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IMG's field trip for the Liberation Rite of Water and Land

On Novemeber 22nd, the International Meditation Group took a field trip to Dharma Drum Mountain to see the preparations and decor for the upcoming Great Compassion Liberation Rite of Water and Land. The rite itself took place from November 29th to Decemeber 5th.

During our tour, we visited many shrines, which were set up for the purpose of reading the sutras for the deliverance of all sentient beings. Leading our group was Venerable Guo Xiang, who is very knowledgeable on all aspects of this rite and the many shrines we visited. We were also accompanied by one of DDM's English speaking tour guides. At every shrine we visited, we would prostrate before the Buddha which represented that shrine, and Ven. Guo Xiang would give a brief explanation of the history and workings of the shrine.

We started out our journey by making our way to the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guanyin Bodhisattva) Shrine. This is also known as the Wish-Fulfilling Shrine. We spent some time in front of the Hall to experience the simplicity and awesome tranquility of the Hall. On seeing the Chinese characters of "The Rising Great Compassion".

Venerable Guo Xiang explained that the inauguration of the DDM is the Founder the Most Venerable Sheng Yen’s idea to remind people who approach this mountain should hold the great compassionate mind just like Guanyin Bodhisattva. Here we spent a short amount of time walking around the inside of the hall, after prostrating to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.

Our next stop on the tour was the Medicine Buddha Shrine. But before we reached the hall, we had the pleasant surprise of seeing Shifu taking a morning walk. He smiled at us and said hello. I think everyone felt uplifted after seeing him.

Once we reached the Medicine Buddha Shrine, Ven. Guo Xiang explained that the Medicine Buddha had vowed to keep all sentient beings healthy in both body and mind. After prostrating to the Medicine Buddha, we continued on our way to the Earth Store Buddha Shrine.

At the Earth Store Buddha Shrine, Ven. Guo Xiang explained briefly the history of the Earth Store Buddha. He had vowed not to rest until he had saved every single sentient being in hell. She also mentioned that the Earth Store Buddha was an image of a monk, rather than a layman, which is rather unique as most images of bodhisattvas are of laymen.

The next shrine which we visited was the Amitabha Buddha Shrine. This Shrine is normally open-aired with no roof, but for the Water Land Rite DDM had constructed a temporary shelter for the ceremony. Ven. Guo Xiang explained that the Amitabha Buddha makes a hand mudra welcoming people to this pure land. Around the Amitabha Buddha was a beautiful arrangement of flowers and small trees, which create a sense of naturalness and calmness. During the rite, people in this shrine will read Amitabha Sutra and recite Amitabha Buddha’s name.

After prostrating to Amitabha Buddha, we continued on to the Prajnaparamita Shrine, or Perfection of Wisdom Shrine. This shrine is located in the Chan Hall of the third floor. There is an amazingly well crafted image of Sakyamuni Buddha located in the middle of the hall. Ven. Guo Xiang jokingly said that many monks thought of the hand gesture or mudra of Sakyamuni as meaning "Okay", or "Don't worry. Be happy". This is because it resembles an "Okay" gesture. Because this is a meditation hall, while meditating a practitioner may feel pain or uncomfortable, but looking up, they will see Sakyamuni sitting there, saying "Don't worry, everything is okay!". Ven. Guo Xiang also explained that this hall will be used for chanting a shortened version of the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Diamond Sutra.

The Surangama Shrine was the next stop. This shrine was dedicated to the Surangama Sutra, which will be read one time in the morning during the actual rite. In the shrine was an image of the Buddha meditating. Ven. Guo Xiang explained that this shrine was a place to learn correct action, speech, and views. During the ceremony, the anticipants will also have some time to meditate each day.

After staying a short time, we moved on to the Main Shrine, which was quite impressive with all the decorations that had been prepared. Situated in the front of the hall were three Buddhas, the Medicine Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, and the Amitabha Buddha, from left to right. This shrine dedicates to all the sentient beings in the ten directions. And the rituals are quite complicated. Different sutras will be read in each day.

By this time, it was already 11:30am, and time for lunch. The lunch was quite delicious, serving out a large selection of tasty vegetables, tofu, rice and soup. After lunch, we sat outside for a short time, while the tour guide led us in a 15 minutes meditation session. Feeling refreshed and energetic, we made our way to the next stop on the tour.

The Avatamsaka shrine was located in a smaller classroom, and thus the decorations have not started yet. This shrine was dedicated to the Avatamsaka Sutra, also known as the Flower Garland Sutra. Ven. Guo Xiang explained that this sutra emphasizes the importance of Boddhi mind and the act of Bodhisattva.

After this, we returned to the Main Shrine, where Ven. Guo Xiang introduced the many paintings located both in the Hall, and outside on the covered balcony. Most of the paintings depicted many different types of sentient beings, such as gods, devas, asuras, hungry ghosts, humans, animals, etc.

For the last part of the tour, we took a walk around the outer grounds, first visiting the Lotus Sutra Shrine (Saddharmapundarika Sutra), which was situated at the temple bell. We walked around the bell three times, then prostrated. Ven. Guo Xiang explained that the bell has had the entire Lotus Sutra carved into the surface of the bell. During the rite, people who join this shrine will read Lotus Sutra everyday.

Our last stop was the Great Shrine, and the Relief for Burning Mouths Shrine. This area will be mainly used to offer food to hungry ghosts, and thus give them a short respite from suffering, which they hopefully can use to practice dharma, and thus be reborn into a better life.

This concluded our tour of the Great Compassion Liberation Rite of Water and Land. It was a great honor to be able to see the workings and preparations for this important Buddhist rite, which is particularly a rare opportunity for the western foreign community in Taiwan, since this is not something often seen outside of Asia and the Mahayana tradition.

(by Norman Kerr)

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