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Brief Overview on Special Ceremonies & Events

Avatamsaka Vihara conducts many special ceremonies and events every year.  The majority of special ceremonies are to celebrate the birthday, day of enlightenment, day of leaving the home-life, and other auspicious days of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  Devotees gather to celebrate on these days to express their devotion and to honor the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  Cultivating together on these auspicious days brings more strength and reaps more benefits for everyone.  In addition, Avatamsaka Vihara has events to honor our elders and to celebrate our youth.

Below is a brief introduction to these annual special ceremonies and events held at Avatamsaka Vihara.

Shakyamuni Buddha's Birthday Celebration

The "Bathing the Buddha Dharma Assembly" celebrates Shakyamuni Buddha's Birthday on the eighth day of the fourth month (lunar calendar). It is also known as Buddha Bathing Celebration. Avatamsaka Vihara dedicates a special prayer service to this ceremony every year. 

Bathing the Buddha celebration originated because the new born Prince Siddhartha was bathed by dragons. The celebration of Buddha Bathing originated from the birth of Prince Siddhartha who, when first born was bathed by the dragons. According to the Chapter one of the Past and Present Causation Sutra, Queen Maya gave birth to Shakyamuni Buddha, then known as Prince Siddhartha beneath the Sala tree when visiting the Lumbini Park one day. At the time of the birth, two dragon kings, Nantuo and FuBouNanTuo, spurted streams of pure water to bathe the Prince's holy body. For this reason, Buddhist disciples celebrate the Buddha's birthday by bathing the infant Prince Siddhartha statue. 

Ceremony is held inside the temple. A infant Prince Siddhartha statue, with one arm pointing towards the sky and the other pointing towards the ground, is placed on a plate on the Lotus alter table so that followers can use fragrant water to bathe the statue. This activity symbolizes the Fourfold Assembly's offering, and it is a day of joy and blissful celebration. 

Shakyamuni Buddha has attained full perfect enlightenment to Buddhahood many aeons ago. His dharma body named Vairocana (PiLuSheNa Buddha) fullfils everywhere in the endless empty space, and transforms into myriad forms to convert sentient beings. After Prince Siddhartha had attained to the Buddhahood, he taught Eighty-four Thousand Dharma-Doors to save all sentient beings in this Saha world. These Dharma teachings help us to eradicate our limitless afflictions, and to flourish limitless blessings and wisdom. The quote, "All Buddhas, the World Honored Ones, appear in the world only because of the causes and conditions of the one great matter." from the Dharma Flower (Lotus) Sutra refers the Great Matter to the teaching of how to end birth-and-death, how to reach the ultimate Bodhi stage, and to attain "Buddha-fruit" enlightenment. 

During the Buddha Birthday ceremony, we whole heartedly pray and wish that his spiritual power of great compassion and full perfect virtues will enable us to purify our polluted mind of greed, hatred, and stupidity, and will help us to achieve perfect merit and virtues in moral precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. 

The verses in the Merit of Bathing The Buddha Sutra describe the true meaning of Bathing the Buddha:


I now bathe all thus come ones,
Who are adorned with pure wisdom, and who have amassed merit and virtue.
May living beings of the five turbid realms be led from filth,
And expediently realize the pure dharma body of the thus come one.
May the fragrance from the realization of precepts, samadhi and wisdom constantly perfume every realm of the ten directrions.
May this incense fragrance, performs countless Budhha work of salvation.
May suffering in the three evil paths and the wheel of Samsara ceases,
Completely extinguishing the fires and obtaining the coolness of relief.
So that all beings vow to attain the supreme Bodhi mind
Perpetually escaping the river of desires and advancing to the other shore of Nirvana. 

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Guan Yin Bodhisattva, also known as Guan Shi Yin (Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva or The Great Knight Guan Yin, has the deepest affinity with sentient beings of this Saha world. What does the name Guan Shi Yin mean? The three Chinese characters: "Guan" means contemplation, "Shi" means world, and "Yin" means sound. The name itself implies the awesome spiritual power of the Bodhisattva who contemplates the request of the sentient beings and saves them from suffering. 

It is well-described in the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra (Lotus Sutra), If the limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of living beings who are undergoing all kinds of suffering hear of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva and recite his name single-mindedly, Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva will immediately hear their voices and rescue them. 

Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva attained Buddhahood a long time ago, and is known as the Proper Dharma Brightness Thus Come One. In fulfilling his past vow, he returns as the Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, and together with Da Shi Zhi Bodhisattva (Great Strength or Mahasthamaprapta), assist Amitabha Buddha to teach the Pure Land Dharma. They are known as the Three Sages of the Western Pure Land. 

Shakyamuni Buddha taught us in the Dharani of Great Compassionate Sutra that Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva still remains at the transformation state of a Bodhisattva for the sake of helping all the sentient beings in their Way cultivation. Shakyamuni Buddha urges us to always be mindful of the Bodhisvatta, so that we can terminate our samsara cycle, and end up in the pure land after this life. 

Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva has manifested in numerous forms to speak the dharma according to the situations encountered. Worshipping the Bodhisattva started far back in ancient times from India to China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and many other Asian countries. The Bodhisattva attained the same popularity as Amitabha in Chinese families. There is a saying in China, Amitabha in every home; Guan Shi Yin in every household. This reflects the Bodhisattva's position among the Chinese. 

There are three celebrations annually dedicated to Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva among the Chinese Buddhists:

The Bodhisattva's Birthday: 19th of the second lunar month.

The Bodhisattva's Enlightenment Day: 19th of the sixth lunar month.

The Bodhisattva's Leaving Home Day: 19th of the ninth lunar month.

Avatamsaka Vihara observes these celebrations by reciting the Universal Door chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The Universal Door chapter describes Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva's boundless compassionate and kind spirit in saving beings from the seven calamities, responding to the two kinds of seeking, and transforming into thirty-two response bodies. The state of his spiritual power is inconceivable. 

Venerable master Hsuan Hua once taught us that in order to achieve the spiritual connection with Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, we must recite his name with a perfect concentrated mind. The true purpose of commemorating the Bodhisattva is to follow his spirit of practicing, "Great compassion to all beings as one unit. Kindness to all beings without discrimination". 

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Ullambana is Sanskrit. It means "rescuing those who are hanging upside down." It's very painful to be hanging upside down, and so now we are going to rescue those who are that way. Rescue whom? We are going to rescue our parents and other ancestors from previous lives. We don't know whether our past relatives created merit, in which case they may have been reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, or in the heavens, or among people as presidents or emperors; whether they created offenses in which case they may have fallen into the hells, into the realm of hungry ghosts, or into the animal realm. 

The fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month is the anniversary of the day when the Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana saved his mother from the hells. When his mother was alive, she didn't believe in the Triple Jewel. She killed many fish, turtles, shrimps and crabs and she was stingy and unwilling to give to those in need. Because of these offenses she fell into a hell of hungry ghosts. The venerable Mahamaudgalyayana quickly sent her a bowl of food, shielded the bowl with her left hand and used her right hand to take the food. However, once in her mouth, the food turned into burning coals which were impossible to eat. The Venerable One went to seek the Buddhas's help, and the Buddha told him to make offerings to the angha of the ten directions during the Pravarana (the last day of the summer retreat when Sangha members repent of their offenses before the assembly.) Because of the Sangha's great virtue and awesome spiritual power, if one makes offerings to the Sangha, his parents and close kin in this life and seven lives past, will escape the three evil paths. 

If you feel you have a big temper and too much "fire of ignorance," it is because your parents and other relatives from the past have not left suffering and attained bliss. Every day they help you get angry, and encourage you to commit offenses so that you can hurry up and join them. If you feel that this may be the case, you should take advantage of this opportunity to do merit and virtue to cross them over; and will cause all those in difficulty to leave worry and suffering and to eradicate obstacles from offenses. Moreover, on this day the merit and virtue derived from making offerings to the Triple Jewel is several million times greater than that of ordinary days. 

In the West, there has rarely been a Way-place which helps this kind of celebration. Every One of us should act as a filial descendant for our parents and ancestors of former lives. 

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Memorial of Ven. Master Hua

Special dharma assembly  to commemorate Venerable Master Hua entering nirvana.   This dharma assembly is held annually .   Many devotees make the pilgrimage to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California  to pay special tribute to Ven. Master Hua and to honor his legacy.  We will never be able to repay the kindness and compassion of Ven. Master Hua for his  teaching, guidance, and protection that he has bestowed upon us.

Venerable Master Hsuan, his Dharma name was An Ci and style name was Du Lun. He was born in 1918 on the sixteenth day of the third lunar month in Shuancheng county, Jilin Province (Today's Wuchang county, Heilongjing Province). At the age of nineteen, he requested Venerable Master Chang Zhi of Sanyuan Monastery of Harbin to shave his head. After receiving the Shramanera (Novice) Precepts, he built a simple hut by his mother' grave and observed filial piety for three years. In 1947, he received the complete precepts of a Bhikshu (monk) at Fayu Monastery at Putuo Mountain in Zhejing Province China. In 1956, he received the Dharma-transmission of Venerable Master Hsu Yun and the Dharma name Hsuan Hua, and became the ninth patriarch of the Wei Yang Sect. In 1962, he arrived by plane to San Francisco, USA. Later he established the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (DRBA), where the headquarters is located in City of Ten-thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California. Venerable Master Hua based himself on the Three Great Principles and the Six Great Guidelines of the widely practiced Bodhisattva conducts.

Courageously facing every hardship, he not only established monasteries, temples, and centers for cultivation in the West, but also benefited living beings by translating Buddhist Sutras into western languages, establishing Buddhist schools, lecturing on the Sutras to propagate Dharma. 

For prompting the three-thousand-year-old tradition of Buddha dharma in the modern Western world, Venerable Master Hua advocated uniting the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in order for living beings in the Dharma-ending age to understand the true face of Buddha dharma. In all branches of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, the five schools, Chan, Doctrine, Vinaya, Esoteric, and Land, are propagated according to people's will and abilities.?e broke down the boundary lines of different branches of Buddhism. A solid foundation was built for the development of Buddhism in America. Step by step his wish of setting the proper Dharma in the West became true. 

As compassionate as Guan ShihYin (Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva, Venerable Master Hsuan had worked for world peace with great effort and contributions. The Venerable Master fasted for 35 days and prayed to resolve the Cuba Missile Crisis. He applied the divine power from his vows to keep his residential areas from the attack of natural disasters. He also advocated using the eight Chinese culture virtues of filial piety, fraternity, loyalty, trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame to save the soul of men, to improve world' education, and to devote to world peace. Under moral calls of the Venerable Master and the power of his vows, many of his disciples began a Three Steps One Bow Pilgrimage to pray for world peace and to purify their and other living beings' soul. The evidence had been shown on the several thousand miles journey of the Three Steps One Bow Pilgrimage. 

A renowned Buddhist master of this era, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, manifested Nirvana on June 7, 1995 in Los Angeles, USA. The sun of wisdom suddenly falls; the people of the world mourn together. We have lost the guardian in the Saha world. Although we the ordinary people can not reach any closer to the magnificent realm of the Venerable Master, but his life long time of upholding the precepts, tireless cultivating, propagating Dharma, and benefiting living beings have lit up the beacon in the Dharma-ending age. He left behind with unlimited Buddha Dharma treasures for our future generation. 

A branch of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area, Avatamsaka Vihara, holds an annual memorial assembly on the Nirvana day of Venerable Master Hsuan. In the assembly, we will worship the eighteen great vows of the Venerable Master and hold other Dharma activities to cherish the memory of the renowned Master' moral style. We will recall the teachings and inherit the precious Dharma treasures that the Venerable Master had left for us to guide the people in the society towards a pure and noble way. We welcome people from all walks of life to participate in the assembly enthusiastically. 

The Eighteen Great Vows of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua 

1.    I vow that as long as there is a single Bodhisattva in the three periods of time throughout the ten directions of the Dharma Realm, to the very end of empty space, who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

2.    I vow that as long as there is a single Pratyekabuddha in the three periods of time throughout the ten directions of the Dharma Realm, to the very end of empty space, who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

3.    I vow that as long as there is a single Shravaka in the three periods of time throughout the ten directions of the Dharma Realm, to the very end of empty space, who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

4.    I vow that as long as there is a single god in the Triple Realm who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

5.    I vow that as long as there is a single human being in the worlds of the ten directions who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

6.    I vow that as long as there is a single asura who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

7.    I vow that as long as there is a single animal who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

8.    I vow that as long as there is a single hungry ghost who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

9.    I vow that as long as there is a single hell-dweller who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

10.    I vow that as long as there is a single god, immortal, human, asura, air-bound or water-bound creature, animate or inanimate object, or a single dragon, beast, ghost, spirit, or the like of the spiritual realm that has taken refuge with me and has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.

11.    I vow to fully dedicate all blessings and bliss which I myself ought to receive and enjoy to all living beings of the Dharma Realm.

12.    I vow to fully take upon myself all sufferings and hardships of all living beings in the Dharma Realm.

13.    I vow to manifest innumerable bodies as a means to gain access into the minds of living beings throughout the universe who do not believe in the Buddha-dharma, causing them to correct their faults and tend toward wholesomeness, repent of their errors and start anew, take refuge in the Triple Jewel, and ultimately accomplish Buddhahood.

14.    I vow that all living beings who see my face or even hear my name will fix their thoughts on Bodhi and quickly accomplish the Buddha Way.

15.    I vow to respectfully observe the Buddha's instructions and cultivate the practice of eating only one meal per day.

16.    I vow to enlighten all sentient beings, universally responding to the multitude of differing potentials.

17.    I vow to obtain the five eyes, six spiritual powers, and the freedom of being able to fly in this very life.

18.    I vow that all of my vows will certainly be fulfilled. 

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Cherishing Youth Day

The Festival of Youth Day will begin with a special blessing and prayer service led by Dharma Masters. The focus of the event is on promoting healthy growing through Buddhist teaching and nurturing Boddhi seed in our youth. Students from the Avatamsaka Youth class will bear offerings to Buddha expressing their gratitude and then bow toward parents and teachers to express their respects. Entertainment will follow the prayer service. 

Avatamsaka Vihara has specially crafted a scrumptious vegetarian menu for guests to enjoy and, more importantly, to learn about vegetarian cooking and healthy living in modern America.

After lunch, youth can participate in activities such as: calligraphy, painting, Chinese knots, and handmade lotus, as well as games.  All young friends will receive a bag of goodies and be eligible for a prize drawing. 

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Honoring Elders Day

“Honoring elders and respecting the worthy” is a hallmark of Chinese culture. In traditional Chinese education, children are taught filial piety at home at a young age. Having learned to be respectful and sincere, they grow up and devote themselves to their country. With what they have learned from firm fathers and kind mothers, they can educate and inspire people all over the nation. “Honoring elders and respecting the worthy” is a quality of the ideal society envisioned by many ancient Chinese sages.  In the ideal society, “Worthy and capable people are selected to serve the country; trust¬worthiness and harmony are valued.” 

"People not only respect their own parents and love their own children, but do the same with the parents and children of others as well.”

Unfortunately, in modern times dramatic social changes and the development of scientific technology have led many people to indulge in sensory pleasures. They totally ignore the matter of “honoring elders and respecting the worthy.” They even forget that they should be filial to their own roots— their parents. This upside-down situation can never bring any lasting happi-ness to them. An ancient saying goes, “Heaven is our origin; our parents are our roots. In times of hardship and extreme suffering, people always pray to Heaven; in times of sickness and pain, people always cry for their parents.” If we ignore our spiritual life and only think of repaying our parents' kindness after we find ourselves in extreme difficulty, by then we may be too caught up in our own affairs to help them, and all we can do is feel endless shame and regret.

In today’s world, people are not as kind-hearted as in ancient times. People not only fail to be compassionate with each other, but they engage in endless strife. Some even do evil in the name of kindness and justice, which makes people in many nations begin to doubt the value of virtue. Where is the crux of the problem? The answer is easy to find in Buddhism. According to a Buddhist Sutra, “Because desire is regarded as the basis of human life, the mother fights with her son; the son fights with his mother; fathers and sons, brothers, and relatives all fight with one another. Because desire is regarded as the basis of human life, kings fight with each other; citizens fight with each other; and nations fight with each other.” (Madhyamagama—Sutra of Suffering and the Aggregates) It is clear that to save the world; the most fundamental method is to follow the path of Buddhist cultivation, to subdue and to wipe out the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. In real life, we must start from the most basic issue in order to achieve a great goal. Without a solid foundation in worldly practices, there is no way for us to approach transcendental Dharma. The ideas of filial piety and “honoring elders and respecting the worthy” are good medicines for the ills of our present society. If we can faithfully abide by these virtues even in the face of great difficulty and vexation, then we are behaving as a person of perfect virtue should, “subduing our desires and returning to propriety.” If in addition to subduing our afflictions, we can reflect upon ourselves and use wisdom to recognize our attachments and wipe them out, we will have earned some merit for transcending the world. This shows why, “When the roots are established, the course of the Way comes forth naturally.”

The Venerable Master initiated the Day for Honoring Elders. This celebration reminds us to feel grateful to our elders and appreciate their contributions to society and their kindness to us. In this way, we remind people not to forget their roots.

Avatamsaka Vihara continues this tradition of "Honoring Elders".  Every year in autumn we hold a banquet and invite elders from the community to come and celebrate this special day.  The festivities include magnificent performances, vegetarian feast, lottery drawing, flowers, prizes, and gifts to show our gratitude and respect to our elders.  Those over 65 years of age are cordially invited.  Please register in advance to reserve your seat.