Saturday, Oct 20th

Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Friday, 13 July 2018 00:00

Propagating the Dharma through Chinese Opera

Written by  Cheong Siew Wai & Tsze Hut Sea, Pengerang / Translated by Zhang Yi Qin

Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company presented the true story of Master Xuanzang’s journey to the West in quest of the Dharma. [Photograph by Ch’ng Kooi Tick]

A group of 40 persons from Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company staged a Chinese opera entitled, ?An Eminent Monk ? Master Xuanzang? at Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The performance about Master Xuanzang?s journey to the West in a quest for the Dharma drew attendance from over 5,000 audience members over the five shows. Through the performance, the audience came to understand the selfless great vow of Master Xuanzang and his unyielding determination to seek the True Dharma despite the formidable obstacles.


A group of 40 persons from Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company staged a Chinese opera entitled, “An Eminent Monk – Master Xuanzang” at Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The performance about Master Xuanzang’s journey to the West in a quest for the Dharma drew attendance from over 5,000 audience members over the five shows. Through the performance, the audience came to understand the selfless great vow of Master Xuanzang and his unyielding determination to seek the True Dharma despite the formidable obstacles.


At the invitation of George Town World Heritage Incorporated, the Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company came from Taiwan to Malaysia in early July, to stage a show entitled, “All’s Well End’s Well” at the Majestic Theatre in Penang. Then from July 11 to 13, the troupe travelled to Kuala Lumpur to stage three shows of another performance entitled, “An Eminent Monk – Master Xuanzang”, before returning to Penang for another two shows on July 15.

Due to the influence of the classic Chinese literature, “Journey to the West” and movie, people have generally had the impression of Master Xuanzang (Tang Sanzang) as a weak monk, who went to the West to acquire the Buddhist scriptures escorted by Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing.

But in actual fact, Master Xuanzang decided to set off to India, where Buddhism originated, more than 1,300 years ago to seek the true Buddhist scriptures, having observed the prevalence of metaphysics and that people generally lacked the right knowledge and right view. Moreover, back then, Buddhism in China was divided, with eminent monks holding different interpretations of the sutras. Thus, Master Xuanzang was determined to seek clarifications and establish the true teachings of Buddhism.

Surmounting numerous challenges

On July 11, the opera, “An Eminent Monk – Master Xuanzang” based on actual history, was staged at the Sutra Hall of KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall. The lead role, Master Xuanzang, was played by Tang Mei Yun, founder of the Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company. Totally engrossed in the roles they were playing, the cast brought the audience to feel Master Xuanzang’s unwavering resolve in seeking the True Dharma through an arduous journey of over 50,000 miles to the West and took three years on foot.

There were scenes of Master Xuanzang risking his life crossing a fast-flowing river at Yumen Pass, and his compassion softened the heart of his disciple, Shi Pantuo, who helped him to cross the river but later wanted to kill him for personal gain. He was also seen walking through the scorching, vast desert alone yet accidentally spilling his water container and had to go without a single drop of water for days; and he also overcame the distractions from evil beings by focusing his mind in sutra chanting. There were also scenes of how his piousness moved heaven and earth to grant him rainwater when his life was at stake; and of him refusing to eat and drink for a few days to express his firm determination to continue his journey to the West when the King of the Kingdom of Gaochang tried to make him stay in his country to preach the Dharma.

Then, there was a heart-breaking scene where Master Xuanzang was forced to part with his disciples killed by an avalanche at Ling Shan.

“Even if the road ahead is long and obstructed, I will never give up no matter what.” Tang Mei Yun expressed Master Xuanzang’s steadfastness with her words, and her true emotion moved many audience members to tears.

It was the first time the 2-hour opera performance was staged in Malaysia, following its last staging at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2016. The superb presentation of the perilous and arduous journey by the cast, plus the lighting and sound effects, digital backdrop and live accompanying orchestra, deeply captivated the audience.

Although many audience members could only understand the dialogues in Taiwanese dialect through the subtitles, they could feel the spirit of Master Xuanzang. All the three shows held at KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall attracted over a thousand audience members respectively. There were even audience members who came all the way from other states on chartered buses, and some even arrived two hours before the show started; all in full anticipation of the Taiwanese opera show that was of international standard. The standing ovation at curtain call proved the success of the performance, especially in depicting the true story of Master Xuanzang.

Benefitting all with the True Dharma

Besides volunteers and public members, the three shows in Kuala Lumpur were also attended by some Dharma Masters. Venerable Ming Ji, Chairman of Malaysian Buddhist Association (KL & Selangor Branch), was moved by the spirit of Master Xuanzang, who risked his life for the sake of seeking and propagating the True Dharma, and who diligently studied the Dharma and translated over 1,300 volumes of Buddhist scriptures.
 
Venerable Ming Ji shared, “Because of his earnestness to seek the True Dharma in the West, Master Xuanzang forgot about his fears, and thus, we have Han Buddhism scriptures today. This biography of Master Xuanzang is indeed worth promoting.”

Master Xian Shan, who came from Ipoh, commended Tang Mei Yun’s excellent performance and agreed that opera performance, such as that staged by Tang Mei Yun opera troupe, is one of the many ways to propagate the Dharma. Master Xian Shan felt that modern-day people are faced with various temptations and lead a busy life, hence it is unlikely for them to sit patiently and listen to the Dharma for a long time.

Master Xian Shan said, “Through dramas, Buddhist teachings are conveyed in a simplified manner. This helps the audience to focus on certain plots. Even if they only grab a sentence or a sutra verse, by truly comprehending it, they would be able to refrain from giving rise to greed, anger and ignorance.”

An audience member, Yeap Lee Aik, who was fully immersed in the performance said, “It is not until tonight that I know the true story of Master Xuanzang’s journey to the West. I truly admire how Master Xuanzang accomplished his mission with great determination, all for the wisdom-life of everyone and for promulgating the True Dharma.” Lee Aik also gained a better understanding of the Buddhist teaching that “the mind creates all”. He realized that by eliminating one’s worldly desires and unwholesome habitual tendencies, one’s worries will naturally be reduced.

He was grateful to have come across Buddhism many years ago. Thanks to his understanding of the Dharma, his temper became milder and he has also learnt to accept adversity and unfavourable circumstances in life with an open heart. He revealed that his participation in a short-term monastic retreat had given him an insight into monastic life and spiritual practice, and that helped him to develop a deep faith in Buddhism. The opera on the other hand, made him realize the hardships in acquiring the Buddhist teachings. For that reason, he hoped that he can keep in mind Master Xuanzang’s story and appreciate the opportunity to learn the Dharma.

He was glad to see many young people among the audience and cast; even more so, their acceptance towards traditional opera and willingness to become a part of it in order to spread the Dharma. He was confident that Buddhist teachings could be handed down to benefit the future generations.

After the 2-hour performance, Tang Mei Yun and other cast members proceeded to the area outside the Sutra Hall for book signing. Some audience members, who were Tang Mei Yun’s fans, seized the opportunity to take photographs with her, while some acknowledged opera as a means to spread the Dharma.

Tang Mei Yun hoped that the spirit of Master Xuanzang in his quest for the Dharma can motivate the audience to persist in their spiritual cultivation despite the tests and setbacks they may face along the way.

 

 

Master Xuanzang’s great determination and perseverance to seek the True Dharma is an example to emulate. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]   Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company promulgates the Dharma through an opera entitled, “An Eminent Monk – Master Xuanzang”. [Photograph by Aw Lee Ching]

Master Xuanzang’s great determination and perseverance to seek the True Dharma is an example to emulate. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]
 
Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company promulgates the Dharma through an opera entitled, “An Eminent Monk – Master Xuanzang”. [Photograph by Aw Lee Ching]
 
The performance by Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company received positive response from the audience. [Photograph by Ch’ng Kooi Tick]   After the performance, the cast proceeded to the area outside the Sutra Hall for book signing. [Photograph by Chan Tuck Meng]

The performance by Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company received positive response from the audience. [Photograph by Ch’ng Kooi Tick]
 
 
After the performance, the cast proceeded to the area outside the Sutra Hall for book signing. [Photograph by Chan Tuck Meng]
 
Venerable Ming Ji, Chairman of Malaysian Buddhist Association (KL & Selangor Branch), attended the performance and acknowledged Chinese opera as a means to spread the Dharma. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]   Having learnt of the tremendous challenges Master Xuanzang had faced in acquiring the Buddhist scriptures, audience member Yeap Lee Aik hoped that he can keep Master Xuanzang’s spirit in his mind and appreciate the opportunity to learn the Dharma. [Photograph by Chua Teck Ching]

Venerable Ming Ji, Chairman of Malaysian Buddhist Association (KL & Selangor Branch), attended the performance and acknowledged Chinese opera as a means to spread the Dharma. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]
 
 
Having learnt of the tremendous challenges Master Xuanzang had faced in acquiring the Buddhist scriptures, audience member Yeap Lee Aik hoped that he can keep Master Xuanzang’s spirit in his mind and appreciate the opportunity to learn the Dharma. [Photograph by Chua Teck Ching]
 
Teoh Tian Jun (2nd left) was touched to see Master Xuanzang going without food and drinks for days to express his determination to seek the True Dharma to the King of the Gaochang Kingdom. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]   While watching the performance, Chen Bi Yun shed tears of remorse for her thought of retreating from the spiritual cultivation path. [Photograph by Ch’ng Kooi Tick]

Teoh Tian Jun (2nd left) was touched to see Master Xuanzang going without food and drinks for days to express his determination to seek the True Dharma to the King of the Gaochang Kingdom. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]
 
 
While watching the performance, Chen Bi Yun shed tears of remorse for her thought of retreating from the spiritual cultivation path. [Photograph by Ch’ng Kooi Tick]