From 6 - 28 August, 2011, twenty-four presentations of the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation were given to the public in various parts of Taiwan, including Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Zhanghua. With a combination of theatrical sketches, sign language, song and dance, the stage presentations served to introduce the repentance practice to people, inspiring everyone to purify their hearts, and also to help protect life on Earth. The participants, totaling around 30,000, were made up of Tzu Chi volunteers and a group of professional artistes. Altogether, about 250,000 people in Taiwan took part in this “Dharma service”.
The stage adaptation is based on the Water Repentance Text composed by Dharma Master Wu Da in the Tang Dynasty of China. On 17 April, 2003, Master Cheng Yen started her series of lectures (Wisdom at Dawn) on the Water Repentance Text, which ended on 12 March, 2008, lasting about five years. By delivering the Dharma talks, the Master hopes to awaken in people the need to sincerely repent for past wrongs, and that with the strength of everyone’s sincere piety, we can help mitigate disasters in the world.
However, few people truly understand the essence of the Dharma. With disasters constantly affecting the world, causing much suffering to people, many have still not awakened to the lessons they bring. With her compassionate goal of relieving suffering, Master Cheng Yen hopes that through the stage adaptation, the Dharma can be brought to people to inspire everyone to repent, reform and return to goodness.
Learning and Taking in the Dharma
Unlike conventional stage performances, Tzu Chi’s “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation aims to invite people to “enter the Dharma”. This is not just about participating in training and practice drills to prepare for a stage presentation, but rather making a conscientious effort to learn and take in the Dharma.
Since the beginning of 2011, Tzu Chi volunteers across Taiwan have held study groups in communities, where participants of the stage adaptation come together to study Master Cheng Yen’s three-volume commentary on the Water Repentance Text. Besides studying, they also observe a vegetarian fast, openly sharing their repentance, as well as practicing sign language and singing to prepare for their stage presentation.
The original Water Repentance Text contains over 10,000 words, with a lot of profound Buddhist terminology. To enable the teachings to be more easily understood by the general public, the vice-president of Tzu Chi Foundation, Wang Tuan Cheng, had composed several sets of lyrics based on the text, which were all set to beautiful melodies, many of which were composed by renowned Taiwanese musician, Li Shou Quan. These songs form an integral part of the stage adaptation, and it is hoped that through learning them, people would gain a better and deeper understanding of the teachings in the text.
At the time, “Have you entered the Dharma?” was a common question Tzu Chi volunteers around Taiwan asked one another when they met. As study groups became widespread all over the island, participants of the stage adaptation worked hard to learn the songs and sign language, seizing every opportunity to do so wherever they were. For example, they would listen to the songs even while traveling on a bus to familiarize themselves with the lyrics. They would also repeatedly practice the sign language that accompanied the songs, by following pre-recorded videos on their tablets or computers whenever they had a spare moment. Through such efforts, the participants were able to delve deeply into the Dharma and reform themselves spiritually.
Akin to a Dharma service on a massive scale, the presentation of the stage adaptation was not only the first of its kind in Tzu Chi’s history, but also a first-time experience for majority of the participants. Nervous and excited, everyone earnestly hoped to live out the spirit of a “Bodhisattva entering the Dharma” as described by Master Cheng Yen. During rehearsals and the actual presentations, many participants were visibly moved to tears. The Buddhist teachings about karma and retribution that they were enacting, had struck a deep chord in their hearts as it had made them closely reflect on their own real life experiences.
“Dharma as Water” in the Lion City
As Tzu Chi Singapore celebrates the 20th year of its founding this year, its volunteers are continuing with the repentance practice started in Taiwan and making preparations to present the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation to the public. It is hoped that this will inspire people to tap into the wellspring within their hearts, bringing forth a pure stream that cleanses away all impurities. With everyone coming together with hearts filled with good, such a positive force can resonate and bring about peace and purity to the world.
In conjunction with the Year-End Blessings Ceremonies, two presentations of the stage adaptation will be staged at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on 14 December, 2013. Currently, Tzu Chi volunteers island-wide are actively engaging people in communities to join the study groups, learn the sign language and songs, take up a vegetarian diet, and practice repentance to purify their hearts.
At the actual presentation, besides the participants doing sign language and formations onstage, there is also a “Great Love” area in the audience. Altogether, there will be a few thousand participants partaking in the Dharma service. The beautifully composed song lyrics of the stage adaptation resonate closely with our daily lives, so even people of different faiths and ages will be able to understand and connect with them.
We welcome all to participate in this Dharma service to share in the Dharma joy with us. May we all immerse our hearts in the Dharma and grow spiritually!