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Buddhist monks hold blessing ceremony at Monterey Park memorial

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On Tuesday night, Jan. 31, the Monterey Park memorial was filled with the smell of incense, the ringing of bells and the rhythm of chants as the community came together to honor those killed at Star Dance Studio in a special Buddhist prayer ceremony.

The peaceful Chan Buddhist blessing was led by monks and nuns from the Dharma Drum Mountain Centers in Los Angeles and upstate New York. The ceremony is intended to bring peace to the 11 dead victims and soothe the souls of those who live on to remember them.

“For those who survive I hope that you can also recover soon, don’t drown yourself in this sadness because it is not the end of the world, we have another journey to go,” said Guo Yuan, Abbot of Dharma Drum Retreat Center in New York. “Those who passed away have their own journey to go. We are here to give the sincere utmost blessing to you.”

  • A memorial in chalk to the shooting victims outside of...

    A memorial in chalk to the shooting victims outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Visitors offer prayers to the victims of the Star Dance...

    Visitors offer prayers to the victims of the Star Dance Studio shooting outside of the Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Monks from the Dharma Drum Mountain Center chant the heart...

    Monks from the Dharma Drum Mountain Center chant the heart sutra outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A visitor places a candle on a memorial outside of...

    A visitor places a candle on a memorial outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Monks from the Dharma Drum Mountain Center chant the heart...

    Monks from the Dharma Drum Mountain Center chant the heart sutra outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Monks from the Dharma Drum Mountain Center chant the heart...

    Monks from the Dharma Drum Mountain Center chant the heart sutra outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A visitor offers prayers to victims outside of the Star...

    A visitor offers prayers to victims outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The growing memorial to victims outside of the Star Dance...

    The growing memorial to victims outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The growing memorial to victims outside of the Star Dance...

    The growing memorial to victims outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The growing memorial to victims outside of the Star Dance...

    The growing memorial to victims outside of the Star Dance Studio Tuesday, January 31, 2023. 11 seniors were killed by a gunman at the studio as they attended a dance Saturday, January 21st. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

In the days following the Jan. 21 mass shooting, the memorial set up behind the studio has become an important gathering place for community members and the site of many religious ceremonies and vigils.

Tuesday night’s was co-hosted by Compassion in SGV, a nonprofit organization created to stop Asian hate and support San Gabriel Valley communities, which provided a livestream of the ceremony so more members of the public could take part.

While the ceremony is a Buddhist tradition, both the Dharma Drum Mountain Center and Compassion SGV made it clear that people from all religious backgrounds were welcome to take part. The event drew around 80 people in person including representatives from the office of LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis and 49th District Assemblymember Mike Fong.

During the ceremony monks recited the the Heart Sutra, one of the most popular scriptures in the Buddhist tradition that explains the Four Noble Truths, or principles, of Buddhism.

Many Buddhist traditions say that rebirth takes place within 49 days after death, which is known as the mourning period when monks and loved ones engage in sustained prayers and chanting.

Resident nun Chang Ju explained in an interview that this sutra helps lost souls let go of anger, hatred and attachment to the body.

The monks also led visitors in chanting “Amituofo,” the name of Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Pure Land. Amitabha is also known as the “Buddha of infinite light” and many Buddhists believe that rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land is ensured for all who invoke his name with devotion.

The chants seek to encourage the dead to move on to their next life, Ju said. At the same time, the chanting relaxes and soothes mourners as they prepare to let go of their grief and begin healing.

“Be well, be well, let go and let go. Then you are truly a bodhisattva,” said Yuan, addressing the victims. “But those who survive also try to put down all of this and regain your courage in life again, don’t be discouraged and I hope you all be well.”

Buddhism plays a major role in Monterey Park and San Gabriel Valley communities and several victims of the massacre observed the Buddhist faith.

Monks have been visiting the memorial daily since the tragedy to participate in ritual chanting, seeking to purify the area after it was filled with great violence, pain and suffering.

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