Buddha Bathing Ceremony: a Reunion for Camp Fire Survivors in Chico, CA

Northwest  |  May 28, 2019
A survivor said she came to the ceremony because Tzu Chi helped her when she was in despair. Photo: Andy Chiang

Author: Christina Chang
Editor: Pingyao Lee & Dilber Shatursun
Translation from Chinese: Wei Qingjun

More than six months after the devastating Camp Fire that blazed through Butte County, California, Tzu Chi Northwest held their annual Buddha Bathing Ceremonies in Concow and Chico,  on May 18 and 19, respectively. Members from the community, including survivors of the Camp Fire, were invited to attend and pray for a more prosperous future.

Originally only the Chico event was planned. But, Minjhing Hsieh, Tzu Chi Northwest’s Executive Director realized that “according to the volunteers who have frequent interaction with Concow, we should pay more attention to the survivors there. Hosting a Buddha Bathing Ceremony would be a great choice.” Shortly after, the ball got rolling for an event in Concow, too.

Tzu Chi volunteers lead the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. Photo: Andy Chiang

A Warm Reunion

Rain and cold weather were reported during both ceremonies. Regardless of the uncomfortably weather, about 100 residents were at attendance at Concow and 300 wildfire survivors in Chico.  These record crowd was more than expected.

Many attendees told Tzu Chi volunteers they didn’t forget the cash cards and compassion they’d received from Tzu Chi shortly after the Camp Fire broke out. At this reunion, people brought their bamboo banks (coin canisters from Tzu Chi given out during the Camp Fire relief distribution) and donated the spare change they’d saved up since. The ceremony reminded people of the kindness and generosity they’d received themselves once before, and inspired them to pay it forward.

Attendees like Monique and her husband Albert Curule drove an hour and a half to Chico for the ceremony, arriving early in order to donate their full bamboo bank. Despite the cold, warmth of heart was all around.

Monique, with tears in her eyes, said this was the same bamboo bank they’d received together with the cash card; the latter of which had helped them through the hard times. Even though they are now living on disability benefits and struggling financially, she said, “it’s very important to save change and put it into the bamboo bank.” “Today I bring it back to you.” Albert added, “and it’s very important to help others.”

It was time to start the Buddha Bathing Ceremony.

Tzu Chi volunteers lead the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. Photo: Andy Chiang

Palms Full of Flowers

As music opened the ceremony, Tzu Chi volunteers, followed by Camp Fire survivors, greeted the Buddha with a bow and offered flowers in their hands.

The Buddhist ritual was new to the survivors, as many of them are from different religions, but everyone prayed with their hands holding in front of their chest- and open hearts.

Upon offering the flowers as they offered a bow, the fragrance of it remained in their hands. They also each received a special red envelope from Dharma Master Cheng Yen, the founder of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.

Receiving Master Cheng Yen’s Fuhui envolope. Photo: Andy Chiang

Volunteers Help Lead the Way

Overseeing the ceremony preparation was Yu-Yu Kuo, a longtime Tzu Chi volunteer. Even when the location was changed under short notice, she still managed to tie all loose ends and put everything together for the 300 person event.

Jason Sheu is a volunteer in the technology team who worked with his fellow administrative volunteers. Within three days, he managed to send out emails and text messages to inform over 1,000 attendees about the location change. Because of his hard work, the ceremony was well attended.

After the event, he received emails from participants, “I felt the strength of staying calm,” he told us about working under pressure; “I’m motivated to help others. Life is still hard, but I will stay positive and keep going.”

One of our bright stars in Butte County, Julie Lin has been residing in Chico since the beginning of May. She has been in close contact with local disaster relief organizations, and has visited and cared for many special case families. Moreover, she has been pivotal in helping start a new Tzu Chi volunteer team in Chico.

For over a month, Julie, along with other Tzu Chi volunteers, C.H. Liu (who stayed in Chico for 6 weeks), Cindy Hung, Yufen Lin, and May Lin  worked together to build the foundation for Tzu Chi’s long-term care, as well as to invite the community to the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. After knowing the rainy weather conditions, Julie and local volunteer Mandy Miao  managed to find a new location within a day.

Lina (Sovannlina Hong) is a student of CSU, Chico. She was one of the volunteers at the ceremony. She joined Tzu Chi as a volunteer six months ago after the Camp Fire. Since then, she has accompanied the volunteer team as they visited survivors.

What’s more: two months ago, she received her uniform and became an official member of the Tzu Chi family. At the ceremony, when asked about her thoughts about wearing the new Tzu Chi uniform, she told us, “I’m passionate about volunteer work, because helping people makes me happy.”

Chico resident Stacey Canter

A Ceremony of Perfection

Chico resident Stacey Canter arrived with her dog Misty. She walked a distance of more than an hour to get to the venue.

The ceremony was originally planned to take place at the City Plaza Center. Two days before the event, it was changed to an indoor space because of forecasted rain. Stacey arrived at City Plaza Center and didn’t see any Tzu Chi volunteers. She then turned on her phone and noticed the missed message of location change. She decided to walk to the new location to save some money. Her dog was tired, yet she carried her in her arms and told herself, “we’ll make it. We will find the place very soon.”

Tzu Chi volunteers then arranged a separate Buddha Bathing Ceremony for her. It was immaculate.

When recalling the $500 cash card she received six months ago, Stacey said it was the only lucky thing she received in despair. It’s why the ceremony meant so much to her. Forgetting to bring her bamboo bank with her, she told the volunteers that she would give them a check and mail it to the Tzu Chi Foundation.

Life after the Camp Fire has been difficult for many. Paying for rent, groceries, and home rebuilding, survivors must budget every penny. However, Stacey still puts a dime in the bamboo bank every day. “It’s a great feeling doing it.” she said.

The Buddha Bathing Ceremony came to an end with prayers. With people joined together, regardless of their race and religion, the ceremony was more than a ritual. It was a reunion for those who were rising above the ashes.

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