The True Buddha Lineage and Vijaya Accomplishment
by Acharya Master Lianseng 1999
The Vijaya Affinity
After two years of hard work, the first True Buddha School temple in the San Francisco Bay Area, the True Buddha Vijaya Temple, was officially opened on June 27th, 1999. Grand Master kindly agreed to attend the opening ceremony and hosted a Yamantaka Fire Ceremony. This was an honor that continues to be the pride and glory of all disciples in the Bay Area.
However, behind this excitement and happiness, little do many know about the blood, sweat and tears it took to build the True Buddha Vijaya Temple. Members began to build it from scratch, and the process it took to make an old run down building into what is now a solemn and magnificent temple is a story weaved with frustration, disappointment and success. The story starts in the fall of 1996.
The True Buddha Vijaya Temple was formerly known as North California Vijaya Chapter, and was later bestowed with a chapter name called True Buddha Vijaya Chapter by Grand Master Living Buddha Lian-Sheng in September, 1996. In October, Master Lianman from Seattle blessed the temple’s altar on behalf of Grand Master Sheng-yen Lu. In the second week after the altar blessing, members from the chapter’s Board of Directors traveled to Seattle to express gratitude to Grand Master Lu for the blessing and chapter name bestowed. At that time, Grand Master instructed us compassionately to start planning for the establishment of the True Buddha Vijaya Temple in order to spread the Buddhism teaching to a great number of sentient beings.
Concerns arose immediately. In a small chapter with only a handful of disciples, who had no knowledge about Dharma affairs, and with the statues on the altar bought using credit, how could the chapter bear such a great responsibility to build a temple? Even so, Grand Master comforted the worrying crowd, “Rest assured, there will be many people and kind encounters who will come forward to help. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will only want your Bodhi mind but not your money.” With this encouragement, the disciples became determined to bear the responsibility to build the temple, taking the path of no return. At the end of November, with Grand Master Lu’s instruction to buy a building that was previously a church (currently True Buddha Vijaya Temple location), several disciples tried hard to get loans and cash on credit to attain the down payment for the building. Subsequently, with the down payment and loans from bank, they were successful in securing the deal. Hence, the very first step was made in establishing the True Buddha Vijaya Temple.
Struggle in Progress
For the committee, who had even used their personal names to take out loans for the down payment, the cost for the reinforcement was just too high and hopeless.
The building had previously been a Christian church, and before that it was movie theater. The building was 98 years old at the time. Looking at the old defunct Spanish style building, there were many cracks and mottled marks. This is what one could say was the nature of impermanence in action. However poetic the building was, the first issue that the disciples faced was to meet the conditions the local government ordinances required upon purchasing the old church – the building needed earthquake reinforcement within six months. This reinforcement project is very important for buildings in the Bay Area as the area resides in an active seismic zone in the western United States.
Nonetheless, to reinforce such a large and old building would incur an astonishing cost. After the True Buddha Vijaya Temple establishment committee invited contractors to give bids, the cheapest bid came at 140,000 U.S. dollars. For the committee, who had even used their personal names to take out loans for the down payment, the cost for the reinforcement was just too high and hopeless. This did not even include the cost of building the temple.
Five months passed quickly. For the local government’s request, the committee pleaded for a delay to the reinforcement project, while launching some small local fund-raising activities (that did not help much at all). Most of the disciples here were low income, living on salaries of about 1,000 dollars every month. After paying for housing and food, little or nothing was available for savings. Even if they had been able to donate their money to build the temple, it was still a tiny fraction of what was needed. Other than staring at the abandoned building anxiously, nothing could be done.
A Dramatic Turn with the Lineage Blessing
Grand Master said, “If a person makes a vow to help establish the temple, this person will attain admirable and superb achievement in all activities participated.”
In the most difficult moment, the great power of the lineage blessing was demonstrated. In June of 1997, Grand Master, Living Buddha Lian-Sheng visited Oakland and attended a dinner for the “Father’s Day celebration with the Buddha” that was organized by the temple establishment committee during his trip to the Purple Lotus School for a ribbon cutting ceremony and teaching. He also performed a purification and blessing of the True Buddha Vijaya Temple.
On this visit, Shimu Vajra Acharya Lianxiang, and about one hundred vajra acharyas and reverends also attended. During the dinner, Grand Master gave a speech and made an unprecedented announcement to the audience. He announced that if anyone was willing to buy his dragon vest for the purpose of raising funds for the temple, he would cultivate and dedicate merit to the buyer. The hall immediately broke into loud applause after the remark. Everyone was amazed. Amid this surprise, what followed was another unforgettable announcement. Grand Master said, “If a person makes a vow to help establish the temple, this person will attain admirable and superb achievement in all activities participated.” This again created another sensational moment and loud applause.
At this time, all disciples made a vow quietly, “Grand Master! We will also build the most admirable and superb temple to deliver an enormous amount of sentient beings.”
At first, our mind went blank. We prayed day and night for blessing from our lineage Guru, but we never imagined this great blessing to come to us because of this affinity. Many disciples broke down in tears. They were speechless and touched by the considerate blessing from Grand Master. When we paid homage to Grand Master to express our gratitude, our doubts and grievances disappeared instantly and were replaced by solid confidence. After all, Grand Master’s remarks were our greatest guarantee. At this time, all disciples made a vow quietly, “Grand Master! We will also build the most admirable and superb temple to deliver an enormous amount of sentient beings.” In the fund raising activity next day, because of Grand Master’s remark, the dragon robe donated by Grand Master was purchased by a Taiwanese disciple with a high bidding price of 85,000 U.S dollars.
However, there was still a huge gap in the funds need for the earthquake reinforcement project, which was 140,000 U.S dollars. Yet, a miracle appeared four days after the fund raising activity. A construction company came forward and put in a bid for the building reinforcement project. As this company was just established, it was eager to build its customer base quickly and therefore voluntarily lower the project cost to 85,000 U.S dollars, which was an exact match to the amount raised by selling the Grand Master’s dragon vest! At this moment, all disciples felt the incredible the blessing power from Grand Master, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and the heavenly dragons and deities!
Foundation Reconstruction for a New Start
We were not here to build the True Buddha Vijaya temple solely because we wanted to build a temple. In the Bodhi conduct of Buddhism, the True Buddha Vijaya temple is just a speck of dust. If we were to obsess with the merit of building a temple, then the size of the merit would be only as big as a speck of dust.
The first major problem of the construction of the temple, the anti-seismic reinforcement, was now resolved. We had overcome the long and difficult process of building the temple by keeping solid confidence in our lineage Guru. Now the main challenge laid in how we could do a good job in every aspect. This indeed was the issue had to face and solve personally. First, we found several problems: 1. Too few disciples and therefore unable to gather strength; 2. Little or no experience in conducting dharma affairs – unable to help self and others; 3. A loosely organized committee that was unable to function well; 4. Poor economic resources; 5. A lack of or distorted reputation of True Buddha School on a local level.
Behind all these issues, our first priority was to construct a proper mindset. Why did we want to establish a temple? What was the purpose of it? We knew that there was superb merit in building a temple. However, Grand Master told us that a temple function is to allow disciples to have a common site to cultivate and to deliver more sentient beings. If a temple can really perform its functions, then the temple is a heaven.
In contrast, if people came to compete for temple property, fortune, and reputation, a temple is then a burden and does not delivering the sentient beings. This indeed makes the temple a hell. We needed to be clear that the objectives of establishing a temple were to deliver one-self and sentient beings and to spread Buddha teaching to every corner in the world. We were not here to build the True Buddha Vijaya temple solely because we wanted to build a temple. In the Bodhi conduct of Buddhism, the True Buddha Vijaya temple is just a speck of dust. If we were to obsess with the merit of building a temple, then the size of the merit would be only as big as a speck of dust.
Therefore, we embraced the saying, “The deities help those who help themselves,” and the temple committee decided to perform the labor themselves wherever feasible. As a result, there were several benefits – costs were cut drastically and disciples’ solidarity towards True Buddha School was strengthened by allowing them to participate together in building the temple.
However, if the temple was utilized as a tool to deliver sentient beings, then the achieved merit would be a supreme and admirable one. With the above consensus, the other problems could be solved easily. Regarding the issue of too few disciples and a difficulty in gathering strength, the temple committee started to build an information database with the disciple’s information and began to enhance communication amongst them. This created opportunities for the disciples to participate in dharma and chapter affairs, thus strengthening disciples’ solidarity towards True Buddha School.
In terms of the problems we encountered due to members having little or no experience with the dharma, the temple committee initiated teaching disciples using a series of Grand Master’s dharma talks which we played after the weekly group cultivation session. Also, dharma experience was gained through by hosting dharma ceremonies, or by participating those that were held in True Buddha School Seattle Ling Shen Ching Tze temple.
To solve the issue of loosely organized committee that could not function to its fullest capacity, the committee was reorganized according to each member’s specialties and strengths. Other than emphasizing the spirit of team work, disciples who had a specialty were also invited to participate in the chapter’s affair. After all, it was the responsibility of the committee members to first set an example to other disciples to uphold the principles of righteousness, fairness, and openness in all the committee meetings.
Regarding the poor economic resources for the establishment of the temple, we embraced the philosophy of progressing with the available resources. Almost all of the funding was raised and accumulated through selling a statue of Ushnishavijaya coated in gold. Nevertheless, the poor general economic conditions made the fundraising difficult for one year plus. Therefore, we embraced the saying, “The deities help those who help themselves,” and the temple committee decided to perform the labor themselves wherever feasible. As a result, there were several benefits – costs were cut drastically and disciples’ solidarity towards True Buddha School was strengthened by allowing them to participate together in building the temple.
Finally, to tackle the problem of True Buddha School having little and/or negative publicity, the committee voluntarily participated in local community charity events. The committee took the opportunity when hosting dharma ceremonies and activities, to spread the correct and beneficial True Buddha Tantric Dharma to the public. Consequently, this greatly increased True Buddha School’s local reputation, and provided the public with a new understanding towards the organization. After implementing the solutions towards above problems, the True Buddha Vijaya Temple committee then came to have solid grounding. The disciples became even more confident towards the great project, and were able to restart the journey.
Ceaseless Challenges and Never Retreat
Grand Master even joked at us, “If you don’t have a chapter for group cultivation, you can do it in a nearby park! Furthermore, you can barbeque after the group cultivation session!”
Within months of Grand Master’s performing the blessing and boundary protection upon the True Buddha Vijaya Temple, the temple’s activities and dharma affairs improved significantly. On average, there were 26 disciples who took refuge every month, and group cultivations and various activities were carried out almost everyday. We still had our group cultivations and activities at our small chapter while we were waiting for the construction of the temple to be complete. The chapter became very lively, and disciples were vigorous as if the beautiful vision of the future could be seen. Nonetheless, the good times did not last long. As the frequent group cultivations attracted large crowds, neighbors began to complain about parking, noise, etc. since the chapter was located in a densely populated residential area. With these complaints, the city council sent several warning letters to the chapter. Although we tried to restrain participants from creating disturbances as well addressing the petition to the city council, we were still unable to eliminate neighbors’ complaints.
As a result, on May 14th, 1997, True Buddha Vijaya chapter’s sign was removed under the order of the city council. What followed then on 22nd of the same month was an order to stop any kind of religious meetings at the chapter. This unexpected grave event which deeply disturbed the disciples. The temple’s construction was only halfway completed and could not be used at all. As it was illegal to use the chapter, all dharma activities were halted. The initial lively chapter became deadly silent. Without any activities, we could not attract people to gather and were subsequently unable to unite them to make progress in dharma affairs. These two issues were closely interrelated.
Additionally, this event raised alarm with regards to the construction of the temple. To report this matter to Grand Master and ask for a blessing, the committee sent representatives to Seattle. What we did not expect was for Grand Master to treat this as a tiny matter, as opposed to how seriously we thought the issue was. Grand Master even joked at us, “If you don’t have a chapter for group cultivation, you can do it in a nearby park! Furthermore, you can barbeque after the group cultivation session!” Although Grand Master seemed like he was joking, it was actually a great blessing.
As we sat on the ground of the activity center in the park to cultivate, the soft carpet we had before was now a hard and cold floor. The a quiet surrounding was now filled with the roaring sounds of cars. Instead of the comfortable air conditioned rooms we were roasting in a hot oven. Even so, the disciples did not complain.
When the committee representatives returned to Oakland, a disciple immediately informed the committee that a nearby park was willing to provide a space for our activities for 2 hour a week. We could not help but admire Grand Master’s incredible foresight. Several days later, we brought with us some simple cultivation tools, such as Grand Master’s picture, cushions, and offerings to the park, and began our gypsy, wandering style of group cultivation.
As we sat on the ground of the activity center in the park to cultivate, the soft carpet we had before was now a hard and cold floor. The a quiet surrounding was now filled with the roaring sounds of cars. Instead of the comfortable air conditioned rooms we were roasting in a hot oven. Even so, the disciples did not complain. They still attended and assisted with the group cultivation like before. While we were still glad that everyone was still committed, another challenge soon presented itself.
It turned out the park activity center was going to be renovated in two months, and therefore we had to find another location. The second relocation location was in the Oakland Cultural Center. It was also a location provided at last minute with a disciple’s help. The environment in this new location was much better than the previous one. While everyone was joking that such a place was a sanctuary, a reorganization period was started in the cultural center and we had to leave the center as well in only two months. This time, no alternate location was found for group cultivation.
During this time, as there was no place to gather, the effort to establish the temple could not be focused and worse still, the situation was simply depressing. We were anxious about the situation, but we were helpless. Finally, we thought about True Buddha Vijaya Temple construction site. Although there was no water, electricity, gas, nor other utilities, it was a done deal in our minds. Furthermore, it may have been an arrangement by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for us to move into the temple early! Consequently, in November of 1998, we started the first ever group cultivation in the True Buddha Vijaya Temple in the midst of a bleak winter.
A Better Day Ahead
As a result, dozens of pages of the temple construction plans were drafted to describe work at the entrance, reception area, Fire Ceremony Altar, Main Altar, Vijaya Buddha Mother Altar, Ancestor Room, Annual Deity Altar, City Deity Altar, library, cafeteria, dormitory, and others.
The disciples would never forget about the experience of first the group cultivation session held in the True Buddha Vijaya Temple. During a cold winter and with no heating, everyone was wrapped with a thick winter coat. Our fingers became stiff and slow in forming the mudras. Everyone was shivering, but there was not even one complaint was made while we cultivated in the cold and dusty construction site. This must have been due to the chanting of Grand Master’s Heart Mantra, which was like a warm current that had gently warmed everyone’s heart. With this situation, the disciples realized that as long as the temple was still under construction, True Buddha School dharma affairs would not be conducted smoothly. Furthermore, this increased the financial burden on the committee.
Therefore, the committee made several imporatant decisions. First, the opening ceremony time table was setup. The tentitive date was set to be in the last week of June, 1999, and Grand Master would be invited to attend the opening ceremony. In other words, we only gave ourselves eight months to complete all the temple construction work and opening ceremony preparation (The construction progress was only 35% completed.). Second, all the temple decoration work and later stage projects would be done by the disciples as the fund raising progress was slower than the project cost consumption. Consequently, we wanted to save wherever possible.
When the committee decision was anounced, the proposal was also immediately sent to Grand Master for approval regarding the decision to attend the True Buddha Vijaya Temple opening ceremony in June, 1999. After four or five months of wandering for group cultivation, the disciples were very supportive to the committee’s announcement, as everyone did not want to repeat the days of relying on others for activity venues. At this time, everyone was vigorous and prepared to show what they had. Then, some committee members started to re-draft the plan for temple construction project, and listed each task schedule so that the disciples could follow. As a result, dozens of pages of the temple construction plans were drafted to describe work at the entrance, reception area, Fire Ceremony Altar, Main Altar, Vijaya Buddha Mother Altar, Ancestor Room, Annual Deity Altar, City Deity Altar, library, cafeteria, dormitory, and others.
To complete the construction project in six months was a challenge that everyone had never faced before. It was also the first time where everyone had a chance to work together and unite for a project. For a project that was never meant for profit, everyone contributed their time and energy, but also felt excited and nervous at the same time. After all, majority of the volunteer disciples were not professionals in construction nor interior art decoration. As the temple construction project was significant and would bring a great impact to society for a long time, the work could not be sloppy. Even for myself, whether my ability was competent was an unknown. These were the reasons why everyone was worried. After all, although every disciple had different social and professional backgrounds. However, there was one thing in common, which was the solid confidence towards our Root Guru.
The Vijaya Achievement Through the True Buddha Lineage
For more than one hundred days, many volunteer disciples came to the temple directly from work for the construction work, until one or two o’clock in the morning. Immediately after several hours of sleep, they rushed to work again in the morning. The volunteers never stopped supporting the temple construction work day after day. They treated the temple like their home, while their home was like a hotel.
With this shared belief, coupled with the commitment to deliver sentient beings, there was a common dream among the disciples: “The goal of the True Buddha Vijaya Temple is that when visitors walk in, the solemn and magnificent of the will make them want to stay. Without any effort from us, the visitors will want to take refuge voluntarily.” Of course, this was a joke but an expectation of the disciples as the True Buddha School cultivation site did not develop easily. For more than one hundred days, many volunteer disciples came to the temple directly from work for the construction work, until one or two o’clock in the morning. Immediately after several hours of sleep, they rushed to work again in the morning. The volunteers never stopped supporting the temple construction work day after day. They treated the temple like their home, while their home was like a hotel.
Enthusiasm seemed to echo in everyone’s mind, no one complainted or calculated the busy work load. Everyone was just hoping that the temple construction would be completed early so it could carry out greater Bodhi affairs, and present the best results to Grand Master to pay a debt of gratitude. Thereupon, under the skillful hands of each disciple, we completed Main Altar, Vijaya Buddha Mother Altar, Ancestor Room, Annual Deity Altar, City Deity Altar, a 200 square feet caisson weighing 1,200 pounds, 8 giant dragon pillars over 17 feet high, one hundred and fifty Avalokitesvara sculptures, 3,000 Vijaya Buddha Mother Statues, two impressive paintings above the doors leading into the Main Altar, 120 magnificent dragon beams on top of the roof, and over 20 uniquely painted carved Buddhist ornaments.
It is difficult to find and adjective to describe the True Buddha Vijaya Temple’s beauty in the disciples’ mind, because this accomplishment could not be bought by any treasure in the world. Each piece of wall and corner in the temple must was created with the disciples’ blood, sweat, and perhaps some tears. This temple was a result of the disciples’ best effort, as well as our greatest veneration to the True Buddha lineage.
We thank Grand Master and Shimu’s blessing as well as the buddhas, boddhisatvas, dharma protectors, and heavenly beings. We also thank all those who donated for the temple’s construction, and those who volunteered. Only because of the great lineage of True Buddha School was such an excellent affinity created to achieve such a superb and admirable accomplishment. On the eve of theTrue Buddha Vijaya Temple’s opening ceremony and after seeing such a brilliant temple, I thought about the challenges and efforts the disciples experienced together, I unknowingly murmured Grand Master’s most favorite dream poem, “Knowing that the world is like a dream therefore there is nothing to gain; A mind with nothing to gain dwells in peace and emptiness; While in a dream following the dream state; The merit of this accomplishment is limitless.” I hoped, with such a superb and admirable temple, more sentient beings could be delivered, and leave a beautiful legend to the loving world.
Let’s pay the respect to all our wonderful volunteers！