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.

Monastic Buddhism Summer Course

Here’s more information on an interesting summer practice couse a friend emailed to me. If you’re curious in learning more about Buddhist monasticism in North America, you’ll have a great opportunity this summer with the Dharma Realm Buddhist University course “Monastic Buddhism: Introduction to its Theory and Practice” from July 5 through 15. I’ve reposted the information below.

This summer, the Pacific School of Religion and Dharma Realm Buddhist University present a direct encounter with a living Buddhist tradition dating back to ancient China. Students will have the rare opportunity to experience the daily pace and patterns of a Buddhist contemplative and explore a way of life designed to instill peace, equanimity, and awakening.

The direct immersion in the rhythms of monastic life combines theoretical grasp with direct experience. Participants will read and discuss sacred texts, learn methods of Buddhist meditation (samadhi), traditional chanting, rituals and liturgies, observe a vegetarian diet, and train according to a Buddhist moral code of conduct (vinaya).

This learning “from within”, can spur a process of re-examination—both of oneself and of the assumptions and presuppositions on the nature of religion, the religious community, and the notion of a religious experience.

Course Dates: July 5th to 15th, 2011
Credit Options: 3 credits/4 CEUs

For inquiries, email or

Prof. Martin Verhoeven and Bhikshuni Heng Chih will lead the course which includes monks and nuns from both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions as guest lecturers.

Bhikshuni Heng Chih is a Buddhist nun of over 40 years ordained in the Chinese Mahayana tradition under the guidance of the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. She is currently a Lecturer in Buddhist Philosophy at Bond University in Gold Coast, Australia, and holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Translation of Buddhist Texts from Dharma Realm Buddhist University.

Prof. Martin Verhoeven is adjunct professor in Comparative Religion at Pacific School of Religion and professor in Buddhist Study and Practice at Dharma Realm Buddhist University. With a M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Wisconsin, he specializes in European and American encounters with Buddhism.

About the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB):
Recently named “a sacred site” by National Geographic, CTTB is nestled within 448 acres of orchards, meadows, and woods in Mendocino County, California, just 110 miles north of San Francisco. In addition to being the home of Buddhist monks and nuns, CTTB also houses a university and K-12 school. The quiet countryside landscape and clean air of beautiful Ukiah Valley provide an ideal environment for study, wholesome fellowship, and spiritual growth.

You can get more information on the course at its website.

Alternative Spring Break: Buddhist Retreat

This just in from an old friend about the Spring Break Guan Yin Practice Retreat at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas—a practice retreat perfect for college students in a beautiful monastic setting tucked away in the hills of Northern California.

Spring Break Guan Yin Practice Retreat
March 19–27, 2011

In the Surangama Sutra, Guan Yin Bodhisattva teaches: “Return the hearing to hear within.” This was hailed as the foremost contemplative practice for people of our time. Who is Guan Yin Bodhisattva? How does one cultivate the Guan Yin practice? What does it mean to be mindful of Guan Yin Bodhisattva? This March, take a break from the bustle of student life to live out these questions with the Dharma Realm Buddhist University Alternative Spring Break Program. For one week, immerse yourself in the Guan Yin practice and life at a Buddhist monastery. This spring break, tap into a living embodiment of an ancient Mahayana Buddhist tradition at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

  • Explore the methods of Guan Yin recitation, contemplation, and meditation.
  • Study from Buddhist sacred texts the methods of practices related to Guan Yin Bodhisattva.
  • Train according to the Buddhist moral code of conduct.
  • Engage in discussions with practicing monks, nuns, and teachers.
  • Meet other students interested in exploring Buddhism.
  • Try out a vegetarian diet.

$275 [registration, course fee and room+board]

For more information, contact

Participants of all backgrounds [religious and non-religious] are encouraged to apply. Financial aid available.

Another youth workshop for young Buddhists (21–39ish) is happening the week before—check out TechnoBuddha at the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley!

This I Believe

Sorting through my drafts box, I found a stranded link to Trang Tran’s This I Believe essay, recounting a stay at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB).

Before CTTB, I had never prayed, meditated, or read a Buddhist text in my life. I distinctly remember the discomfort of being in a new and vastly different environment and the inevitable challenges it brought. Yet, upon reflection, I realize that I have absolutely no regrets about the time between entering and exiting the sacred gates of the monastery. The sentient moments of serenity and sincere connection to mind, body, and spirit that I received resonate far beyond my time spent at CTTB and always will.

It sort of makes me want to visit the next time I find myself in Northern California. Maybe after I check out Rev. Harry and Dr. Scott’s live podcast recording!