Before the Avatamsaka Vihara relocated in January, the building architect saw that one of his workers had throw away his unfinished rice on the building site. He picked up the rice and spread it around the parking lot for the birds. While he was doing that, suddenly he saw a very tall Guanyin Bodhisattva appear before him! This auspicious sign caused the faithful to be even more steadfast and vigorous in supporting the Way-place.
The Avatamsaka Vihara moved from a residential neigborhood in Potomac to Bethesda, a metropolitan area near Washington D. C. On June 15, 2003, an inaugural ceremony was held to consecrate the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ images at the monastery. It was followed by an Emperor of Liang Repentance Ceremony from June 16th to 22nd. The consecration ceremony, attended by about 300 people, was hosted by Dharma Master Heng Sure, who took extra time during the ceremony to briefly introduce each Buddha and Bodhisattva for those who were new, including some university students and Vedanta Center members. The Eight Precepts were transmitted on the morning of June 15th, and the Three Refuges and Five Precepts were transmitted in the afternoon. Twenty people took refuge with the Triple Jewel and thirteen took the Five Precepts.
Dharma talks given by the two Bhikshus, Dharma Masters Heng Sure and Jin Fan, on the nights of June 14th and 15th gave people a spiritual uplift before the weeklong repentance ceremony. Bhikshuni Heng Jhuang, Bhikshuni Heng Chu, and Bhikshuni Jin Hui led the Emperor of Liang Repentance. Twenty-some people commuted everyday, and twenty -four people, including seven men (who stayed in a trailer parked on the temple ground), registered to stay full-time at the monastery during the repentance ceremony. Those who stayed at the monastery diligently attended the daily morning and evening ceremonies and listened to Dharma talks given by the nuns at night.
Laypeople shared their experiences after the repentance ceremony was over. One layman said he was so happy about being able to participate in the ceremony that he felt like crying. A laywoman said this was the first time she had repented at such a profound level. She was grateful for the teachings passed down by the Buddha and the Patriarchs, and grateful to Venerable Master Hua. When she read the text in the repentance about the retribution for offenses, she realized the truth of the cause and effect. Even though we live in the age after the Buddha’s nirvana—one of the eight difficulties—she was very thankful for having the blessings to meet the Buddhadharma. She learned to be more compassionate for all living beings. She realized that she was not doing this repentance for her own sake, but for all living beings. Somebody else mentioned that before the Emperor of Liang Repentance ceremony began, while a layman was washing his car at his home, a small turtle came up to him and was looking up at him, so he brought it to the temple. The turtle was kept at the temple during the weeklong repentance; it was then taken along with the catfish for the Liberating Life ceremony.
At the end of the repentance ceremony on the 22nd, we conducted a Liberating Life ceremony in a park. When we got there, we found a less crowded and quieter spot for the catfish and the little turtle. Then we unloaded the water buckets with the fish from the truck and began the ceremony. At first, the fish kept jumping, but as the chanting proceeded and as they received the sprinkles of the Great Compassion sweet dew, they became calmer.
When the ceremony was over, people quickly carried the buckets to the banks of the Potomac River. Children and a few seniors also joined this activity of liberating the animals! As people on the banks continuously recited the name of Amitabha Buddha, 2,500 pounds of catfish were released into the Potomac River!
The ceremony and the act of liberating animals is not a common practice in America. In fact, half a year ago, hunters were authorized to kill off the deer that overpopulated a big park near Potomac.