Chanting the Pure Land

—The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, Bendigo Australia—
photos and audio by Catherine Schieve / May 18, 2018

Light in motion - C.Schieve

Light in motion - C.Schieve

I'm going through my audio recordings from the consecration ceremonies for the Jade Buddha. These are prayers, chants and mantras offered by the Sanghas - Buddhist communities - from several monasteries and centres in Victoria (for context see my previous report Welcoming the Jade Buddha):

Among those recordings I found an hour-long massed chant by a large group of devotees from the Pure Land (Chinese Mahāyāna) tradition - their centre of study and practice is the Pure Land Learning Centre in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne. This was a group of perhaps 60-80 people, women and men flanking both sides of the hall in front of the Jade Buddha statue, with a small group of leaders and percussion players driving the pacing and articulation of the chant over a long arc of time - well over an hour long. The chant increased speed and intensity over time, peaking after about 50 minutes with the Amitabha Mantra - the mantra to rebirth in Pure Land. People seemed highly concentrated and moved by the mantras. There was prostrating and reciprocal prayer coming from the attentive "audience" of co-worshipers in the hall. As performance, this voiced worship was so clearly a communal offering; everyone whether chanting or in silent participation engaged in doing and being together. Here is the audio (1 hour): scroll through and listen to sections of sound to get a feeling for the development of this chant. This group obviously takes their chanting very seriously as evidenced by the Intensive Chanting Program listed on the website. It was extraordinarily prayerful and moving to hear. Have a listen:

Below are a few images from this performance and prayer offering. Soon I will also post the video of this practice along with several other traditions of Buddhist chant that were offered by diverse communities to the Jade Buddha, honouring the path toward Universal Peace that it represents.

Welcoming the Jade Buddha

Buddhist Nuns and Monks waiting the unveiling of the Jade Buddha

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion / May 18 2018

After travelling the world, visiting 20 countries, 130 cities, and 11.5 million people, the Jade Buddha has arrived home to the Great Stupa (Tibetan Buddhist Shrine) outside Bendigo, Australia— and was installed and consecrated on Friday, May 18 by an ecstatic multicultural community. There were ceremonies in the Vietnamese, Tibetan, Theravada, and Pure Land (Mahāyāna) traditions; each with chanting, flowers, supplications, speeches and prayers. Communities cooked, arranged flowers, guided visitors, sang, made offerings, smiled, worked, socialised, and cooked some more. Visitors were regaled with an abundance of fresh hot Vietnamese foods. People took selfies in front of the giant Jade Buddha statue. During preparations, when step-ladders were around,  visitors could quietly climb up to touch its gleaming jewel pedestal. The Jade Buddha is carved from the largest chunk of gem-grade jade ever found on the planet, and it absolutely glows from within with a veiny depth; the face is gilded and beaming; the hands are cupped to hold offerings of flowers and fruit.

Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan OAM, Abbot of the Quang Minh Vietnamese Temple in Melbourne, described the responses of people all over the world who have seen the Jade Buddha statue— here are some of his words (transcribed sketchily on the fly with the help of a lovely woman sitting behind me):

Many sleeping Buddhists when they encounter the Jade Buddha statue they awaken again. Like the Buddha himself who travelled and taught; like those who travel to hear the great teachers; the Jade Buddha has also travelled... When they see the statue, the person changes. They manifest the most valuable thing within yourself ... the peace ... the jade statue doesn’t preach the Dharma like a living Dharma master, but is able to awaken the curiosity in people ... The statue has the power to make people peaceful ... you get the feeling, just observe it ... people have different perceptions. Perception; enlightenment; compassion, and peace—  all start from us. Generate compassion. The Buddha statue reminds us of this journey. Compassion in your heart ... 

Perception; enlightenment; compassion, and peace—  all start from us. Generate compassion. The Buddha statue reminds us of this journey. Compassion in your heart ... 

An afternoon of impassioned chanting filled the large space of the Stupa. The Great Stupa is still a raw, unfinished structure, and the arrival of the Jade Buddha brings obvious joy and meaning to diverse communities of worshippers. What we saw on Friday was a joyful hive of activity. May it continue and grow! Below are a few of my photos, and watch for some video of the chanting from several Buddhist traditions.

- All photos by Catherine Schieve


Saint Francis at the Stupa


I had the privilege of visiting the Great Stupa (Tibetan Buddhist Shrine in Australia) a few weeks ago, and seeing there a Saint Francis statue in process of being painted by artist Lucy Wang— she is also assisting the Tibetan artist Venerable Lobsang Konchock on the main shrine's ceiling and murals. The St Francis statue was comfortably inhabiting a rustic shed, surrounded by work-tools, while the artist carefully considered the exact colour of umber that she would paint his cassock. The statue's hands and head were still white plaster, giving a wonderful "work in progress" appearance. I was reminded of an artist friend and mentor, David Dunlap, who always signed his sprawling, collaborative work with the words "This is always finished" — in whatever state of unfinished-ness one finds things, there is always beauty to find in the present. I'm sure St Francis is now fully painted and standing in a garden on the Stupa grounds. Meanwhile, here is a picture of him with the artist, "always finished" - in the shed. The Great Stupa includes many Interfaith dimensions, and is a project in constant evolution. It is a happy sign of openness to see Francis, the most popular Christian saint, installed on the grounds of this emerging Buddhist place of pilgrimage.

-- For more on the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, read our interview with its founder, and visit its website. (And more explorations to come at the Stupa; watch for a forthcoming interview with the Tibetan muralist Venerable Lobsang Konchock.)

-- photos by Catherine Schieve

St Francis at the Stupa: work in progress, artist Lucy Wang (work shed, Stupa grounds)

St Francis at the Stupa: work in progress, artist Lucy Wang (work shed, Stupa grounds)

Under Construction: the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion - photo by Catherine Schieve

Under Construction: the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion - photo by Catherine Schieve