Modern monks-in-training at Longquan Temple      Author:Wang Fan     Time:2015-04-24 20:26:38
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Abbot Xue Cheng has chosen to keep business outside the temple gate. Visitors are not charged admission at Longquan Temple, and even joss sticks for devotees are free of charge. None of the monks are paid an allowance, but enjoy free basic necessities and medical care.

The Longquan Temple has become a popular destination to escape from secular life.

Through the haze of incense smoke the two words "doctrine" and "virtue" can be seen on the cliff at Phoenix Mountain. Located northwest of Beijing's Haidian District, the mountain is home to Longquan Temple, which has become a destination for many young, well-educated monks and lay Buddhists looking to escape secular life.

At Longquan Temple, the stereotype of poor old monks no longer exists. Many of the monks and lay Buddhists there are young, wise and rich, and have come from as far away as Europe and the US. They not only receive 'higher education' at the temple, but also blog about it in many languages.

Buddha liberates those with predestined fate

A month ago, Li Bohan, a German university professor, decided to go through a tonsure (head shaving) ceremony so that he could listen to the Buddhist scholars and enjoy the tranquility of the monastery.

A year ago, Liu Zhiyu, an undergraduate student at Peking University, gave up admission to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and went to Longquan Temple to become a monk instead.

Three years ago, Dong Chunxi, one of the Top Ten Experts in Education Planning in China, got tired of the noisy and busy city life and decided to venture up Phoenix Mountain.

Four years ago, Xian Wei, a postgraduate at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, abandoned his promising science career to become a monk at Longquan Temple.

These are but a few examples of the Buddhist followers at Longquan, who have given up secular society in a quest for inner peace. While practicing spiritual discipline at the temple, they are divided into four categories: kappiya-to-be, kappiya, lay Buddhist and Buddhist monk.

They rise at dawn each morning to learn lessons from the Buddhist sutras which last about 45 minutes. They also attend lessons in the afternoon and after dinner.

When news of life at Longquan Temple was reported in the media, more and more government officials and celebrities became attracted to it -- most of them are drawn there not to become monks, however, but only to escape the city for a while.

For those with a predestined fate to become monks, it is not easy to go through the six-month or even one-year probation of temple life. Those who stay to the end were truly born for it.

A campus for lay Buddhists

People usually start out at Longquan Temple through volunteer work. For example, Liu Zhiyu volunteered at the temple in 2007, and his fellow alumnus from Peking University worked as a volunteer for three years before going through the tonsure ceremony.

Many students from the Chan (or "Zen") Society of Peking University choose to volunteer at Longquan Temple on weekends. According to a master at the temple, every weekend about 100 people go there for volunteer work. Sometimes there are more than 600 volunteers, ranging from 3 to 60 years old, half of whom are there for the first time.

Apart from those who only go on weekends, the temple has nearly 200 permanent volunteers, most of whom are lay Buddhists. Some converted to Buddhism as early as 2005 when Longquan Temple was officially reopened to the public.

Zhang Wanyu, who graduated from Beijing Normal University, started her volunteer work at Longquan Temple when she was a student. From weekly volunteer to permanent volunteer, she is now a lay Buddhist at the temple.

Zhang works, studies and practices sutras in the Dechen Building, the office for all lay Buddhists. She says the work for lay Buddhists is a complete learning process, which involves reading The Four Books and Five Classics, learning the benevolence of Confucius and Mencius, doing manual work in the forest or on remote mountains, cooking vegetarian food and many other things. Zhang believes that her studies of traditional culture endow her with a modest and gentle manner.

A long road to becoming a monk

If you plan to study abroad, a preparatory school is probably not unfamiliar. Similarly, if you want to become a Buddhist monk, you might consider a 'cram school' first. At temples, those who study in the cram schools are referred to as kappiyas. Those who apply for the cram schools are kappiyas-to-be, and they require extra tutoring in how to become a monk.

Burkhard, 38, is a kappiya-to-be from Germany. His Chinese name is Li Bohan. Before going to Longquan Temple, he was a university professor in Taiwan. When he studied at the Central Academy of Drama, his interest was learning as many foreign languages as possible.

Li Bohan became interested in Buddhism during his travels in Dehong Prefecture and Xishuangbanna of southwest China's Yunnan Province. He happened to find out that Abbot Xue Cheng of Longquan Temple had started a blog in 2006 which was translated into seven languages – English, Japanese, Korean, Russian, French, Spanish and German – with contributions from volunteers.

In June 2011, Li moved into the temple, but did not choose to work as a lay Buddhist first; instead, he hoped he could become a monk directly. However, he had no choice but to start as a kappiya-to-be. Li found that it is not easy to become a kappiya, which requires one to pass a spiritual examination.

Liu Zhiyu, a top student at Peking University born with natural wisdom, has already become a kappiya. Like all other kappiyas, he attends lectures given by masters from Tuesday to Friday, and must learn Buddhist sutras and etiquette as preparation for his future life as a monk.

According to Liu, there is still a long way to go, yet he thinks it is really a valuable learning process, both physically and spiritually. It enables him to ponder the meaning of life and the value of an individual clearly. He says that even after he passes the kappiya phase, he will become a Buddhist novice first, which is different from a monk.

Liu compares Longquan Temple to a modern university. He thinks inner peace is the most important status for an individual, and that his current studies will lead him to a tranquil mind.

Unlike Shaolin Temple, Abbot Xue Cheng has chosen to keep business outside the temple gate. Visitors are not charged admission at Longquan Temple, and even joss sticks for devotees are free of charge. None of the monks are paid an allowance, but enjoy free basic necessities and medical care.

Tags:Longquan Temple, Abbot Xue Cheng, monk, volunteer

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