Buddhism for “The Spiritual Cohesion of Overseas Chinese”

From:Voiceof Longquan     Author:Voiceof Longquan     Time:2017-11-02 12:27:58
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The promotion of Buddhism overseas is a global matter,which needs to be carried out step by step.

Longquan Monastery has always been somewhat “alternative” in the eyes of the outside world. This sense of mystery is enhanced by certain tags it has earned, such as: “the monastery with the strongest scientific research” and “the most web-orientated monastery.” Longquan monastery has never officially responded to these tales, but devotes itself to the cause of the Dharma and to exploring new ways to internationalize Buddhism. Two years ago, Longquan Great Compassion Monastery was founded in the Netherlands, in the city of Utrecht, becoming the first Chinese Han Buddhist Monastery in Europe. In June 2016, Longquan Kwan-yin Monastery was set up in Los Angeles, and, the following month, Longquan Bohua Monastery was established in Botswana, Africa. How can this young monastery which has only been open to the public and operating as a venue for religious activities since 2005, reach outside of China and disseminate Buddhist culture overseas? Are there any difficulties and challenges behind the scenes? With such questions in mind, a reporter from the Global Times visited Longquan Monastery a few days ago and had an exclusive interview with Ven. Master Xuecheng, President of the Buddhist Association of China and Abbot of Beijing Longquan Monastery. This interview aims to unveil the true Longquan Monastery.

From translation to robots, the dissemination of Buddhism goes global

-“What should I do if I feel down?”

-“Try to read some good books.”

This is the conversation between the Global Times reporter and the world’s first AI robotic monk, Xian’er. This robot is 60cm tall and wears a yellow robe. He is good at chanting sutras as well as sports and singing. Xian’er is so cute that he has become an indisputable online celebrity, and his official WeChat account attracts millions of fans. It is fair to say that the presence of Xian’er changes peoples’ perceptions about Buddhism as something mysterious and lessens the distance between religion and life. Xian’er is a creation of Longquan Monastery.

Longquan Monastery is located at the foot of Phoenix Ridge in Beijing’s Western Hills. It was first constructed in the early years of the Liao Dynasty. The two elegant cypresses by the front gate are more than 600 years old, and the ancient ginkgo trees, with their sturdy and upright bearing, are over one thousand years old. The temple is not large, only three courtyards laid out from west to east. Its architectural style is ancient and traditional, which is in sharp contrast with the open and bold way in it which it promotes Buddhism.

On the same day as the interview, the Global Times reporter came across an American who had come from afar. Barbara, a 48-year-old college professsor, was on a business trip here. With only one day to spare, Barbara managed to come and visit Longquan Monastery under the scorching sun, all due to her great respect for this place. “I have been to Longquan Kwan-yin Monastery in Los Angeles and have browsed quite a few online articles and videos about Longquan Monastery”, she told the reporter. “I became very interested in Buddhism and wanted to know more about it.”

Barbara is just one of the many beneficiaries of the international promotion of Buddhism undertaken by Longquan Monastery. As it transmits the Dharma, Longquan Monastery does not “butt heads” with the world, but maintains a way of thinking that is in keeping with the times. Since 2011, Longquan Monastery has gradually opened Weibo accounts in 16 different languages, and has set up a website based around traditional culture called “Voice of Longquan,” which operates in a number of foreign languages. Online groups have been formed across the globe to study Buddhism, and every overseas branch monastery has its own public WeChat account.

During the interview with the Global Times, the Abbot of Longquan, Ven. Master Xuecheng, said that those who are working to spread Buddhism should pay attention both to the present juncture and to the inherent nature of all beings. That is to say, we need to keep pace with the times, innovate where appropriate and cater in a realistic way for the preferences of different groups of people living in different places and periods. You can influence the age only when you adapt to the age. You can change the world only when you become a part of the world.     

Applying Buddhist principles to life is attractive to westerners

The process of taking Buddhism out on an expedition to meet the world is far more challenging than some spur of the moment excursion. The first proper challenge is the language barrier. Ven. Master Xuecheng told the Global Times: “We realize that language is key to the integration of Buddhist culture into the civilizations of the world and that translators are the prerequisite and foundation for the development of international Buddhism.” As early as 2008, Longquan Monastery was beginning to form a translation team and recruit foreign language specialists. At the beginning of 2011, Longquan Monastery translation center began operation, carrying out various activities, such as the translation of Buddhist texts and the organizing of multi-lingual Dharma assemblies. This has laid a solid foundation for the cause of promoting Buddhism overseas. Multi-level courses in different foreign languages were set up for members of the Sangha, including a special program dedicated to specialist Buddhist vocabulary. The monks’ enthusiasm for learning was extremely high, resulting in a significant overall improvement in the foreign language level of the monastery.

Beginning with a first visit to the United States in June of 2012, masters and volunteers from Longquan Monastery have left their footprints in North America, Europe, Indonesia and other parts of the world. However, these exhibitions abroad have not always been plain sailing. Ven. Master Xuecheng told the Global Times that, as many of the masters hadn’t been abroad before and didn’t have much experience of living overseas, they had a hard time adapting to foreign climates, diet and other aspects of the environment. Some even fell ill. It was not easy to visit foreign countries, but the masters gritted their teeth and kept up constant communications with overseas universities and religious institutions, trying to gather experience bit by bit. Applying for visas is also a tricky issue. A business visa doesn’t allow the holder to stay very long in a foreign country, so in most cases one group of masters who have only just settled down abroad have to be called back and replaced with another group. As a result, the cost of rotation and adaption is quite high.

Through putting their plans into practice over the years, Longquan Monastery has gradually come to grasp some tricks of the trade when it comes to overseas promotion. According to Master Xuecheng, Longquan Monastery focuses more on “the spiritual cohesion of overseas Chinese” when disseminating Buddhism and culture abroad. Overseas monasteries usually hold Dharma assemblies during major Chinese traditional festivals, for example, an assembly with the theme of filial piety on the Double Ninth Festival, and an assembly to venerate ancestors on Tomb Sweeping day. It is hard for some overseas Chinese to get accustomed to a local religion even if they have lived in a place for a long time. Buddhism can be easily accepted by them, and can act as a unifying force. “Two-way interaction and learning through participation” is also a point which is especially stressed by Longquan Monastery when spreading Buddhism overseas. For instance, Longquan Bohua Monastery in Africa holds a course in Chinese culture for local Chinese children who can’t speak, don’t speak or refuse to speak Chinese, and guides them into traditional Chinese culture from childhood.

Longquan Monastery has also adopted some bold strategies when it comes to adaptating to local conditions. Westerners tend to be more open in character and to prefer communication with others, so the activities held in overseas monasteries are deliberately designed to involve more interactive sessions. Communication in the form of “chatting” can yield twice the result with half the effort. Ven. Master Xuecheng told the Global Times that “in China most of the people who visit monasteries are Buddhists; while in foreign countries the majority are simply interested in Buddhism, without necessarily being believers, which is very different.” Barbara said that she once participated in an activity held in Longquan Kwan-yin Monastery in the United States with the theme of “Dharma and Life.” The masters lead them away from afflictions in life and work by teaching Dharma. “Communication with the masters brings me mental peace. Before this I didn’t realize that Buddhism can be applied to real life” said Barbara. “Although I’m not a Buddhist, this doesn’t stop me from learning and studying Buddhism” she says.

The story of “Dharma and Life” also played itself out in Holland. Apparently a Dutch girl from a Christian family had a car accident several years ago and had to resign her job in order to recover. One day, she happened to visit Longquan Great Compassion Monastery and was inspired by the open and friendly atmosphere there. She became the first Dutch person to take refuge in Buddhism at this monastery and later joined the translation group as a volunteer. In the course of her translation work, she came to learn more about Buddhism and the monastery, and her afflictions faded away bit by bit. Another Afro-Dutch girl was moved to tears upon hearing the tranquil and melodious chanting of the masters. She said that “Buddhist chants are different from ordinary kinds of music. There is a magical power in them that can clear away anxiety and bring peace of mind. 

Taking Buddhism from the Chinese community into the mainstream of Western society

In an interview, Professor Zhang Yiwu from Peking University told the Global Times reporter that the promotion of Buddhism overseas is a global matter. Fo Guang Shan Monastery’s work, represented by Ven. Master Hsing Yun continues to be very successful. It has had great influence in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Vietnam and its footprints have been left even further afield in Europe, the United States and some third-world developing countries. The complexity of disseminating Buddhism lies in the difference between divergent forms of Buddhism. For example, Thailand and Myanmar are two important Buddhist countries, but they have a different belief system from the East Asian countries. The promulgation of Buddhism also involves complex issues concerning ethnic religions. For instance, the problem of possible conflicts and confrontation between Buddhism and local religions has to be considered. Zhang Yiwu stressed that Chinese Buddhism adopts an inclusive and diverse culture, which is moderate and not aggressive. Overseas promulgation of Buddhism is not a one-way process but one which involves integration and interaction with local culture. The unique values and significance of Buddhism can be revealed through dialogues between civilizations.

In discussing the future of the promulgation of Buddhism overseas, Ven. Master Xuecheng told the Global Times that the accurate expression of the profound Buddha Dharma in foreign languages will have a big influence on the level of acceptance and range of the spread of Buddhism. For this reason, Longquan Monastery will make the collation and translation of the Tripitaka a key priority in the future. People from outside China who are proficient in Chinese and  in their understanding of Buddhism will make initial first draft translations, and monks will be responsible for proofreading.

According to Ven. Master Xuecheng, Longquan Monastery plans to appoint distinguished monks to study at overseas colleges and universities, become abbots of monasteries overseas and make direct contact with people from the Western world. Thus, Buddhism will spread from the Chinese community to the mainstream of Western society, and Chinese Han Buddhism will have a voice amongst international academia. “It is every Buddhist’s wish to promulgate Buddhism widely” said Ven. Master Xuecheng, “ We are also planning to set up a web school to let more people study Buddhism online.

Ven. Master Xuecheng told the Global Times reporter that, going forward, Longquan Monastery will put more effort into promoting Buddhism in Germany, Italy and African countries such as Tanzania, in order to advance Chinese Han Buddhism around the world. This is a magnificent vision, but it needs to be carried out step by step.”

Editor:Bella Liu
Tags:Buddhism, Overseas Chinese, mainstream of Western society

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