Interfaith Prayer at Tzu Chi Northwest Region’s Buddha Bathing Ceremony

Northwest  |  July 6, 2023
Standing in front of the exhibition of Buddha's footprints, the congregation's expressions are serene and solemn. Photo/Mimi Ching

Written by Rachel Lin, Qian Yi Dong, Katie Chu
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

On May 14, 2023, Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region held a Buddha Bathing Ceremony alongside a special exhibition: “Respect and Gratitude – Footprints of the Buddha.” This exhibition aimed to expand awareness of the Buddha‘s life, teachings, and further Buddhist wisdom. Nearly 450 volunteers and congregation members took part in the morning and afternoon sessions to celebrate this special day with gratitude and boundless aspirations for the future. 

Joined by Leaders of the Islamic Community

The exhibit combined textual descriptions and on-site photographs taken by professional photographers from notable magazines. Guiding volunteers told the story of the Buddha, leading visitors to see photos of the eight sacred sites of the Buddha’s birth, attainment of enlightenment, turning of the Dharma Wheel, and nirvana, as if they were riding in a time machine. At the same time, the volunteers helped the visitors understand Buddha’s intention to teach and transform sentient beings in the world. Following in the footprints of the Buddha, one can see how Master Cheng Yen, with the goal of “promoting the Dharma and benefiting sentient beings,” led Tzu Chi volunteers to walk into the world and practice the Bodhisattva Way, spreading the Buddha’s compassion around the world.

An Islamic faith leader and scholar from the San Francisco Bay Area, Imam Tahir Anwar, attended the Buddha Bathing Ceremony for the first time, and shared his reflections alongside volunteers. “Although the ceremony has not yet begun, the spirit of seeking purity is the same as in Islam,” said Imam Tahir Anwar. “I am grateful to Tzu Chi for organizing today’s event. When we open our doors to our families, our neighbors, and our community, we gain a sense of belonging to both ourselves and others; usually, we feel confused and afraid of the unknown, but when we open our hearts, we see that we have a lot in common and all our doubts disappear.”

We pray five times a day, and before each prayer, we wash ourselves; this concept of seeking external and internal purity is very similar to the concept of bathing the Buddha.

Imam Tahir Anwar said he had heard about Tzu Chi’s commitment to charity for many years, but it was not until recently, when he encountered Tzu Chi volunteer Zhixing Cao that he sought out more about the foundation. Zhixing Cao shared the charitable work of Tzu Chi volunteers in the United States and around the world, including in the Muslim world, and he realized that Buddhism and Islam are very similar in their efforts to serve sentient beings with respect, love, and trust.

Understanding the True Meaning of Bathing the Buddha

Azmat Tanauli arrived with his wife, both of whom are devout Muslims. They read about Tzu Chi’s Buddha bathing event on Facebook and have always been curious about the meaning of “bathing the Buddha,” and they decided to attend the event to find out more. Speaking with a guide at the event, they shared that they learned the meaning of “bathing the Buddha,” is to cleanse not only the body but also the heart, which is similar to an Islamic ritual.

The good work Tzu Chi has done around the world, including in the earthquake in Pakistan (disaster relief), caring for Syrian refugees, etc., makes the presence of Buddhism significant.

Azmat Tanauli, a devout Muslim, attends the ceremony and learns the meaning of 'Bathing in the Buddha.' Photo/Mimi Ching
Azmat Tanauli, a devout Muslim, attends the ceremony and learns the meaning of 'Bathing in the Buddha.' Photo/Mimi Ching

Rongzhen Lin, a devout Christian, used her free time after work and on weekends to make shoulder bags, clutch bags, cute flowers, and ice cream and owl-shaped key rings to donate to the Buddha Bathing Ceremony’s charity sale: “Everyone over here is doing something to help others, and everyone is happy and looking young! My cousin and sister-in-law are also Tzu Chi volunteers, and they are all very happy. There is no division of religions in doing good deeds. I am actually a Christian myself, but today I am here, and I still feel very happy.” The event also celebrated Mother’s Day, and feeling that it was a very meaningful Mother’s Day activity for her, Rongzhen Lin drove from Dublin in the East Bay, which is about two hours away, with great joy and contentment.

A Colorful Celebration

The Buddha Bathing Ceremony began with the solemn chanting of the “Incense of the Hearth.” Twenty-four volunteers slowly walked towards the Buddha with incense and flower lamps in their hands, leading the guests to make gentle offerings with open hearts. After bowing, everyone took away a carnation that symbolizes the Buddha’s blessing. Next, with the sound of prayers reverberating in the space, those gathered prayed for people who suffer around the world. Finally, the Buddha Bathing Ceremony was concluded with a solemn recitation of a Buddha bathing verse.

After the ceremony, a lively vegetarian food charity sale and parent-child activities were held. This year, in addition to food, there were also handmade wool knittings, succulent plants, and hand-carved Buddha lamps for sale. The classroom also had parent-child programs such as carnation basket making, parent-child flower arrangement, and soap making, with big hands holding small hands, or young hands guiding older adults’ hands in the activities, filling the space with a warm and joyful atmosphere.

We Care for Each Other

Rutilia Coronel and her family, who do not speak Chinese, were accompanied by Spanish-speaking volunteer Yujing Chen. “Today is a day to receive love, even if I just receive a small card from the children, it makes me feel that we all care for each other; although we usually don’t show it, to be with my dear family on this day is happiness,” said Rutilia. Her two daughters turned to their mother and hugged her, and said to her in Spanish, “Mom, I love you so much.”

The attendees and volunteers not only felt the solemn atmosphere and learned about the Buddha’s wisdom, but also saw many people who care deeply interacting with each other. Everyone held a flower and prayed together for world peace and a disaster-free future.

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