temple diaries 佛30

佛 30 (a month of studying and practicing 念佛法門) has begun at this mountainside country spot in this rural township.

The night before, Rei Shifu returned to 🇹🇭泰北/n. Thailand, where Zhen Lun 長老/Senior Monk Zhen Lun left her this 育幼院/orphanage-school for the third generation descendants of Yunnanese KMT soldiers-refugees.  “A Home Too Far” is a movie that was released in 1990 that spurred many Taiwanese to seek to support this lost colony forged during the forgotten Sino-Burmese war.  Han Shifu organized a small movie screening a few weeks ago, which I attended with 3 Chinese Shifus and the twin sister of one of the Shifus.  They exclaimed at Andy Lau’s bandit character because he looked so young and handsome.  We were all quite astonished how we didn’t know of this history at all. Additionally, I felt deeply repentant that I’d never ever considered the suffering of the KMT soldiers, who were the cruel and violent antagonists in many stories I heard growing up in a community with very pro-Taiwanese/anti-KMT Chinese politics.   Only in the last few years, I’ve made conscious effort to question this inheritance.  Watching this movie based on the diary of soldier Bo Yang, we saw how many KMT soldiers were conscripted into a protracted war that left them perpetually at the mercy of greedy generals, unfamiliar and dangerous terrain and on the run with their entire families.  Even to this day, many of them lack papers, but thanks to globalization and pressures from imperialist bank policies upsetting the agricultural based economies, these villagers increasingly have to go seek work in the cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai.  Rei Shifu has talked extensively about how she hopes to teach these kids to not forget their Chinese heritage and grow a strong moral foundation while also being Thai.

Since taking on the leadership two years ago, she’s also led 地藏超度 deliverance ceremonies for the passed on ancestors to ease the xin of the living and dead.  Given the vast number of unaccounted deaths and lost people while moving across the Chinese border and then Myanmar border, they set a large blank 牌位/ancestral tablet for all those so they would not be forgotten.  The rest of the 牌位, they wrote down all the names remembered by the villagers and the KMT ledgers.  During the ceremony the first year, the storm clouds and great thunderclaps shook the entire hall, but afterwards, many of the villagers felt much more tranquil, saying the unsettled corners and buried troubles hidden in their hearts were finally relieved. The second year, the environment (within and without, quite connected thru xin) were much more tranquil.

I wonder if their education currently works with the kids to learn how to organize for their communities’ cultural safekeeping and elder care.   There’s something so profound to hear about this kind of community work that takes care of the spiritual levels and material needs of the people.  It makes me think of my friends doing the decolonial work of unlearning, remembering and re-imagining in their various networks and lands. 

I was sitting in my room when I heard someone lightly call out “顯和!伊凌!” and was so astonished to hear my worldly name. (She learned it from  my application and after I told her how my friend wants a dharma name now, learning mine.) Rei Shifu had come to see me after meeting with auntie SuTzu and reminded me to cherish my great merit to train in these next 30 days. 

Rei Shifu: “Your head shape is quite similar to 地藏菩薩/Ksitigarbha’s.” 

I demurred: “Shifu, I wish I could do that Ksitagarbha ceremony like you one day for my friends.  There’s the Rothko Chapel in Houston/Karankawa land I’ve always envisioned a ceremony there.”

Rei Shifu: “Then vow to do so and it shall be.”

I felt the shame of past unaccomplished visions well up.   “Shifu, how can I vow to do that when I’ve failed so many times before?”

Rei Shifu smiled: “It all starts with a vow.”

I joked: “Ok.  Maybe the next time you see me in March, my hair might be shaved off.”

Rei Shifu: “Can it really grow so quickly?”

I thought for a minute. “Well, it’s almost at donation length, so maybe in another month or so I’ll be ready.”

Rei Shifu: “Good, with your last hair, do something good and then vow to do more in service to people without it.  Practice well these next few months, dedicate the merits to your ancestors as they have always supported you to arrive here today.  You can deliver merit to their paths now.  When I come back, I’ll come along to help you find your father side relatives.”

And suddenly my stubborn back wanted to bow to her for understanding, for gratitude, for doing her utmost to 成就我的心願/accomplish the desires of my heart。  Some cement of rage and resistance shook loose at the base of my spine, calcified scars from arguments with monastics about their colonial and patriarchal denialism of socio-historical causes and conditions.  But what is pride but insufficient emotion in the face of exponentially accumulating harms suffered by my dear communities?

So I asked her to teach me to bow, her will and self-discipline legendary and praised among many of the sangha.  She took me before the smiling Amita Buddha, my hair askew and with my head to the cool ground, I vowed the vows of my xin, thankful to my teachers, family and friends and fellow travelers.