Throughout my memorable time in Brazil, I frequently thought about how amazing it was for Dharma propagation in South America to reach its current stage. During the conference, a forum between venerables in South America gave everyone a clear picture of the difficulty of establishing a foundation for Humanistic Buddhism in such a foreign land. Like how beneficial conditions led to the acquisition of the land on which Fo Guang Shan was built, the land that Zu Lai Temple sits on was also given by a charitable disciple, who hoped that it could be used to spread Humanistic Buddhism. However, this alone was not enough. How would we communicate with the locals, who spoke neither Chinese nor English? How would we spread the message of Humanistic Buddhism, when Buddhism itself was a minority religion here? Poverty is widespread in Brazil, and activities such as violence, drug sales, and robbery are commonplace; how could we ensure that people could practice their faith safely on this land? It was the unending compassion and faith of the venerables that brought them through the hard times. The venerables diligently studied the local language; this not only enabled communication between them and the local population, but also showed that they were able to adapt to local culture. They were fixated on helping as many people as they could; they were not afraid to go deep into the slums to learn how they could provide help, and maintained their resolve even when the temple was broken into on different occasions, putting the temples’ material resources and the venerables’ personal safety in danger. Tales of their kindness gradually spread, and people who needed material assistance or a spiritual refuge were drawn to the temple.
My personal experiences and observations there also culminated in a deeper marvel and appreciation of Humanistic Buddhism in South America. There are many stories that can be told, including the unending assistance I was given when I missed my connecting flight and did not have my luggage for several days, and the beautiful harmony between cultures at the temple’s Corn Harvest Festival, which was rescheduled this year to coincide with the conference. However, being a member of the translation team and involved in the sphere of localization, I found many examples that demonstrated the temple’s ability to reach out to the local community. Almost all of the signs and text in the temple were written in both Chinese and Portuguese; if I was a Brazilian native, I would be able to easily navigate my way around the temple without having to rely on someone else that understood Chinese well. The temple had very good translation equipment, which was managed effectively by our team leader and dedicated volunteers alike. Many of the youths, venerables, and devotees I met there understood both Chinese and Portuguese or Spanish at least conversationally, regardless of whether they were of Chinese or South American descent. I felt a stark contrast between what I saw in Brazil and what I saw in San Francisco. The strength of the Chinese population here leads to a Chinese-oriented environment, and a lack of accommodations for English speakers does not severely impact the temple’s operations. Few people in the temple are comfortable switching freely between English and Chinese; our younger population prefers to speak English, while the more elderly devotees are accustomed to using Chinese.
There is a lot more we can do for dharma localization in North America, and I am happy that our temple has gradually introduced offerings for English speakers, such as the English dharma service, English Buddhism class, and the Fo Guang Dictionary of Buddhism translation project. I look forward to a time where the dharma will flow freely in both Chinese and English at the temple, our public events can be enjoyed by both Buddha’s Light Members and community members, and more people can understand and embrace the faith that binds us all together and brought us to where we are now.