Shining the Spotlight on Master Zhizhe

The Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company from Taiwan, led by established performer Tang Mei-yun, captivated local and international audiences across Singapore, Penang, Malacca and Kuala Lumpur with their performances of the classic “The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe”, “The Story of Bright-eyes Rescuing Her Mother” and “The Legend of the White Snake”. The performance tour culminated in 12 performances, accompanied by 13 sharing sessions and performance seminars, throughout July 2019.

Memoirs of Eminent Monks: The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe chronicles the life and times of the titular Master Zhizhe, widely revered as the founder of the Tiantai tradition of Buddhism. He served as the advisor to the imperial government of the Chen and Sui dynasties in ancient China, earning the admiration of the emperors of both dynasties. He went by the name Zhiyi before being bestowed the title of “Master Zhizhe” by Emperor Yang of the Sui dynasty.

Master Zhizhe devoted his lifetime to propagating the teachings of the Dharma, advancing Buddhism and delivering all sentient beings from suffering. He is honoured as “Sakyamuni of the East” by posterity for his outstanding contributions in laying the foundation for Buddhism to flourish in China.

Adapting the 25-episode The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe, originally produced as a television series, to a 2-hour stage performance was a challenge made even greater by the production team’s dedication to preserving the nuances of the heartfelt exchanges between Master Zhizhe and his refuge master, Master Huisi – a reflection of Master Cheng Yen’s benevolent spirit in passing on nuggets of wisdom to her disciples.

The stellar performances by Tang Mei-yun and the cast, accompanied by a live orchestral ensemble, captivated the audience. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]

Fresh off their 2-day run of The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe in Malacca, the Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company travelled to the KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall in Kepong for a total of five shows of The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe and The Story of Bright-eyes Rescuing Her Mother over three days, commencing July 19, 2019. The performances attracted audiences of over 5,000 in total.

The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe opened with a stirring scene depicting the plight of the citizens of a country besieged by unrest. Amidst the chaos, a monk offers a steamed bun to a mother-and-son pair in distress. The monk contemplates the dire state of the embattled country, but also laments that there is no fate worse than being trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnation.

Master Zhizhe sought refuge at Huading Peak on Mount Tiantai, where he battled his inner demons. [Photograph by Ch’ng Kooi Tick]

As the performance progressed, the audience was introduced to a young, precocious Zhiyi and the trials and tribulations awaiting him at various stages of his life in his quest for the true essence of the Dharma. The cast delivered engaging performances that immersed the audience in the many facets of Master Zhizhe’s storied life, his accomplishments and personal struggles.

Volunteer Voon Mee Lee, who has been leading Tzu Chi Kuching for the past few years, made the trip from Kuching to Kuala Lumpur for the performance, hoping to gain a deeper understanding of the Dharma. Master Huisi’s parting words to his disciple: “Do not be the last bearer of the Dharma” struck a chord with Mee Lee as a reminder to not lose sight of Tzu Chi’s principles in sustaining the operations of the Kuching chapter.

Mee Lee opined that the beneficence and compassionate spirit of the eminent Dharma masters in defending Buddhism and serving all sentient beings are reflected in Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, guiding her disciples to progress on the virtuous path in pursuit of the Dharma.

Volunteer Voon Mee Lee, who has been leading Tzu Chi Kuching for the past few years, travelled to Kuala Lumpur for the performance, hoping to gain a deeper understanding of the Dharma. [Photograph by Ong Siew Geok]

Upholding the spirit of theleDharma

The performances were graced by the presence of Dharma masters from different schools of Buddhism and devotees of various Buddhist organizations. Master Hong Zong, the abbot of a Buddhist temple in Ampang, expressed his admiration for Tang Mei-yun’s portrayal of Master Zhizhe and her steadfast conviction in the Dharma. He attended multiple performances across their 3-day run, bringing along more than ten of his followers to each performance. He also purchased 50 units of the USB drive containing the full The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe series as a gesture of support for Mei-yun’s earnest efforts in propagating the Dharma.

Master Hong Zong purchased 50 units of the USB drive containing all 25 episodes of The Great Dharma Master Zhizhe as a gesture of support for Tang Mei-yun’s efforts in propagating the Dharma. [Photograph by Wong Mun Heng]

“The teachings of the Dharma are conveyed through the performance in an accessible manner, enabling the audience to gain a better understanding of the essence of the Dharma and be inspired to cultivate wisdom that lasts beyond this lifetime,” remarked Master Hong Zong. He also commended Master Cheng Yen’s foresight in propagating the Dharma through the performing arts, specifically traditional Taiwanese opera, to enlighten the masses on the dedication of eminent Dharma masters to serve Buddhism and all sentient beings.

Master Hong Zong was pleased to acknowledge Mei-yun’s efforts in paving the way for youths to sustain the mission of propagating the Dharma. Moreover, he noted that Mei-yun’s reverence for Master Cheng Yen radiated through her performance onstage, drawing a parallel to Master Zhizhe’s respect for Master Huisi. “Although Mei-yun is engaged in show business, she is no ordinary performer. Her conviction in the true Dharma is admirable, and she conducts herself with decorum,” he praised.

After wrapping up the final performance on July 21, 2019, Mei-yun declared her hope that the audience would leave the show inspired by Master Zhizhe’s tenacious pursuit of the true Dharma. She also reiterated the core message of the story – defend the Dharma no matter the circumstances.

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The play captured the attention of the audience with a compelling combination of robust vocals and memorable performances by a stellar cast of professional actors, striking LED backdrops, live musical accompaniment by an orchestral ensemble and accessible dialogue, imparting the time-honoured virtues of Buddhism with the universal theme of human nature at its core.

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