THE HISTORY AND MISSION OF AMIDA SOCIETY
In the early 20th Century, the late great lay Buddhist teacher, Xia Lian-Ju, called for Buddhists of the Pure Land School to establish Amida Society organizations all over the world. Decades later, some of the Pure Land practitioners realized Mr. Xia’s will, and began opening centers in the United States. The Amida Society in Southern California was established and registered on January 8, 1990 as a religious nonprofit organization as described in Section 501(c)(3), 509(a)(1) and 170(b)(1)(A)(i) of the Internal Revenue Code, and Code Section 23701d (Church) of the Revenue and Taxation Code of the State of California. The temple building is located in downtown area of Temple City and has been opened to the public 7 days a week since September 1997.
Amida Society in Southern California is an organization established, financed, and run by dedicated lay practitioners of Pure Land Buddhism. As a fellowship of laity, neither does Amida Society belong to any monastic order, nor does it receive direct guidance from the spiritual master of a monastic order as to our focus of study and practice. Our core spiritual guidance for our study and practice of the Buddhadharma is by way of adhering to the teachings of the Pure Land Patriarchs and their contemporary accomplished Buddhadharma teachers. Nonetheless, traditionally we welcome open interactions with other Buddhist organizations and Buddhadharma talks given by visiting monastic monks.
Amida Society’s spiritual mission is: Devotion to the practice and spreading of Pure Land Buddhism through: 1) sutra study; 2) educational seminars and free circulation of Buddhadharma books and materials; and 3) Buddha-Name chanting meditation. Personal practice emphasizes on attaining rebirth and subsequently enlightenment in the Western Pure Land under the tutelage of Amida Buddha. Our global aim is to foster true harmony and happiness in society and the world through spreading of the Buddhadharma and the cultivation of our own moral conduct and spiritual merits. To these ends, Amida Society currently dedicates all Wednesdays to group chanting practice from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Similarly, the last Sunday of each month is dedicated to group chanting practice in five sessions from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. In addition, regular group chanting practice and sutra studies are scheduled every Saturday, beginning at 12:40 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Attendance of the group chanting practices and sutra study classes averages 100 people. Lastly, Amida Society also hosts one or two large scale, 3-day or 7-day group chanting events each year. Participants in these annual events have reached almost 300 people.
Weekly Pure Land sutra study classes are currently led by Chairman Chen and guest teacher, Venerable Master (VM) Xin Ren。Amida Society also organizes special seminars on Pure Land Buddhism and related Buddhadharma topics on an as-needed or as-available basis. Past seminars have presented accomplished and well recognized Buddhadharma teachers, including VM Chin Kung, VM Yin Hai, VM Zhi Hai, VM Ren Jun, VM Guo Qing, VM Chao Ding, VM Yi Kong, VM Hui Jun, and VM Jing Jie. The primary objective of these special seminars is to benefit the practitioners with correct understanding of the Buddhadharma teachings and increased faith and wisdom. Largely, this objective is accomplished thanks to the venerable masters’ profound knowledge and understanding of the Buddhadharma, and individual spiritual character as demonstrated in their strict adherence to sutra teachings in the seminar presentations.
In the last 7± years, representatives of Amida Society are involved in a regular Buddhist services program in a federal prison in Long Beach, helping Buddhist as well as curious inmates to learn and practice Buddhism. In addition, Amida Society is actively engaged in Buddhadharma correspondence with inmates in California and many other states, helping them with guidance and answers to questions pertaining to their Buddhadharma study and meditation practice. The above-mentioned in-house study curriculum and outreaching volunteer activities represent Amida Society’s commitment to Buddhadharma education by words.
Spreading of the Pure Land Dharma is primarily achieved by massive, free circulation of various Buddhadharma educational materials, including: scriptures, commentaries, and essays in books; various beautiful hanging pictures of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and other printed religious matters; recorded seminars and speeches on sutras by various monks and nuns on CD and DVD; electronic players of Buddha-name chanting; wrist and neck mala; and desk-top statues of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at the temple, in various community events, and by mailing to fulfill out-of-town requesters. Additionally, all educational materials and information on Amida Society’s activities are published on the society’s internet website, amtb-la.org. Every year, Amida Society also organizes events for the release of captive and to-be-slaughtered animals such as fish, crabs, etc., for followers and their friends and relatives to participate in the practice of the virtues of compassion, loving-kindness, and genuine respect for all life forms.
In recent years, Amida Society has been reaching out to the mainstream society of America to build mutual friendships. Beginning in 2002, we have started to generously distribute Buddhadharma materials and treasures in the Southern California Buddhist community’s celebration of the birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha and annual Book Festival at UCLA and USC. Our generosity and sincerity to share Buddhist teachings have received high praise in the local American and Chinese communities. Every year since 2004, Amida Society is invited to participate in extra-curriculum study of world religions and cultures by nearly 180 middle school students in Temple City. We provide 4-hour classes to introduce the right views of Buddhism to the young students, their teachers, and parents. It is our hope that these educational outreach activities will contribute in a small way to the big picture of introducing Buddhism to mainstream American society.
Although not a primary function in its mission, Amida Society also makes philanthropic contributions to local charities, such as the Los Angeles Mission, chiefly providing foods and daily necessities to their social programs and services to the homeless and other disadvantaged people. This way, we earnestly practice the Buddhist ideals of compassion, equality, and equanimity by serving people and organizations in society that are in need, regardless of their ethnic and religious orientations. The generous giving of Buddhadharma materials, donations to charities and life-saving animal release activities represent Amida Society’s commitment to Buddhadharma education by deeds.
Amida Society is dedicated to giving and abstains from solicitation. We give according to need and our ability. In essence, we give to empower and enrich, and not as a blessing/entitlement. On the other hand, we receive only voluntary donations designated for our spiritual mission. In Buddhadharma principle, we receive so that people can give. In all times and places, Amida Society strives to serve those in need without expectations and conditions, and to avoid exertion in disguise of service. This way, our actions would be in accordance with the Buddhist core values of Purity, Equality, and Equanimity. Additionally, we practice the spirituality of questing as learned from the late VM Yuan Yin, who made 3 quests the center of his spiritual practice — the quest for blessings, the quest for wisdom, and the quest for rebirth in Amida Buddha’s Western Pure Land. It is the goal of the Amida Fellowship that all members attain these three virtuous quests and eventually fulfill the great Bodhisattva vow of returning from the Western Pure Land to benefit all sentient beings.
Amida Society provides a superb environment for chanting meditation practices and sutra study. It uses a 13,000-square foot, 2-story temple building on an 18,000-square foot property. Regular group practices of Buddha-name recitation/chanting and sutra study classes separately take place in two spacious halls on the ground floor of the temple. Each hall can accommodate more than 100 people. Both halls take the basic, upright shape of a square and are suitably decorated to express adornment of the Buddhadharma. The second floor of the temple is used as a library, depository of Buddhadharma treasures, and general office and computer functions. The library has accumulated over 10,000 volumes of Buddhist sutras, literature, and related publications, as well as audio/visual recordings of Buddhadharma lectures by various monks and nuns. All library materials are provided to the public for free. With all the aforementioned establishments, Amida Society has succeeded in providing for all participating Pure Land followers the best possible environment and atmosphere for spiritual cultivation and attainments.