Chapter two: The pursuit of Dharma, a period of struggles and rewards

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Shi Huikong     Time:2015-04-10 15:55:41
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Master Xuecheng studied even harder after coming to Beijing, modestly consulting others and learning from his mentors and classmates. In Beijing, Master always thought of his dearest teachers, Ven. Master Dinghai who lived abroad and was the one giving him ordination, and Ven. Master Yuanzhuo on whom he relied. Through correspondence, he reported to his teachers what he had gained through study.

Master asked to take refuge in the Three Jewels (the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) on the fifteenth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar (July 16th), 1981. At that time, it was very popular at Master's village for the lay Buddhists to transmit the refuge among themselves. However, Master's mother did not agree with this and took him to a small temple on the nearby mountain where she asked the Bhikshu there to transmit the Refuge to Master.

On Chinese New Year's Day in 1982, Master went to Dongshan Monastery at Yuta village to pay homage to the Buddha with Fu Jinfu, then a lay Buddhist. Two days later, he returned home and asked for his parents' permission to become a monk. At that time, he was in his third year of middle school with only one semester left until graduation. His parents said, "Finish your middle school education and get the diploma first, then you can leave home." However, Master replied, "Why does a monk need a diploma? Let me be a monk, or I'll quit school. I'll stay at home to look after you, help with the farming and share your burden."

Master's mother then took him to Dongshan Monastery to become a monk. There a lay Buddhist named Liang Jinliang, the later Ven. Chide, realized that the boy possessed profound, good virtues. He said, "You have plenty of virtues and should turn to a great Buddhist master instead." Therefore, Master's mother and Fu Jinfu brought him to Ven. Master Yuanzhuo at Putian Guanghua Monastery. [Ven. Master Yuanzhuo was a disciple of Ven. Master Yinguang and Ven. Master Hongyi, both eminent masters in modern China. Ven. Master Yuanzhuo once held office at Buddhist Association of China (BAC) as both Vice-Chairman and President of its Consultative Committee].

Master, led by the vows of his past lives, started his monastic life on the eighth day of the second month of the lunar calendar (March 3rd), 1982. The Monastery manager said, "A good day it is! Shakyamuni Buddha became a monk on the same day. You are sure to achieve full enlightenment in the future."

After starting his monastic life, Master was assigned by the Monastery to work on the farm to test his determination. Then, a week later, at the arrangement of Ven. Master Yuanzhuo, he practiced chanting Buddha's name in the Prayer Hall and learned to play Dharma instruments. He mastered the skills soon, then he was eager to be ordained. At that time, matters relevant to ordination were decided by executive monks, while all Master cared about was to receive ordination as soon as possible rather than who would give ordination to him. His letter home read, "I will receive ordination on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar." Master's father, worrying that his son would be too young to know how to practice correctly after ordination, sent the boy's grandmother and mother to Guanghua Monastery to talk the boy out of the idea, therefore, the ordination was postponed.

On the eighth day of the second month of the lunar calendar (March 22nd), 1983, as the situations permitted, under the arrangement of Ven. Master Yuanzhuo, Master received ordination from Ven. Master Dinghai at Guanghua Monastery. (Ven. Master Dinghai is now Vice-Chairman of the World Buddhist Sangha Council and President of Sangha Mahayana Indonesia.)

Shortly after the ordination ceremony, Master asked Ven. Master Yuanzhuo to teach him how to practice after becoming a monk. The Elder Master replied with a story, "In the Spring Festival, the monasteries often observe a traditional custom of distributing oranges. Oranges are put into piles, with big and small ones mixed together. When your turn comes, you simply take one randomly. Why? If you purposefully take a larger one, you are greedy for profit; if you intentionally take a smaller one, you are seeking a good reputation, another form of greed. The story is very profound in meaning. There are people who act very politely to establish a good reputation; there are people who won't be taken advantage of. All of the trouble is caused by greed." Later, Master acknowledged, "I have been greatly inspired by this teaching. It reminds me to accept a situation as it is and act accordingly. The best option is to keep a natural state of mind. Confucianism also teaches that 'going too far is as bad as not going far enough'. Much of our learning and the way that we face various situations are generated from this awareness."

People went to sleep at 9 p.m., but the light in Master's room was usually still on after that. Ven. Master Yuanzhuo often had to knock at his door, urging him to go to bed lest the young man's eyesight be hurt due to exhaustion. Though so kind, the Elder Master was very strict. He required the young Master to learn classic works such as those of Confucianism by heart. Meals were not allowed until his recitation was done.

Once, when the young Master was mopping the floor in the dining hall, the Elder Master walked over quietly to find that the floor wasn't clean enough. The mentor immediately asked him to mop it again. When free, the young Master often volunteered to clean the hall and do dirty, difficult and laborious chores, which others didn't like to do. For some time, he served as a night watchman guarding Haihui Stupa (which preserves the ashes of the deceased monks and lay people) and the Longan trees. At dawn, he would shift to playing Dharma instruments for the morning recitations. After that, he would serve breakfast to the Abbot and offer food to the hungry ghosts and Garuda through Buddhist rituals. He once recalled, "There was often a shortage of hands in the Monastery, so I joined the night watch. At first, I dreaded it a lot when patrolling around Haihui Stupa at night, especially when it rained. I also took part in construction work. It was a hard time. We had to carry the construction materials ourselves because there was no truck or crane available at that time. This was how my willpower and perseverance were strengthened."

Master was admitted to the preparatory class at Buddhist Academy of Fujian Province in 1983. During that period, he studied Buddhist scriptures and various other disciplines in earnest. As the monitor of the class, he was always ready to help his classmates solve various problems. He also took on the Monastery's affairs and supported the Buddhist cultivation and practice of the Monastery.

Master passed the entrance examination to Buddhist Academy of China in 1984 with honors and began his undergraduate studies in Beijing. He studied even harder, modestly consulting others and learning from his mentors and classmates. He was so absorbed in thinking and reflection that he often forgot to eat and sleep. One would never fail to find a dignified young monk in the classroom, always immersed in his studies, even on weekends or during holidays.

In Beijing, Master always thought of his dearest teachers, Ven. Master Dinghai who lived abroad and was the one giving him ordination, and Ven. Master Yuanzhuo on whom he relied. Through correspondence, he reported to his teachers what he had gained through study. In a letter to Ven. Master Yuanzhuo he wrote, "The atmosphere in the Academy is not suitable for study. Many students here are reluctant to study and practice, just drifting along day by day. It makes me sad to see this; I want to return to Guanghua Monastery." The Elder Master replied, "Do not mind what other people do. Just be modest and settle down to learn." The words greatly inspired him and kept motivating him ever since. In difficult times, these words enabled him to face his internal conflicts with courage, pray for blessings from the Three Jewels, overcome his difficulties and lift his spiritual level.

Studying at Buddhist Academy of China

In 1986, Master was given an opportunity to study in Sri Lanka. When he asked Ven. Master Yuanzhuo for his opinion, the Elder Master did not agree to his going abroad. Years later, he recalled, "I could have acquired a PhD. However, I might not have had the opportunity to undertake the duties of the Buddha, working to help sentient beings as I have been doing now. It is crucial that one should always follow the guidance of his mentor." In his school days, Master also came under the special care and protection of Rev. Zhao Puchu, the respected then president of BAC. Rev. Zhao Puchu helped Master overcome difficulties and invited prominent and senior monks to guide him in his study and practice.

Master standing with President Zhao Puchu

Master received a bachelor's degree with honors in 1988 at Buddhist Academy of China. After that, he furthered his studies as a postgraduate there. In December 1988, he received the Three Platforms of Complete Precepts from Ven. Master Kuanlin, the Abbot of Manjughosha Monastery of Chengdu in Sichuan Province.

In the winter of 1988, the Abbot of Guanghua Monastery, Ven. Yiran, resigned. In January 1989, under the care of Rev. Zhao Puchu and by Ven. Yiran’s recommendation, all executives of the Monastery approved that Master Xuecheng, then still in the process of his postgraduate studies, be appointed as Abbot of the Monastery. Master, deeming himself unqualified in virtue and capability to shoulder such a heavy responsibility, declined the appointment several times. In the Chinese New Year's Eve (February 5th, 1989), he left the Monastery without notice for Fahai Monastery in Fuzhou, preparing to return to Buddhist Academy of China. However, since he was still considered by all to be the most suitable candidate, Ven. Yiran, the retired Abbot, together with Ven. Yanlian, drove to Fahai Monastery and succeeded in persuading Master to return.

Studying at Buddhist Academy of China (Master Xuecheng left, Ven. Yanlian right)

Thus on the eighth day of the second month of the lunar calendar (March 15th), 1989,  an inauguration was held and Master Xuecheng, only 23 years old, took charge of the prominent monastery. He became the youngest abbot with the highest degree in education in a Han Buddhist monastery. During his term of office as Abbot, Master had been persevering in his studies. He defended his postgraduate dissertation successfully and obtained a master's degree in November 1991. After graduation, he returned to Fujian, and was appointed as Vice President of Buddhist Academy of Fujian Province in December at the age of 25.

In November 1990, at a meeting attended by the departments directors of BAC, Rev. Zhao Puchu commented, "Remarkable achievements made at Guanghua Monastery are attributed to its former Abbot, Ven. Master Yuanzhuo whose efforts laid a solid foundation. The incumbent Abbot, Master Xuecheng, who is still doing his postgraduate studies at Buddhist Academy of China, assumed the position when he was only 23 years old. At that time, there were people who thought that he might be too young to take on the responsibility. But I said that it does not matter. During the period of the Anti-Japanese War, some of our commanders were only in their twenties. What's wrong with having a young abbot now?" Then Rev. Zhao spoke of Master Xuecheng again at Baima Monastery in April, 1992, "There is a young abbot in Fujian, who was a postgraduate student of Buddhist Academy of China. When he was recommended as a candidate for abbotship, some people said he was too young. Why shouldn't we trust young people? This Master Xuecheng has in fact done a very good job."

On November 25th (the tweny-sixth day of the tenth month of the lunar calendar), 1997, Ven. Master Yuanzhuo passed away peacefully at Putian Guanghua Monastery. Master's sorrow was beyond description. He erected a stupa for the Elder Master and wrote the inscription. Master had relied on Ven. Master Yuanzhuo for studying Buddhism for 15 years. Under the careful guidance of the Elder Master, he had recited and learned many Buddhist scriptures and Confucian classics. Meanwhile, he had participated in and witnessed the Buddhist endeavors carried by the Elder Master, such as reconstructing the Monastery, printing and circulating scriptures, establishing the Buddhist academy, and cultivating monastics. Consequently, Master was deeply influenced by the Elder's example—his profound and compassionate vows, his patriotism to the nation and faithfulness to Buddhism, his modesty and calmness, his noble aspiration and unsullied behavior, and his self-restraint and lenience, all had laid a solid foundation for Master's future endeavors on benefiting the society and living beings.

Master and Ven.Master Yuanzhuo

Tags:Three Jewels, struggles and rewards

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