The piano concert by Gwhyneth Chen was held at 3:00 p.m. on May 18th at City of the Dharma Realm. It attracted more than five hundred people. This benefit concert to raise funds for the International Institute of Philosophy and Ethics (IIPE) was a great success.
That day, Gwhyneth played ten pieces by famous composers such as Chopin, Schubert, Brahms and Balakirev. She displayed supreme piano playing skills and a unique way to express the music. Sometimes her playing was as powerful as thunder. At times, the music was as soft and gentle as a whisper. Her performance moved many people to tears. During the encore, Gwhyneth creatively played a Taiwanese folk song called ‘Awaiting the Spring Breeze.’ Playing this simple tune with great expression, Gwhyneth’s fingers danced across the keyboard creating a certain magic for the audience. That Taiwanese folk song stirred the many Taiwanese people in the audience to tearful nostalgia.
The audience gave her a standing ovation. Carol Leonard, the wife of the West Sacramento Chief of Police, who is knowledgeable about music, said that this was the most beautiful and touching concert she had ever attended in her entire life. A Sacramento local, Terri Davis, said that the concert was very moving and a great blessing to attend. Overseas Chinese Commissioner Jong Chen, who was attending the concert on behalf of Director General Lee of the Taipei Economic and Culture Office in San Francisco, has listened to classical music for more than thirty years and was very familiar with many of the pieces Gwhyneth played. Hence, he could especially feel Gwhyneth’s deep understanding of the piano and was moved to tears by her performance. He considers Gwhyneth one of the best pianists in the United States and feels very honored to have such a talented Chinese pianist in the United States. More than ten years ago, Jong Chen used to go for dinner at the Hotel El Rancho, which is now the City of the Dharma Realm. When he visited this time, he was surprised to see that the resort hotel was now a monastery and felt that this transformation of the former resort was very meaningful. He also thought that the concert sponsored by the City of the Dharma Realm was of the highest quality. He commented, “I never expected a Buddhist organization like yours to sponsor activities so well. If you need my help in the future, please let me know. I will try my best to assist.”
After the concert, Gwhyneth said that out of the more than five hundred concerts she has played, this is one of the concerts that gave her the most satisfaction. Very humbly, she gives all of the credit to the sixty volunteers who prepared for the event. These volunteers came from our branch temples throughout California, including the Institute for World Religions & Berkeley Buddhist Monastery in Berkeley, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) in Talmage, Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, Gold Sage Monastery in San Jose and Gold Wheel Monastery in Los Angeles in addition to the Dharma protectors and laypeople from the City of the Dharma Realm in Sacramento. Gwhyneth said that these volunteers rose early, retired late and worked hard to prepare for the event. Not a single person complained or quarreled with one another. “Everyone acted as if they were going to play on stage themselves instead of I.” She had never seen such enthusiastic staff. She said that these volunteers gave her a lot of spiritual support and were the main reason for her success in this performance. She had participated in some other concerts in the past where she did not feel such support from the staff. She said, “It makes a big difference whether or not people support you.”
One of the prerequisites for participating in the 1993 Ivo Pogorelich International Piano Competition in which she won first prize was that one must have won awards in other international competitions. More than two hundred people applied. Most applicants were in their thirties or forties with a lot of experience in piano and in life. Many of them were well-known international pianists. Only Gwhyneth Chen, at the age of twenty-three, was a relatively new contestant who had qualified by placing fifth in the Tchaikovsky Solo Piano Competition. In order to soothe her nerves, Gwhyneth began reciting Shurangama Mantra five or six times a day, bowing to Earth Store Bodhisattva and the Venerable Master Hua’s picture and contemplating all the Buddhas of the ten directions. Through diligent and singleminded practice, she became one with the music and forgot her own existence.
One day while bowing to the Venerable Master’s picture, she suddenly realized that the practices she had undertaken for this competition had far exceeded her usual practices. Since she had attained the state of forgetting her own existence while playing, there was no need to compete for fame and prizes. Hence, in the final round of the competition, Gwhyneth said, “I did not feel that I was playing for the competition but rather performing on stage. I no longer cared what place I would take. Rather, I cared only about whether or not I poured my skills into every note I played in the performance.” At that time, she made a vow: “I wish to offer this piano music to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the ten directions and develop affinities with all beings in the Dharma Realm. May everyone who hears my music leave suffering and attain bliss.” As a result of not caring about fame, she, together with Michael Harvey, a welll-known Australian pianist, jointly won first place.
After her success, she eluded the press and went to take refuge with the Venerable Master Hua at the City of the Dharma Realm in Sacramento. She also donated the cash award, close to one hundred thousand dollars, to the Venerable Master Hua for use as education funds. At that time, the Master encouraged her to persistently apply her effort and continue to improve herself. At the same time, he advised her to bow to the
Dharma Flower Sutra.
With amazing perseverance, Gwhyneth took time out of her busy performance schedule to bow to the Dharma Flower Sutra as instructed by the Venerable Master. She bowed once to each word of the sutra for a period of about ten months, finally completing her bows to the sixty thousand characters of the
Dharma Flower Sutra. Subsequently, she discovered that when she played the piano, neither her body nor her mind were playing, but rather a stream of energy. Such a state is difficult to describe. She did not even feel tired after playing. On the contrary, she felt happy and relaxed. Whenever she felt that she was using her physical body to play, the music would not turn out well.
Besides piano playing, Gwhyneth also benefited from the Buddhadharma when learning foreign languages. In July 1993, she went to Moscow to perform and took a five-week Russian language class in the Moscow Music College. She had very little background in the Russian language. However, every day she would recite the
Heart Sutra sixty to seventy times and the Rebirth Mantra two to three hundred times. Whether she was walking or resting in the piano practicing room, she used her time well. Her mouth would be busy reciting the mantra or the sutra. Concentrating on reciting the
Heart Sutra and the Rebirth Mantra, she gained the wonderful effect of singlemindedness. Very soon, she mastered the difficult Russian language. Before she left Moscow, she was able to converse with Moscow’s intellectuals. She felt that she suddenly knew how to speak Russian and was surprised that she was able to learn so quickly.
All these years, Gwhyneth never forgot the assignment the Venerable Master Hua had given her – bowing to the
Dharma Flower Sutra. She always makes time to bow or recite this King of Sutras. So far, she has twenty to thirty concerts to perform every year in North America and Europe. Every time she leaves for a performance, she always packs the
Dharma Flower Sutra in her luggage.
This assignment helps her keep improving her piano playing and face the various pressures in life. About three weeks before this concert, she dreamed that the Venerable Master Hua took her to bow to the Bodhisattvas. After she woke up, she worked harder on reciting the sutra.
Originally, Gwhyneth wanted to rent a nine-foot-long grand piano for the concert at the City of the Dharma Realm. However, the day before the performance, she was only able to get a smaller seven- foot one. While practicing on the seven-foot piano, she was not very satisfied with its sound. However, she could not do anything about it. When she tried the piano on the day of the concert, she found to her surprise that the sound from the piano turned out great. Even the people sitting in the very last row could hear the lightest note she played. “A seven-foot piano sounds like a nine-foot one. Inconceivable!” She felt very different playing in this concert. She hopes there will be opportunities in the future to play for a Wayplace again. Nevertheless, the piano performance at the City of the Dharma Realm brought her a new assignment. Dharma Master Sure recommended that she not only bow to and recite the
Dharma Flower Sutra, but also memorize the entire sutra. Dharma Master Sure believed that combining the
Dharma Flower Sutra with music would produce the most beautiful melody. In addition, Dharma Master Chih suggested that Gwhyneth Chen recite the
Earth Store Sutra as well. With a smile, Gwhyneth commented, “Quite a few assignments!”
The concert was followed by a reception that introduced the Institute of Philosophy and Ethics (IIPE) at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB). Selected paintings by artist Chun-Ming Yu were on display, as well as a special IIPE exhibit and slideshow set up by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth. The plan is to build the institute on the eastern side of CTTB. It will occupy about fourteen acres of land. The total building area is 332,000 square feet which includes the Wonderful Enlightenment Hall, the Memorial Hall for the Venerable Master Hua, a library, classrooms, a dining hall, bedrooms, a kitchen, offices and other peripheral facilities. The project is currently seeking talented individuals with knowledge in architecture, engineering, law, accounting and other professions. For details, please contact us at (707) 391-5939, visit our website
www.drba.org or e-mail us at
The mission of IIPE is to promote understanding among human beings by the exchange and study of religions, philosophy, ethics and cultures so as to advance towards world peace. This was the Venerable Master Hua’s ideal and the goal towards which the branch temples of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (DRBA) diligently and quietly work. For example, Dharma Master Sure, the Abbot of the Institute for World Religions & Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, frequently participates in various interfaith activities and dialogues. This year, the United Religions Initiative in which Dharma Master Sure is involved invited the Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, John Wester, and many priests and sisters to dialogue with representatives of various Buddhist traditions at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB). Bishop Wester also gave a sermon and held Mass in CTTB.
Mr. Joe Gordon, the former City Manager of Sacramento, spoke very highly of the mission of IIPE as being very appropriate to the needs of the current age. He even wished that the IIPE could also be established in City of the Dharma Realm in Sacramento for the benefit of local residents.
Dharma Master Heng Gwei, one of the organizers of the concert, delightedly expressed that since we have sponsored a world-class piano performance as the prologue for the IIPE, she hopes that after the IIPE is established, it will be a world-class institute with world-class cultivators. Dharma Master Shr , another organizer from Gold Wheel Monastery in Los Angeles, also talked about all kinds of difficulties encountered in the planning including the concert hall’s ventilation problem, which was resolved wonderfully on its own on the day of the event. Dharma Master Shr smiled and said, “Everything turns out for the best!”