Written by Jiali Liu
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Patrick McShane
In order to spread wisdom and understanding about the Sutra of Infinite Meanings, the International Propaganda and Beneficial Office of Tzu Chi USA launched the U.S.-Canada Sutra of Infinite Meanings English Study Group on May 23, 2022. The program included participants from both countries and will run for a period of 18 months, and is anticipated to end on November 13, 2023. The theme of the study group is “Inventory of Life, Inheriting Wisdom and Life” and renowned Master De Chan from the Jing Si Abode was invited to guide and accompany participants in their study of this profound text. As of October 2022, one-third of the class material has been completed by the group.
A Study Group Founded by Collective Action
The Sutra of Infinite Meanings English Study Group was launched by Ciguang Xiao, the director of the International Propaganda and Beneficial Office of Tzu Chi USA and the Dharma as Water team with the aim of better understanding this complex text. The teachings of the “Sutra of Infinite Meanings” is the essence of Tzu Chi’s philosophy. The most important lesson expressed in this text is “a life is infinite, and infinity is born from one.” Based on this concept, Tzu Chi aims to share Buddhist concepts with non-Chinese-speaking audiences and works to spread Buddhist wisdom in mainstream society.
Holding an English Study Group of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings is not an easy task. The first requirement is to have an English version of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings and its explanations. Ciguang Xiao spent nearly ten years translating the scriptures of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings into English, only finishing in 2015. He also translated and published the narration of the “Teachings and Commentary on the Sutra of Infinite Meanings” under the guidance of Master Cheng Yen two years ago. Subsequently, Cizhan Li, the former CEO of Tzu Chi New Jersey, distributed 1,200 copies of this book all over the United States. These years of dedicated work and preparation facilitated the development of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings English Study Group.
After the publication of the English version of “Teachings and Commentary on the Sutra of Infinite Meanings”, Ciguang Xiao began to promote the idea of group meditation at the Hawaii Service Center during the apprentice training courses. At that time, he sought the help of Master De Chan from Jing Si Abode in order to cultivate a deeper understanding of the essence of the scriptures, and eventually invited Shifu to guide and accompany the English Study Group of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings.
A Study Group Founded by Collective Action
Master De Chan not only personally accompanied and guided the English Study Group, but he also suggested that the team invite more masters of Jingshe to discuss the Sutra of Infinite Meanings. Based on Shifu’s recommendation, the team plans to invite more masters of Jingshe to accompany them in the future, so that overseas Buddhist practitioners have more opportunities to get close to the master and develop a deeper understanding of Jingsi Dharma and Buddhist concepts.
The Study Group team worked together with Master De Chan to complete a lot of preliminary work before the study group could begin. Shifu gave explanations of the Sutra in Chinese, which was recorded with the help of Taiwanese volunteers and then sent back to the United States. The Dharma as Water team translated and edited the materials, and added Chinese and English subtitles to the videos. They then edited the Master’s lessons into 15 minutes videos. In addition, Taiwanese volunteer Huiwen You created an online bilingual interpretation in Chinese and English so that people who do not understand Chinese can still understand the content of Shifu’s guidance.
Beyond merely translating the material, the team also carefully considered the differences between Chinese and Western cultures, so that people with different cultural backgrounds can understand the connotation of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings. This can help people with different religious backgrounds understand the enlightenment of life, the education of life, and the meaning of Buddhist compassion and altruism. Each 15-minute guidance contains hours of meticulous planning and organization by Master De Chan and the team.
There are two study group sessions each month, during which students can listen to Master De Chan’s pre-recorded guidance and teachings. In one of the sessions, the Master attends virtually to give feedback and further support to students’ studies. In such heartwarming and encouraging interactions, students are energized and become more open to sharing, and they leave these sessions with more contentment. After each session, Master De Chan would join the team in meetings, offering encouragement and guidance while ensuring members have a proper understanding of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings.
Spreading Buddhist Philosophy
The Sutra of Infinite Meanings English Study Group started from scratch, which is a testament to the Buddhist concept of “The true void is the mysteriously existing”. Though there were many challenges in the process, the hardworking volunteers were motivated by the simple and pure intention of spreading Buddhist teachings.
Adhering to the idea of serving Buddhism and all living beings, the team continues to attract more interested people. Although there will be many challenges and tests in the future, everyone regards this as an opportunity to grow and learn.
The team works together and achieves together so that all participants can feel hope for the future. Every member of the study group will come away from the class with a deeper understanding of Buddhist concepts and spread these ideas so that they can be passed on to future generations. When one person is enlightened by Buddhism, they will have an impact on others and over time this will cumulate in a rippling effect. Only in this way can Tzu Chi and Buddhist ideas enter mainstream society.
Buddhist philosophy is the best course for spiritual healing. It is vital that more people promote and understand it so that a compassionate serenity can spread through this troubled world. Every Tzu Chi volunteer strives to popularize Buddhist ideas and continue the spirit of Tzu Chi. The goal of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings English Study Group team is, in the words of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings itself, “(to) Spread seeds of goodness, spread the merits and virtues, and make all Bodhi sprouts.” As long as the participating students are fearless and meditate with a mind of calmness, they can achieve a boundless life!