This mammoth-scale buddhist candlelight ceremony in Kaohsiung attracted over 40,000 believers. It was a moving experience to see a whole stadium lit up by the light of tens of thousands of individual flames, while attendees chanted mantras of world peace and compassion.
Visitors came from all corners of Taiwan to take part in this mass meditation; from the capital city Taipei in the north, to Penghu island, an archipelago of the western coast of the island. The event also attracted foreign visitors from as far afield as the US.
The occasion showed how Buddhist dharma, or the universal laws and truth as proclaimed by Buddha, is interpreted in many ways; from the ascetic lifestyle of monastics to flamboyant displays of light and colour.
The event included dharma-inspired dances; performers pirouetted and twirled in brightly coloured outfits with flowing ribbons cutting shapes behind them.
I was lucky enough to meet Venerable Manpou (above) and she graciously invited me to join her for the proceedings. She is a buddhist sister and director of the International Buddhist Progress Society in Chicago.
From the centre of the field nuns and monks lead chants, the sounds of peace and compassion reverberating around the packed arena in hypnotic harmony.
My new friend Ven. Manpou explained the meanings of the mantras to me, covering themes such as worldwide compassion and washing away sins. A particularly important recitation is “Ami-Tou-Fo” which is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanksrit “Amitabha”. Its literal meaning is the name of Buddha, but it has multiple meanings depending on the context – it could be a greeting, a salutation, a blessing, it can even mean please or sorry, and it also can form the basis of a meditation.
The high-profile event was organised by Fo Guang Shan, a buddhist organisation started in Kaohsiung in 1967 and now a world-wide institution with 200 branch temples around the globe.
The founder of Fo Guang Shan Venerable Master Hsing Yun did a lap around the packed stadium accompanied by high ranking politicians, inviting applause from the impassioned crowd.
His fellow passengers included Kaohsiung’s mayor Chen Chu of the Democratic Progressive Party and representatives from the Chinese Nationalist KMT, Vice President Wu Den-yih and Chief Executive Yuan member Yang Chiu-hsing. Although fiercely opposed on most issues, this event at least may have represented an opportunity to foster a little more understanding between the factions.
As the blessing culminated and the lights went out, 40,000 people lit candles and shared a prayer. It was truly an impressive and wonderful sight to behold. A few fleeting moments when political grandstanding, personal conflicts and inner troubles can all be put to one side to revel in a little peace and unity.