A Solemn Buddhist Ceremony Offers Comfort, Healing at Site of Monterey Park Shooting
February 1, 2023
MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (RNS) — The Venerable Guo Yuan led a Buddhist prayer on Tuesday (Jan. 31), wishing “a good journey” for the 11 killed in the Monterey Park mass shooting, who despite their sudden death, he said, are “showing us that we want this world to be better.”
For those who survived, Yuan urged them not to succumb to their “sadness because it is not the end of the world.”
“Regain your courage in life again,” said Yuan, abbot of Dharma Drum Retreat Center in upstate New York.
Led by Dharma Drum centers from Los Angeles and upstate New York, the Chan Buddhist blessing ceremony was held outside Star Ballroom Dance Studio in the San Gabriel Valley city of Monterey Park, the site of the shooting and where a memorial dedicated to the 11 victims continues to grow. Mourners lit incense and candles at an altar with food offerings as nuns and monks rang bells, chanted and recited the Heart Sutra.
The Venerable Chang Ju — resident nun of Dharma Drum Mountain Center in Los Angeles — said “there’s a lot of wisdom in the Heart Sutra,” which is regarded as the most familiar among all of the original teachings of the Buddha. It’s said to be recited every day by Buddhists in China, Korea and Vietnam, and, now, also by Buddhists across North America, according to Tricycle, an independent journal of Buddhism in the West.
Ju said she hopes the prayer can help bring calm to those impacted by the shooting. She led attendees in a meditation, guiding them to relax their bodies and minds before the ceremony began. Participants stood still and silent with their eyes closed.
“The power and effect of the prayer and the offerings come from our mind. When our mind is focused and sincere, the power will be strong. Therefore, we urge you to pray with the utmost sincerity,” Ju told the crowd.
Ju acknowledged that many people are “under fear and also anger.”
“If we take hatred for hatred, we will never have peace of mind,” Ju told Religion News Service. “We need the wisdom to overcome all this.
“This is what we can do for the community,” she said.
The blessing ceremony, which was co-hosted with the local organization Compassion in SGV, comes after a number of vigils and gatherings in the city have featured Christian and Jewish clergy leading prayers in the aftermath of the shooting. Chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team have also been present at the vigils. And on Friday, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez and the Rev. Joseph Magdaong presided over a special Mass at St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in honor of the 11 victims.
“We wanted to make sure to also include the Buddhist faith,” said Naomi Hom, event coordinator with Compassion in SGV.
The gathering was meant to “properly send off the victims” because, Hom said, “a lot of the victims were Buddhists.”
Although she’s not Buddhist, Hom said “there was something really powerful about being here, and witnessing it, and seeing the somber tone of the people who were in the audience.”
“Just soaking in the culture was really nice,” she said.
John Kawakami, of the nearby city of Rosemead, agreed.
Kawakami said being in community has helped him cope as he’s found himself overanalyzing the motives behind the mass shooting. He recalled the fear he felt the day after the shooting when the gunman was still at large. Kawakami wondered about the future of the ballroom, adding that “people’s sense of safety is shattered here.”
Although he’s not a practicing Buddhist, Kawakami said he found the ceremony “familiar and comforting.”
“It’s my heritage,” he said. “It’s imbued in everything.”