Most years the Seven Day Amitabha Recitation Retreat (Fo Qi) held annually in Than Hsiang Temple drew, at the most, close to 200 participants. This year (2006) there were 270 applications for the Retreat. They were all accepted for the Retreat as an encouragement to them in their spiritual cultivation.
Thus began the excruciating logistic headache for Venerable Zhen Xin. She had to source every available room and space in Than Hsiang Temple to accommodate the 270 participants. To say Than Hsiang Temple would be brimming with the Eight Preceptors during the Fo Qi would be an understatement – “spilling over” would be a better and more apt description.
Accommodation for the participants was not the only difficult issue to resolve. The venue for holding the retreat, that is the Multi Purpose Hall, had to be rearranged. Previously, the Multi Purpose Hall was partitioned into two; one for holding the retreat and the other for serving the meals. This time the Hall could not be partitioned as one-half of the Hall was insufficient to accommodate all the 270 participants. Instead, two-thirds of the Hall was laid out with cushions for sitting and the remaining one-third was lined with long tables and chairs for the meals. This “new” placement of sitting cushions, tables and chairs worked well, although it was a little cramped during the meals.
Next was the logistics of providing breakfast and lunch for such a huge crowd for the full seven days. It has to be remembered that the Canteen still have to operate its daily business of providing breakfast, lunch and dinner to outside customers, Sangha members, residents of Wan Ching Yuen Centre and staff of Than Hsiang, which on a normal day kept the Canteen staff fully occupied. Sis. Chang Soon Ee, her staff and volunteers were therefore to be congratulated for pulling off a tremendous feat of feeding all these various groups of people and the participants of Fo Qi without a hitch. The best part was that the quality and variety of food available to all was even better than expected. Special mention has to be made of Bro. Chew Beng Hean, who's dedication in coming to Than Hsiang Temple at 4.30am to cook breakfast for the Fo Qi participants knew no bounds.
On 18 November 2006, the day for registration of the Fo Qi participants, the area outside the Hall of Great Compassion was completely filled with people. In spite of the many counters opened up for registration, there were still a lot of people in many long queues. Nonetheless, the registration was completed within the allotted three hours. On registration of their names, each participant was given their name badge and assigned their rooms. At 3.00pm, all the registered participants assembled at the Multi Purpose Hall and briefed on how to conduct themselves during the Fo Qi.
The next day (Sunday, 19 November 2006), everyone were roused from their sleep at 4.50am and so began the first day of their Seven Day Amitabha Recitation Retreat at Than Hsiang Temple. Morning service was at 5.30am followed by breakfast. There was a short break of half an hour for cleaning their environment before everyone assembled again to receive the Eight Precepts at 8.00am. This was followed by two sessions of Amitabha Buddha Name Recitation, circumambulation and meditation with a twenty minute break in between.
Lunch at 11.30am was a simple but solemn affair with the participants maintaining strict silence. The participants did a silent walking meditation for about ten minutes after lunch before they broke off for an hour's rest period. Fresh after a long rest, the Eight Preceptors did another two sessions of Amitabha Buddha Name Recitation, circumambulation and meditation. This was followed by Evening service and another rest period for bathing. They were all back at 7.00pm and at 7.30pm Venerable Wei Wu gave a Dharma talk, one in a series of many talks that span the duration of the Fo Qi. After the Dharma talk, everyone did another hour of Amitabha Buddha Name Recitation and circumambulation before they retired for bed at 10.00pm.
This then was the daily routine for the Seven Day Amitabha Recitation Retreat. On the last day of the Retreat (26 November 2006) the participants shared their experiences of the Fo Qi after morning service. In the afternoon, they all went up to the Main Shrine Hall to say prayers for the Transference of Merits to all those who had departed in 2006. Thus ended another year's Fo Qi. It can be seen that in spite of this year's huge number of participants, everyone from Venerable Zhen Xin down to the kitchen helper had taken the problem in their stride and helped to make the Fo Qi a huge success. Amituofo!