Venue: Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Kaohsiung
Speaker: Most Venerable Hsin Bau
As the world grapples with the COVID-19 Pandemic, I would like to say “jixiang” (auspicious greetings), the greeting offered by the founding president of the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) Venerable Master Hsing Yun, to all BLIA members and Buddha’s Light friends and extend my sincerest regards as well as best wishes to all. As the Venerable Master says, “Auspiciousness means to be free from adversity or disaster, with all moments and conditions being favorable.” May the pandemic soon come to an end through global effort, and may the world be safe and auspicious.
Since the pandemic outbreak, our lifestyle has changed and businesses face tremendous hardships. Hence, all walks of life seek new opportunities for sustainable development. It is evident that transformation is a way to turn crisis into opportunity, and innovation is the driving force to break through challenges. Similarly, as we improve and change for the better through daily introspection, we also need the ability to innovate in every field to keep up with the changing times. Therefore, the theme for this year’s General Conference, “Wisdom and Innovation,” is derived from the Venerable Master’s One-Stroke Calligraphy. It is hoped that BLIA members will uphold the ideals of Humanistic Buddhism as advocated by the Venerable Master—to take Buddhist wisdom as the basis for innovation, create an abundance of good causes and conditions that lead to new opportunities, and find a way out of the pandemic. Furthermore, may these new opportunities open up new doors in life for both self and others, while providing and contributing to the world and Buddhism.
Here are four directions for BLIA members to actualize “Wisdom and Innovation:”
- Holding True to the Original Buddha-Dharma
Throughout his life, the Venerable Master has advocated Humanistic Buddhism. However, some are still doubtful, “Buddhism is Buddhism. Why add ‘Humanistic’ in front?” The Venerable Master answers, “Humanistic Buddhism is Buddhism.” The Buddha’s teachings are for resolving issues of the human world and increasing people’s peace and happiness. Therefore, Buddhism is Humanistic Buddhism, which is closely connected to human life.
It is a pity that, throughout the history of its dissemination, Buddhism was affected by time, space, and other factors. Many Buddhist teachings have been distorted and misunderstood, deviating from the Buddha’s original intent, being out of touch with people’s lives, and losing their humanistic qualities. Consequently, people interested in learning Buddhism maintain a respectful distance while practicing Buddhists find it hard to fully grasp the essence of Buddhism. Hence, the Venerable Master devoted his life to harmonizing the Buddha-Dharma to hold true to the original intent of the Buddha for everyone to have the opportunity to understand the Buddha’s true heart and intention.
As the Venerable Master said, “What I have are some new interpretations; I am neither creating a new Buddhism nor trying to be novel and different. I only wish to expound the original intent of the Buddha and make it easier for people to understand the Buddha-Dharma.” The Venerable Master’s interpretation of the Dharma is based on his compassion for sentient beings, helping people to understand the original intent of the Buddha to inspire, teach, benefit, and bring joy to all beings. This does not mean a new form of Buddhism; Humanistic Buddhism is the Buddha’s teachings and focused on human beings.
In his wisdom, the Venerable Master reestablishes Buddhist teachings that have long been misunderstood and reinterprets the Dharma in a contemporary way. For example:
- From “the four elements are empty” to “the four elements are existent.”
- From “a single sesame and a single oat” to “a few grains of sesame and oats.”
- Reinterpreting “all sentient beings have Buddha nature” as “I am buddha.”
- Reinterpreting “impermanence” as not only meaning something good will turn bad, but also as something bad will turn good.
- Reinterpreting “suffering” as a supporting condition in cultivation, not the ultimate goal.
- Reinterpreting the “Six Perfections” as not only liberating oneself, but also others.
- Reinterpreting “taking refuge in the Triple Gem” as a form of democracy.
- Reinterpreting “upholding the five precepts” as attaining freedom.
The Venerable Master’s interpretations bridge the gap between people and the Buddha, displaying the following qualities of Humanistic Buddhism:
- The faith of Humanistic Buddhism is in wisdom, not in blind faith.
- Humanistic Buddhism advocates right view, not wrong view.
- Humanistic Buddhism is full of shining hope, not fear.
- Humanistic Buddhism is proactive, not passive.
- Humanistic Buddhism strives for self-improvement, not demanding of others.
- Humanistic Buddhism applies skillful and expedient means and is unattached to old conventions.
- The teachings of Humanistic Buddhism are in accord with causes, effects, and dependent origination, and do not go against the law of cause and effect.
- Humanistic Buddhism exists in harmony with universal values and does not reject the mundane and other-worldly.
- Humanistic Buddhism is to be practiced; it is not abstruse or intangible faith.
Buddhism speaks of cultivation, meaning right action, and right action depends on the guidance of correct concepts. Therefore, right knowledge and right view are crucial to the practice of Buddhism. If people have right understanding of the Buddha-Dharma and practice the teachings accordingly, focusing equally on both understanding and practice, that is cultivation. For example, many believe that the cycle of transmigration occurs only after death. In fact, transmigration is within everyday life. When faced with the good and bad in the world, if we find it difficult to let go and abides in afflictions day after day, it is akin to being caught in the cycle of transmigration. On the other hand, if we can resolve these afflictions, we will be liberated from suffering within the cycle of transmigration in the here and now.
“Hard it is to attain the human body, which I have now attained; hard it is to hear the Dharma, which I have now heard.” It is not easy for us to be reborn as humans in this life, and even harder to listen and learn the Buddha-Dharma. I encourage everyone to grasp the present conditions to learn Humanistic Buddhism for really understanding the original intent of the Buddha and actualizing the Dharma in daily life.
- Diverse Approaches to Dharma Propagation
Humanistic Buddhism is Buddhism aligned with people and aims to bring them peace and happiness. The Venerable Master has traveled around the world throughout his life and responded to the different needs and conditions of people by upholding the principle of Humanistic Buddhism in giving “what is essential to people.” Given that each person has their unique conditions to be inspired by learning Buddhism, the Venerable Master leads Fo Guang Shan with open and all-embracing wisdom, establishing various cultural, educational, charitable, and spiritual cultivation endeavors according to the Four Objectives of Fo Guang Shan. His only hope is to spread peace and happiness in the world through these new expressions of Dharma propagation.
Throughout the years, the Venerable Master initiated various skillful and expedient means to provide opportunities for people to learn Buddhism. For example:
- The Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery was established to provide a place for people to appreciate the arts, as it is human nature to enjoy beautiful things.
- The Humanistic Buddhism Reading Group was organized to provide a reading exchange platform for those seeking personal growth through learning.
- Modern architectural elements, such as luminosity and breadth complementing traditional monastery buildings, bring light to the hearts of visitors.
- The New Year Festival of Light and Peace was initiated to celebrate Lunar New Year, bringing auspiciousness and happiness to visitors with annual themes.
Furthermore, many of the Venerable Master’s endeavors, such as free medical aid, book donations, food offerings, newspapers, and cultivation retreats are supported by those who find joy in doing good deeds. These supporters form good affinities with many people through the cultivation of unconditional loving-kindness and universal compassion.
Moreover, the Venerable Master has transformed setbacks and challenges of his early years into supporting conditions for propagating the Dharma and benefitting all beings. For example:
- Being deprived of a proper education in his childhood due to poverty, the Venerable Master launched the Seeds of Hope Program, providing education for underprivileged children and youth.
- Being expelled from the Buddhist college in his youth for playing basketball, the Venerable Master vowed to promote Buddhism through sports. He founded basketball teams, baseball teams, and football teams in schools established by Fo Guang Shan. He also organized cross-age cheerleading teams, increasing the awareness to be healthy through sports.
- When he first arrived in Taiwan, the Venerable Master had no lodgings or food. Once he established temples, his experience motivated him to open the temple doors and receive everyone as guests.
- As he was denied the opportunity to assist the Chinese Buddhist Association, the Venerable Master was inspired to found BLIA and propagate the Dharma on the international stage.
Although science and technology are advancing by leaps and bounds, the nature of human afflictions remain unchanged. Hence, the Buddha-Dharma is still the ultimate support of people’s body and mind. The establishment of such diverse methods of Dharma propagation is built on the Venerable Master’s profound vow of “cannot bear the suffering of sentient beings.” I sincerely hope that we, as BLIA members, uphold the Venerable Master’s motto of “do only what is in accord with Buddhism.” Through applying modern methods of Dharma propagation, may we continue to spread Buddhism to people in society, so that they can find affinity with Buddhism and be inspired to learn it.
In this pandemic, resolving people’s fears and caring for the world is the highest priority. I express my gratitude to all BLIA members for their collaborative efforts in donating protective equipment and necessary supplies worldwide despite many challenges, shining the light of hope in such troubled times. Moreover, online prayers, cultivation, classes, exhibitions, meetings, workshops, reading groups, and singing contests were also held for caring and comforting worried minds. These activities embody the kind and compassionate vows of all BLIA members in eradicating the suffering of people and bringing them happiness.
In this ever-changing era, technology can change the life of humanity, but the spirit of serving others can never be replaced and the same holds true for the propagation of Buddhism. Though the methods of Dharma propagation continue to change, our warmth towards embracing all people cannot be lost. As the saying goes, “Make the best use of the mind, accomplishing wondrous merits and virtues.” As long as we devote ourselves wholeheartedly, all Dharma propagation endeavors are the manifestations of teachings by buddhas and bodhisattvas.
- Purification of the Body, Mind, and Environment
More than a few years ago, we learned the term “greenhouse effect” and understood that the Earth faced some problems. Not long after, there was another term “global warming,” and the world has paid further attention in caring for the state of planet Earth.
Among the hazards caused by global warming, the most obvious one is climate change. In recent years, affected by extreme climates, the world has suffered droughts and floods, as well as record-breaking temperatures at both extremes. Natural disasters abound, and the resulting migration of animals has increased the frequency of cross-species transmission of infectious viruses. In the past two decades, serious outbreaks of infectious diseases such as SARS, H1N1, H7N9 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threatens the lives of all humanity. Therefore, it is the shared duty of everyone to protect the Earth and it is crucial to invest in more strategies in the face of these environmental preservation issues.
Environmental protection issues have long been a main concern of Fo Guang Shan and BLIA. Branch temples along with BLIA chapters and subchapters worldwide initiate environmental activities on a regular basis, such as recycling, beach cleaning, mountain cleaning, tree planting, street cleaning, and second-hand charity sales, doing their part in slowing down global warming. In recent years, to promote and actualize environmental protection, BLIA launched the global Vege Plan A project to encourage environmental protection through adopting a vegetarian diet. Furthermore, the Pure Green Foundation was established this year to carry out environmental protection activities, such as the T-Earth Forest Restoration Campaign. Reforestation efforts will be conducted globally, contributing to ecological balance. BLIA has also invited experts and entrepreneurs to speak at the Climate Crisis International Forum where speakers share their environmental preservation efforts. May we work together towards the United Nations goal of “Net Zero Emission,” and return to the Earth its original vitality.
Since ancient times, Buddhism has been a religion that values the natural ecosystem. Most monasteries are located in forests and mountains. Following the footsteps of past eminent masters in reforestation and protecting the ecology, the principal monasteries built by the Venerable Master across the five continents are surrounded by nature and greenery. In the early days of Fo Guang Shan Monastery’s construction, the land was overgrown with wild bamboo and suffered severe soil erosion. The Venerable Master reclaimed and reforested the land. Fifty-five years later, saplings have now grown into luscious towering trees. Similarly, during the last decade-long construction of the Buddha Museum and Sutra Repository, not only did the Venerable Master visit the construction sites daily, but he also viewed the transplantation and growth of surrounding trees as crucial.
Over the past thirty years since the founding of BLIA, the Venerable Master has repeatedly mentioned Buddhism’s emphasis on environmental protection in his general conference keynote speeches. In his keynote speech “Nature and Life,” he reminds us to appreciate all life and be one with nature. In “Environmental and Spiritual Preservation,” he emphasizes environmental preservation as the first step to saving the Earth, and encourages all BLIA members to put more effort into protecting our home planet. The Venerable Master states that environmental protection can only be successful if we, members of humanity are self-awakened. Therefore, spiritual preservation is the prerequisite condition to the preservation effort. It is said, “When the mind is pure, the land is pure.” Hence, if the physical, verbal, and mental karma of all people are purified, environmental purification is within reach.
In this world, all beings are interconnected in sharing a relationship with this world; as Buddhists, we must also care about the world. As a United Nations NGO, BLIA will continue to take proactive actions on environmental issues, spreading the seeds of hope for a better world.
- Importance of Passing Down the Legacy of Faith
In the past, Buddhism left people with the stereotype of concern only for daily chanting, thinking that Buddhism only existed in temples and shrines. Therefore, if people wanted to learn Buddhism, they mostly made it a part of their retirement plan. However, Buddhism today is different. Under the leadership of the Venerable Master, Humanistic Buddhism has become part of family, society, and all walks of life; the Buddha-Dharma can be applied to every stage of life. Today, as we have the opportunity to call Humanistic Buddhism our faith, so be confident in our own choice, because when there is faith there is strength.
Some people may say, “We become involved in so many activities after joining BLIA. With such a heavy workload, will there be time for us to cultivate and increase our level of faith?” In truth, the cultivation of Humanistic Buddhism lies in being a part of and serving the multitude. As a monastic community and an organization respectively, both Fo Guang Shan and BLIA are great platforms for Buddhist cultivation, helping us to hone greater wisdom and realize the value of life. According to the “Outlook of BLIA Members,” proposed by the Venerable Master during the founding of BLIA, the first outlook is “keep faith for oneself.” May all BLIA members take hold of this affinity as a Humanistic Buddhism practitioner, as well as self-realize, self-transform, and self-transcend through participating in various BLIA endeavors, Dharma propagation activities, and Dharma services.
Learning Buddhism is the best investment in life the most profitable endeavor in the world. If everyone can further extend this faith to the family and pass it onto the next generation, there will surely be a lasting contribution for every family. Hence, since the inauguration of BLIA, the Venerable Master has repeatedly encouraged BLIA members to participate in chapter activities with their spouse. At the same time, the Venerable Master also encourages us to build a modern Buddhist family—a Fo Guang Family—so that future generations can also be Buddhists, living a life guided by morality, ethics, and the law of cause and effect. In recent years, to promote the Three Acts of Goodness among its members, BLIA has initiated the “Fo Guang Three Acts of Goodness Family.” This has been positively received by BLIA members worldwide, calling on whole families and even three-generation families to practice the Three Acts of Goodness together. This is an example of passing down the legacy of faith.
Besides establishing a “Fo Guang Family” and a “Fo Guang Three Acts of Goodness Family,” the Venerable Master hopes that all BLIA members can expand love and care beyond their own families. We can spread the Dharma joy of learning Buddhism to neighbors, invite local residents to participate in BLIA activities, or be a volunteer serving society. Through sharing the Dharma with everyone around us, we are also building a friendly and supportive “Fo Guang Community.”
The evolution of BLIA members has changed from becoming a BLIA member into a Fo Guang Family, then becoming a Fo Guang Community, and creating a pure land on Earth together. This is the wisdom and innovation of the Venerable Master in passing on the torch of Buddhism. May all BLIA members strive as one and realize the founding goal of the BLIA: May the Buddha’s light shine universally on the three thousand realms; may the Dharma stream flow across all five continents.
In this rapidly changing era, from big businesses to ourselves as individuals, we all need to cultivate wisdom and innovation to keep up with the quick pace of the world. The same holds true for Dharma propagation, and only through wisdom and innovation in navigating the times that we can answer the needs of people. Therefore, since the founding of BLIA thirty years ago, wisdom and innovation has always been the motivation for BLIA-related activities. Similarly, it is also the guideline for the future developments of BLIA.
Dear BLIA members, although this pandemic has widened the space between us, our shared faith in Humanistic Buddhism has brought our hearts closer. In facing disasters and calamities in the world, may we come together as one in complying with government rules and regulations to combat the pandemic. Let us care and help each other to live without fear, while encouraging each other to strengthen faith.
May you always be auspicious!
(English translation: Ven. Zhi Tong, Arthur Van Sevendonck
FGS Institute of Humanistic Buddhism)