Dharma for the benefit of the people at Avatamsaka Monastery. He also sent a few left-home disciples to dwell at the monastery, thus bringing the Triple Jewel to Calgary. To celebrate the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (DRBA)'s Tenth Anniversary in Canada, Avatamsaka Monastery hosted a series of activities in August so as to help us commemorate the past and advance together on the path to Buddhahood.
There was a seven-day Jeweled Repentance of the Emperor of Liang beginning on August 1. A group of 21 nuns arrived before July 31 to make preparations for the Dharma session. This was the first time Avatamsaka Monastery held this Jeweled Repentance. Not only did the local cultivators feel excited, but also quite a few people made special trips from Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the East and West Coasts of the United States, as well as various Canadian cities.
Every day, the cantor led over a hundred people in bowing sincerely to the Buddhas. In the evenings, fellow cultivators happily talked about their experiences of bowing in repentance and discussed the profound principles in the repentance text. Everyone gained some insight, and the marvelous function of the Jeweled Repentance was revealed.
The special and rare nature of this Repentance attracted more than a hundred participants. On the weekend, more than two hundred people came to bow in repentance. While it was wonderful to see so many people cultivating together, there was a concern that different people's habits and personalities might result in clashes. The Abbot, Heng Tso Shi, thus reminded us before the repentance began, "Cultivation involves enduring some suffering." "In the Way-place, we are like a big family and we should take care of each other."
These reminders worked. Everyone not only could tolerate the simple and austere conditions of the monastery, but also actively helped out with all kinds of work. Dharma Masters as well as laypeople, no matter where they were from, all did their best to take care of the monastery, from the Buddha Hall to the kitchen, so the whole assembly went smoothly.
Probably the dragon deity deliberately wanted to give us a test, for the first few days of the Repentance were the hottest days of this summer. The outdoor temperature reached 36 C (99 F). Nonetheless, the heat could not daunt the cultivators' minds. Many of them continued to do their daily practices in addition to bowing in repentance. The hot, humid weather lasted for five or six days, but on August 8, there was a dramatic change. It became windy and cloudy with lightning and thunder. Finally the rain fell and washed away the heat, and the Repentance was completed in refreshingly cool weather.
The blessed rain dispersed the heat but did not interfere with the Ceremony of Liberating Life and the Lion Dance on August 9. The martial arts troupe arrived at Avatamsaka Monastery at noon on Saturday and vigorously beat the drums and gongs after the end-of-meal ceremony in the Buddha Hall. Many passersby stopped to watch the lion picking fruits and bowing to each Buddha and Bodhisattva in the monastery. Hundreds of birds that had been captured to serve as shooting targets were set free in the Ceremony of Liberating Life.
Over thirty monks and nuns from various temples of DRBA—the biggest local gathering of the Sangha in years—came to celebrate the tenth anniversary in Calgary. For more than ten days, there were daily Dharma talks by monks and nuns on cause and effect, the practice of repentance, simple stories expressing deep Buddhist principles, and general problems of spiritual cultivation. Most inspiring were stories regarding the history of Avatamsaka Monastery. The past seemed so remote and yet so vivid. How could we ever forget the Venerable Master Hua's compassionate teachings, which benefited people in boundless ways? With story after story, the Dharma Masters recounted the Ven. Master's wit and wisdom. Both the left-home people and the laypeople at Avatamsaka Monastery had been fortunate in receiving encouragement and instruction from good advisors in the past ten years, enabling them to study the Dharma together.
Drawn by the Proper Dharma, more and more people had come to the monastery, and eventually it had to move from northwest Calgary to its current location on 4th Avenue by the riverside. On August 10, more than 500 people attended the Tenth Anniversary Celebration. Four families sponsored the Meal Offering that day, which was also Great Strength Bodhisattva's birthday. The ceremony of requesting the Dharma was grand and solemn, and Dharma Master Heng Sure's words were sonorous and forceful.
During the luncheon, Dharma Masters spoke Dharma and Sunday school students performed songs and music. The dining hall was filled with the happy voices of young and old alike. The long-awaited ceremony for Taking Refuge and Precepts was held after lunch. About 30 people took refuge and 20 took precepts, strengthening their faith in the Buddha path.
The celebration ended on August 10, but our excitement had not faded. Everyone was busy packing for the pilgrimage on the next day. On the morning of August 11, more than a hundred people, both residents and visitors of Avatamsaka Monastery, got on two buses that headed for the Rocky Mountains. The buses drove through the beautiful scenery of Banff National Park and finally reached a piece of land that the Ven. Master had bought years ago, in Columbus Valley near the town of Golden. The Master's plan was to develop a large monastic community like the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on this property of more a thousand hectares.
In the placid surroundings filled with cool, pine-scented air, birdsong, and the fragrance of flowers, we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch. Sitting on the grass under the shade of trees, we respectfully listened to the Dharma Masters talk about the joy of purity and contentment. Looking around, all we saw were green mountains. We could really appreciate the blessings of a pure land, free from the drive of desires and the bonds of worldly contention.
As he reminisced about the past, Dharma Master Heng Chang mentioned that the Ven. Master had seen Manjushri Bodhisattva's Way-place deep in Castle Mountain and had seen many cultivators living there. Too bad we ordinary people with heavy karma couldn't recognize a Buddha if we saw one. That one-day trip to Golden opened our minds and and enlarged our perspective on things. There are no limits. As long as our mind is pure, the land is pure. May we all work hard to clean up our mind in order to expand the pure land.
Attracted by the beauty of Castle Mountain and wishing to pay homage to Manjushri Bodhisattva, laypeople from Gold Wheel Monastery and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas decided to visit Castle Mountain. Some of them even discovered a small hill that resembled the Ven. Master's bronze statue. It looked as if the Master was sitting on the hilltop in the distance. Their excitement at this discovery showed how much they missed the Master. Laypeople from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas also climbed up to the two lakes on the peak and worshipped Manjushri Bodhisattva by the lakeside.
On the way back, Dharma Master Chang recounted the story of Castle Mountain as told by the Ven. Master. Although the Ven. Master had never been there, he knew there was a Dragon Lake in which resided a green dragon who had vowed to protect all sincere cultivators so they could achieve the Way at Castle Mountain. If the laypeople had known about this earlier, would they have wanted to find Dragon Lake and stay there?
Disciples from many other monasteries gathered at Avatamsaka Monastery to work together for the Celebration of DRBA's Tenth Anniversary in Calgary. During those two weeks, it was like a big family gathering. Everyone was filled with the joy of Dharma.