I spent Christmas day celebrating the first anniversary of the opening of the Buddha Memorial Centre out in the sunshine, here at Fo Guang Shan monastery in Taiwan. A feature of these open-air ceremonies is a procession of monks and nuns up the central avenue to a shrine erected in the great square at the top. The seniors, with red robes over orange, line up facing the large audience, while other rows of monastics line up in front, facing each other with palms joined.
I was glad to see, right at the head of the columns, the three monks from Congo (Brazaville), their black faces forming a strong contrast with the yellowish-brown of those of Chinese ethnicity. I was glad because there is a tendency among some Taiwanese to refuse to have these monks attend family ceremonies because they don’t fit the stereotype. It’s the same in England, where some think white-skinned monks can’t be proper Buddhists. So the message Fo Guang Shan was sending by placing those African monks at the forefront was the same that the Buddha emphasized centuries ago in caste-ridden India. That it is not a person’s birth but their spiritual and moral qualities that give them worth. Human prejudice does not change over the centuries, and the teachings of our religious founders need constantly to be restated in the new circumstances of wherever they have spread.