Posted in Buddhist community activities, Buddhist Culture, Chan - authentic Masters words, Chinese culture, Conflicts in Buddhist Life, On the Path, Precepts Holders, Sangha Relationships

Tears spilt in grief…when can Sangha cry?

When can we Sangha cry?  How about what happens when we lose our parent or a child?  We cry of course, but we also must carry on in our day and even some of us have to perform at the funeral like I had to and be at the reception and stay with my mom cuz the rest of the family couldn’t bear to, even they never came over cuz their own grief was too much.

How about when we have to suffer in our grief too? We suffer, we grieve but when that first person comes to us in tears, it’s almost a sure bet that our tears spill forth in remembrance.  It should be shameful, but it really is not.  We are humans too.  We are supposed to let go of our attachments quickly and we do but we still have memories and cherish our loved ones too.

Nobody addressed the needs of those ordained who lived through 9/11 and had to carry on performing countless funerals, counsel grieving families, run their temples, but when they talked to me, they were angry with their grief was not being acknowledged at all.  In fact, most of the clergy in churches had grief too not just in temples or mosques. They all were not acknowledged by the public because the need was so great, it really was.  I was out there and saw it; I’ve never seen public grief on such as scale as I did in NYC. I learned a lot about it then, and about funerals where we were in and out in 30 to 6o mins depending on the family needs, no talking just in and out! So many sometimes we didn’t eat that day until 1 am.  wow!

My recent encounter with a grieving Buddhist led me to this uncomfortable truth about myself.  I was suddenly spilling tears with this dear person.  I apologized, for (what…being unprofessional…please I’m walking the Path…sure we are supporting laity but we have a right to be human too).  But my dear Buddhist friend just handed me a tissue and we shared our tears through the conversation on what to do and how to prepare, we drank tea and both of us inspite of our individual grief had come away with something better…two people who connected and I hope and pray when the funeral day comes that I keep it together for these dear Buddhists need more than a weeping nun to help them in their future hours of need.

Can you believe I blamed it on hormones, as my change of life has been in full erratic swing for a couple of years already!  We all do our best, some of us are good at hiding our tears, in our rooms away from curious eyes or our Sangha and in our darkest hours when we most need our companions by our side in full on support and offering comfort.  I from now on, will strive to be solid and if I tear up, I hope to quickly recover enough to be solid in my support for my future services at the side of my dear Buddhist friends.

You know we don’t hug but I was not going to let my dear Buddhist lady leave my home without a solid squeezer. If I could have I would have taken her home and put her to bed and watched over her that’s how much I care about comforting someone in grief.  But you know as Sangha we are truly limited in how we comfort people in grief and as a mom I just wish that part of it would be less impersonal. Maybe one day I can figure out a dignified way to help people that would be acceptable in the East and the West.  Right now I only know Iowa ways of cooking comfort food and providing a willing ear and support.  My temple training works well for me and know I must apply it to meet the needs of my Buddhist families in this area.  I wish for more wisdom!

Dad’s ashes in the brass urn with tiny navy stripe on it at the funeral home.  And one picture of dad when he was alive.  In the last 6 months before he died he lost so much weight he looked like his young self in that black and white picture and he marveled at it.

Posted in Buddhism, Buddhist community activities, Dharma Books, On the Path

News! Dharma material about to be published!

I have just finished proofing my first dharma translation project to make it ready for publication. It’s the re-translation of the Buddhist Liturgy and reformatted with English and hanyu pinyin and later it will be out in digital form. It was unexpectedly long project due to the publisher requirements and will be submitted this week! After speaking with the original translator and editor Ven. Master Lok Tok of the Enlightenment Temple in the Bronx, NY  of this dharma text, I was inspired to keep going on it. Amituofo! May many people benefit from this work!

Posted in Buddhist community activities, On the Path, Precepts Holders, Vinaya

English Sutras/Suttas have no rhythm

A particular habit of English translators have knocked the rhythm right out sutras/suttas!  They are written for readability rather than the original shorthand poetic context! Aaagh!

It makes it real hard to chant them, like in Chinese with it’s stylized 4 syllabic rhythm and set perucssion and chiming bell.  A so disappointing service to offer in English with readings rather than chanting like your supposed to do!

So what’s a sanghan supposed to do!?

Rewrite the services????!!!

yes! rewrite the sutras thus making them chantable!

At first in the 70s or 80s it was montone syllabic speak chant style, very unintersting, very boring to do and listen to.  But we have some bright spots in the Buddhist world!!!!!

Shasta Abbey a soto zen buddhist monastery has been doing english services for some time with a wonderful  mix of church organ and traditional Japanese Buddhist instruments with a Church of England style flavored with Japanese instrumentation.

City of 10,000 Buddhas and all it’s affliates have successfully used English services and traditional instruments (although even in a big Buddha Hall like they have it’s unenergetic unlike the Chinese service done on alternate days…just no comparison between the two, needs words to be altered and new styles faster than what they have but hey, they are a step ahead of everyone else with their use of Chinese styles and instruments – leaders in this area while they are also a giant step ahead of me!)

Deer Park Monastery and the other one of Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village groups have done itn all in gregorian chant, and it’s just beautiful! But everyone recognized the style as gregorian chant not Buddhist, sooo….

we need a Buddhist style in English, that sounds good! easy on the ears of all ages just not easy listening or snooze to music!

Posted in Buddhist community activities, On the Path, Precepts Holders, Vinaya

Laity of Xi Fang Temple


Disciples of Xi Fang Temple, being here at Xi Fang Temple during the Chinese New Year has helped me really understand the relationship between laity and Sangha. Your kindness and helpful assitance when my body failed me during my stay was deeply appreciated.  Being here, seeing Buddhists come together in community, receiving red envelops and seeing people donate to the temple: money, time, effort and practice has renewed my faith in the strength of good men and women. Especially after 4 yeaers in isolation not having a Chinese temple nearby (or even in our state), not receiving dana (donations) has been very, very hard to bear.

To sustain me during these 4 years I kept pure according to Vinaya by retreating from public when it was obvious that curious western people while familiar with some Buddhist writers were not supportive of establishing a temple here, expecting me to pay for it and everything else. I begain my strongest efforts in translations during these 4 years, completing the standard liturgy book (6 years), then moving on to the Leng Yan Zhou (2 1/2 years) study and eventual translation, then moving to Yogcara Flam Mouth Food Offering Service (3 months).

Although I refined my dharma studies in translations gaining many new insights and skills. I did so at the loss of other skills like the morning and evening services, the mudras for food offering, the use of dharma instruments in the Chinese service.  While it’s true i read the services it was also true that they were being read for translation purposes rather than a form of practice.

Horrifically bad at doing the simple food offering upon my arrival at Xi Fang Temple, even forgetting parts of it on the first time I participated in the morning offering service.  Aaagh! How embarassed I was when my turn came at noon, evening and the rest of the days there! I got better.  Beleive me I’ll get it right rather quicklly once I move back to the temple.

I am very happy to rejoin Xi Fang Temple.  While the interior and exterior are really stunningly beautiful, the really good draw is the abbot, my master Kuan Neng fashi and the senior nuns Kai Xin Shifu, and Rong Rui Shi.  Their calmness and good personalities have helped me confidently regain my practice.  

They have gone well above their comfort levels in helping me adjust to life at the temple during this busy holiday time. Even my body weak as it is, even a bout of sciatic causing me major pain and them a loss of a helper for a few days during this very busy time. 

I’ve never known anyone from Xi Fang Temple to avoid hardship in bringing about their goals for the temple or for themselves. That is one thing people who want to succeed do. Embracing hardship for training, joining in rebuilding, renovating, and constuction of the temple they indeed had harship, much more than mine in Iowa. They kept their goals and practices and put in their combined effort to create a new building and extrodinary feat given they are only 10 years open!

Unlike most Americans who seek to avoid hardship as they move up the economic ladder, the Buddhists I know use hardship as a training tool. I’m not talking about ascetic practice, too much of that is discouraging without lots of  support. But what I am talking about is reducing creature comforts as a means to reduce distractions and to keep in focus the major goals.

Embracing hardship or reducing distractions means that at home you may choose the comforts like a bed versus camp cot, shared accomodations instead of privacy in single room, stairs without elevator access for exercise, keeping heat low in winter so fresh air can come in from windows or doors, living out of a small suitcase with a few changes of clothes instead of a large wardrobe.

Xi Fang Temple opened in 2000. It was a converted store front with a basement that had a low ceiling. The one room upstairs was remodeled to have 2 side rooms and 1 room by the Buddha altar for the abbot. The rooms were just big enough for a sheet of masonite that was raised off floor to accomodate luggage and dharma items, then layered with sleeping bags and 3 shelves for books and temple items. No air condition just windows, no windows to outside since the iron gate covered the front entirely. Infested wtih cockroaches and mice, due to apartments above and the dirty building conditions at the time. They were all skinny when I walked through their doors in Sept 2001,  I wondered at their harships. They were happy to see me. And spared no effort at making me feel welcome. Of that group only the abbot remains and is very healthy and strong.

Well living there was a challenge, due to the bugs and mice cleaning was constant to avoid disease. The kitchen was scoured daily to keep it santised, and constantly rewashed dishes and tools. I walked down to eat breakfast congee and literally had to fight a handful of large cockroaches for it, I briefly wondered it they already had gottin in it as the nun had not covered it. But I was too hungry to not eat it. Then the plumbing…aaagh…would frequentlly flood the kitchen or the upstairs bathroom would leak on our Buddha altar, in streams until the landlord arrived to fix it. once using my bath towel to wrap the pipe. Oh, I bought another one BTW.  When it flooded it meant all night mopping, scrubbing and reviewing all the food items that could be contaminated. Pitching the spoiled stuff in the garbage and hoping it was trash day to throw it on the side of the street.

What kept it going was our little community of Sangha members and our lay people who often spoke words of encouragement. It was fun when we gathered in the night to watch the occasional movie or chatted or even practiced chants in different styles. We sometimes would buy American food, like the pizza from that little family place a few blocks down 8th ave from us or 4th ave mcdonalds. A special treat it was. I loved temple food, the abbot can cook too!

I was moved to Flushing when they decided to open a small temple in a comercial space in the basement. I didn’t mind it at first because the nighttime was peaceful but later the man who opened a martial arts place in our shared space decided to make more money by offering a karaoke bar all night until 5:30am and we opened our doors at 7:30am! So it meant smoke filled our little temple and we shared one bathroom which darn it I had to get up in the night to use (facing drunks, men & women using the facilities was just awful. Then later I’d open the gate to find couples doing it in full view having to retreat hastily back inside our temple to complain to our abbott. He would rush out angry and scold them. I had to deal with mice who had babies constantly there.  Oh we had our fun moments tho’ when watching the kungfu students suddently leap like ballerinas to avoid the baby mice swarm running madly across their practice area back n forth, back n forth….little cute gray puffballs they were.

We had hotpot once in while there, yuummy. I tried to cook noodles for the abbott but never got it right, always chewy. He likes it softer I think. I had a hotplate and wok with a full size frig.  It was quite an experience! We were right next door to a fruit and vegetable seller.  It was good! We had the famous blackout during that time, no cell towers were working. Water was 5 dollars per bottle, batteries were sold out by 10am! It was crazy.  Our security gate was up and someone had to watch for security all night.  Wow! When I was tired of that situation,  people would try to lift me up by saying it’s a wonderful way to practice full of harships, so later it will be better for us, because we all had our moments of being sick of the karaoke and smoke and extreme sleep deprevation! 2 hours is not enough!

Well it turns out they were right, when they closed Flushing, I left for Iowa. And this year I returned to Xi Fang Temple.

Posted in Dharma Crafting Instruments

What is a bodhisattva? a study

An impromptu study of bodhisattva, due to ignorance of most Americans and Europeans of lack of understanding of monastics ordained in the Mahayana traditions receiving additional ordinations as Bodhisattvas and the fact that Theravada monks have been also recognized as compassionate bodhisattas (Pali), it’s not all based on history or ideals the aren’t unreachable in our modern times!
Even the quality is sketchy and a bit messy this little dharma lesson is well written and illustrates clearly that monastics alive today emulate the bodhisattva ideal in their daily life.

Posted in Dharma Crafting Instruments

8 Auspicious symbols

8 Auspicious symbols

Originally uploaded by Shi Hong Yang

acryllic on unstretched muslin, this painting has seed beads sewn around the 3 symbols of water, earth, air and the additional cutlural inclusion of my favorite vegetable – corn showing my personal heritage as coming from Iowa; included is embroidery in chain stitch, it’s painted in gold in the background and sewn borders directly onto the painting itself, it has no lining in the back.

Posted in Dharma Crafting Instruments

Meditation on Walking

Meditation on Walking

Originally uploaded by Shi Hong Yang

This was a lithograph that I added pen, pencil, marker, ink, gel ink, and used scratch pen to create this storyboard inspired theme, all of it relates to my struggle to fully unite mind, body and spirit in overcoming my tight legs since birth.