Master in the house

By Sang Lee, Whittier Daily News, July 10, 2006

Founder of Buddhist order presides over celebration at Hacienda Heights temple

HACIENDA HEIGHTS, CA (USA) -- Peeking over the shoulders of a crowd of Buddhists outside the main shrine at Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple, Covina resident Ruben Martinez could hardly contain his excitement.

Inside, more than 100 monks and nuns on Sunday chanted mantras in Chinese to the delight of the order's founder, Venerable Master Hsing Yun, as the temple celebrated its annual Sangha Day Celebration.

"I don't understand what they're saying," Martinez said. "But, as I turned that corner into the main hall and saw the temple, I knew that this is where I belong."

Monastics estimated a crowd of about 1,000 spectators participated in the Buddhist holiday by both witnessing a traditional procession and providing offerings to alms-bearing monks and nuns.

Martinez, 50, converted to Buddhism five years ago and described the event as uplifting and enlightening.

"It's hard to explain what I'm feeling in my heart, but I feel very good," he said. "It's not often that I get to see the master."

Master Yun founded the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, an international organization with more than 200 temples worldwide. The 15-acre Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights was built in 1988 and is the largest of its kind in the Western hemisphere according to the temple's translator, Cherry Lai.

"Today is a day celebrated all over the world," Lai said.

"We are trying to promote ideas of compassion. We teach that by benefitting others, you benefit yourself."

The order's headquarters is a 600-acre temple in Taiwan, where Master Yun's teachings of Humanistic Buddhism originated. Its objective is to promote the understanding of Buddhism through Chinese cultural activities that encourage the implementation of Buddhist canons taken from the original Sanskrit.

Lai said the three acts of wholesomeness are to speak the word of Dharma, think good thoughts and do good deeds.

16-year-old Carol Yang of Torrance had gotten two of those wholesome acts covered, but couldn't help but be anxious when approaching Master Yun as she offered him food. She also served as a volunteer at the event by providing a path for monastics to enter the shrine.

"I was so nervous, because I was afraid I was going to trip," Yang said. "I feel gratitude because I got to see him and participate. Everyone is here for the big master."

Monks and nuns came from as far as Brazil and parts of Canada for the event. Joe Bouffard, 53, made the trip from Rowland Heights. Although not a Buddhist, Bouffard described what he saw to be a harmonious celebration.

"Everybody here has a good outlook on life," Bouffard said. "It seems like there's a lot of good will. I study philosophy, and Buddhism is a good way to avoid the pitfalls in life."