First I would like to say that these are my personal recollections of the Avatamsaka Assembly for Protecting the Nation and Quelling Disasters held in Taiwan at the end of July 1998 by the Dharma delegation of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (DRBA).
The Venerable Master had been to Taiwan many times to propagate the Dharma, but his delegation's lectures were always sponsored by other Buddhist organizations. This time Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Association in Taipei organized the Avatamsaka Assembly alone. This was the first time that DRBA's Dharma Masters in Taiwan led the Venerable Master's refuge disciples in planning such an event.
Although Taiwan could be said to be a nation where Buddhism is thriving, DRBA's branch temples in Taiwan have consistently followed the Venerable Master's style of not scheming, not exploiting, and not begging. In Taiwanese society, where interpersonal relations are all-important, sometimes it is rather inconvenient to get things done.
Renting the auditorium for the Dharma Assembly in Taipei was quite an ordeal. In printing the announcement posters, the printing company messed up. On the correspondences to the Master's refuge disciples, the computer-generated mailing list had the wrong names. Some addresses even received three or four letters addressed to different people. Several mishaps of this nature occurred. Was this the Venerable Master's way of testing his disciples' ability to handle matters, or was it a confirmation that we live in a time when "demons are strong, the Dharma is weak; many are the wrongs and injuries"?
What is remarkable is that in Taichung and Kaohsiung, the lay people, without a Dharma Master to lead them, took the initiative and worked together to set up and decorate the sites where the Dharma Assemblies were held; the results were exceptional.
The sixteen-day Dharma propagation tour included a seminar on "The New Appearance of Buddhism in the West" at the Academia Sinica and a Buddhist Studies Symposium on "The Science of Our Own Natures" at Ching Hua University in Hsin Chu. The delegation also spent two days each in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung, conducting an Avatamsaka Repentance Assembly and a Transmission of Precepts for the Deceased.
The tour concluded with a Buddhist Studies Seminar in Hualien and a transmission of the Three Refuges at the Hualien Prison. The schedule was very tight.
Think about it: How many opportunities does a person have in a lifetime to take part in such a wonderful program? Going from the north, to the middle, to the south, and then to the east, we traveled the entire island of Taiwan. During that period, there were days of sunny blue skies, days of drizzling rain and soft breezes, and even a day of gusty winds and pouring rain in Hualien.
The setting up and decorating of every site was done by a crew of volunteers who worked night and day, going without sleep or rest to adorn the Dharma hall. After the Dharma assembly was over and everyone had gone home, another assembly would begin. The volunteers busily took down the props and decorations, organized the materials, packed them up, and sent them off to be used at the site of the next Dharma assembly.
In this way they set up each Dharma assembly site, then took it down, then set up the next site. Everything comes about through causes and conditions, and ceases through causes and conditions. All things constantly speak the profound, wonderful Dharma for us. Only those who have personally experienced this will know how wonderful it is.
It's worth mentioning that during the Dharma tour, one laywoman's relative passed away, yet she said not a word and continued participating to the end, fulfilling her duty as a volunteer. Another layman crushed his finger while moving a Buddha image and lost much blood, yet he simply bandaged up the wound and continued working without complaint. These are examples of "shedding blood and sweat, never pause to rest"—genuine practice of the Bodhisattva path.
On July 22 we went to pick up the delegation at the airport. The following morning, we heard that the home of the lay family of a Dharma Master had been burned in a fire. His sister slipped and fell while trying to escape and was in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. Upon being asked, I immediately went to his family's home to take a look. When I arrived, I went directly to the third floor, where the fire broke out. The water sprayed by the firemen was still dripping from the stairs. We could imagine how fierce the fire must have been. On the top floor, the water on the ground was deep enough that you could submerge your foot in it. Most of the things in the rooms had been burned to ashes. There was one bookcase whose outer frame had been burned and whose door glass had been broken. However, the books inside were still neatly lined up and completely unharmed. Walking closer, I saw that they were some Dharma talks and Sutra commentaries of the Venerable Master published by DRBA. On the top shelf was a cassette tape. I picked it up: It was the Venerable Master's commentary on the
Preface to the Avatamsaka Sutra—in perfect shape.
All of us know that plastic becomes deformed under high temperatures. Cassette tapes in particular cannot withstand high temperatures. Yet the tapes of the Venerable Master's commentaries were not damaged in the least! I was witnessing the inconceivability of the Buddhadharma with my very own eyes—invulnerability to fire and water. Wherever the Buddhist Sutras are found, the Buddha is to be found; I ought to pay respect and make offerings!
The transmission of the Precepts for the Deceased was really wonderful. Many disciples wished to set up plaques for several deceased people, yet they were restricted to holding one plaque at a time. Therefore, they went to a lot of trouble and followed the Dhanrm delegation from north to south, setting up plaques to benefit and liberate their deceased relatives one by one.
My family is in Taichung, and in order to be filial and at the same time hoping my family would participate in the Dharma assembly, I set up four plaques for my deceased relatives. On the day of the transmission of the Precepts for the Deceased, I asked my older brother, his daughter, and my younger brother's son to hold the plaques along with me. After I had gotten the plaques, my nephew complained of a stomach ache, handed his plaque to me, and went off to rest. No matter how I called out to him, he refused to return. As I held both plaques, I became rather afflicted, for I had told others they could only hold one plaque, and now I was holding two. Yet there was nothing I could do about it. After the ceremony I went to scold my nephew, but he asked me first, "Who is Chen So-and-so?" I said, "Why do you ask?"
He said, "I just saw Grandma holding Chen So-and-so's plaque. She was up in front bowing to the Buddhas. She was Bookshelves where other books were kept. The bookshelf where the Venerable Master's books and tapes were kept. wearing beautiful golden clothes. I wish I could wear clothes like that. She waved to me, too."
"What else did you see?" I asked.
"I saw an old monk walk out of the picture. After walking around once, he sat in lotus posture and floated up in the air, waving with both hands. Then he placed his palms together. When he raised his right hand, palm facing front, the plaque in Grandma's hand flew over to the monk and vanished. There were also many others dressed in golden and white clothes, and the plaques they were holding also flew over and vanished. It was neat! Just like watching a movie!"
Hearing my nephew's account, my body tingled as if from electric shock. The Venerable Master's vows and compassion are truly inconceivable. His Dharma body is everywhere; he is constantly watching over and taking care of his disciples and all living beings who have affinities with him. If we all sincerely participates in the Dharma assembly, we will surely attain wonderful benefits.