The Grand LJM Puja Rites Benefit All Realms & The Arising Compassion Blesses All Sentient Beings
The 28th LJM Water-Land-Air Dharma Assembly commenced at the Sheng Shan Temple - Lower Monastery of the Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society (LJM) - on August 20, 2021. The grand eight-day-seven-night tradition of that signature LJM Dharma event, however, expanded to encompass a 21-day online retreat under the same label as a collective effort by all practicing LJM masters under Dharma Master Hsin Tao’s vows of compassion to consolidate power of mindfulness to help protect a world plagued by a lingering pandemic and ultimately mitigate calamities thus brought on. From the moment the Outer Altar officially opened until the wee hours on September 6, the enchantment rites performed at the Inner Altar symbolically transformed the defined sphere into holy realms both pure and indestructible, and thus worthy of the grace of presence of all from the Four Noble & Six Common Dharma Realms.
The thousand-year-old Water-Land Dharma function is an all-inviting ritual extended to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and sentient beings of all Six Realms, and as such, it bears resemblance to Puja, a worship ritual performed by Hindus. The word Puja has the connotation of awe-striking for worship and its namesake ritual is common in Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. In most cases, Puja would require a sacred space (a Mandala) to be cleaned up as the site for the arrival of invited deities. Ceremonial cleansing and incense-burning would be standard procedures of tribute, and honeydew and milk would be offered along with fresh flowers and vegetarian delicacies. Followers would pray to the icons to convey their utmost respect and worship.
The enchantment rites at the Inner Altar mark the beginning of all pertinent Dharma functions there. Besides visualizing the Mandala linking the underground and the skies into a holy sphere purified and defined by the Dharma practice, one also visualizes how Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as Vajrayana deities, descend upon the venue, enshrouded in a cloud of incense smoke. The Eighteen Dharma Protectors would be solicited to safeguard the enchantment from all over to ensure that evils are warded off so that all Dharma functions would proceed smoothly in the Altar’s undisturbed quiet and intact purity. The visualization then goes further to greet the arrival of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Vairocana, Gautama Buddha, and many others to lead sentient beings present on-site from all Six Realms to participate in the Dharma event in humility and in the sincerity of self-repenting.
For sake of the pandemic, the LJM Water-Land Dharma Assembly 2021 was moved back to the Sheng Shan Temple, where the Shan-Fa Building was retrofitted to serve as the Outer Altar and the Hall of Gold Buddhas turned into the Inner Altar. Both Altars were meticulously cleaned inside and out by hand in a collaboration between temple masters and voluntary workers. At 2 A.M. on September 6, a 9-minute Peace Meditation helped calm down all participants for the enchantment rites to begin. Traditionally, a parade of tribute-bearing representatives from overseas would spearhead the ceremony and people looked forward to the colorful presentation of tributes when the rites began to unfold. But, for two years already, the pandemic made travel cumbersome and in-person participation running contra to social-distancing. As a result, the presentation of paying tributes to Buddhas was performed by representatives of the LJM Buddhist Society and its benefactors. The Altar-Cleansing Ritual then followed, and all participants on-site as well as all on-line collectively chanted the Hundred Syllable Mantra and the ‘All Tathagata Heart Secrets & The Dharani Sutra’.
In his sermon on the enchantment rites, Dharma Master Hsin Tao commented that the LJM Water-Land Dharma Assembly 2021 adopted a combination of VR and in-person participation due to COVID-19. By virtue of the Internet and livestreaming Buddhist followers came together in their concentration and humility to inject a firm strength of positive energy into the Dharma event. It was also stressed that the Dharma function enables a major purification that helps to reconcile all hatred and hurt feelings to ultimately mitigate disasters and calamities - which is also the reason why LJM has been relentlessly untiring in presenting this signature annual event for 28 years running, so as to consolidate the power of all participants’ vows and pledges towards eradicating catastrophes for relief. We deserve to remember that the pandemic has been in the company of major wildfires, torrential rains and mega floods, while war casualties added salt to the world’s open wounds. Such ‘Four Major Imbalances’ indicate the urgency of the Earth’s need to recover for survival in the 11th hour. Venerable Master Hsin Tao, therefore, encourages everyone to pursue awakening and repenting, while making progress in Buddha’s ways besides offering alms for provisions for the monastics. Our heart and mind will thus steer clear of any overshadows from the ‘Five Poisons’, so as to avoid negative karmas. On that note, Dharma Master Hsin Tao further reminded to keep up the concentration on the Dharma function throughout the following days by letting go of all wanton desires and any attachment, so as to attain solid personal advancement as the event progressed. The Master concluded the sermon by leading a prayer that the pandemic be harnessed the soonest and peace to the world plus safety to our planet.
Upon the completion of the enchantment rites, the LJM Water-Land Dharma Assembly 2021 to generally benefit all sentient beings from all Ten Realms (Four Saints & Six Ordinaries) began to unfold formally. At a time when the world suffers from a lingering pandemic alongside other natural disasters and man-made catastrophes, the Dharma event stays its course of tradition as a Buddhist platform to help the world navigate through calamities while relieving suffering in the Netherworld, but it offers an opportunity for all to propounder and to reflect, to pinpoint wrongs and repent sins, so as to allow our inner Bodhicitta to step forward and join others in a collective transformation to turn knowledge into wisdom for the benefit of all sentient beings.