Vu Lan

Below is a holiday interview that I had originally intended to post a couple weeks back. My interviewee for the Vu Lan (盂蘭盆節) or Ullambana holiday is my friend Thao, who currently studies at a prestigious Southern California university. I am deeply grateful to her for sharing her thoughts and experiences of the Vu Lan festival, which concluded last week.

Who are you?

I am a youngin’ trying to find balance between college life and the Buddhist path.

What is the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

I grew up knowing this holiday as “Ullambana.” My mom was the first person to tell me the significance of this holiday. She told me a story of a son who made offerings to the temple sangha on a particular day of the moon calendar so his mother could be liberated after she had passed. Ullambana is similar to Japan’s Obon ceremony, honoring one’s ancestors who have passed as well. As I grew up, I came to learn that Ullambana was a holiday honoring filial piety, “one of the virtues to be held above all else: a respect for the parents and ancestors.”

What does this holiday mean to you?

This holiday reminds me of my roots. My name directly translates in both Vietnamese and Chinese (孝) as the less common English words of “filial piety.” Since Ullambana is centered around this concept, it humbles me and especially makes me want to let my parents know how much I appreciate them.

What do you plan to do on this holiday?

My current plan, while I’m back up North, will be going to celebrate this holiday at a temple called the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on Sunday, August 14th. We will be reciting the Ullambana Sutra three times, and there will be a big lunch of vegetarian food. In addition, I will be able to show my parents my metta for them and express my gratitude for all parents alike ☺

Work has kept me busier than usual as of late, but I will make an effort to try to publish a few more posts this coming week.

Charges Dismissed Against Buddhist Nun

Venerable Hong Yuan came to New York to raise money for her fire-damaged temple, but found herself arrested for handing out prayer beads, charged with a misdemeanor for acting as an unlicensed vendor and offered a day of community service in exchange for a guilty plea. Last week the nun refused to plea guilty to any wrongdoing, and now DNAinfo reports“[p]rosecutors said that they will effectively dismiss the charges when she appears in Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday.”

Phew! (Update: charges dismissed!)

You can read Shayna Jacobs’ full story at DNAinfo—it seems the prosecution sees its mistake. Ven. Hong Yuan should now have no more need to worry about these ridiculous charges. Many thanks to Ms. Jacobs for her reporting on this incident, highlighting a situation that could easily have disappeared under the radar.

Thanks also to Jack Daw for spearheading a Twitter campaign to persuade the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to reconsider this case. We may never know how much the Twitterverse shaped the prosecutors’ ultimate decision, but it was no less breathtaking to see Buddhists rally online for one humble Chinese nun far away from home in New York City.

Of course, you can still support Ven. Hong Yuan’s cause to raise funds to restore her temple. You can make checks payable to the Atlanta Pu Xian Buddhist Association, Inc., 3140 Shallowford Pl., Atlanta, GA 30341. The association can also be reached by telephone at 678-436-3607.

Previous Singtao Daily articles by Li Xiaomi on Ven. Hong Yuan can be read here and here (in Chinese). Previous posts on this blog about Ven. Hong Yuan are here and here.

Photo credit to Singtao Daily.

Update: Finally a post on the topic from Our Chinatown! (Well, I suppose you could also count these two.)

Chinese Nun Refuses Plea Deal

I hope you remember about Ven. Hong Yuan (宏願法師), who police arrested on Canal Street last month for distributing prayer beads to supporters, including those who donated to help rebuild her burnt-down temple. DNAInfo reports that prosecutors are “charging her with a misdemeanor for acting as an unlicensed vendor.”

The DA offered a plea deal where Ven. Hong Yuan will serve “one day of community service in exchange for a disorderly conduct, non-criminal guilty plea,” but the nun has refused.

We should support Ven. Hong Yuan in her pursuit of justice, especially in encouraging the DA to drop the charges against her. This situation is a fantastic opportunity for Buddhists to reach out and support each other across racial, cultural and geographic lines. If you follow Ven. Hong Yuan’s story, it should be clear that she could definitely use the assistance of supporters to show the DA that this nun has the support of an entire community behind her.

You can read more background at this previous post with information from the earlier articles at DNAInfo and Singtao Daily.

Photo credits to DNAInfo/Shayna Jacobs.

Buddhist Nun Arrested for Soliciting Donations

I was surprised that I couldn’t find this story in the Our Chinatown news blog. DNAInfo reports on a Chinese Buddhist nun who was arrested and detained without an interpreter for handing out malas to people who gave donations to help rebuild her temple, which had burnt down. The nun, Li Baojing Ven. Hong Yuan was “ordered to appear in Midtown Community Court on July 7. If convicted, she could face up to three months in jail and a $3,000 fine.” You can read more details about her situation at DNAInfo.

Hopefully DNAInfo won’t drop this issue (or maybe Our Chinatown will pick it up) because I would really like to know how this turns out. If anyone has any more information, please don’t hesitate to drop a note in the comments.

Update: Our Chinatown actually published news on Ven. Hong Yuan’s fundraising before her arrest. Apparently, the NYC police were unaware.

In the scorching heat or in the pouring rain, one Buddhist [nun] has appeared on the streets of Chinatown day after day, seeking donations to repair a temple in Atlanta, Ga., that was damaged after a fire.

Hong Yuan, who came to New York in 1996 and has been practicing as a Buddhist [nun] for more than 20 years, bought a house in Atlanta in 2007 that she turned into the Pu Xian Temple. On March 26, the temple caught fire while Hong was in China; no one was inside at the time.

Hong said that when she returned, she was informed by her insurance company that it would not settle her claims since her name and the name on the insurance documents did not match up. Hong said that when she filled out the insurance forms to transfer her residence over to the association, she forgot to make the necessary changes to the documents, adding that she did not realize such a small oversight would have such big consequences.

If you want to make a donation, you can make checks payable to the Atlanta Pu Xian Buddhist Association, Inc., 3140 Shallowford Pl., Atlanta, GA 30341. The association can also be reached by telephone at 678-436-3607. (Singtao Daily)

Photo credit to DNAInfo/Shayna Jacobs.

Happy Rohatsu!

Today is Rohatsu (臘八), often referred to as Bodhi Day (佛成道節), the day Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. As I’m grateful to have learned from the following blogs, today is also the culmination of sesshin for many Buddhists with a Zen meditation practice. I encourage you to check out these posts that I found about elsewhere in the Buddhist blogosphere.

Bodhi Day, as celebrated on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, is typically an East Asian and Mahayanist Buddhist holiday. The celebration of Rohatsu is rooted in a Chinese pre-Buddhist festival, but has been since been firmly recontextualized in the Buddhist tradition. In contrast, Theravada Buddhist tradition customarily celebrates Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana on the same full-moon day of Vesak (roughly May). I’ve also got a hunch that Vesa日本藤素 k, in turn, is rooted in pre-Buddhist Indian tradition. Just something to think about for the folk who advocate stripping Buddhism of its “Asian cultural baggage.” Happy Rohatsu!

The Great Blog of Ksititgarbha Bodhisattva

Via @yueheng, I learned about The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva blog. The most recent post talks about the condition of being pressed by ghosts in your sleep.

Ever experienced being pressed by ghosts in sleep? Common symptoms are:

you wake up in the middle of your sleep

you are stationary and however you struggle you cannot move

you may open your eyes and look around but you can’t turn your head/neck

you open your mouth to scream but no voice comes out

Ghosts were a core part of the Buddhist milieu I was raised in, but they’re something I spend very, very little time thinking about these days. I am little affiliated with either Mahaynist or Chinese Buddhist institutions, but I enjoy learning more about other traditions. I’m also keen on learning Chinese too.

Becoming Chinese Buddhist in the West

The Christian Century reviews Carolyn Chen’s Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience:

I suspect that the first eyebrow-raising moment in Chen’s book for educated, liberal white Americans like me—who admire the Dalai Lama and regard the rigors of Zen practice with awe—will be when they read that Buddhism, at least in its traditional syncretic form, stands in low repute among Chinese immigrants. It is grandmother’s religion: rustic, ritualistic, superstitious and profoundly unmodern, a part of the immigrant baggage they are only too happy to jettison.

It is also a religion about which most have had little reason to learn anything at all. When they say they’re Buddhist to fend off their Chinese Christian neighbors’ invitations, they embrace what they had previously regarded as a stigmatized identity. It is a welcome discovery for them that a few of the sparsely distributed Chinese Buddhist temples around them (one-quarter as many as the Chinese Protestant churches) articulate a modernized humanistic Buddhism that was becoming widespread in Taiwan only as they were leaving for the U.S. in the 1980s. Eventually some of them convert to this Buddhism, which Chen calls an explicit religion (in contrast to an “embedded” religion).

These newly “explicit” Buddhists will still be lumped in with “embedded” Buddhists if we divide the community in terms of traditional/ethnic versus Western. Good food for thought. I’ll see if I can go check out this book.