Experience Project

I’m lucky that I was born in
a family which is Catholic. When I was a child, I was taught about Catholicism
by the adults in my family. Later, I went to church to learn more about
Catholic doctrines. To be honest, at first, I am Catholic because my parents
are Catholics, but gradually, I realize that God has worked on my life; therefore,
I am truly a Catholic now. Catholics believe in one God who is comprised the
Holy Trinity: Lord the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We have faith in
Mother Mary ever Virgin, and we trust in the life of the world to come after
death. Catholics have two missions: loving God over all things and loving your
neighbors as yourself. You must follow and keep his law and God’s teachings
because these will lead you to live a saintly life and God will judge and
decide who will go to heaven and who will be go to hell after death. Catholic
people have to go to the mass every Sunday or Saturday night, and the mass is
celebrated by the priest. Additionally, Catholics have Catholic churches in
union with the Pope in Rome and Vatican.

In my first year of studying
in the USA, I had a chance to attend to the Ghost Festival, which is a part of
Mahayana tradition, at night on August 28, 2015 at Chu Van An Vietnamese
Buddhist Temple in Eugene, Oregon. I went to this Temple because my friends
were Buddhist, and they invited me to come with them. The Ghost Festival is
special ceremony that Buddhists practice based on children commemorating and
honoring their parents. Beside this, I really wanted to learn more about the
Buddhism – one of the most popular religion in my country, Vietnam, and also
around the world; especially in Asia.

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My first impression was that
the temple is simple. That is a small house with a large yard in front of the
temple. There are many statues of Buddhist deities in the front right side of
the temple. My friend told me that these statues are officers under command of
The Buddha. Some Buddhists worship them, and some do not. At the right corner
of the temple, there is a huge statue of Avalokite?vara Bodhisattva with two
lions on either side of the statue. Buddhists believe that the lions protect
the temple from ghosts and devils. In the front of the statue is a big stone
pedestal to put flower and fruit, and before the pedestal is a large censer to
put incense inside. The ceremony occurred at night, but my friends and I came
sooner in the afternoon because we want to help the
leader of the temple. The leader of the temple is a middle-aged monk who looks after the
temple alone. Sometimes, there are some Buddhists who come on the weekend to
listen to his speech about a problem in life and have lunch or dinner with him.

The monk is really nice. He usually wears a long brown Haiqing Robe. He always
smiles, and he likes joking around. I have changed my mind about the Buddhist
monks after meeting him. Not only us, but many Buddhists came in the afternoon.

There were about twenty to thirty people attending the ceremony, and only I was
a layman.  People wore simple and polite
clothes like pants and long-sleeve shirts. They donated flowers, food, fruit,
and incense to the temple. Because there is only the monk so all people help
him get ready for the Ghost Festival. Young people cleaned the main room where
the ceremony would be celebrated, the yard and all the statues. We also folded
the lotus then applied the candle inside. In addition, we arranged the cushions
and small tables on the ground for people to sit and recite the sutras which
are teachings of Buddha. Vietnamese sutras were derived from Tibetan and
transcribed phonetically into Vietnamese. Therefore, these sutras do not have
any meaning in Vietnamese, and only Buddhists that have learned know their
meaning. Old people would prepare food and fruit. The atmosphere was so relaxed
and joyful while people were preparing for the ceremony. Almost all of the
people there knew each other. People were chatting about their daily lives, and
discussed news in the world.

The main room is where the
ceremony was celebrated. I was impressed right after I entered the room because
of a huge Buddha statue. The statue was set in the big table which is in the
middle of the room and close to the wall. In front of the table is a wooden
bell and a singing bowl, a stainless-steel bell, which were put parallel.

Moreover, there are also many statues of Buddhist deities which were put all
around the room. The room was brightened because it was decorated by flowers
and paintings. Around 5pm, the ceremony began. The ceremony consisted of two
parts. The first part was celebrated in the main room, and the second part
occurred on the yard in front of Avalokite?vara Bodhisattva statue. Our young
people had already sat on the cushions; the monk and older people were at the
yard and slowly moved into the main room. The monk’s clothes were changed to
yellow Haiqing Robe. The Buddhists followed him wearing long
gray dresses called shaolin robes and holding a lotus paper with a candle
inside. They were
reciting the sutra while they were walking. Each person sat in the cushion and
the monk stood in front of them. The monk and all Buddhists recited the sutra
while one person rang the wooden bell, and another rang the other one. When the first sutra
ended, all people kowtowed. Likewise that, each sutra was about twenty minutes,
and people kowtowed after it ended. After the last sutra, people kowtowed 108
times. Next, people moved to the yard in front of Avalokite?vara Bodhisattva’s
statue. They walked around the statue five times and put the lotus paper around
the statue. Later on, all people stood in front of the statue and listened to
the monk. He continued to recite the sutras. Lastly, when the sutra ended,
people could do whatever they want such as praying to Avalokite?vara
Bodhisattva or putting the burned incense into the censor. Along the ceremony,
people did not sing or dance, but they only recited the sutra instead of these.

Later on, all people went into the house and had dinner together. They chatted
and shared the food they brought. Finally, people cleaned the temple again, and
distributed the fruit to everyone to bring home. During the ceremony, the
atmosphere was really solemn; no one talked or did their own work. However,
after the ceremony, the atmosphere became comfortable and cheerful again. That
is a unique feature of Buddhism.

I have learned many
interesting things after attending the Ghost Ceremony. First and the most significant
thing is that Buddhists emphasize the simple life. To be a good Buddhist, people need give
up all the worldly entertainment such as drinking, gambling, gossip, and so on.

People should not attach much importance to material possessions. Second,
people must be grateful to their parents. Unlike Catholicism which teaches
people to love God above all things, Buddhism teaches people to rank their
parents equal to Buddha. Third, about social issues, Buddhist rules are not
really strict. They allow homosexuality and abortion. Next, in catholicism,
every child must experience baptism a few months after their birthday, and
Buddhism has a similar ceremony which is called taking refuge in the
three jewels. This ceremony does not require for every person who follows the
Buddha, but after taking this ceremony, they become truly a Buddhist. One more
thing that I saw many around temple is the lotuses. Lotuses sympolize purity
and the way people should live in the earth to have another good life after
people die. Lotuses grow in murky water, but they do not have a bad smell or
sticky mud on the petal. Therefore, Buddhism guides people to live in the
stained world, but to not learn the vices. In addition, one more Buddhist
sacred object is the singing bowl. Buddists belive that the bell is the voice
of Buddha which can help people relax and reduce stress. This is also
represents the protection of deities that keep people safe from the devil. Further, many buddhists
see the singing bowl as a relic because it was first found in India. As a final
point, I think these Buddhists attended in the service because they want to
reach peace of mind. When they participate in the temple activities, they can
throw away all the worldly concerns. Moreover, listening to the monk’s speech,
they might learn how the Buddha lived and follow him.   

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