Ceremonies and dharma assemblies are an integral part of Buddhist practice. By participating in the different ceremonies, it helps us to transform our body, mind, and our spirit. Ceremonies conducted at monasteries and temples are a way for devotees and practitioners to gather and practice together. Cultivating together in unity and harmony generates great strength and good energy. Some benefits of ceremonies are:
1. Ceremonies satisfy the human spirit’s need to find an anchor, a refuge with a higher and purer vision beyond human imperfection.
2. Ceremonies put us in touch with our roots, as we take part in a ritual observance that has been handed down for generations,
spanning many successive cultures, languages, and musical patterns. They put us where we belong between heaven and earth.
Bowing, in particular, sets the mind in balance and subdues the body.
3. Ceremonies can open one’s inherent wisdom, and can lead to an elevated state of clear seeing and keen insight.
Below is a brief overview of the various ceremonies and dharma assemblies to help beginners and new practitioners better understand the different practices.
Before Amitabha Buddha had attained the Buddhahood, he gave up his kingdom and left home to become a bhikshus. For he had mercy for all suffered living beings, he made forty-eight vows to save them. According to the Sutra, Amitabha Buddha already attained the Buddhahood ten kaplas ago and created the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the West; and our fundamental teacher Shakyamuni Buddha once taught us in Sutra: "You should make a vow to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss."
The founder of DRBA Venerable Master Hsuan Hua once instructed about Amitabha Buddha recitation Dharma door, "The power of Amitabha Buddha attracting people from all over the world to the Land of Ultimate Bliss likes a magnet attracting irons. If Amitabha Buddha could not attract people to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, he would not become a Buddha. Therefore, all of us, calling the name of Amitabha Buddha will have a chance to become Buddha. Let's recite Na Mo Amitabha, to create our own Land of Ultimate Bliss, to accomplish our own Land of Ultimate Bliss, and to sustain our own Land of Ultimate Bliss."
Avatamsaka Vihara holds an Amitabha Buddha Recitation assembly on the third Sunday of every month. During the assembly, we will recite the Sutra of the Buddha's Teaching on Amitabha Buddha, Rebirth Mantra and Praise to Amitabha Buddha. Then we will sincerely recite the holy name of Amitabha Buddha to fulfill our wish to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. We would like to welcome all dharma friends to join this assembly and practice dharma together.
The Sutra of Past Vows of Earth Store (Di Zang) Bodhisattva is a very popular sutra in Chinese Buddhism religion. It is known as The Sutra of Filial Piety in Buddhism. Shakyamuni Buddha lectured this sutra for his mother Lady Maya in Trayastrimsha Heaven to repay the kindness for his mother. Within the sutra, Earth Store Bodhisattva manifested as a filial daughter twice, once as a Brahman girl, and again as a girl named Bright Eyes. In both cases, for the sake of saving her mother from the suffering within the hells, she vowed to save all evil sentient beings from suffering within the hells.
Our compassionate Shakyamuni Buddha, before entering nirvana, concerned with the un-enlightened sentient beings of Yen-Fu-Ti (4) who were still wandering in the suffering sea, entrusted the beings to Earth Store Budhisattva. Shakyamuni Buddha urged Earth Store Bodhisattva (1) until the birth of the Maitreya (Mi-lei) Bodhisattva, to look after the Saha world (2). Liberate them from suffering and obtain vyakarana (3). When Earth Store Bodhisattva was entrusted with such a big responsibility from Buddha, she vowed that, "If the hells are not empty, I will not become Buddha. Until every single living being is taken across, I will not attain enlightenment." What a great compassionate vow! Earth Store Bodhisattva attained his position as one of the greatest Bodhisattvas with the foremost vows.
The great Venerable master Hong Yi was so touched after listening to the sutra that he wept. He recommended that all cultivators who practice the Pure Land School recite the sutra and practice morality and the ethics of filial piety accordingly. Otherwise not only will we not be born in the Western Pure Land, but we may likely fall into the Three Evil paths.
In explaining the Earth Sore sutra, the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua said, "There is a deep causational connection between Earth Store Bodhisattva and every sentient being. If we recite 'Namo Great Vows Earth Store Bodhisattva' sincerely and diligently at all times, Earth Store Bodhisattva will stay in our hearts at all times, and we will stay in the Bodhisattva's heart at all times. This spiritual connection is inconceivable."
The Sutra of Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva is simple and easy to understand. Most of the moral teachings are about "cause and effect." It describes the various kinds of sufferings in the hells. If you read it literally, it does not seem to contain any profound and mystical meaning. If you think this sutra is only useful during funeral ceremonies to liberate spirits condemned to hell, then you are underestimating this Dharma. We must all understand that there are no relative levels in Buddha Dharma. All Dharma methods taught by Buddha can achieve the same result of ultimate enlightenment if you use it wisely, appropriately, and effectively.
Sentient beings of the Dharma-Ending age possess fewer good roots and virtues. Profound Dharma methods that are difficult to understand will hinder their learning. The Earth Store Bodhisattva sutra describes the horrible sufferings of different kinds of hells to deter them away from committing the sins of hell and describes the happiness of heaven and earth to entice them to cultivate kind acts until reaching the stage of Bodhi.
The great Venerable master Lan Ci exclaimed while he was talking about the importance of the sutra, "Just as clothing material is not as valuable as a pearl in an ordinary day, these items are treated as treasures during catastrophes, so is the value of the sutra in rescuing sentient beings during the catastrophic Dharma-Ending age. This sutra cannot be omitted."
Although the majority of The Earth Store Bodhisattva sutra relates incidents, the incidents imply truths in the universe. Our minds can create good and bad karma. When kind thoughts arise in our minds, we are creating heaven. When bad thoughts arise, we are creating hells. We must understand that Heaven and Hell are transformed by our karma which originated from our mind.
We must follow the deep compassionate vows of the Earth Store Bodhisattva as our model. We must arouse our own inner Bodhi mind, and vow "to attain Buddhahood and to save all sentient beings." This way, we will fulfill the four teachings of the sutra, "filial piety, salvation, liberation from suffering, and repayment of kindness."
Avatamsaka Vihara holds the Earth Store Assembly every fourth Sunday of each month. Under the guidance of the Dharma Masters, we recite the whole sutra followed by the recitation of the Earth Store Bodhisattva's name. We warmly welcome you to join our assembly.
Among the Buddha's teachings, the Shurangama Mantra is considered to be the king of mantras because it is the longest and most important. The flourish or demise of Buddhism rests entirely with the Shurangama Mantra. It is the efficacious phrases of the Shurangama Mantra that keep heaven and earth from being destroyed. It is the efficacious phrases of the Shurangama Mantra that keep the world from coming to an end. That is why I often tell you that as long as a single person can recite the Shurangama Mantra, the world cannot be destroyed, nor can Buddhism. But when there is no longer anyone who can recite the Shurangama Mantra, then very quickly the world will be destroyed, because the Proper Dharma no longer abides.
The entire title of the Shurangama Mantra is "Great White Canopy of Light Dharani Mantra" (mo he sa dan tuo bo da la tuo lo ni zhou). It is also called "Brilliant Buddha's Crown, Great White Canopy of Light, Unsurpassed Spiritual Mantra." The Buddha's Crown refers to the transformation Buddha atop the Buddha's crown. There is no way to conceive the subtle wonder of the mantra. The content of the Shurangama Mantra subdues heavenly demons and controls externalists. Every line, from beginning to end, is the Buddha' mind-ground Dharma-door. Each line has its own function; each possesses its own esoteric wonder; and each is endowed with incredible power. The recitation of a single word, a single line, a single assembly, or the recitation of the entire mantra causes the heavens to vibrate and the earth to tremble; it's said that heaven and earth are shocked, the ghosts and spirits wail, the demons keep a wide distance, and mountain and river sprites hide away. That brilliance at the Buddha's crown represents the power of the mantra that can dispel every sort of darkness and that enables people to amass all kinds of merit and virtue. If you can accept and uphold the Shurangama Mantra, then you will definitely become a Buddha in the future. You will certainly attain the Unsurpassed Proper and Equal Right Enlightenment. If you continually recite the Shurangama Mantra, then you can get rid of your karmic obstacles from last life and all past lives. That's the incredible function of the Shurangama Mantra!
This mantra is composed of five assemblies which represent the five directions of east, west, south, north, and center. The east is the vajra division with Akshobhya Buddha as the teaching host. The south is the welling up of jewels division with Welling Up of Jewels Buddha as the teaching host. The center is the Buddha division with Shakyamuni Buddha as the teaching host. The west is the lotus division with Amitabha Buddha as the teaching host. The north is the karma division with Accomplishment Buddha as the teaching host. Altogether these five divisions watch over the five demonic armies that abide in this world. Because of these five demons, the Buddhas split up in five directions to repress these demons. Without the Buddhas, these demons would show themselves here in our world. And so, when you recite the Shurangama Mantra, the five demonic armies in the five directions submit and surrender. They behave themselves and don't dare try to oppose the power of the Shurangama Mantra.
All Buddhas of the ten directions come forth from the Shurangama Mantra. The Shurangama Mantra is the mother of all Buddhas. It was by means of the Shurangama Mantra that all Buddhas perfected Unsurpassed Proper and Pervasive Enlightened Knowledge. The ability of the Buddhas of the ten directions to create response bodies and go throughout the ten directions turning the Dharma wheel to teach and transform living beings; to rub the crowns of those beings and bestow predictions upon them; to rescue beings from their complex sufferings; to enable beings to escape both large disasters and small calamities--their ability to do all that comes from the power of the Shurangama Mantra Heart.
Every line of the Shurangama Mantra contains infinite meanings as well as infinite functions. You should realize that the Shurangama Mantra is the most efficacious language in the world--the efficacious within the efficacious, the esoteric within the esoteric! It is an unsurpassed Dharma Treasure--the gem that can save living beings' lives. We should recite and uphold the Shurangama Mantra with single-minded sincerity. By doing so we are helping to perpetuate the Buddha dharma, to keep the Proper Dharma long in the world.
Avatamsaka Vihara holds an Shurangama Mantra Recitation assembly on the first Sunday of every month. During the assembly, we will recite the Shurangama Mantra seven times and transfer merit to all living beings. We would like to welcome all dharma friends to join this assembly and practice dharma together.