Today's release life activity bore a special significance: it's the very first time we had Bhante Dhammawansha to grace the occasion. Bhante Dhammawansha is a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka based in Clearwater. He has been delivering Buddhist teaching in the Bay area for the past 5-6 years, including giving Buddhist talks and participating in inter-faith dailog in area churches and synagogues. The first Annual Robe Offering Celebration of the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society that we have participated on Nov 12, 2006 and that I have blogged here was held at his residence.
As usual, seven of us first assembled at our usual place, the 24-hour McDonald's Restaurant along North Dale Mabry just north of the I-275 flyover (or viaduct as is called here). All seated in my car (an 8-seater Minivan), we crossed the Bay via State Road 60 over the Courtney Campbell Bridge and picked up the 8th passenger, Bhante Dhammawansha, at his residence. Then it was off to the Clearwater Beach for the release life activity.
This is a revisit for many of us, Clearwater Beach being a popular site of choice for our activity. En-route, Bhante and us warmed up mutually pretty fast and he started sharing his experience with us, including the contrast of the condition now and the time when he first came to the area 5-6 years ago.
He was in an eminent position to do that because he had resided in one of the ocean front condo units along Clearwater Beach for a period of about seven months, thanks to an Indian lady who housed him in her own condo.
Now so many high rise condominiums are sprouting up along the ocean frontage in the Clearwater Beach Area like young shoots after a nourishing rain that the ocean view is no more like before, unbroken vista of the beach expanse and the distant horizon. I replied matter-of-factly that that's the price we pay for development, but knowing deep down inside me that it doesn't have to be that way.
While cruising over the newly opened bridge that leads us to the Clearwater Beach, we saw what Bhante meant: closely spaced condominiums, some still under construction, rising like a curtain at the water's edge to crowd out the ocean view.
We first bought the fish and shrimp juveniles from the bait shop and placed them in pails to be carried over to the site, which is the wooden jetty next to the bait shop. We also brought along a battery operated aerator (the yellow instrument attached to the top of the pail in the image) to keep the juveniles in a healthy condition while on transit to the jetty as well as during the mantra chanting session.
We then proceeded to the wooden jetty behind the bait shop where, led by Bhante, the party chanted Buddhist mantras in Pali amidst Bhante's explanation of the significance of releasing life. Above all, the act of releasing life fosters compassion, nurtures virtue and perpetuates love for all sentient beings. The resulting purification of the mind is akin to cleaning us of the rust that have encrusted us, thereby facilitating us coming into closer contact with our true self on the route to attaining buddhahood. Buddhist teaching emphasizes the humanistic approach, and upholds adherence to precepts through practice.
I find Bhante to be a resourceful teacher: employing a captivating story telling style, citing analogies and using simple language, wearing a perennial smile, adopting an approachable stance, and displaying great listening skills. These he evinced comfortably in his interaction with us, both in the car while waiting for one of us to run an errand at the local post office, and during lunch at the Thai House at the Largo Shopping Mall.
A case in point is the notion of rebirth, as distinct from reincarnation. While the latter entails wandering spirits in a limbo for a period of 7 days, the former is instant and occurs the moment the present life ends. Also, in biological terms, there are only two essential ingredient for a human birth to occur: a fertilized egg, and a womb for the gestation. But Buddhism adds one more element: the best attempt at an English translation is the sub-consciousness. And the rapt attention on my wife's face says it all.
The Thai House is frequented by Bhante, while it's the first visit for the rest of us. Other than the symbols of Thai Buddhism, the wall is also adorned with the names of regular patrons, which I thought is a novel move and is likely to entice repeat business. At the end of it all, the courteous waitress was kind enough to offer to take our group picture, with the Smiling Buddha standing guard behind. The delicious lunch was an early Christmas gift from Susie, the lady in pink standing to the right of Bhante.
Thanks to Yu Huai Chen, again, for organizing the activity, all participants for taking time to display compassion, and Bhante Dhammawansha for both gracing the occasion, and for enlightening us on some of the important lessons of the Buddhist teachings within such a short span of time.