Double Happiness: Blessing the Land and Disicple Ceremony 2010

USA Shaolin Temple Group PhotoIn 495 A.D, 1515 years ago, an Indian monk named Ba Tuo founded the Shaolin Temple in China. Just over 15 years ago, in December of 1994, 34th generation Shaolin warrior monk Shi Yan Ming founded the USA Shaolin Temple in New York City. On August 20th, 2010, the Shaolin Temple in China became a UNESCO world heritage site. 15 days later, the USA Shaolin Temple recieved the deed for 80.88 acres of land in Fleischmanns, New York. In Chinese culture, the number 15 symbolizes everything coming together, family, and happy times. The number 8 symbolizes luck, happiness, and prosperity. It is with these auspicious numbers that the USA Shaolin Temple breaks ground in upstate New York.

Just one week after the USA Shaolin Temple received the deed for the New Temple, celebration was in order. This year, the Temple’s annual disciple ceremony was relocated from the Manhattan Temple to the upstate Temple, held in conjunction with the blessing of the new land. Double Happiness!

In preparation for the ceremonies, two disciples filled a mini cooper full with supplies and headed upstate on the Friday night before the event. The next day, 15 more disciples and students arrived to get the New Temple ready for the celebrations. They spent the day mowing the fields, cleaning out old buildings, picking up garbage from around the property, and even digging a latrine. In the afternoon, a truck arrived carrying the Temple’s first residents – a beautiful white 7 foot standing Shakyamuni Buddha who will welcome friends and family, and two lions who will serve as guardians of the temple entrance. Each of them weighed at least half a ton and required some serious training to invite them into their home.

smoking fireFirst, a large flat stone was placed on the edge of one of the fields where Buddha could stand and watch over training. A pickup truck was used to help him out of the truck, while everyone helped guide him in place. At the exact moment he settled on the ground, the small extinguished campfire from the night before began smoking. Someone yelled, “Hey, who started the fire again?” A few ran to put it out, while those holding the Buddha in place made sure it was secure. Everyone looked at each other in disbelief – “Did that really just happen?” It seemed like something out of a movie or legend, but really happened just like that.

Next, the truck drove back to the top of the driveway to place the lions where the temple gate will soon be built. Again, each was helped out by tying it to a pickup truck. Once the lions were carefully lifted onto the ground, they had to be carefully positioned to align with each other and face directly forward from the temple. This work took over an hour, but finally everyone agreed that lions were perfectly in place.

After a long day of hard work, the group rebuilt the fire pit from the night before, and celebrated by roasting burgers, hot dogs, and of course marshmallows over the fire. The night sky was crystal clear, and everyone marvelled at the number of stars that could be seen – quite different from back in the city.

Shakyamuni BuddhaThe next morning, the group rose early to continue getting ready for the ceremony. They continued mowing the lawn and cleaning the Abbot’s quarters. Soon, guests started arriving and continued cleaning. Shifu arrived early as well, and excitedly began chopping firewood. Around noon, everyone began setting up for the ceremony. Some picked wildflowers to place around the Buddha, while others set up tables for food. A sign was made to place on Main Street to let people know where to turn, and the main Temple sign was placed above the foot of the driveway to let people know they’d arrived in paradise. More and more guests continued to arrive, soon there were over 100 people. It was the first time the temple’s yearly disciple ceremony was open to non-disciples, and attendees included family, friends, and even locals from the nearby towns.

Shifu leading the ceremonyThe ceremony began, and Shifu started by reminding everyone that all of the religions are beautiful and fantastic, and have the same philosophies and ideas, just with different names – just like some people like to eat spicy food, and others prefer sweet or sour. He then blessed the land, inviting all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to come celebrate with us. Next, everyone paid respects to Shakyamuni Buddha, Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Amituofo, Bodhidharma, and all of the Shaolin ancestors that came before. After, the group recited the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra, while extremely short, cuts right to the heart of Chan Philosophy, and is considered the most important sutra by many.

Finally came the big moment when the new disciples were given their dharma names. All Buddhist monks and disciples worldwide take the last name “Shi” or “Shakya”, the clan name of the historical Buddha to show that they are part of his family. In the Shaolin Temple, the first part of a monk’s or disciples’ given name comes from a 70 character poem written by Fu Yu, an Abbot of the temple during the Song dynasty. Each next generation uses the next word in the poem – “Heng” is the 35th word, so all of Shifu’s disciples take the name Heng. For the second part of their given name, Shifu uses a special method. Shifu asks people who would like to become his disciple to write a letter from their hearts explaining why. In the order these letters are received, he chooses their names from the words in sutras, Buddhist texts. First was the Heart Sutra, and now the 88 Buddhas Repentance Sutra is used.

Shifu shaving a new disciples' headAfter the ceremony, the group celebrated with a champagne toast welcoming the 10 new members of the Shaolin family, two of which  had travelled all the way from our Mexico branch. Soon, everyone started to barbecue and enjoy more special water, while some of the new disciples began to grow impatient…they wanted haircuts! While the head shaving is a completely optional part of the ceremony, many new disciples chose to take part. The shaving of the head symbolizes letting go of all of the old, negative things from one’s life – from that moment forward, only the beautiful things would come to them. For some new disciples, it was a very emotional experience, letting go can be difficult. After letting out many tears, when she was finished, one disciple remarked that it felt like “breathing for the first time.”

Soon the day was almost over, and it was time to clean up and return back to the city. But for many, it felt like they were leaving home, not returning home. It was truly a wonderful feeling to finally have land, and everyone looked forward to coming back often for the hard and joyful work of building the new Shaolin Temple.

Click here to see our vision for the New Temple.