I have a tendency of looking at the cause of things, the root of phenomena, and the reason certain events take place. And when I look at myself, the quandaries that have boggled humanity time and again questions many choose to simply ignore, and instead live out their lives in some other age-old ideology or according to some well-seasoned dogma...
In the Buddhism: A Brief Introduction text distributed for free in the Patriarch Hall, there is a claim that Buddhism is not an ‘-ism.’ Rather, it is a way of life and rightly so. Without looking into details, just merely the big picture, I notice – and I do not know if I’m inadvertently creating a faulty causality – that the claims for not being an ‘-ism’, an institutionalized culmination of metaphysical thought, is a testament to the subtle realization that previous religions have lost sight of the original goals. Religions branch off one another, consider others’ ideas, debate over seemingly meaningless trivialities, and seem never to be able to fully resolve some of the fundamental questions regarding life, thus resorting to a change in the framework of the religion to better fit the question – and who would have known, another denomination or even an entirely new religion is born. But this interaction among religions contributes to the identity of that religion. Religion certainly is not static, whether that is good or bad remains up in the air.
There seems to be a stigma surrounding the idea of religion these days. I’m immediately thinking of the students I worked with as research interns last summer. It is not a hot topic, but when the occasional discussion of religion crops up I notice that many people seem genuinely interested in the goals of religion, but are repelled or confused by the institutionalization of religion. They, and this includes myself, do not like being told what to do. We embrace the freedom we have as a young, ambitious generation. We are healthy. The majority of us are going to the nations’ top colleges. Why bother about the pointless codes of conduct and irresolvable issues of religion?
I’d like to point out that this is not a critique on religion, but more of an observation about Buddhism; penning down my thoughts to better understand the ‘religion’ I have grown up in as well as myself. And this is how I began to organize my own opinion, my own vision, of the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Let me put this shortly: my vision of CTTB is a place for propagating the Buddhadharma to the West, translating Buddhist scriptures, and establishing Buddhist education. Oddly enough, these may have been the very goals of our founder. Ultimately, my vision of CTTB: stick to these goals.
What I feel we are compelled to do is propagate the Dharma, make it available and easily accessible to all. The key to this is translation. Naturally, I feel that we have been quite on track. We have up and running schools, continuous publications of Sutra translations and new edits, and so on.
There are things, thoughts, that I would very much like to see happen in the future. I would really like to see a CTTB with a greater diversity. Quite frankly, a disproportionately large percentage of the City is Asian. That’s not a bad thing, and I don’t even know how a change in demographics could be brought about, but I suppose that if we are truly doing the right thing – sticking to the Venerable Master’s goals of propagating the teachings – then I feel that if CTTB becomes a multicultural smelting pot, then that testifies to the breaking down of barriers as one people strive to achieve a common goal.
The other thing I’d like to see is more opportunities for people to practice each of the Five Schools. It seems that there is a large focus on the Pure Land School, and I see how it is a very expedient dharma door for practitioners. However, it would be nice to allocate different times of the day for people to, say for instance, meditate. I think there ought to be a clearly allocated time everyday, such as the evening and morning ceremonies, so that people have the opportunity to practice what best suits them. Moreover, sitting in Chan is also much more popular in the West than chanting mantras or singing hymns in a language they do not even understand.
This is briefly, and really all that I have to say about my vision of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. There is no utopia in this world, but this place is perhaps the closest it will ever get. If there is such a land as the Western Pure Land, then CTTB would be the medium by which we get there. Things may not be perfect, and I can safely say that it very well may never be, but creating the environment and conditions for people who genuinely wish to pursue their practices is a noble endeavor – and we must and will keep at that.
And I hate to say this, for I am relatively liberal myself, but if there is grey area on certain issues then it is probably best to take a conservative stance. The founder’s vision must be preserved. We should stay on the middle path, and never resort to extremes in all aspects of life. We must continue to cultivate an atmosphere that inspires all, new and old disciples, to vigorously strive for purification. We must remain unmoved by setbacks, dwelling in supreme Samadhi. We must collaborate in investigating the Dharma to see the world without discriminations and obtain great wisdom.
We should refrain from morphing into some mundane institution because Buddhism is not an ‘-ism’, but a way of life – and that’s how it ought to stay.