On January 11th, 2011, I was invited to a ceremony at the World Peace and Health Organization’s Buddhist Temple in Amsterdam New York. The celebration began with a delicious bowl of Chinese porridge known as La Ba. Each ingredient in La Ba is blessed, therefore it takes hours to prepare. La Ba is made with nuts, rice, millet and dried fruit to name a few. The Nuns who made the porridge toiled until 3 AM that morning. It was delicious and surprisingly sweet. When I commented on its sweetness with delight, Regina said, “It is sweet because life should be sweet and not bitter”. I couldn’t have agreed more.
The origin of the festival goes back to before Sakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment. He practiced an ascetic life for six years and became very weak after only eating one grain of rice, or one nut or leaf per day. After collapsing in a river and nearly drowning and in a very emaciated condition, a village girl named Sujata offered him some milk rice porridge. He then decided to abandon the ascetic life that didn’t bring him enlightenment and harmed his body. He went to meditate under the Bodhi tree and eventually attained enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. December 8th on the Chinese calendar corresponds with January 11th on our calendar. So La Ba Porridge is a symbol of offering to the Buddha and a commemoration of his enlightenment.
After several more participants arrived and enjoyed the La Ba, we moved to the former St. Michael’s church, now known as the Goddess of Mercy Temple. Soon after we arrived the festivities began with a speech from the Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi: “As a prince, Sakyamuni Buddha renounced his throne, fame, wealth, and family, and went for the way of salvation. He attained his Enlightenment after six years’ ascetic life and started to preach birth, aging, sickness and death to his followers. For a human being, without a healthy body, it is useless even if one has a lot of money. The sublimity of the Buddha is to find out the Way for everyone. I hope everyone of you can control your own life and follow the Buddha’s Way.”
After the Holy Master delivered his speech, the program began. There was drumming with beautiful singing, chanting and storytelling by Buddhist monks and Nuns. The first performance is known as the Vajra Dance. Men appeared with frightening masks showing the power and force of the dharma protectors made individual movements and postures around the stage. Then there was a play with men carrying water with theme of “teamwork gets the job done”. Next was a traditional dance performed by smiling young women wearing the most beautiful traditional costumes. At one point in the presentation monks appeared with bamboo poles and did a vigorous chanting of Om Mani Padme Hum and then a demonstration of Tai Chi.
At the end of the performances the Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi reappeared and held a blessing ceremony for those who died in 2010. He expressed gratitude for all who attended and hopes to continue with this type of cultural exchange in the future. Fruit and candy were passed out to those who attended followed with group pictures of the Holy Master, the Monks and Nuns and all who attended this wonderfully enjoyable ceremony.