Saturday Dinner for our Friends and Neighbours

China has been built by a society of people that respect and love their elders. It is said in the Analects of Confucius:

” (Filial piety) Loving and respecting your parents and (Fraternity) loving and caring your brothers and sisters is the foundation for the virtue of loving kindness.” There is also an old saying that “Out of all the goodness of our nature, loving your parents and elders is the most important goodness of all.” This is especially true of the teaching of Buddha. In the Infinite Life Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni said the Three Fortune is the basic teaching for which all beings, be they past, present or future beings, must follow in order to achieve enlightenment. And the first fortune of the “Three Fortune” is to “Love your parents, respect and truly learn from your teacher.” As we understand it, the education of saint and sages emphasize love beyond anything else. Love is the key to develop our virtue and true knowledge.

Master Chin Kung has been giving lectures since 1998 on the “Flower Adornment Sutra, Eighty Scrolls, Tang Dynasty version.” To practice the teaching of this sutra in practical life, Master Chin Kung actively promotes multiculturalism to better serve our modern world and society. With the help of Mr. Buck Guan Lee, the president of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, Master Chin Kung visited the leaders of various religions and furthered mutual understandings and greatly ncreased social activities among these religious groups. Starting in the eve of Chinese New Year in 1998, Master Chin Kung started the annual charity dinner which has been the combined festivities jointed by nine different religious groups in Singapore. In 1999, eight thousand people from all known religious group in Singapore had attended this celebration. Besides various religious groups, everyone from retirement centres and orphanages are always invited to enjoy this vening dinner. During the event, volunteers and students from every religion help each other and together they care for the guests in a wonderfully warm and harmonious atmosphere in anticipation for a brand new year to begin.

Master often said that when we have resources or fortune, we must share it with all others. He said that our present day unrest in the world, the lost for hope, the lost of meanings in our lives have all been a direct consequence for our ignorance to the teaching of the saint and sages. There are people who truly want to re-awaken everyone to the teaching of morality and virtue, to be able to practice morality and virtue in real life than just merely teaching it. This is the reason why when Pure Land Learning College Association first came to Australia, Master leads the students to start this series of programs of the promoting friendship with neighbourhood.

Pure Land learning College Association is located in Toowoomba, Queensland. Toowoomba is not a big city. There is a population of only eighty thousand people. It is however, best known for its gardens. Every year when it is the flowering seasons in September, the city council provides venues for flower exhibition and flower parades. Many tourists are attracted each year. In this small and simple environment, many of its residents work as education providers. There are also many retired elders. After observing the way of life in Toowoomba, Master very happily told us that “Here is a land of fortune that we can realize the teaching of “Three Fortune” where we can realize “love your parents and respect the teachers.” Thus we started the same work that originated the Charity Dinner in Singapore. In January 2002, we have started the Saturday Dinner in the Pure Land Learning College Association and every weekend we have a dinner date with all our neighbours and retired elders. Master has stressed that the goal of this dinner is to simply talk with the elders, neighbours and achieve mutual caring for one another. Under no circumstance are we to promote any religious materials.

In Toowoomba city, this dinner event is a very special activity. The curious nearby neighbours living close to our college, have come to our school to have a look. There were thirty local Australian friends in our very first night of Saturday Dinner. Over half of the guests were over seventy years old. Some of them came walking with staffs in their hands. After dinner they would go home in small groups. There are some Australian friends who drive their whole families all the way from quite a distance away to join us for dinner each Saturday. Up until today, on average
there are over 60 guests to attend our dinner event every weekend. All of us gathered in the medium sized canteen in our college, warmly saying hi to each other and tasting various oriental and western foods. Even during winter, the atmosphere of warmth and harmony has made many Australian friends feel that they are home here.

After this weekly gathering started, elders and neighbours have got to know each other better. Quite a few neighbours have only got to know each other through dinner with us. There are some parents who took their kids here to mingle with the group. There are also caring individuals who took handicapped friends to dine with us, so we can enjoy the good food with these friends who need a bit more loving and caring in a nice atmosphere.

Master often said that Mahayana Buddhism is based on “Proper Way of Love and Respect”. With this sense of true love, we will widen it to include all beings. That is the proper way to express sincerity, purity, equality and compassion. That is also the essence of the multicultural teaching of the “Flower Adornment Sutra”. In this unfamiliar new land, students learn to get along with people from different cultural background, they have learned to communicate and understand their needs so they maybe better help each other. At the same time, Australian friends have returned lots of kindness to us. Quite often, neighbours will send us fruits and vegetables. Other times, they are willing to perform instrument playing or even singing for us on the spot in the Saturday dinner.

There is this young friend who has learned to play the violin for only half a year, but his effort and concentration has earned him great round of applause.

Besides the weekend dinner, due to popular demand, we have also started vegetarian cooking and Chinese knot making classes. In the Chinese New Year and the mid-autumn moon festival day, we have invited all neighbours and friends to celebrate the festivities. This type of celebration is conducted on the field outside of our lecture hall. BBQ is usually served. In the eve of Chinese New Year, our college has been able to bring friends from Brisbane to perform lion dance and Chinese kung fu. In the mid autumn moon festival, it was the passing of lantern and lottery that were most well received. To be here to share this great feeling with this big group of friends, we don’t need much speaking words, already the barrier of ethnicity, the differences in culture, religious beliefs and even race and nationality have all melted away.

In the Saturday Dinner students followed the teaching of Master and do not actively mentioning the teaching of Buddhism. However, a lot of Australian friends, either they are already previously interested or have gotten interested through our activities, have asked the college to open up new classes to give them more information about Buddhism. Thus the birth of our “Multicultural Forum” started in July 2002 with the support of Australian friends.