To remove the sufferings by repenting / To comfort the spirits with compassion

To remove the sufferings by repenting / To comfort the spirits with compassion
The LJM Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly 2020
To remove the sufferings by repenting / To comfort the spirits with compassion

The LJM Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly has always been the most celebrated event of the year for the Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society(LJM). A large gathering of followers participates in the grand ritual of 8D7N to connect and communicate with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, along with their respective ancestors, spirits from all six realms, even past debtors from previous karmic cycles to pray for blessings, undo wrongs, eradicate misfortunes, and reconcile with life in an act that benefits ourselves and the others as well.

COVID-19 has been drawing heavy consequences worldwide, impacting global events and people’s daily life, and the ravaging pandemic continues to stoke restlessness across the board. The LJM Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly has been likewise affected: major overhauls of the Taoyuan Arena as our traditional event site had been
postponed numerous times and bumped us off schedule-wise from July on the lunar calendar, whereas the uncertainty on people’s mind about sizable events and the mandatory social-distancing, etc., all needed to be evaluated. We at the LJM have not had any doubt about holding this annual event to calm and comfort the public, especially in times of unrest and adversities. Taiwan has been exceptionally fortunate in harnessing the pandemic and keeping the infections at bay. Renovations at the Taoyuan Arena completed smoothly. The LJM was able to finally proceed with its 27th Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly at the bottom of 2020.

Changes to the actual execution of the Dharma assembly took place in line with the Government’s seasonal anti-influenza campaign. Preventive measures implemented included thorough sanitation of the venue twice a day, multi-site setup of health-monitoring check-point, crowd control at all entrances/exits for temperature-taking and ID check, besides the mandatory wearing of masks even inside the ritual site. Furthermore, livestreaming was offered to participants who were hindered to physically join the event due to travel ban or the quarantine regulations. The digital offering was an effort to make sure that followers around the world retain unobstructed access to the grand Dharma event of the year by the LJM.

The 8-day Dharma Assembly began with the Cleansing Ritual and the event site was sprinkled with holy water blessed with the Maha Dharani Mantra for purification. The Rite of Enchantment then followed to encircle an area and space for the exclusive use by the Dharma Assembly in the following days, so that all sentient beings monastic or secular, living or deceased, would stay undisturbed for communications and interactions. The enchantment, therefore, marks physical boundaries and intangible borderlines to safeguard both body and mind of all present sentient beings, while reassuring that the solemn Buddhist ritual attains completion successfully.

As mentioned before, masks were worn by all participants inside the venue when the Rite of Enchantment proceeded, and lines and rows of praying pads were strategically arranged to warrant safe distancing. After everyone took their place, a collective One-Minute Peace Meditation was administered to calm people down, followed by the chanting of the Hundred Syllable Mantra and the Casket Seal Dharani Sutra (otherwise known as the Hokyoin Dharani Sutra in Japan ) to further firm up people’s determination to formally commence their praying to mitigate sins and disasters and eradicate karmic obstacles by repenting.

This LJM annual event used to have overseas delegations dressed in their respective formal clothing, bearing distinctive tributes to pay as provisions for the Three Jewels and homage to the Buddhas, and entering the site in groups following one another. This traditional parade remained an integral part of the LJM Dharma Assembly 2020, with all overseas delegations replaced by local followers from various LJM chapters, Dharmapala legions and Chan Aficionados clubs. It was obvious to see that a tremendous amount of time and resources went into the representation of all overseas delegations from formal attires to sacrificial tributes. That in itself was a strong statement that for all of us at LJM our faith and determination remain unabated in the face of the pandemic and at times of adversities.

Accompanied by ceremonial Buddhist music, dhvajā banners and the jewelled parasol, Founder of the LJM Dharma Master Hsin Tao was ushered into the venue to ascend the mandala and mount his seat thereupon to deliver his public sermon. Venerable Master Hsin Tao opened by saying that the LJM Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly 2020 marks yet again the beginning for positive karma to group and to inter-connect, while a platform where reconciliation with life itself is facilitated for all sentient beings. It is indeed a rare blessing that the annual Dharma assembly could proceed amid COVID-19, and to take the event online further suggests that physical limitations by space and time can be overcome after all: wherever the mindfulness prevails, there exists an august monastery.

With regard to how the coronavirus has been impacting the world globally, Dharma Master Hsin Tao pointed out that the Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly can actually be viewed as an ecology classroom. Humankind must learn to respect Nature, the society, and one another to make possible a diversified symbiosis. Excessive exploitation of natural resources by mankind has resulted in a depleted Earth out of balance and prone to natural disasters and an ecology at its tipping point. Venerable Master Hsin Tao, therefore, says that people must reflect to acquire the notion that our planet is the ONE place we have for all the world’s living communities. Above all, we are all best advised to assume a non-confrontational mindset at all times. Dharma Master Hsin Tao has been in recent years promoting and materializing the University for Life & Peace with the core idea that ‘spirituality is ecology’ to help awaken people’s spirituality and respect all sentient beings for an interdependent co-existence across the board. In closing, Venerable Master Hsin Tao shared with everyone present that the Rite of Enchantment is a purification act of awakening of our illuminating nature, which under the blessings of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s Great Compassion and all Dharma protectors (Dharmapāla), transcends to prayers for blessings for the world.

The Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly is a journey of reconciliation of life for the worlds between the living and the deceased. The inferno of wildfires in different parts of the world and COVID-19 all across the globe have been alarming sirens and wake-up calls that we need to start repenting before it is too late and realize that all species and all forms of life and existence are in the same boat while being interconnected in a symbiosis. The calming stability and the awakening to repent that religion is uniquely capable of offering, especially at times of adversities and unrest, testify to their self-explanatory significance. Even with the Rite of Enchantment securely in place, everyone is cautioned to keep up the practice of Bodhicitta and repent for negative thoughts and mistakes, in order that all pertinent and consequent Buddhist rituals will proceed smoothly to reach successful completion to remove sufferings and bestow happiness for all sentient beings.