Sunday, July 22, 2007

Life in Its Many Forms and Realms: Release, the Departed, the Buddha, and Contemplation

My wife and her Buddhist friends held a release life activity this morning next to the Veteran Memorial Park just off the bank of the Tampa Bypass Channel. This is the first time we entered the park ground as unbeknownst to us, the opening hour of the park coincided with our time of arrival, 10.00am. Before that, we stopped by a bait and tackle shop to buy juvenile fish and earthworms.

Instead of chanting the sutra at the river side, Yu Huei decided to hold the chanting session at the shop there and then on two considerations. Firstly, some of the small animals may not survive the trip from the shop to the river side. So this would ensure that they would get the good merits transferred to them while alive. Secondly, this would benefit the entire animal collection within the shop.

Indoor chanting amidst the angling gear and the entire collection of small animals.

While at the shop, a curious onlooker’s interest was piqued by the chanting. I explained to him the gist of the release life as an act of compassion toward all sentient beings. “Not pity, but compassion,” I corrected him. “God moves us in many ways,” he replied, radiating sincerity.

On the drive to the Veteran Memorial Park, I almost ran over a squirrel dashing across the road, my sudden reflexive braking motion scuttling some stuff around me. But no harm done.

At first, we were worried that the steep descent down the earth slope from the bridge to the river side may prove to be a slippery, and hence, dicey operation. But the park was just opened, and we were able to park inside the park. And the good thing is the slope to the river edge is very gentle here, at the bottom of which are scattered rock pieces to provide a firm foothold. Those must be the remnants of a rudimentary bank protection measure against erosion: rock slope. The other meritorious aspect of this particular site is the absence of preying birds that are known to swish down on the small released animals as we have learned painfully from our experience at other sites. The fish fries were released into the stream, and the earthworm, into hand-dug holes by the river side.

The outdoor release life activity, first the aquatic kind and then the burrowing kind, momentarily confined within the two brown bags in the hands of Sister Annie.

Then something else happened. A group of ducks were swaggering toward us while we were about to drive off. So the ladies alighted again, palms joined, and started chanting away at the approaching ducks, presumably sensing food from their past treatments. The merits thus transferred so that in their (the ducks') next life they would be reborn in the human realm, the realm at which Buddhahood is most reliably attained, the ladies thanked the ducks and we were soon on our way to our next destination, a Thai temple along Palm River Drive.

Transferring merits to the swaggering kind

But not before we made a slow drive around the park. It being a Veteran Memorial Park, there are many displays of war paraphernalia: helicopters, and artillery equipment. A small plot in the back was stacked full with miniature American flags, in memoriam of the many casualties of wars. The apparent irony of holding a release life activity in a park dedicated to the many soldiers perished in wars was not lost on me. But in a way, what we did could also be considered as a way of transferring merits to the departed consecrated in the park.

The Thai temple is a sprawling complex amidst the tree-lined river bank, with timber boardwalk over some of the soft ground. The temple’s inside is both regal and solemn. Next to the temple is the canteen where temple helpers were busying packing up the food orders for the expanding crowd of visitors.

Top left: A painting of a Young Buddha teaching to the Five disciples on the foreground.
Top Right: A view of the temple from the river bank.
Bottom right: the Buddha statue inside the Temple.
Bottom left: A view of the river bank from the front of the Temple.

We did the same and adjourned to one of the many tables dotting the river bank to partake of the food offering. A point to note is that the food served is a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian, a departure from the norm at Chinese temples where only vegetarian food is served. The rates charged for the food were very reasonable indeed and would only be possible due to the unfaltering show of volunteerism from the local Thai community, at the same time providing a steady source of revenue to maintain the temple to contribute to the well-being of all sentient beings.

A serene view from our table of feast, and contemplative too.


Chen said...

Thank you very much for the well-written article, and both you and Beekhon's sister's dedication for Buddhism: release lives, supports Buddhism activities, and pratice compassion.

May Buddha bless your family, lives we release today and the past, and all the beings in the universe. Amitofo.

Say Lee said...

Thank you for organizing the activity too.

Chen said...

That's my honor. Amitofo. Thank you.

Jacky Cham said...

Nicely written... I've done this last week for my late mother and i'll be doing it again next week. It's the 7th week of her passing away....hopefully she will be reborn into a higher plane of existance. Amitofo.

Say Lee said...

Thanks,Jacky, for visiting.

Our condolences on your recent loss. I'm sure that when we do good deeds and dedicate the merits to the dear departed, they will enjoy the karmic fruits too.