Happy New Year! We have really cleaned and spruced up the place for this New Year, and not only that, but we also got a shower from Heaven. We have had both the dry and the wet. When we purify the boundaries shortly, the place will be even cleaner! As everyone can see, we have a lot of New Year spirit this year and the decorations are especially fine.
One thing I hope everyone will remember is not to throw leaves and branches in the back property. Otherwise, people will think it's a garbage dump back there. That would not be good, and it's also against the law. Yesterday we burned not only leaves, but all sorts of garbage, and we weren't finished until evening. So, please tell everyone not to throw leaves, branches, or garbage back there. Garbage should be taken to the garbage pile or the recycling center. Leaves can be dumped outside the green house for composting. Please take branches to the big pile of branches on the roadside behind the Tower of Blessings. The leaves can be composted to make fertilizer, but the branches need to be burned.
Yesterday forty or fifty neighbors, mostly local farmers, came to visit. I'm sure they were impressed because everyone did a good job of cleaning and preparing. They did have some opinions about things we haven't paid attention to, and we must work hard to improve those aspects. For example, some neighbors said that someone has been walking through their vineyard and also across another neighbor's land in order to pick wild herbs. The burros in our back pasture have also trotted onto our neighbors' land, and our peacocks have flown out and landed on their roofs and eaten their flowers and vegetables. People wonder why we aren't able to manage our own people and animals. If we can't even take care of these matters, how can we manage a construction project on the back property? Of course we will repair the fence, but at the same time, everyone should remember to stay within our own property and not walk too far when picking wild herbs. You may be breaking the precept against stealing if you trespass on other people's property.
Furthermore, we will be sending some of the peacocks to a safer place. I heard that peacocks can live to be over seventy—a peacock dynasty! Nevertheless, we will still be liberating two white peacocks in the Liberating Life Ceremony tomorrow, because white peacocks are very scarce here.
Why are we holding a Liberating Life Ceremony tomorrow? I had forgotten that the Venerable Master had instructed me to liberate creatures once a month. Sometimes we have two Dharma sessions in a month, and we liberate creatures on those occasions. However, I saw on the calendar that there aren't any major Dharma events in January and February, so we will liberate life tomorrow, and in February we will liberate life on the Venerable Master's Memorial Day. The Venerable Master made this special stipulation to encourage us to develop compassion. Tomorrow is the first day of the (lunar) New Year and we will have a Dharma Assembly for Protecting the World and Quelling Disasters. I hope everyone will try to attend and pray for world peace. When we purify the boundaries tonight, I hope everyone will welcome the New Year by making a fresh start.
This afternoon I went with Upasaka Liu Guo-Fu to visit the Tower of Blessings (Senior Home). We should all realize that when people get old, their bodies and minds change and they are no longer like us young people. We are still young and strong and able to run and jump, and we don't know how hard it is for the elderly, especially when it gets cold. There are a lot of problems when it's cold. The day before yesterday we discussed the matter of the high gas bill and whether we are using too much and should turn off the water heater until it needs to be used. But how can the elderly take cold water coming out of the faucets? Is it the case that they should turn off the heaters? No.
We must protect the elderly and keep their room temperature at 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the very least. This is also why the Venerable Master sponsored the celebration for Honoring Elders. Honoring our elders does not mean celebrating with food and drink for one day. We must truly practice it in our daily lives. We should try to understand their difficulties and help them to resolve them.
Buddhism teaches compassion, the great compassion of oneness with all. That is, we must put ourselves in the same body in order to understand the sufferings of sentient beings and help to resolve the problems and alleviate those sufferings. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a big family, and the Venerable Master is the head of the household. He is our constant spiritual leader. At all times, we should reflect and ask ourselves whether we are really walking down the path of compassion and whether our wisdom is increasing. At the beginning of the New Year, we ought to make a new resolve and let bygones be bygones. Since we are fortunate enough to have encountered the Buddhadharma and are now walking the Buddha Path, we ought to truly embody the Buddhadharma and not be as muddled as before.
Of course in the City there must be many places that need improvement. For instance, if you know a place that needs street lamps or a lamp that is not bright enough, please tell the Administration Office and we will try our best to improve the situation.
People who don't understand the Buddhadharma spend their lives creating karma, and then rushing off to rebirth after they die. They are busy both when alive and after death. Since we have encountered the Buddhadharma and are aware of how we come and go, we ought to work hard. Otherwise, if our wisdom has not increased by the time our blessings are used up, we will be deluded again.
I'd like to tell the story of Guo-Yi Shi. Does everyone remember him? His initial attempt to leave the home life was unsuccessful. Then, when he found out he had liver cancer and only half a year left to live, his wife came and begged us to let him leave home. After leaving home, he lived at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. However, when his condition became critical, he was taken to the hospital where it was more convenient for his family to visit him. Although his family was with him in the hospital, he wished to return to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. But when the ambulance was waiting outside to take him back to the City, he passed away.
When did he pass away? It was during the Noon Meal Offering before lunch. When I received the news, the assembly was chanting the Buddhas' and Bodhisattvas' names for the second time around. I immediately went to the hospital with a novice monk. I thought to myself, "Who would go to see him at this time of day?" When I arrived at the hospital, to my surprise all of his friends from San Jose were already there (they had come directly from San Jose to the hospital) and were reciting for him. That's why he was smiling. When he first died, his eyes and mouth were open, but after we recited the Buddha's name for him, his eyes closed and a smile came to his face. His family was very happy and wanted to take him home; they could not bear to part with him.
Why did he have such blessings? It's because when he was still a layman and working at a job, he would spend his lunch hour at the San Jose Lay Buddhist Association helping to answer the phone, when everyone else was eating. Since he spent every noontime helping others, he had such wonderful conditions when he passed away. Lunchtime is the most difficult time to pull people away at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, but all his friends came. All the people he had helped to answer phone calls for came to recite for him when he passed away.
Therefore, we should not underestimate the importance of helping others. Blessings are generated through helping others. As the "Chapter on Universal Worthy Bodhisattva's Conduct and Vows" says, without living beings, Bodhisattvas have no way to achieve the wisdom of annuttarasamyaksambodhi. Amitabha!