Celebrating Compassion: Prayer and Gratitude at Tzu Chi USA’s Orange County Buddha Bathing Ceremony

National Headquarters  |  July 11, 2023
Vice Mayor of Irvine, California, Tammy Kim (front row, left), announces that the City of Irvine has made Buddha’s birthday an official religious holiday in the city. Photo/James Huang

Written by Cindy Kao, Ying Dan Lai
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

On May 14, 2023, Tzu Chi USA’s Orange County Service Center in California celebrated Buddha’s birthday with a prayer and gratitude service at Irvine High School. Interfaith representatives, local officials, community members, and Tzu Chi USA volunteers entered the event at a solemn yet joyful pace, guided by the chanting of “Silence and Clarity.”

Among the eight esteemed guests were Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim, Community Outreach Director for Orange County’s Board of Supervisors Saga Conroy, former California Assemblyman Scott Baugh, Executive Director of Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council Akbar Hussaini, Irvine Community Services Commissioner Jin Sun, Director of Orange County Overseas Chinese Education Center Bei Ru Hsiao, President of Orange County Overseas Chinese Emergency Relief Association Jing Sing Chen, and Hui Ru Hsu, former Treasurer of Taiwan Women’s Association of North America. 

Purifying Hearts and Sowing Seeds of Goodness

The event opened with an explanation of the year’s theme and the significance of the prayer. Attendees were led in song together, recognizing the kindness of Buddha, their parents, and all beings with a heart full of appreciation. The offering ceremony began with Tzu Chi USA volunteers presenting lamps symbolizing wisdom and enlightenment. In contrast, trainee volunteers presented flowers expressing respect and homage. 

As a part of the ceremony, volunteers guided the crowd in honoring the Buddha’s birthday, sowing gratitude, and encouraging the purification of the heart. This ceremony also served as a reminder to plant the seeds of goodness for the benefit of all beings, using Buddha’s teachings as guidance and inspiration.

Tzu Chi Orange County Service Center arranges for the volunteer trainees in gray to make a solemn entrance. Photo/James Huang
Tzu Chi volunteers guide the guests in the Buddha Bathing Ceremony. Photo/James Huang

In the song “Prayer,” participants gathered their love and good intentions, hoping that their sincerity would resonate far beyond and enlighten the Buddha-nature within all. Following this was the “Great Transfer of Merit,” a moment to dedicate the virtue accumulated through devotion to parents, family, and all beings. Participants also performed the “Most Reverent Salutation” to express their utmost respect and immerse themselves in the Buddha’s teachings, joy, and wisdom. 

The ceremony reached a harmonious conclusion with a final prayer of gratitude. Everyone respectfully exited, moving to the rhythm of the piece “Earth and Wind,” encapsulating the spiritual enlightenment of the day.

Tzu Chi youths greet visitors at their booth. Just behind the group is a special exhibition area where the life of the Buddha is described in both Chinese and English. Photo/James Huang

With reverence and care, the interfaith assembly experienced the profound beauty of this unique celebration as one family. Under the guidance of volunteers, many attendees learned about Buddha’s life journey. They were particularly drawn to the Chinese-English bilingual exhibition area, where they explored the transformation of the Buddha. This account was seamlessly integrated with heartwarming stories of Tzu Chi USA’s volunteer work, illustrating the Buddha’s mission of alleviating suffering and promoting happiness.

As visitors frequently posed questions and requested detailed explanations, they deepened their understanding of sacred sites significant to the Buddha’s life. These included his birthplace, the location of his enlightenment, where he first turned the Dharma Wheel, and his place of nirvana. For more than 2,500 years, Buddhism has guided people on the bodhisattva path. Buddha’s teaching of “great love beyond borders” inspires all beings to practice compassion, joy, and collaboration to shape a better world in troubled times.

Family members come to the ceremony together, full of happiness. Photo/James Huang
Tzu Chi volunteers and volunteer trainees lead the offering ceremony. Photo/James Huang

Intergenerational Tzu Chi Volunteers Gather and Celebrate

Executive Director of Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council (NMIIC), Akbar Hussaini, shared how the depiction of Buddha’s life resonated with him, making him feel like he had returned to his homeland. He mentioned having visited the eight sacred places of Buddhism and identified his hometown, Hyderabad, on a map. Hyderabad, situated in the southern Indian state of Telangana, is famously known as the “Pearl City” due to its rich history in pearl trading. Hussaini extended a heartfelt invitation to the Tzu Chi Orange County Service Center, asking them to participate in the June activities of the Interfaith Association. He expressed his hope that the Orange County Service Center would consider becoming a member of the Association.

I believe that Tzu Chi’s onboarding will bring valuable experience and guidance to the Interfaith Association, and I hope that I can participate in more activities with the Service Center in the future to learn more about Tzu Chi.

Everyone devoutly prays to the Buddha for social stability and for a disaster-free world. Photo/James Huang

Tzu Chi volunteer Yue Ying Di, a third-generation Tzu Chi family member, has deep roots in the organization. Having relocated to the United States from Taiwan, she shared, “Over the years of my Tzu Chi activities, there are two people I am most thankful for along the way; one is my husband, who has passed away. The other is my beloved Master Cheng Yen, who is like a parent to me.” She joined Tzu Chi in 1983, and her journey with the organization has been a family affair. 

She added, “I followed Master Cheng Yen’s teachings and went out to the people, whether it was street fundraising or hospital construction. Especially in the early days of Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien, when we weren’t well known, it was completely dependent on word of mouth. We did whatever Master Cheng Yen said. My family and children have seen me doing it, and they support me and follow me in Tzu Chi. That’s our heritage.”

Master Cheng Yen asked us to pass on the heritage, and this is how we have been doing our best to support Tzu Chi generation by generation. I have no regrets about this journey, and every little bit of it is from my heart.

Empowering Youth to Champion Responsibility

The Buddha Bathing Ceremony ends with the “Great Transfer of Merit” and the “Most Reverent Salutation.” Photo/James Huang

Vivian Ikeda, a ten-year student at Tzu Chi Academy in Irvine, California, and the president of Tzu Chi Young Leaders, volunteered for the first time at the event. She noted, “Celebrating Buddha’s birthday is a symbolic event that we hold every year and is part of the Tzu Chi philosophy. We aim to share the deeds of Tzu Chi and Master Cheng Yen with everyone.” Vivian expressed hope for greater collaboration and interaction among Tzu Chi Youth members and other students outside the group to share life stories and experiences.

Irvine made history as the first US city to recognize Buddha’s birthday as a public religious holiday. Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim acknowledged, “More than half of the residents of Irvine identify themselves as Asian American, and a significant portion can trace their lineage and cultural roots back to Buddhism. I believe that an important world religion should celebrate the birth of the Buddha as the celebration of Christmas or the birth of Mohammed.”

Vice Mayor Tammy Kim appreciated the coexistence of diverse religions in an interfaith context. She identified a connection between her cultural heritage and Buddhism, praising Tzu Chis embodiment of these values through caring and compassion. Tzu Chi volunteers worldwide contribute to a path of great love, compassion, and common goodness, assisting those in distress. The Vice Mayor concluded that a mindful world focused on doing good can lead to peace.

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