Written by Tzu Chi USA Volunteers
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
For members of Tzu Chi, May 9th, 2020, wasn’t an average day at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic — in fact, it would’ve appeared as though everyone was readying to head out, all dressed up in their signature blue and white Tzu Chi uniforms. However, instead of stepping out for a celebration as they usually would have on this day, they connected their computer to their television, and watched. On a nearby table, there stood a statue of the Buddha, and beside it, several elegant orchids. The Buddha Bathing Ceremony was about to start — Tzu Chi’s first-ever Buddha Bathing Ceremony held online.
In adherence to the necessary social distancing measures throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Tzu Chi USA spent countless hours during the week to test for any possible technical issues due to the large-scale network connections needed to broadcast from Tzu Chi’s Global Headquarters in Taiwan. The special day thus celebrated three occasions: Mother’s Day, Buddha Day, and Tzu Chi Day. Tzu Chi members in the United States viewed the live broadcast on televisions and computers as one while the Masters at the Jing Si Abode wore masks and assembled for the prayer to Buddha.
After the Buddha Bathing Ceremony concluded in Taiwan, the Buddha Bathing Ceremony held by each branch in the United States was also broadcast live online. From New York, to Boston, to Washington, to Hawaii, and beyond, no matter the distance, individuals were able to join hearts and celebrate Buddha Bathing Ceremony together, even as COVID-19 continues to impact daily life in one way or another.
The Buddha Bathing Ceremony is one of the most significant celebrations for Tzu Chi members around the world, usually taking several months of careful planning. In the United States, the Buddha Bathing Ceremony was carried out alongside some challenges, as volunteers have been working industriously to provide the medical supplies and pantry staples that are most urgently needed during the pandemic. Even so, volunteers surged to action once again, taking charge of preparations for the ceremony, which turned out to be a wonderful success.
Despite its simplicity, the ceremony was nevertheless moving and innately elegant. The Executive Directors from the local Tzu Chi branches led volunteers in the ceremony while adhering to social distancing measures, each region broadcasting the scenes in synchronization. The prayers of Tzu Chi volunteers and families everywhere were thus sent to every corner of the United States as all prayed for relief amid the global pandemic.
The children of Tzu Chi Academy dressed in their uniforms and watched with their hands together as they, too, sent forth their good thoughts, and Tzu Chi youth volunteers held candles close to their hearts. Even without physically being in one another’s presence, they could feel that their sincere thoughts had reached each other.
In the live webcast screen were dedicated Tzu Chi volunteers. Tzu Chi Washington DC volunteers designed a poster filled with handmade cloth masks spelling out ‘Tzu Chi.’ Some volunteers were out delivering masks to the community on the day of the ceremony, but managed to return in time to watch along.
Last year, Tzu Chi volunteers held a grand Buddha Bathing Ceremony for survivors of the Camp Fire in 2018 to inspire the hearts of locals. This year, because it wasn’t possible to hold a ceremony in large groups, Bobbie Rae Jones and Baba Kauna Mujamal participated in the online ceremony at the Chico office.
This was Bobbie’s second time attending a Buddha Bathing Ceremony with Tzu Chi. The energy from around the world coalesced, and eased her mind: “I think it was seeing the nuns and monks participating in the ceremony that was different for me, to see their gestures and their devotion, just think about their discipline as well. Especially the commissioners and the medical team that was there. That really touched me.”
For Baba, however, this was his first time attending a Buddha Bathing Ceremony. When he entered the office, the first thing he asked was “What is Buddha bathing?” Despite not being familiar with the tradition, Baba agreed with the Tzu Chi philosophy, and through such participation in Tzu Chi’s missions, doesn’t define the pandemic as an enemy. “For me, I look at COVID-19 as a teacher. It’s pretty much like a ‘reset’ button allowing folks to do some serious, deep reflection. Around the world, it’s creating a lot of discomfort. At the same time, it’s increasing an unknown awakening inside that really helps folks to see what is really, really important.”