Buddhist Festivals: Fo Guang Shan 56th Anniversary

I. Introduction

Auspicious greetings to Dharma friends around the world! Welcome to another episode of English Dharma Services.

Kathryn: Hi Venerable Zhi Tong, I saw this poster about a worldwide Sutra Transcription ceremony on May 16th. What is the occasion?

Ven. Zhi Tong: Hi Kathryn. The Global Sutra Transcription ceremony will be held this Monday to celebrate the 56th anniversary of Fo Guang Shan. Do join us on Monday evening! You can join us online!

Kathryn: Yes, Monday evening works for me. I will join the sutra transcription ceremony! Did you say this is the 56th Anniversary of Fo Guang Shan?

Ven. Zhi Tong: Yes, Fo Guang Shan was founded on May 16, 1967. And this year, Fo Guang Shan is 56 years old. Here, come with me and let me take you on a trip down the memory lane.

II. First Building: Eastern Buddhist College

On the day of Fo Guang Shan’s (FGS) 
Foundation Laying Ceremony, May 16th, 1967, 
Someone asked, 
“Master, why this place for a temple? 
Even ghosts won’t want to come here.” 
I replied, 
“It doesn’t matter if ghosts don’t come; 	 
it’s fine as long as Buddhas do!”

Someone else said, 
“This is where even birds avoid; 
how can human beings live here?” 
I replied, 	 
“Isn’t the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss 	 
filled with chirping birds and virtuous people?”

Someone else said, 
“How will we survive in this barren valley 
without water?” 
I replied, 	 
“Isn’t the Western Spring still flowing today? 
Now that we are here, 	
 the river of the Dharma will flow for even longer.”
Someone then said, 
“With such limited transportation, 
even if there was a temple, no one would come.” 
I replied, 
“This may become the center of 
Greater Kaohsiung over time.”

Everybody then asked, 
“So what should we name this mountain?” 
I replied, “Since it is in Taiwan, let us call it 	 
Buddha’s Light Mountain (Fo Guang Shan).” 

Fo Guang Shan was thus founded.

(Excerpted from "The Founding of Fo Guang Shan"by Venerable Master Hsing Yun)

Kathryn: Oh wow, where is this place? There’s literally nothing here.

Ven. Zhi Tong: Welcome to Fo Guang Shan, 56 years ago. We are now standing on the land that in fifty years’ time will slowly become a landmark of Buddhism.

Kathryn: I have lots of questions, but my first question is, why did Venerable Master want to build Fo Guang Shan?

Ven. Zhi Tong: This is a very important question. The reason that Venerable Master wants to build an establishment in this barren land is because of education. Here we need to go further back in time to understand why the Venerable Master had such a vow.

Buddhism in the 20th Century was in a dismal state. It was a religion for the old and dead. There were usually two situations where people would go to a Buddhist temple: first, if they were getting old and wished to find a place to live the rest of their years, and the other is if there was a death in a family and they needed a monastic to perform the funerary rites. As you can see, Buddhism was not in a good shape.

Prior to arriving in Taiwan, Venerable Master spent a decade in the great Buddhist monasteries of China. During this time, he learned from some of the greatest modern Buddhist masters and understood that Buddhists need to change in order to revive Buddhism. In 1949, when Venerable Master was only 23 years old, he came to Taiwan. The first twenty years of his time was spent mostly in the township of Yilan, where he began to do his part in reforming Buddhism. For example, he established Buddhist Chanting Groups for adults and Buddhist Choir Group for the youths. He also established a kindergarten and a tuition center for students. He also celebrated Buddhist festivals despite it being a period of martial law. Venerable Master was reviving Buddhism from what was once a religion for the old and dead to a religion for people of all ages.

The Venerable Master knew that education is the key to reform. In 1964, Venerable Master traveled from Yilan, which is the north of Taiwan, to Kaohsiung, the south, and founded both the Shou Shan Temple and Shou Shan Buddhist College. This was the first Buddhist college that the Venerable Master had established. In just two years, the number of students exceeded the capacity of the temple, and Venerable Master began to look for a new location that could accommodate new students.

Kathyrn: Is this how the current location of Fo Guang Shan is found?

Ven. Zhi Tong: Exactly! There was a Vietnamese-Chinese couple who were in need of money to pay off their debts, so they placed a land that they owned on sale. Their last resort was to end their lives if they could not repay the debt. Out of compassion, Venerable Master bought the land from them, which is the current location of Fo Guang Shan.The place is far from the city, which means it’s a good place for students to focus on their studies. But there are many challenges. When Venerable Master brought a bus of devotees to this newly-acquired land, the devotees said to him, “This place is so barren! Not even ghosts would want to visit!” The Venerable Master replied, “Well, as long as Buddhas come!”

Kathryn: What was the first building that was built? Was it a classroom?

Ven. Zhi Tong: You’re right! The very first building that was built was the Eastern Buddhist College, which was completed in the first year. There wasn’t actually a flat piece of land to build the college. They needed to first fill up the valleys and ravine with stones and soil in order to have a flat platform. Only then was the Buddhist college built.

Kathryn: What supported Venerable Master to overcome these difficulties?

Ven. Zhi Tong: The future of Buddhism. That was Venerable Master’s only concern. As he said in his book, Buddhist Affinities Across A Hundred Years:

For Buddhism, I should do my duty as a monastic well. For Buddhism, I do not feel troubled by the pains of Dharma propagation. For Buddhism, I should be attentive to my comportment and hold myself right. For Buddhism, I should self-improve so people would not look down on monastics[…] For Buddhism, I should establish educational, cultural, and charitable endeavors.

Buddhist Affinities Across A Hundred Years

Venerable Master overcame many adversities and challenges with the single-minded vow of “for Buddhism.”

III. First Shrine: The Great Compassion Shrine

Thanks to the publication of National Master Yulin, 
the royalties allowed the purchase of FGS lands. 
Thanks to Guanyin Bodhisattva, 	 
whose infinite manifestations 
helped build the Great Compassion Shrine.

Atop the dragon’s head on the Eastern Hill 	 
stands the majestic Welcoming Buddha (1975). 
At the inaugural ceremony, I said, 
With sandstones from Gaoping River, 
Water from the Western Spring, 
Manpower from the whole of Taiwan, 
The tallest Buddha is thus built.

The respectable Great Buddha 
often reached out and fund-raised himself, 
for the renovation of his own true body.

Thanks to Buddha 	 
and Medicine Buddha from the East, 	 
also Amitabha Buddha from the West, 
They have made the following possible: 
Coming and going between Tusita and Saha, 
He is seated on the unmovable Vajra throne; 
Lapis on the left and ultimate bliss on the right, 
Together they revere the Great King of Dharma.

In 1982, the Main Shrine was completed.

From then on, at Fo Guang Shan, 
the bell is sounded 108 times in the morning, 
the drum is hit to pray for favorable weather in the evening

(Excerpted from "The Founding of Fo Guang Shan" by Venerable Master Hsing Yun)

Kathryn: Where is this place, Venerable Zhi Tong? There are so many people around! What’s the occasion?

Ven. Zhi Tong: This is the Consecration Ceremony of the first shrine in Fo Guang Shan, the Great Compassion Shrine, where Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, also known as Guanyin Bodhisattva, was enshrined.

Kathryn: Wow! This is a magnificent shrine! Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva looks really majestic in white. Are these little figures around the shrine Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva as well?

Ven. Zhi Tong: Indeed! The Great Compassion Shrine is also known as the Ten-Thousand Buddhas Shrine. After the Buddhist College was completed, the name of Fo Guang Shan began to spread, and many devotees and even tourists would come and visit Fo Guang Shan as well. However, all the buildings are classrooms and dormitories. There wasn’t a place for devotees to pray. Hence, Venerable Master began a plan to build a shrine. Of course, any construction requires money. Venerable Master published a news in the Awakening the World Periodical that welcomed anyone to make a 500 Taiwanese dollar donation for a small Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statue, and the donation would be used to build the shrine.

People from far and wide were eager to make a donation, hence, there are ten thousand Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statues in the Great Compassion Shrine, each printed with the name of the donor. When you walk into the shrine, you are met with the compassionate gaze of the bodhisattva in all directions. In this way, Venerable Master preserved the memory of all the people who have contributed to the building of the shrine.

With the Great Compassion Shrine of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the Great Wisdom Shrine of Manjusri Bodhisattva, the Ksitigarbha Shrine of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, and the Samantabhadra Shrine of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva were completed in the next decades. The spirit of the Four Great Bodhisattva, compassion, wisdom, vow, and practice, are also the motto of the Buddhist College until this day. Venerable Master wished that all students and even all Buddhists could practice the spirits of the bodhisattvas. 

IV. The Spirit of Fo Guang Shan

In front of the Mountain Gate 
lies the Gaoping River 	
that flows into the ocean.

Some say, 
“All the wealth will flow away.” 
I reply, “The Dharma wealth 	 
is supposed to flow into all ten directions 	 
so that the Dharma can shine across the five continents!

With Fo Guang Shan, 
look not at the hardware and architecture,
but at the cultural aspects within; 	 
look not at the magnificence of the shrines, 
but at their education and knowledgeable purposes.

We must know that 	 
this is a Humanistic Buddha Selection Court, 
A home to some 1,250 monastics, 
Where masters and doctors teach the world, 
Where millions of monastic and lay Buddhists 
propagate the Dharma through culture, 
foster talents through education, 	 
benefit society through charitable activities, 
purify human minds with spiritual cultivation. 

Be it the Three Acts of Goodness, 
Four Givings, or Five Harmonies, 
all serve as the guiding principle of Fo Guang Shan.

“Up at Fo Guang Shan, the shrines are majestic...” 
“Up at Fo Guang Shan, it is filled with eminent ones...” 
Let the Dharma be taught in this world. 

This is the story about 
the founding of Fo Guang Shan.

Kathryn: Whenever I come to Fo Guang Shan, I never imagine what it was like before. What we see now are majestic shrines, wonderful accommodations, and big lecture halls and classrooms. To think that only 56 years ago, this whole place was overgrown and wild. And because of Fo Guang Shan here, we have Fo Guang Shan branch temples and Buddha’s Light International Association chapters all across the world! 

Ven. Zhi Tong: You’re right, Kathryn! This is the place where Venerable Master educated classes and classes of young Buddhists. In turn, these young Buddhists spread the light of the Dharma across Taiwan and all over the globe under the guidance of Venerable Master. Since the founding of Fo Guang Shan, Venerable Master laid down the Four Objectives for the future development of Humanistic Buddhism:

  1. To propagate the Dharma through culture
  2. To foster talents through education
  3. To benefit society through charity
  4. To purify human minds through spiritual cultivation

Furthermore, Venerable Master also promoted the Three Acts of Goodness (do good deeds, speak good words, and think good thoughts) and the Four Givings (give others faith, give others joy, give others hope, and give others convenience) as simple but profound reminder of the ways to practice the teachings of the Buddha.

Being willing to give others faith, we will naturally speak comforting words. When we are willing to give others joy, we will innately see the good in others and praise them. Essentially, this is speaking good words. When we are willing to give others hope, we will instinctively show care, concern, and encouragement. In essence, this is to think good thoughts. Furthermore, by giving others convenience, we will naturally offer a helping hand. This is to do good deeds. 

The Three Acts of Goodness and the Four Givings both embody the Four Immeasurable States of Minds as cultivated by the bodhisattvas.

V. Conclusion

Kathryn: The Three Acts of Goodness and the Four Givings are what I often remind myself daily, especially when I feel frustrated or unmotivated when dealing with other people. Just yesterday, I got very upset with one of my colleagues. I was almost going to say something bad but I reminded myself that I should speak good words instead of bad, angry words. I’m glad I caught myself in time.

Thank you for taking me on a trip down the memory lane today, Venerable Zhi Tong! I felt I learn a little bit more about Venerable Master and Fo Guang Shan. I will definitely be joining the Sutra Transcription Ceremony on Monday evening.

Ven. Zhi Tong: Thank you for coming to the temple today, Kathryn! And thank you for joining this week’s English Dharma Services. May you find inspiration and joy in this Dharma video. Omitofo!