On May 29th, 2011, with a great assembly of Buddhist Sangha and spiritual teachers from the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana traditions, the Sacramento Buddhist Centennial Festival celebrated the 2,600th anniversary of Buddha's birth, death and moment of enlightenment. Representing the Chinese Zen lineage, Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale participated in the joyous event as our Abbot, JianHu Shifu was invited to give a Dharma talk to the participants. This Festival was a collaboration of 14 Sacramento Buddhist Sanghas and groups and took place at Kim Quang Temple, the oldest Vietnam Buddhist Temple in the area.
The festival was adorned with great programs which were held in various venues on the thoughtfully constructed Temple ground: Dharma talks in the magnificent Zen Hall, exhibition of Buddha statues in the tranquil Buddha Garden on the east side, and uniquely decorated booths lined between the Zen Hall and the west side garden designed to depict an “International Silk Road”. Symbolizing Buddhism in harmony, a temporary tent whose top covered by long stripe of cloths with the five colors from the Buddhist Flag was especially erected for the opening ceremony and cultural performances.
The day started with a Sangha procession led by Venerable Bhante Seelawimala Mahathero, the founder of this local Vesak celebration, and Abbot Thich Thien Duyen, followed by monks and nuns from participating Sanghas and groups with Zen Center’s Executive Director, JianDu Shifu among them. Descending from the stairs of the Buddha Hall, the procession passed through the International Silk Road, made offerings to the Guan-Yin statue along the way, and reached the center stage for the opening ceremony. After a group of children made flower offering to the Buddha, and a performance of lion and dragon dance, Venerable Bhante Seelawimala Mahathero and Abbot Duyen talked with passion and eloquence of Buddha’s life, his teachings and what it means to the modern society, and their vision for this event.
After the ceremony, Buddhists from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, many donning their own traditional garments, formed a long line to make offering to the Sanghas in the “alms round”. The “alms round” is not only a chance for Buddhists to make offering and generate good merits, it is also a reminder that all beings are interdependent and interconnected. The alms bowls worn by the monks and nuns overflowed with candies, flowers, cookies, and snacks. Smiling faces everywhere are evidence of the genuine happiness in all. The practice of Dana can be so beautiful and joyful!
Many temples, including Sunnyvale Zen Center, set up literature tables in their booths for the general public to explore the various Buddhist traditions and teachings by giving out free publications and selling Buddhists artifacts for fundraising. Twelve volunteers from the Zen Center participated in the festivities and took turn to tend the booth which was set up with a theme of “Zen Center goes green”. People were attracted to the colorful poster with the Abbot standing among the solar panels on the Zen Center roof top. One lady liked it so much that she offered to purchase it! It was such a great opportunity to introduce our Zen Center and promote the “Go Veggie One Day a Week” movement to the general public. Many people showed genuine interest in the meditation program and the green movements of the Zen Center. Although Sunnyvale is far away from Sacramento, we were amazed that some local people had heard about our Dharma Masters’ teachings. A group of visitors were blessed with a treat of Dharma consultation with JianDu Shifu when they came to our booth. We also got a chance to re-acquaint with a number of former Bay Area residents. It is small world after all.
The highlight of the festival was an afternoon program of Dharma talks given by various Dharma teachers. The well-represented panel of speakers included Bhikkhus, Bhikkhuni, Lama and spiritual teachers of different Buddhist traditions. The Zen hall was full of spiritual seekers awaiting to hear the teachings of the Buddha, including many who were new to Buddhism. Six Dharma talks enriched the minds of the audience with topics such as “The Sangha Jewel”, “Walking in the Buddha’s Footsteps”, “Dukkha is to be Fully Understood”, “Calm Mind, Open Heart” and “What is Buddhism”. JianHu Shifu gave a talk on “Buddhism and Ecology”. With a sense of humor and articulate delivery, the Abbot elucidated the Buddha’s timeless teachings and demonstrated to the audience how they were relevant to the issues facing the contemporary world, such as the environmental problems today. After the Abbot’s talk, many came up to greet him and were eager to learn more. One person expressed that he had heard similar topic before but was unable to get through the message as he did today. The Dharma sharing was followed by a Question and Answer Session open to the audience.
The Celebration concluded with acknowledgments, blessings and chants in Pali, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Tibetan. How wonderful it was that the various Buddhist communities gathered together in honoring their common teacher, the Buddha. May all sentient beings form together a great assembly, one and all in harmony.